Hawaii Five-0 s9 ep 8

A will-this-do? of a Thanksgiving episode commences with the traditional Five-0 and friends game of touchdown football, with Tani deputising for Danny as one of the team captains. Obviously the Big Kahuna is in charge of their opponents. Before it can get too insanely competitive, though, there’s been a death: a housebreaker has been found crushed to death under the safe he was trying to expropriate. But another thief, inevitably ignoring a house full of valuables, then drilled the safe in order to try and find something specific. Just once, I’d like TV procedural housebreakers to empty the whole damn house, rather than stealing to order. The something specific is a valuable baseball card, and the thief’s motives are interesting, but perhaps not quite explored enough.

Because the other half of the episode is given over to Lou and his extended family, all staying with him for Thanksgiving. His parents (Gladys Knight and Louis Gosset, Jr.,) are an absolute delight. His brother Percy (Clifton Powell), on the other hand, is provocative to the point of being sociopathic, and would be none the worse for a particularly vicious punishment beating. Which Grover is finally about to administer, until he realises that their parents are watching. This being H50, it obviously ends with both hugging and learning, but by that point Percy had got under my skin to the point where I was willing Grover to change his mind and smack his brother into a coma, if necessary with Gladys and Louis witnessing the whole thing. Our old friend Tony Almeida directs, incidentally, and the episode’s shortcomings aren’t his fault.


Public Service Announcement 15 of 2019: Flack, Curfew

I did not expect to see Academy Award Winner Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin, if we’re being formal) leading a new British/American tv series about the trials and tribulations of London PR people on minor tv channel W, of all places, but we live in strange times. Even stranger than I thought, it turns out – unpopcult royalty Bradley Whitford apparently guest stars in an ep or two as well. Um…. Does this mean that Flack (starting tonight at 10pm, with various repeat showings and on catch-up thereafter) might actually be good? I mean, the trailer’s not overly inspiring, reviews have been mixed and I’m more than over tv shows about unpleasant people behaving unpleasantly. But the cast (which also includes Sophie Okonedo and Marc Warren) must have seen something in it and I’m curious to find out what that is, so I might just try an episode after all.

In other “These people are in this?!” news, meanwhile, Sky 1’s new eight-part street racing drama, Curfew, set in a dystopian future where life is governed by a strict, er, curfew features Sean Bean, Miranda Richardson, Adrian Lester and Billy Zane amongst others, and looks completely ridiculous. I’m not sure even I can bring myself to watch it but you can catch it tomorrow (Friday) at 2am or 9pm if you want to see Ned Stark on wheels fighting the power.

Madam Secretary s5 ep 10

After several weeks of round-the-world firefighting, Elizabeth returns to the home front this week for Madam Secretary’s 100th episode. To Arizona, then, where Governor Barker has instituted a policy of separating undocumented children and mothers at the Mexican border. Yes, it’s ripped from the headlines, and Mad Sec puts an additional thumb on the scales by rendering the Governor as a big-hatted redneck, and the local police as hicks. I’m not sure that was entirely necessary (whatever one’s views of the policy itself), and it turned a potentially great episode into a merely good one.

Because what’s left is harrowing enough: a distraught mother, warehoused children sitting in their own urine, that sort of thing. Arizona is clear that it won’t stand for interference from D.C.; POTUS, Elizabeth, and Russell are determined that the policy will end, although their attempt to do so through the courts founders when the judge hearing their case turns out to be possessed by the spirit of Antonin Scalia, and shoots them down. Even Senator Morejon, Elizabeth’s old enemy, is more sympathetic, but won’t step in.

So Elizabeth heads to Arizona herself, and following a tangle with Governor Bighat is arrested for trespass. This, one feels, might be a defining moment for her Presidential campaign.

Traitors s1 ep 1

In 1945 London, spoilt society miss “Feef” is indulging her need for a adventure by a) training with MI6 with a view to doing a spot of spying behind enemy lines, and b) having an affair with handsome, married American intelligence officer Matt Lauria, from unpopcult’s beloved Friday Night Lights). When the end of the war puts paid to both those pastimes, and brings a new, non-Tory government besides, she is immediately persuaded to spy at home for the Americans instead; ruthless US operative Michael Stuhlbarg is convinced there is a Russian agent embedded at Whitehall and needs new-recruit-to-the-Civil-Service Feef to flush him/her out.

It’s an interesting idea, with an impressive cast and some intriguing political ground to cover but, sadly, the total is nowhere near the sum of its parts. Emma Appleton does all she can with her, but Feef is selfish, irritating and a lot more fascinating to the rest of the characters than she is to me. Keeley Hawes, fresh from her commanding turn in Bodyguard, is utterly wasted – in this first episode, her Priscilla Garrick has nothing to do beyond pursing her lips and looking prim and disapproving in the most obvious stereotype of a female civil servant possible. And Brandon P. Bell’s US army driver Jackson might be there to “tell a story of the African American experience in the Second World War,” but the fact that Jackson literally has no lines at all this week – he gets to scream once, loudly, but, other than that, just silently drives white people around – is either pointed meta-commentary on the erasure of the voices of people of colour from Western history, or it just compounds the problem. Either way, it’s a waste of a character and an actor who could do plenty.

There are positives, though. For a start, I‘m both surprised and delighted to see Greg “Gary: Tank Commander” McHugh pop up as one of Keeley’s colleagues/ Feef’s boss. (Gary!) Story-wise, the opening few minutes are nice and tense and include a genuinely startling REDACTED. And, towards the end of the ep, Luke Treadaway’s Hugh Fenton, newly-minted Labour MP, gives a terrific, barnstorming speech about the rich and the poor and the power of the few, which just about takes the roof off – it’s a fantastic piece of oratory, as resonant now and indeed any time throughout history as it is in that moment, and it makes me wonder what this show could have been if Feef had that sort of fire and verve and empathy in her. Maybe she will develop it. Maybe Jackson will speak. And maybe there will be more to Priscilla than little spectacles and scraped-back hair. If you want to find out, all six episodes are currently available on 4OD, but one hour of Traitors is enough for me – Agent Feef and I will be parting ways here.

The Good Doctor s2 ep 13

In the best of the week’s numerous plots, Lana – a woman in her 30s with autism – requires brain surgery, which even if successful might render her incapable of speech. Her friend, Javi, who also has autism, visits her from time to time, but both are clear that they’re just roommates, not romantic partners. Except they also have sex. “It’s frequently better than masturbation”, explains Lana. “High praise”, murmurs Dr Lim, who is pretty clear that Lana and Javi should be left to define their own relationship however they please, while Morgan is somewhat keener to persuade them that they have feelings for each other. And to get Shaun to help with communication. “What are you looking at him for?” Lim demands of Morgan. “It’s not like they all know each other”. 

Lana, and her capacity for language, are saved by surgery, and by the end it appears that she and Javi are edging towards acknowledging their feelings. “I think I love you”, Javi says to Lana. “I think you do too”, she replies. It’s unexpectedly but profoundly moving, and made more so by the fact that both of the actors – Vered Blonstein and Alex Plank – (a) are terrific; and (b) have autism themselves. In an ideal world this would probably be less noteworthy than it is.

Elsewhere in the hospital there’s a 70-year-old woman flatlining, which is inexplicable to start with, because blood is still getting round her body. It turns out that she has a mechanical heart, which was implanted in her by a surgeon in Beijing, and she’ll need to go back there for it to be fixed properly. Her condition then deteriorates, though, at least in part because of the stress caused by the reappearance of her daughter, who she hasn’t spoken to in 15 years. This is complicated by the presence in her life of a woman, a sort of substitute daughter, about the same age as her biological daughter.

And Shaun, in addition to medical duties, has to try and come to terms with Jake, Lea’s new boyfriend. Shaun thinks they can all be friends, and watch movies and eat popcorn together. Which, as Lea explains, they can; but she and Jake also need some grown-up lying-down-together time. Shaun seems less keen on this idea, perhaps inspired by what he saw of the relationship between Lana and Javi. His mood isn’t helped by the fact that Glassman is suffering from the effects of chemotherapy but doesn’t want Shaun around to look after him, in response to which Shaun, almost despairingly, becomes almost aggressive in his attempts to provide support. What a great episode. I keep getting knocked sideways by just how good this show is.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend s4 ep 13

Most of this week’s action takes place at the hospital where Paula is recovering from her heart attack. Rebecca is there to support Paula, and is also on prescribed medication herself after last week’s events. She’s somewhat ambivalent about that, but is reassured by Dr Akopian, in a full-on ‘La La Land’ song-and-dance number featuring some actual cast members from that movie, that everyone’s on antidepressants, so no big. (This show is making quite the contribution to breaking down the stigma around mental illness, incidentally.) Josh, Nathaniel, and “Greg” all turn up at the hospital as well, intending to see Rebecca. But they come into contact with an infection which requires them to be quarantined, meaning that their bickering about who deserves Rebecca more can turn into fully-fledged violence. Or whatever you call it when it’s a fight between Josh and “Greg”. And Darryl, in the waiting room, meets April, in what looks like it might be a fledgling romance until they find out that their daughters know each other and don’t get on.

Paula needs to get out of the hospital in order to sit the bar exam, but she isn’t discharged in time, and if she signs herself out there might be problems with her health insurance. So Rebecca, Valencia, and Heather resolve to break Paula out. It means so much to Paula to be an attorney, realises Rebecca; what do I really want to do? Not Rebetzels, that’s for sure. I assumed that, like every show written by a writer, which is of course all of them, Rebecca’s dream would be to be a writer. It isn’t, although it isn’t a million miles away.

By the end, Rebecca’s confessed to “Greg” about what happened last week, so they’ve decided to take some out. And Josh has been firmly friendzoned. Which means that, all of a sudden, Nathaniel can see a path back into Rebecca’s life. As I’ve said before, if I have to pick among them I’m Team Nathaniel, so fill your boots, dude. An episode long on charm, as might be expected, but I didn’t think there was quite enough substance to it.

Public Service Announcement 14 of 2019: Traitors, Baptiste

Time for some more Sunday night spycraft: channel 4’s new six-part drama, Traitors, starts tomorrow night at 9pm. Set in 1945 post-war London, it follows a young English woman persuaded to spy on the government by an American agent, in order to root out a supposed Russian one. The cast includes Keeley Hawes and Michael Stuhlbarg, and the trailer makes it look polished and well-made, but also very BBC period spy drama, by which I mean nothing particularly new or exciting. Having said that, though, channel 4 usually tries to do something a bit different with its drama and I love a forties hairdo, so I‘ll check out the first ep and report back in due course.

Speaking of the BBC meantime, BBC1 has its own six-parter, detective drama Baptiste, starting at 9pm tomorrow as well. It’s a spin-off featuring a popular character from The Missing , which did very well in its own right and coincidentally also had Keeley Hawes in it. Even the thought of The Missing was too upsetting for unpopcult to contemplate watching it but, in fairness, Baptiste is apparently about the search for a missing adult, as opposed to a child, so that’s…. not that cheerful a thought, either. Not for me, I don’t think, but if you decide to check it out, let us know how you get on.