Nashville s4 ep 5

Oh dear. Juliette wakes up the morning after not answering the Cadence-in-hospital call, and it looks as if she’s starting to realise what she’s got herself into. She stops taking the pills, although it’ll take most of the episode for her to get rid of that appalling idiot who’s latched onto her as friend/factotum; meantime, she tries reaching out to Avery and Emily, unsurprisingly without success.

Avery, toying with divorce all the while, will head out to the Luke/Juliette tour for a face-to-face. But there’s a little redemption to be had before we get to the climactic Julvery confrontation: Older Girl has joined the tour for an evening in order to hang with Cody, and Juliette – sensing that OG needs someone to talk to – sits down with her, offers some sage advice, then brings OG up on stage with her. And, actually, it’s a great moment: Juliette, whatever else can be said about her, is always good to OG; OG, for her part, manages to not annoy the bejesus out of me for the first time in a year or two; and, on stage, the two of them knock it out of the park. The baseball metaphor is apposite because, when OG leaves the stage vibrating with excitement, she and Cody hit the tour bus where, it’s strongly implied, the two of them take care of first, second, and third bases before hitting a home run of their own. Amusingly, Luke – anticipating Rayna’s wrath – and then Rayna are furious about the going-on-stage thing alone. (Luke gets line of the night: “Don’t go trying to play ‘cool mom’ with somebody else’s kid just because you’ve abandoned your own”.) Just wait until they find out about that.

And, actually, it’s another hell of a week for Avery, which makes me realise that I’ve come a very long way since thinking him, in season 1, to be a total jerk. (Which, in my defence, he was.) He’s supposed to be producing Markus, but while trying to deal with absent wife and sick child he’s not been paying quite enough attention. Ultimately Markus chastises him, in front of a studio full of musos, for talking on the phone “like a girl”, and fires him. I abhor violence, of course, but can’t help thinking that someone needs to punch some manners into Markus stat.

Mind you, the same could have been said of Deacon for a while now, and indeed for most of this episode. Poor Scarlett – who was, let’s not forget, the victim of parental abuse from her revolting mother – heads off to Natchez on her own to clear her mother’s house. Deacon eventually turns up, scowls, sulks, and just when I was about to throw something at the TV Scarlett finally tells him to shut up and take what he wants, then get out. They eventually reconcile – kind of – but Deacon has been such a horse’s ass for weeks that I’d like to think she won’t let him off easily.

Rayna, too, has been unnecessarily tolerant of Deacon and his horse’s-assery, but she’s still distracted by business. This week she sits down with Layla ostensibly to discuss the new album, but it’s mostly about Jeff. There’s a touching moment when, after Rayna’s laid Jeff’s flaws out – and it really can’t be argued with – Layla acknowledges much of it, but also makes the point that Jeff isn’t all bad: “He can be a total jerk. He’s too old for me. There are times when I really don’t like him. But he’s also really kind to me. And he challenges me and inspires me and no matter how many times I think about all the bad things, the truth is I love him. Even when my head tells me to stop, my heart just won’t let go”. Which is kind of what we’ve been saying about Jeff as well. Anyway, Rayna’s been around country music for long enough to know that Layla has, essentially, just written a song, and all it needs is a few minutes with a guitar to knock it into shape.

Back on the tour, Luke – trying to launch a lifestyle brand (?) with the help of Gabriella – is joined by Will, Kevin, and Gunnar. The first two are also acting as wingmen for Gunnar, who they (correctly) think needs to get laid. Gunnar will get nowhere with one of Juliette’s roadies, a hottie named Erin, right up to the point where Erin gets purged in Juli’s Year Zero. Then, all of a sudden, she’s up for it. Women, eh? Tch. But Will has to watch as Luke sings one of his songs on stage, and he realises that’s still the life he wants; just being a songwriter might be enough for Kevin, but it’s not enough for Will. And Jeff wants to be CEO for Luke’s Lifestyle plc, but Gabriella tells him he needs to be able to separate business and pleasure (which she will, later, successfully do by resisting Luke’s advances, although in such a way as to not quite close the door forever). Does that mean that Layla’s about to get dumped? Strangely, I kind of hope not.

It’s all leading, though, to the final scene, and Avery turning up with signed divorce papers to give to Juliette. You can hardly blame him; yes, postpartum depression, but Juli’s not really helped herself. One of the better episodes of the season, I’d say, although the pervading gloom is starting to get me down a bit. This is a show about country music, folks. How about some more big hats and sparkles?

Private Eyes s1 ep 1; s1 ep 2

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Toronto. Ever-so-slightly snarky – but nonetheless, y’know, attractive – PI Angie Everett (Cindy Sampson) is looking into the attempted murder of a young ice hockey prospect whose agent is one-time star player Matt Shade (Jason Priestley). As one of the characters points out, “that’s a PI name if I ever heard one”. Shade’s divorced, with a delightful teenage daughter who has a disability; Angie’s marital/relationship status is as yet undetermined, but in her favour she has a possible Secret Pain. He wants to help with the investigation; she tolerates him; they squabble; they solve the crime. The baddie is who I thought it was on first sight.

By episode 2, set in the exciting – but deadly! – world of the bad-boy restaurateur, we’re already getting the scene in which Angie scrubs up and sticks a dress on, and Shade reacts in a way which requires her to remind him where her eyes are. They will, at some point in the future, totally make out, of that we can be sure. (I’m setting the over-under for this at 10 episodes.) Meantime, she hires him as an assistant for her PI firm, because – what do you know? – he’s actually quite good at investigating, in an enthusiastic amateur sort of way, and underneath it all he’s probably a decent guy. The baddie is who I thought it was on first sight.

I can’t begin to tell you just how much Private Eyes won’t change your life. If you’re looking for your next great TV show this ain’t it; compared to this, Royal Pains is an unflinching and harrowing look into the abyss. But it has plenty going for it as well: half of Unpopcult likes her, half likes him, we both like them together. The dialogue is snappy. And the theme is a cover, by Canadian band Dear Rouge, of a truly great 80s song. In short I was utterly charmed, and I have every intention of watching the rest of the season. And, as it’s been renewed, the next season as well. So there. It’s on Universal in the UK, Monday nights at 8pm, also available on demand.

Poldark s2 ep 4

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If I were a member of the 18th century landed gentry, or even just a member of their local police force, I imagine Ross Poldark would get right on my, er, wig.

This week’s episode begins with him treating some weary lawmen (and a slightly bored audience? No?) to his favourite lecture on the desperation of the poor and the institutional unfairness of the legal and taxation systems. Again. The man has a point, of course, and I do like my romatic heroes to have a social conscience, but even I, sitting comfortably on my sofa, want him to give it a rest, never mind the lawmen who have “I’ve been working a double-shift,””I’m not getting before midnight, am I?” and “tell it to someone who can actually do something about it” written very clearly across their long-suffering faces. “I couldn’t resist,” chuckles Ross when questioned by the long-suffering (this season, anyway) Demelza. “Try” says at least one recapper, rolling her eyes, “since we’ve heard it all before and it never does you any good.”

But then Poldark wouldn’t be Poldark this year without Ross a) giving somebody a lecture, b) throwing a bunch of money he can’t afford at a crazy-ambitious mining venture and c) being obnoxious to his wife. With a) already taken care of, then, b) this week has our man selling more shares to the Weasel Warleggan, a man now so obsessed with getting all up in Captain Poldark’s business, one might be forgiven for thinking he too has a thing for Aidan Turner’s bouncy curls. George. Dude. Do you really have nothing to do beyond sparring lessons and stalking? Because – spoiler alert! – I just don’t think he’s that into you. Even if he is into using your money to go into partnership with the still (disconcertingly) cheerful Francis and re-opening Wheal Grace.

Since I’m always getting my Wheals confused, I’m not entirely sure why Wheal Grace was closed in the first place, but hey ho; it seems our hero has high hopes of finding both copper and freedom in there, but we shall have to wait and see if the Poldark partnership, the Poldark marriages, Francis, and Ross himself (now the big idiot has decided to spice up his life with a touch of smuggling) all survive long enough for the scheme to bear fruit.

To keep everyone going in the meantime, however, fruit of a different kind is being supplied by the mercurial Lady Caroline who is now so smitten with Dr Enys that she’s lost her damn mind. The letters demanding he follow up on her close encounter with a fishbone (oh, girlfriend) are both desperate and guaranteed to have the opposite effect – Caroline, hon, if you’ve already forgotten how to play hard to get, try taking some lessons from the object of your affection – even if the ostensibly chaste scene where he finally pops in and examines her (perfectly fine, obviously) throat is surprisingly erotic enough to be worth it. I mean, it certainly unsettles him.

The way to this particular doctor’s heart turns out to be through his patients’ stomachs, however and, while Lady Caroline has all the startling, noxious callousness of the idle rich, she has none of their stupidity, correctly divining (maybe she borrowed Francis’s stick!) that a nice big crate of oranges for the scurvy-ridden villagers will bring the good doctor both back to her side and under her thumb. “You’re very impertinent,” she says, meaning “My God, you’re tremendous.””I like you very much too,” he replies, having finally learned to speak Minx, before Warleggan, that imbecile Unwin and life separate the clearly besotted pair. Just for now, though, I should think – after all, the delicate Horace is bound to need a check-up at some point, isn’t he?

All this romance in the air brings us back to c) however, and Ross being a jerk to Demelza. After his appalling behaviour last week, this ep kicks things off a bit more promisingly with them taking a nice walk on a cliff (yes again, but I don’t think they had the option of dinner and a movie in those days) but since the walk ends abruptly with him heading one way and her trudging wearily back the other, this new-found harmony doesn’t last very long. Unless you count the yelling and arguing that ensues over his smuggling and her fishing alone as nothing more than spirited debate. (Prudie and Ginny certainly don’t.)

“You think you can do as you please, while I always do as you bid me!” – Demelza has a fair point, and we all know it’s going to mean her going back out on that boat and getting into deep trouble, the only question being whether she’ll allow her heel of a husband to rescue her or not. “Where would you be if I hadn’t come along?” he shouts over the waves. “Where would you be if I hadn’t come along?” she shouts right back, and for all it’s another argument, she suddenly turns it into a pretty adorable one, as far as arguments go, the only heat in it becoming the passionate, fun kind rather than the truly angry variety. Ross striding through the water in his wet shirt suggesting they “examine my failings at a more convenient time” is something of a bonus, of course, and since it all ends with a new Poldark baby, all sides of the family – welcome back, Blameys! – reconciled and toasts all round, Demelza and I have no trouble forgiving her hotheaded husband at all. This time. With Elizabeth giving him the eye and Warleggan giving me the creeps, the Poldark marriage is hardly off the clifftops out of the woods yet. But after last week’s misery, at least this ep, even if it did cram six months into a breakneck sixty minutes, gave us something to smile about. “To the Poldarks and Wheal Grace!” indeed.

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.