Nashville s3 ep 21

Rayna admits to Deacon that she didn’t go to New York, but went instead to Natchez, where she wasted her time trying to persuade/bribe Beverly into saving his life. Then she receives a package, which she greedily tears open: could it, perhaps, contain a chunk of compatible liver? But no – it’s the cheque she gave Beverly last week, ripped up. At which point anyone who’s ever seen a TV show knows that Beverly’s going to appear in early course offering her organ on a silver plate.

But we’ll need to wait a while for that. Meantime, The Exes are shopping themselves around record labels, and their best offer is from Highway 65. Scarlett doesn’t want to sign, which she tries to rationalise away, but which at least in part looks as if it’s because she doesn’t want to be tied to Gunnar for a second longer. And while I’m normally on the good ship Gunnlett all the way, I really can’t blame her; Gunnar is once more acting like an asshat (“What were you saying before he cut you off?”), even if he – like this audience member at least – can’t quite see any sparks flying between Scarlett and Dr Moderately-Hot. Meantime Kiley is given some sort of equivalence to Dr M-H and thus seems to have been promoted to quasi-girlfriend, without Gunnar telling us. Fortunately there’s only one more episode to go in this season, or I’d be falling out of love with Gunnar entirely.

Jeff is doing what he can to create a newsworthy feud between Jade and Layla, but this storyline is a little sad: Jeff’s a horrible person, and Layla’s a lost soul whose boyfriend/manager is a manipulative creep and whose husband was gay. Although that secret looks as if it’s about to break: Luke finds out that a tabloid has photos of Will and Kevin en vacances.

Juliette is failing to bond with Cadence, leading everyone – Avery, Glenn, Emily, some doctor – to conclude that she has post-natal depression. So they stage an intervention, during which Glenn hilariously observes that she’s being “rude and irrational”. Dude. It’s Juliette Barnes. You’ve met her before.

And Teddy’s long farewell continues: having been undone by an escort wearing a wire, he in turn is asked to wear a wire to entrap State Senator Stern, who used to be in bed with Lamar. Except Stern’s dealings, he finds out, were with Tandy. Uh-oh. I wonder if Teddy’s going to be able to redeem himself by not throwing Tandy under the bus which is heading for Nashville? Anyway, decent though this episode was, it wasn’t my favourite of the season by any means: it was unusually downbeat, and I like Nashville to be a little more fun.

Public Service Announcement 48 of 2015: Empire, CSI: Cyber, Battle Creek

Three American shows starting on Tuesday: one an old favourite, two new to the UK. The returning show is Empire, which by the end of its first season had turned into something of a ratings behemoth in America. We had to wait a long time to see it in the UK, but clearly E4 has taken notice of the way in which the show has become a cultural phenomenon, and for season 2 we’re right behind American transmission. This is always a good thing.

As for the show itself: I watched, and enjoyed, the first season, although I was at a bit of a loss to understand exactly why it had become the most popular scripted show on US TV. Part of it, I’m guessing – and simultaneously checking privilege – is that it was very unmistakeably an African-American show, and those are rare indeed on mainstream television. Putting that aside, though, it was also great fun, with a spectacular performance from Unpopcult idol Taraji P. Henson as Cookie. It’ll be interesting to see if the show can keep it up, particularly with a loose cannon like Terrence Howard in a key role. I’ll definitely be watching; haven’t yet decided about reviews (Tuesday 6 October, 9pm, E4).

As for the new shows: The once-mighty river of CSI shows has dwindled to a trickle. Only CSI: Cyber is left, in which Patricia Arquette leads a team of cyber-cops, including Dawson off of Dawson’s. John ‘The Biscuit’ Cage is also in it for the first season, which got mediocre reviews and ratings which were just about good enough to merit a grudging renewal. I can’t really think of a reason to watch this (Tuesday 6 October, 10pm, Channel 5).

And as my least favourite American TV trope is the one in which the FBI and the local police butt heads (“Comin’ in here, telling’ us what to do, stealin’ the glory after we’ve done all the work”/”This is my case, douchebag”/”You gotta let it go. Orders from City Hall”) a comedy-drama entirely based on that premise doesn’t fill me with anticipatory joy. Having said that, the reviews for CBS’s Battle Creek, with Josh Duhamel as FBI and Dean Winters as local cop, were actually pretty good. Vince Gilligan and David Shore are co-creator and exec producers, and Bryan Singer directed the pilot, so on the face of it Battle Creek has quite a lot going for it. But it only lasted 13 episodes, which probably means it isn’t worth getting invested (Tuesday 6 October, 10pm, Universal).

Lots coming in October. Homeland next.

Doctor Who s35 ep 3

One of the “keep it indoors, keep the budget down” type episodes, “Under the Lake” is the first of another two-part story, set in an underwater mining base where a mysterious, abandoned spaceship brings with it ghosts, murder and, inevitably, a very excited Doctor and Clara.

As usual with these confined space episodes, there’s a lot of running down corridors/in circles and a fair few plot points you can’t look at too closely; I mean, come on, as IF the crew wouldn’t have arranged for immediate evacuation as soon as the ghosts appeared and started trying to off them. I know they tried to explain their initial decision to stay with “big business told them to” but that doesn’t make a huge amount of sense, either – I can buy that Pritchard was so devoid of human feeling that he would insist on putting everyone else in that amount of danger to preserve profits, but himself too? And surely the insurance/legal costs alone of getting all the personnel killed would cancel that out anyway?

Or maybe, given recent and not-so-recent history about exactly what large corporations are prepared to risk, I’m just being naive. Either way, this particular story didn’t really seem to get very far or do enough to distinguish itself from similar eps in this first part, at least. Having said that, though, there were some funny lines and definitely hints of some interesting ideas bubbling along under the surface which I assume/hope will get fleshed out in part two, since writer Toby “Being Human” Whithouse is a genius and responsible for some of the best genre tv ever (including, as it happens, probably my all-time favourite Who episode, The God Complex). I’m a huge Whithouse fan. So maybe I just need to give this story a chance. Great cliffhanger, at any rate.

Public Service Announcement 47 of 2015: The Leftovers

A quick reminder for UK fans of Damon Lindelof’s latest US drama The Leftovers: the show returns to Sky Atlantic for its second season this Monday (5th) at 10pm – ie just one day after its US return, so well done Sky Atlantic. Season one wasn’t for everyone, of course, and, in fairness, I can see why its slow pace and deeply melancholy tone turned some people off. I thought it was absolutely terrific, though, so I’ll be watching and reviewing each ep and doing my best not to ponder my own mortality / throw myself from a great height as I go.

Irrational Man (2015)

UnknownIn Irrational Man Woody Allen returns to a couple of his favourite themes: whether a murder can ever be morally justifiable; and, of course, a younger woman falling in love with an older man. The older man is philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix), who has just arrived at a small New England liberal arts college, trailing behind him a reputation for disreputable behaviour; the younger woman is one of his students, Jill Pollard (Emma Stone).

Jill and Abe inevitably start a relationship, although that’s kind of incidental to the main plot: sitting in a diner, they overhear a woman telling her friends that she’s going to lose custody of her children because the judge in her case is corrupt. Almost as a thought experiment at first, Abe raises the question of whether killing the judge would be an ethically acceptable act; quickly, though, it becomes less of an academic exercise.

There’s a fair amount to like: Phoenix and Stone are both interesting actors, and Phoenix’s vanity-free performance as the paunchy, disillusioned Abe is particularly good. On the other hand, by Allen’s standards it really isn’t anything special. You kind of feel as if he’s covered this ground before; and Parker Posey, a fine actor, is trapped in a thankless role as a married academic who embarks on an affair with Abe. I quite liked it, and it’s better than Magic in the Moonlight (2014), thank the Lord, but it’s not the late period masterwork the fans are waiting for.

Doctor Foster s1 ep 4

At the start of the episode Gemma and Simon’s marriage looks as if it’s survived, which would – sort of? – vindicate Gemma’s repeated and otherwise inexplicable failure to confront her husband. Anyway, as we find out this week, she lost both her parents when she was a teenager, which perhaps explains her willingness to overlook Simon’s infidelity and financial chicanery; she doesn’t want to lose this family. And she loves her house.

In the workplace, though, it’s all going wrong. Someone is posting online – h8ers gonna h8 – about how terrible a doctor she is. The police are wondering in what way her mother-in-law got hold of those sleeping pills. And an official complaint has been made about her threatening to burn someone with a lit cigarette. The other partners clearly don’t know just how off-the-wall she’s been recently – and these complaints barely scratch the surface of her unethical behaviour over the last three episodes – but she’s encouraged to take a leave of absence until it’s all sorted out. Whether her best course of action is thereafter to go round to Carly’s boyfriend and offer to pay him off if he’ll withdraw his complaint about the cigarette is open to question, but she’s sufficiently unhinged to do it.

And from then on things just get worse. She finds out that Simon and Kate have reconciled when she sees them kissing round the back of his office – which presumably means that we can add “everyone Simon works with” to the lengthy list of people who are aware of his affair. Is there anyone in Parminster who didn’t know before Gemma? And, once again, instead of confronting Simon about it she decides that there’s a much crazier and more complex way to deal: she drags her son and Simon’s assistant into some demented lie about her suddenly having to go to a conference, then pisses off to the seaside to hang with Jack, her old lush ex-partner, and with Mary, a woman who seems to have had a hand in her post-parent-death upbringing, although I didn’t quite follow that bit.

Anyway, what follows is actually quite revealing: she flirts with suicide, and she exhibits a staggering degree of solipsism when she insists, over and over again, that her grief at catching her husband playing away from home outweighs everything else, including Jack’s sorrow at the death of his partner of 30 years. “You’ve always known exactly how to hurt people”, Mary coolly observes, and once again we get a flash of something selfish and unpleasant at Gemma’s core; something which – dare I say it? – might just start to explain why Simon’s prepared to risk everything for a fling with a younger woman.

After last week’s detectable improvement this episode was a big step back, though, and – leaving aside the continuing implausibility of the story – yet another example of a British TV drama in which fifteen minutes’ worth of plot is somehow made to fill an hour. The point, I think, was to set up the last scene, an impromptu dinner party at the home of Kate’s parents. Simon and Kate are both there, presumably starting to suspect that Gemma’s got the goods on them; and Gemma herself is an unexploded bomb. One would guess she’s going to detonate in next week’s finale, and that no-one’s going to be able to avoid getting damaged.

UnREAL s1 ep 10


“Look, even with all the crap we’ve been through, we still always managed to make a show, so let’s just make a great finale.”

Yes, it’s season finale time (or it was a couple of weeks ago, I’m a bit late reviewing) for both UnReal, the show, and Everlasting, the-show-within-the-show, and any Rachel/Adam shippers’ hopes (ie MINE) are dashed early on as Adam, after a chat with Quinn, breaks Rachel’s heart and decides not to run away with her. Noooooo!

Since Rachel has form for decimating even people who’ve never done her any harm in the interests of good tv, this seems not so much a bad move as a completely catastrophic one, and so it proves; Quinn enlists Rachel and her fury in the new secret plan (after Madison spilled the beans on the old secret plan) to humiliate and destroy Chet, with the prospect of also humiliating and destroying Adam as some sort of performance-related bonus.

Ouch. If I didn’t love this sharp, intricately-plotted, eye-poppingly cruel finale quite as much as I could have, it’s not a reflection on the episode so much as a reflection on me. More than a little sweet on Adam myself (he didn’t really deserve what he got, did he?), I desperately wanted to see him and Rachel smooch off into the sunset, but that wouldn’t have been true to the spirit of UnReal at all. Yes, it’s built around a TV dating show, but it’s been clear from the first frame of the first episode that romantic love has very little to do with it: the relationship that truly matters is the much more complicated one between the two clever, manipulative, deeply flawed, utterly mesmerising anti-heroines (both Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer have been terrific throughout) at the heart of it all.

Even though I got a bit starry-eyed, then, Unreal never lost sight of what it was about, which was both welcome and refreshing; after what seems like years of me writing angry, disappointed posts about increasing misogyny on tv, here’s (not that I’m the first to point this out) a programme created and run by two women, Marti Noxon and Sarah Shapiro, mostly written by women, revolving around two female characters at the centre of an unapologetically grown-up, provocative, often hilarious, always brutal, never less than compelling story with an abundance of interesting, insightful, genuinely arresting things to say about modern tv. I can’t think of any more ways to say how impressed I’ve been with this first season: the writing, the acting, the characters, all of it. Unreal has been superb.