The Good Doctor s2 ep 1

Sometimes shows hit the ground running at the start of new seasons, and sometimes they… don’t. This wasn’t terrible by any means – it was perfectly watchable – but it was very clearly intended to do little more than remind us of where we left everyone at the end of the show’s first year, then set a course for season 2. Which meant the episode was on quite a low flame throughout. 

It’s Jared’s last day – it does look as if he’s definitely leaving – and his going-away present is running, with Shaun, a mobile clinic for the homeless. They drag a volatile man called Harry to the hospital, then misdiagnose and release him. Shaun then realises that Harry has a brain tumour, so he needs to be found and treated. Andrews, now hospital president, is sabre-rattling throughout. By the time Harry is operated on, his wife and daughter – who kicked him out because of his behaviour – have been found and are waiting at his bedside as he comes round from the anaesthetic. Will Harry wake up cured? It turns out to be a straightforwardly feel-good plot, but I can’t help but feel that the show at its season 1 best would have taken a couple more chances with it.

Andrews, meantime, has tempted a high-profile (I missed exactly why) patient to the hospital with the promise of a dazzling cure for her heart problem. This, he hopes, is going to launch the San Jose St. Bonaventure as a centre for cutting-edge surgical excellence. The proposal is to piggy-back a second heart onto her first, which is pretty cool, but there’s a complication and Melendez – now, presumably, chief of surgery? – decides not to go ahead. He and Andrews butt heads, and Melendez then goes ahead, conjuring a successful outcome with an assist from Claire and some masterful passive-aggression from Reznick. I hope that Andrews and Melendez can now move on, as I don’t want a season of them comparing penis size.

In other news, Lea is back, which is good. And Glassman’s oncologist is  played by Lisa Edelstein, which is even better.

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Public Service Announcement 38 of 2018: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

It’s quite possibly the best thing on TV, and it’s back for its fourth and final season: episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, starring the insanely talented Rachel Bloom, are being brought to the UK by Netflix the day after American transmission. 

If I’m being entirely honest, mind you, I have two misgivings going in. Firstly, although the show managed its transition from black comedy about an adorable eccentric to black comedy about someone with borderline personality disorder reasonably well, there is still, I think, a landing to be stuck. Secondly, I’m going to need to be convinced that casting Skylar Astin, as a replacement for Santino Fontana, in the key role of Greg is a good idea. But the creative team behind the show has earned our trust, so let’s see how he goes. Most importantly of all, though, the world’s a horrible place just now, and we really need Rebecca Bunch back in our lives (Netflix, from tomorrow).

For the People s1 ep 10

A few weeks ago we reviewed the first episodes of Sky Witness’s slate of new American dramas: For the People, 9-1-1, and Instinct. I’ve stuck with all three, for (mostly) better and (occasionally) worse, so I’m going to report back on each of them as their respective seasons end.

First to finish is For the People, which as it happens is my favourite of the three shows by some distance. I called the season-opener the quickest 40-45 minutes of the week, and the other nine episodes have successfully repeated the formula: two or three interesting and/or entertaining Cases of the Week; Hope Davis (Jill, head of the public defenders’ office) and Ben Shenkman (Roger, assistant US attorney) as the grown-ups in the room; and their youthful staff members firing off smart triple-speed dialogue at each other. Particular credit has to be given here to Susannah Flood as novice prosecutor Kate Littlejohn; her line readings, laced with delectable and withering scorn, have been to die for throughout. In fairness, though, all of the six young leads – Flood, Regé-Jean Page as the appalling Leonard, Ben Rappaport as Seth, Britt Robertson as Sandra, Jasmin Savoy Brown as Allison, and Wesam Keesh as Jay – have been fresh and fun and very watchable.  In turn, my worry after the first episode – that the characters wouldn’t be sufficiently distinguishable – has proved to be unfounded. I even started to care about them. Apart from Leonard.

This episode was typical, and typically good. In Case 1 Jay defends a parent accused of having MDMA in her car in order to sell it to kids at a tony private school. All is not as it seems and, unusually, Kate works with him to undermine her own case. In Case 2 Sandra acts for a Chinese-American scientist accused of espionage, something of a callback to the first episode in which she unsuccessfully defended a young man accused of terrorism. I was engaged by both. Meantime Leonard is told by his politician mother that the post of Texas Attorney-General is his if he wants it – pray for Texas – and Allison is courted by the wine-tasting dude from an earlier episode.

If there is a criticism to be made of For the People – and I’m really not sure that it’s a problem at all – it’s perhaps that the show is all surface and no feeling; it doesn’t always give the impression that the characters have uncharted depths. As it happens, though, in this final episode the emotional punches landed. Most importantly of all, at the start of the episode Jill and Roger slept together, and you guys I am SO HERE for that ship. On top of that Seth declared his love for Allison, who instead chose wine dude; Kate broke down after telling Leonard that she would miss him if he moved to Texas; and Sandra finally managed to get partial redemption for the case she lost in the first episode. Soundtracking the episode’s final scenes with Radiohead’s ‘True Love Waits’, a track which isn’t just good, isn’t just great, but has a genuine and statable claim to be The Best Record Ever Made, ensured that at least one viewer had something in his eye, and will happily return for season 2.

Public Service Announcement 37 of 2018: The Good Doctor

It’s been a long, dry summer. And autumn. But proper TV – and proper Unpopcult – is back, with the return tonight of The Good Doctor for its second season. A huge ratings hit in America, insofar as such a thing exists any more, it’s a well-crafted medical drama with one or two things which elevate it above the average: a terrific central performance from Freddie Highmore (who writes tonight’s season opener); interesting plotting which veers off in unexpected directions; and an engaging and well-deployed supporting cast. In short, it’s much better than you think it is. Weekly reviews, at least until I get too busy (tonight, 9pm, Sky Witness).

And there’s more proper TV coming soon.

Public Service Announcement 36 of 2018: The Cry

Well. If you’re the BBC, how do you follow the biggest ratings success in British TV drama for years? With another homegrown drama, of course. Trying to fill those big Richard Madden-sized shoes is four-parter The Cry, based on the novel by Helen FitzGerald, in which Scot Joanna (Jenna Coleman) and her Australian husband Alistair (Ewen Leslie) travel from Scotland to Australia in order to fight for custody of Alistair’s daughter from his first marriage. While there, though, their baby son goes missing.

The cast is interesting: on the Aussie side of things Leslie is joined by Asher Keddie (as Alistair’s ex-wife) and Alex Dimitriades, all of whom are seriously big news in their home country. Stella Gonet and Sophie Kennedy are helping Coleman to fly the Saltire. I’m not planning to watch, but I can rest assured that if this is even half-decent (or less) I’ll be hearing all about it (tonight, 9pm, BBC One).

Public Service Announcement 35 of 2018: Hollywood’s Brightest Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story; Manson: The Lost Tapes; The Good Place; The Good Cop; Maniac

A couple of factual shows tonight which might be of interest. At 9pm BBC4 has Hollywood’s Brightest Bombshell, a documentary about Hedy Lamarr, which covers her on- and off-screen lives, unpacking her remarkable and little-known record as a scientific innovator. (I was entirely unaware of it until alerted three years ago by the reliably excellent You Must Remember This podcast.)

At the same time, ITV 1 is showing the first of its two-parter about Family man Charles Manson. The Lost Tapes promises some never-seen-before footage which draws on the archive of deceased filmmaker Robert Hendrickson, who had been given exclusive access to Manson and his gang. Will it add anything to the story? Don’t know, but I’ll be watching. 

And a Netflix roundup: season 3 of yes-I-know-I-should-be-watching-it The Good Place starts on Friday. CJ says that The Good Cop is “criminally bad”. And I also feel bound to report that my daughter loves Maniac, and watched the whole thing in a weekend. Let’s say 90%, Metacritic, if you’re looking in.

Bodyguard s1 ep 6

*BIG, GIANT SPOILERS*

After the gripping train sequence in episode 1, the terrifyingly visceral sniper situation in episode 2, the massive explosion at the end of episode 3, and the matter-of-fact death (which did indeed stick – kudos) of the female lead and attempted suicide of the male one in episode 4, perhaps the most shocking thing about the Bodyguard finale is just how defiantly un-shocking it actually turned out to be.

It all started out thrillingly enough, with Budd being lured into Aikens’ hands (too easily, but I suppose our man was desperate and there was only an hour or so of screentime left), the police finally linking him with Apsted and then – then! – the poor guy coming round all strapped up and ready to blow. Now that was shocking, in fairness, and the next twenty minutes – thirty? I don’t know, I was too busy freaking out – were great: taut, tense and fantastically acted by all concerned. On any other show, I’d have been thinking “no way is he going to die” but with this one I was thinking “they killed Keeley Hawes, they might actually do this…” and fretting accordingly. Which meant that the “suicide vest” section of the episode worked, for me anyway. Turns out I needn’t have worried about Budd at all, though, because the Bodyguard finale didn’t have half the bottle the rest of the season did.

It’s not that I’m annoyed they didn’t kill him off – I’m glad he made it. As I said before, he’s a character the show made me really care about and I’d happily watch Richard Madden play him again in a (surely inevitable) second season. Truth be told, at this point, I’d happily watch Richard Madden in anything – I even sat through “Ibiza” on Netflix the other day. (Really not my type of thing, but it was worth it.) But Budd didn’t just “survive,” did he? No, in the space of about fifteen minutes or so, he solved the mystery (which turned out not to be that complicated), exposed the conspiracy (which turned out not to be that deep), earned back Sharma and Rayburn’s trust and respect (ok, I was actually really pleased about that – I love them), got into therapy (which turned out to be very effective very quickly) and got his beloved wife and 2.4 kids back. Ta-da! What an incredibly tidy ending for a show that initially promised to be so much messier.

Even the few loose ends left dangling for season two weren’t very loose at all. Longcross is out and about, possibly slightly disfigured so he can be the Joker to Budd’s Batman next time around. And Mike Travis and Anne Sampson got away with some political shenanigans. But that’s about it. Everything else was wrapped up in the neatest of bows; a disappointingly straightforward ending for a show which seemed significantly more complicated at the start, with the Nadia revelation being the most obvious example. The big twist was that she was exactly the type of bogeyman used to stoke up right-wing anti-Muslim-women bigotry after all? Ok, that was shocking too. But I absolutely hated it.

Still. If I ignore those last 15 minutes or so, Bodyguard season one has been terrific entertainment. The cast has been stellar – as well as Madden and Hawes, Gina McKee, Nina Toussaint-White and Ash Tandon all deserve all the praise we can give them – and for the most part, the show has been properly thrilling, grown-up entertainment, proving to anyone still questioning it that the box in the corner of the living room really isn’t just for streaming stuff onto, no matter what some folk might have you believe. If the BBC gives us another season – and with these ratings it would be mad not to – I’ll be back.