Hooten & The Lady s1 ep 2

Alex is in Rome (and the show, pleasingly, is also genuinely in Rome). It’s part business, part pleasure: there’s something-or-other that the British Museum wants to get its hands on, before it’s demolished to make way for a Metro extension. But she’s also supposed to be buying a dress for her wedding to the mysterious fiancé we haven’t seen, helped by her mother (Jane Seymour, clearly having lots of fun while getting paid for it, which I mean as a compliment).

Meantime – what a coincidence! – Hooten is also in Rome, on a mission from God; or, at least, the convent we saw him donating money to last week. He has a scrap of an original Sibylline Book and, when he can take a few minutes off from jumping out of planes without a parachute and flirting with Alex’s mother, he’s trying to find the rest of it; a quest which will, fairly swiftly – this isn’t a show which hangs around – take Alex and Hooten to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, dealing with a subterranean alligator along the way. The Mob is involved as well, of course; this isn’t a show which believes that less equals more.

It’s reasonably entertaining, if not quite up to the standard of last week’s opener, and for now we’re not getting too much character development, although there’s another hint of Secret Pain (his) and a Complicated Past (hers: she claims to have been adopted). The chemistry between Ophelia Lovibond and Michael Landes is very watchable, although I still hope that, in due course, the two of them might get it on. Perhaps with someone playing, in the background, a cover version of Aerosmith’s ‘Dude (Looks Like A Lady)’, with the lyrics changed to ‘Hooten And The Lady’. That’s what I would do. Hit me up, writers’ room.

Designated Survivor s1 ep 1

designatedsurvivorabWithin a couple of days of its American transmission, the pilot of hot new ABC political drama Designated Survivor was available on Netflix in the UK. Well played, Netflix, even if it was so under-the-radar we didn’t manage to PSA it.

Anyway, Designated Survivor isn’t just high-concept, but a concept so high it’s delirious. Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland, dudes. JACK effing BAUER) is the US Secretary of Housing and Development, and he’s also the designated survivor: the middle-ranking politician who doesn’t get to go to the State of the Union address, but instead hangs around in a secure location in a college hoodie (When The West Wing did this, Roger Tribbey at least stuck a suit and tie on. Standards are slipping), drinking a beer, watching the speech on TV, and ready to step in to become President in the entirely hypothetical event of the entire top echelon of American politicians getting wiped out.

Except, of course, that’s exactly what happens: the Capitol is blown up, and suddenly Tom and his attorney wife Alex (Natascha McElhone) are being hustled into a motorcade and off to the White House, so that Tom can take the oath of office and become President. And at this point we know enough about him to know that he’s the wrong man for the job: he’s mild-mannered, amiable, easy to push around, has an academic background, and was about to get fired by the President anyway and appointed instead to some non-job in Montreal. He even goofs around with his kids, for God’s sake.

But now he’s in charge, and the show does a reasonable job of simulating around a zillionth of the confusion, disorientation, and panic a real-life President Kirkman might feel about becoming POTUS in such circumstances. Nor does he, for the moment, have any obvious allies: his own chief of staff Emily (Italia Ricci) is being kept on the outside by Aaron Shore (Adam Canto), the deputy chief of staff he’s inherited, who might be a wrong ’un. Presidential speechwriter Seth Wright (Kal Penn, also a consultant to the show, having served time in the Obama administration) doesn’t think he’s up to it. And senior military officer – maybe the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, not sure? –  Harris Cochrane (Kevin R. McNally) is so put out by Tom’s ten minutes as Commander-in-Chief that he’s more or less ready to launch a coup.

Thing is, of course, it’s President Tom Kirkman, but no matter how good Kiefer Sutherland is as an actor – and he’s very good, as he always is – we kind of know that there’s going to be at least a little bit of President Jack Bauer as well, and that he’s accordingly going to be more of a baller than he’s letting on. Sure enough, on discovering that Iran is up to no good in the Straits of Hormuz he faces down Cochrane’s demands for an immediate war, then tells the Iranian ambassador that his country needs to get its shit together or it’s going to regret it. Not that anyone knows, for now, who actually launched the attack on Washington, D.C.; finding that out looks as if it’s going to be the job of FBI agent Hannah Wells (Unpopcult favourite Maggie Q, from Nikita and Stalker), of whom I expect we’ll see more in future episodes.

Anyway, I could try and equivocate about Designated Survivor, but I’d be kidding. This was terrific: streamlined, thrilling, fat-free. Apparently it was about 42 minutes long, but it felt like 5. I could, perhaps, live without the inevitable family dramas to come – the possibility of his drug-dealing teenage son avoiding assassination isn’t an appealing one – but I don’t expect that to get in the way. If I did have a concern, it’s that there’s a danger the show might fall between two stools: we had a “serve at the pleasure of the President”, a “DEFCON 2”, and a “secure perimeter” within a few minutes of each other, suggesting that the show is going to do its best to straddle the worlds of politics and action. Thing is, there are plenty of shows, both network and streaming, already covering these bases – the underrated Madam Secretary, for one, is there for anyone wanting their White House fix – and Designated Survivor might have its work cut out to find its niche. On the basis of this wildly entertaining first episode, though, I’m certainly going to hang around for long enough to find out if it does.

Nashville s4 ep 4

Beverly’s funeral, then – make sure that coffin lid is nailed down tight, y’all – and everyone’s trying to persuade themselves that she wasn’t utterly loathsome. Particularly Deacon, who is putting a lot of effort into making it clear to everyone that he feels the pain more acutely than anyone else ever could. (His treatment of Scarlett, both here and later, is thoroughly contemptible.) He’s unable to finish reading his eulogy, such is his distress, although there’s at least one moment of unconscious comedy, when he refers to Beverly’s “big, big heart”. I suppose, dude, but if you’re going to comment on any of her internal organs maybe start with the liver? Also Zoey’s turned up, ostensibly to support Scarlett but really to tell Gunnar that she’s getting it elsewhere.

So, with Deacon brooding and hovering round bars again Rayna might well be starting to think that, after several decades of pining for him, she should perhaps be careful what she wished for. But she doesn’t have time for that yet; her new high-maintenance signing Markus Keen is in town and, uh, keen to get started. Rayna introduces both Markus and Layla at the Grand Ol’ Opry, with Markus proving to be remarkably adept at hogging the limelight at Layla’s expense. Once again, poor Layla just can’t get a break: on top of everything else, boyfriend Jeff is in town. It’s worth saying again that I can never quite decide if Jeff is pure evil or a little more nuanced than that; he’s actually pretty good to Layla this week, for example, up to and including his public affirmation of their relationship.

Markus needs a producer, and Avery successfully pitches himself. Which is undoubtedly the highpoint of Avery’s week: he, Cadence, and Emily take themselves off to the park, where they’re papped looking for all the world like a little family. Particularly when Emily puts an affectionate hand – told you, Avery, don’t miss this open goal – on Avery’s. Well, they’re all over the tabloids, much to Juliette’s irrational fury, and she phones Emily to tell her that she’s a “gold-digging backstabbing whore”. Ooh, burn.

Fortunately for Avery – if not, initially, for Cadence – Juliette gets an opportunity to prove her own commitment to the Barkley-Barnes family unit when Cadence is hospitalised with a startlingly high temperature and Juliette is uncontactable, lying on a hotel bed whacked out of her gourd. Because Juliette, while being followed by an unsuspecting journo who clearly missed Investigative Reporting 101, has found herself a Doctor Robert prepared to supply her with some deliciously moreish uppers, downers, and anything else she needs. So, Avery. Time to move on? *ahem Emily ahem*

Amazingly enough, though, that isn’t the worst thing a doctor does this week, because Dr Yoko is frustrated by his inability to communicate with Scarlett and let her know that he’s There For Her. How better to get through to her, then, than in a language she understands: the medium of song, ideally in the country idiom? Thing is, he can’t write a song, because he’s Dr Yoko. But he knows a man who can… enter Gunnar as Cyrano de Nashville, if you will, who “helps” Dr Yoko get his “song” completed. It’s a great song, of course, once Gunnar’s essentially rebuilt it from the ground up, because Gunnar’s totally in love with Scarlett. In fairness to Yoko, he does admit to Scarlett that he had some help – some! – but she doesn’t ask from whom. Presumably she knows, because she’s totally in love with Gunnar.

The episode ends on a low, though, with Deacon still growling about Scarlett turning Beverly’s life support off. If this is going to be a thing – and it looks as if it is – I think Nashville and I are going to have a problem this year.

National Treasure ep 1

Ageing British entertainer Paul Finchley (Robbie Coltrane) is a recognisable type: half of a double-act; UK showbiz to the cuffs of his Pringle sweater; fading a little, perhaps, but with an afternoon TV game show to keep his career ticking over. He is, as the title would have it, a national and much-loved treasure; everyone he meets, including police officers, is at pains to tell him that they’re a fan. We first encounter him presenting a lifetime achievement award to Karl (Tim McInnerny), his comedy partner, who we are invited to infer to have been a little more successful of late.

Nonetheless, life is good, at least until the police are at the door of the house he shares with Marie (Julie Walters), his wife of 41 years, telling him he’s been accused of a rape in 1993. All very Yewtree. He denies the allegation, and is assisted at a police interview by lawyer Jerome Sharpe (an electrifying Babou Ceesay).

At first, and because Coltrane’s portrayal is so sympathetic, the protestation of innocence is all we have to go on. There’s more, though: it isn’t long before we find out about Paul’s serial infidelities, past and – as it turns out – present. There’s “violent” porn on his phone. His recovering addict daughter Dee (a brilliantly unsettling Andrea Riseborough) is in a halfway house, and during a remarkable scene recounts to Paul a dream she had about him, which hints at brutality and sexual abuse. And by the end of this first episode there are seven allegations of sexual crimes against him, including one made by the family babysitter, who would have been underage at the time. “They think”, Paul concludes, “I’m Jimmy fucking Savile”.

I’m always a little sceptical about British TV drama. I’d have to say, though, that National Treasure is comfortably one of the better ones I’ve seen over the past few years. Jack Thorne’s writing is on-point, with most of the scenes hitting the mark. The plotting, thus far, is intriguingly ambiguous. And the acting is excellent, particularly the two leads: Coltrane is entirely plausible as a larger-than-life entertainer with a hint of something darker, and Walters excels as the supportive and tolerant wife, evidently beginning to wonder whether by knowing about and accepting Paul’s unfaithfulness she has perhaps been overlooking or facilitating something much worse. The pacing is a little ponderous in places, in my view; but it’s British, after all, and at the end of the fourth episode I fully expect to be saying that it could have been done in three. That aside, though, I thought it was excellent.

For what it’s worth, my bet is that the series will end with Finchley’s guilt having been determined by the legal system one way or another, but with the viewer left in doubt as to what he actually did or didn’t do. The greater mystery, though, and it will endure, is why Robbie Coltrane – a powerful and subtle dramatic actor, a versatile comic actor, and a brooding, magnetic screen presence – hasn’t quite had the parts, or the career, that he should have had. He last won a BAFTA in 1996; the third of three, back-to-back, for his performance as Fitz in Cracker. If he’s as good in the next three episodes, I’d say a nomination at least is on the cards. This man is a proper star.

Poldark s2 ep 3

“You should go to bed, Ross. Demelza will be thinking you’ve gone astray.”

Hmm. Demelza won’t be the only one.

You guys, nobody likes a goody-two-shoes, and I’m all for a few flaws in my romantic heroes but, at this point in the season, Captain Ross Poldark is really beginning to try my patience.

The combination of stubbornness and stupidity that almost got him hanged last week can be excused, I suppose, on the grounds that a) he’s handsome and b) it paid off in the end – not that the way the trial played out on tv made any sort of sense – but good looks and a smouldering expression only get you so far and, after this week’s episode, Ross’s behaviour towards the unstintingly loyal, consistently magnificent Demelza is in serious danger of leaving flawed hero-ville and crossing right over into jerkish cad-town. Which might be fair enough for lots of tv shows, but this is Sunday night period drama not The Sopranos, for goodness’ sake – an unapologetic anti-hero is hardly what I signed up for.

Of course, this is a difficult time for our leading man; the constant threat of bankruptcy isn’t going to do much for anyone’s spirits, let alone a proud Poldark who recently lost his baby daughter, and I could forgive a lot of a fellow just trying to do his best for his wife and family. Except that, even when trying to be responsible, this particular fellow also insists on being ridiculous. Ploughing all your money back into the mine is all well and good, Captain Martyr, but you’ll have no mine left to plough it into if you don’t start taking a wage soon. Especially since there’s now no settle, no chickens, no cow and no brooch left to sell. “It was a gift!” you say? Yes, and now it’s gone. As is everything else, without any sort of complaint from your ever-supportive, also recently-bereaved wife, I might add. Bear that in mind next time you’re flirting with your ex over a bottle of house party gin.

Not that grief and financial problems explain everything, either. “Overworked, overstressed husband neglects loving wife” is a staple of any sort of drama, but Ross’s attitude towards Demelza during Captain McNeill’s visit comes across less as benign neglect and more as completely unmerited contempt. At this point, it’s not really Demelza who’s in danger of straying – nonsense about cow-doctoring and handsy neighbours notwithstanding – and even if she were, essentially leaving her to it suggests either that long-established hothead Captain Poldark doesn’t actually care what his wife gets up to (come on, now) or the programme-makers want to even up the score a little given his sudden and intense renewal of interest in Elizabeth. If he’s going to make some extra-marital moves, is the plan to spread the blame a bit by muddying up Demelza’s behaviour on that front too?

Whatever the reason for it, though, the programme-makers obviously want to have our hero and heroine at odds and, while that too is a staple of any sort of drama, this latest estrangement seems both slightly forced and something of a backward step since, by the end of last season, Ross had grown to adore Demelza, and in Poldark time, the end of last season really wasn’t that long ago. Although it’s beginning to feel like millenia, given how much everything has changed. My beloved Ross is getting on my nerves? The asshat formerly known as Francis is now the nicest Poldark in the pack? What kind of wormhole have I fallen into?

Thank goodness then for the delightful Dr Enys (Luke Norris) and Caroline (Gabriella Wilde) whose sparky, flirty romance adds some much-needed light and joy to what is otherwise – somewhat ironically, given all the parties going on – a fairly gloomy episode. Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson are always fantastic, and I still have all the time in the world for Poldark, but with Warleggan on the warpath, Francis’s sanity hanging on a shoogly peg, and everyone’s marital woes seemingly about to take centre-stage again, I’m not looking forward to next week’s instalment quite as much as I might otherwise have been.

Containment ep 10

*SPOILERS*

I love Containment but subtlety isn’t on the list of reasons why; this week’s terrific episode is called “A Time to Be Born” and that means exactly what you think it means -Teresa’s finally gone into labour. Which in turn means that Sam and Jana are on midwife duties, Xander’s in the waiting room/  quarantine/ porch, hoping for the best, and the self-obsessed Suze’s still annoying everyone senseless.

Conditions obviously aren’t ideal: labour seems to be messing with Teresa’s memory – she keeps calling for her mum, apparently having forgotten how and why her mum had to leave in the first place – and freaking everyone else out, but Sam, in his usual resourceful way makes a stethoscope out of a balloon (look, me neither, but it was great), and Suze, having sent Dennis away to die a lonely (entirely preventable if he hadn’t been such a jerk) death, finally pulls both herself and an uncharacteristically panicky Jana together long enough to actually be of some use. Team Data Recovery just about manage to hold the fort on their own then, till the absolutely glorious moment when Officer Jake turns up (bearing a box of goodies from that gang leader who’s weirdly obsessed with pregnant women) to save the day yet again. “Just tell me they train cops to…”says the suddenly-overwhelmed Sam. “They do,” says the supremely calm, never-been-more-attractive-and-that-is-saying-something Jake, striding into Clean Room Three, all “Hey, remember me? It looks like you might be having a baby, which is great news because I actually know how to deliver babies, okay? I’ve just been waiting for an opportunity.”

Swoon.

Anyone who didn’t guess the baby would be named after Teresa’s mum needs to watch more TV. Those of us who did guess might well still have been charmed by the DIY crib though. Bless. If, after all this handiness, Sam proves Jed right and turns out to be a lunatic axe murdering rapist, I’m going to be very disappointed albeit, for now, I have much stronger feelings than disappointment to worry about.

Before we get to my anguish, though, we’ve a conspiracy to check in on. Lex and Lommers are out of quarantine and, oh sure, they’re fine; Lommers barely stops to change silk blouses before cheerfully showing off a tent full of dying guardsmen to the media, wrapping it up in Trump-esque “We will save America!” rhetoric so they’ll lap it and her up yet again. Lex, meanwhile, having reconnected with the now-buoyant Leo (the man loves it when a conspiracy comes together), is disconcerted to find out his new BFF Dr L might be a stone-cold serial killer – I still think her husband might be the one responsible for the virus mind you, even if she clearly knows how it all came about – and sends Jake to track down the smoking paperwork, only to find Meese has already turned it to ashes. The flinty-eyed Lommers promises she’ll resign tomorrow anyway, but let’s not hold our breaths behind our surgical masks, shall we? I’m guessing she’ll still have a trick or two left up those immaculately-tailored sleeves.

While Lommers seems destined to fight on, however, poor Katie might not be so lucky. Being stuck in one of the hospital’s observation rooms might have clipped a less determined character’s wings considerably, but no, our Katie hardly misses a beat this week, still managing to parent Quentin, berate Cannerts and be adorable with Jake throughout the episode. Watching her and Jake together, gabbing and gazing through the glass is both swoonsomely lovely and desperately sad, given that what happens at the end of the episode is so horribly inevitable; after all, “Containment” clearly isn’t scared of finishing what it starts and, whether your references are Biblical or lyrical, “A time to be born” also means “a time to die.”  Which in turn means we only have three more episodes to go, Katie may not even have that long and this show’s going to rip me up into tiny little pieces, isn’t it? *Sob.*

Hooten & The Lady s1 ep 1

Hooten & The Lady, refreshingly, doesn’t waste too much time on its absurd premise: Lady Alexandra Lindo-Parker of the British Museum (Ophelia Lovibond, radiant) persuades her bosses to let her go on a trip to the Amazonian jungle to try and find the lost camp of British explorer Percy Fawcett; in return, she promises, the profile of the museum will be heightened, leading to more funding. (Fawcett’s story, incidentally, is told in David Grann’s wonderful book ‘The Lost City of Z’.) When she gets there her path crosses with that of brash American adventurer Hooten (Michael Landes, rakishly handsome). Hooten has, uh, fallen out with a local tribe – I’m just going to assume that the indigenous people in this show have been appropriately and sensitively portrayed, because I have no idea whether they have or not, and move on – and the two of them are captured.

They escape, of course, for what won’t be the last time this week; nor, I daresay, this season. Amazingly they find Fawcett’s camp; even more amazingly they discover his skeleton is holding a map which seems to direct them to the fabled lost city of El Dorado. And now the fun can really begin. It all means, though, that Alex has gone off the grid, to the concern of her colleagues back in London, including a grievously underused Jessica Hynes. Fortunately the British Museum has a man on the ground – Pascal – who can search for her. Now, we know Pascal’s a wrong ‘un even before we see him, because of his name – “He’s French”, snarks Hooten to Alex. “You didn’t see that coming?” – and, once again, they’re captured. Fortunately Pascal doesn’t kill them immediately, meaning that with a bit of rock they can slip their bonds…

Having seen this first episode, though, I’m entirely baffled by the claim that the show isn’t going to be a will-they-won’t-they deal. The Hooten/Lady relationship is straight from the shipping playbook: he’s American, roguish, flirty, attractive; she’s English, posh, feisty, attractive. They hate each other at first. They bicker; although, as ever with British shows, the supposedly witty dialogue could do with being punched up a bit. They fall down a mountainside whereupon they end up with him LYING ON TOP OF HER, WITH THEIR FACES INCHES APART, FOR SLIGHTLY LONGER THAN HE NEEDS TO, for God’s sake. There’s a bit of chat with a knowing local shop owner who wonders if Alex has slept with Hooten yet. When they escape certain death, they bicker/flirt some more. By the end, thousands of miles apart, she’s in London looking wistful, while he’s in Rio brushing off the advances of the hot woman who’s fencing a diamond for him. And Alex’s as yet unseen fiancé Edward – also, I’m betting, a wrong ‘un – hasn’t been able to make the opening of her Fawcett exhibition.

So, add flirty #bantz to good-looking locations, many apparently genuine, and a weekly treasure hunt, and Hooten & The Lady is more or less what you think it is: an essentially good-hearted throwaway adventure show, admittedly with a slightly adult spin: the occasional 12A-rated swear word, naked butt (his), heaving bosom (hers). There’s even a hint, unless I imagined it, of a Secret Pain right at the end. It’s spectacularly silly. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t entertained. And the theme music is by Ezra Furman, which is to be encouraged. Rome next week, then.