Public Service Announcement 44 of 2017: Chance, Red Oaks

On the basis of its excellent first episode, I was all in on season 1 of Chance. It would be fair to say that the rest of the run didn’t quite live up to that, but it remained intriguingly noirish and Hitchcockian, with excellent performances from Hugh Laurie, Ethan Suplee, and Gretchen Mol.

For season 2 we’re much closer to American transmission, and all I know about the plot is that Chance will be asked to help with taking down a tech millionaire who might also be a serial killer. Now, the millionaire is played – and here’s where it gets really interesting – by Paul Schneider, who was, of course, Mark Brendanawicz in Parks and Recreation, the character who famously disappeared without a word being said. I always thought Mark was, to say the least, a little… off – other opinions are available – and Schneider himself appears to be, uh, not uncomplicated. In short, this could be inspired casting, and it’s certainly made sure that I’ll be watching (Friday 20 October, 10pm, Universal).

And season 3 of 80s-set comedy Red Oaks hits Amazon Prime tomorrow: I’ve never seen a minute of it, and probably never will, but it stars Unpopcult’s beloved Ennis Esmer so it’s almost certainly great.


Designated Survivor s2 ep 3

I spent a fair bit of time defending Designated Survivor from unfavourable comparison with The West Wing last season, arguing that it’s a different type of show entirely and should be judged on that basis instead. Designated Survivor is making it increasingly difficult to maintain that position this season, however, since it’s becoming increasingly clear the show doesn’t seem to have any idea what type of programme it actually is any more, and has taken to borrowing liberally from all sorts of others, just to see what might fit.

Last week was all about 24, but this week the show shifted into Containment mode, with a hyper-fast, hyper-deadly virus suddenly felling the population of South Carroll Parish, Louisiana, and PJB’s heroic pal from the CDC flying out there to try and fix it. Hazmat suits and viral apocalypse trope checklists at the ready then: we have 1. a poor child crying for his mother; 2. the mother being only the first of the many victims to come; 3. lots of bleeding from the eyes and mouth; 4. an experimental treatment yet to be FDA-approved being everyone’s only hope; and 5. Big Pharma wanting to squeeze every last dollar out of the entire scenario. All this would be fair enough, but, since this is a thriller about politics rather than pandemics, instead of taking its time and going the full Armageddon like Contagion or Containment did, we have virus, cure, court battle, defeat of capitalism, and heated discussion of the racial politics of it, all in one episode. And the CDC lady makes it out alive, no problem.

Not that that’s all, either. Q and Mr MI6’s investigation of Lloyd’s visit to the First Mother-in-Law’s house – for no reason other than with one conspiracy finished, we need another to fill the gap – continues, as they uncover what seems (for the moment, although it has to get bigger, right?) to be an exceptionally dull, small and convoluted instance of corruption, which I only care about because if the FMIL turns out to be a bad’un, maybe my season one wish’ll come true and FLOTUS will too. In the meantime, though, Chuck’s raging jealousy is the only fun part of this sub-plot. Well, that and Mr MI6, a thoroughly unnecessary character given that Chuck, Mike and Reed Diamond can and have investigated all sorts with Q in the past, getting deported for the most unnecessary B&E in the world. Bye, Mr MI6.

The weakest aspects of the episode are the political ones, though, and the ones that, much as I don’t want to, I do have to compare with The West Wing, because, let’s face it, they’re practically lifted right from it. In another example of the show introducing new, unnecessary characters, simply to take tasks and screentime away from the ones we already have, the spotlight falls on the perfectly-nice-but-we-already-had Ainsley-Hayes new White House Counsel Kendra Daynes who has lots to do, what with sorting out the sensitive, topical question of what should be done with a Confederate statue, while also starring in her very own episode of Law and Order: DC. Because what a show struggling to establish its identity after the end of its main storyline really needs is to throw in some regular courtroom drama and extra civics lessons (last week Posse Comitatus, this week public defence) to the mish-mash of styles it’s already trying to meld, and see what happens. (Clue: Papa Bauer eventually has to yell at the evil guest character again, that’s what happens. Although, just for a change, it doesn’t work first time out, so he has to shake him down, then yell at him again. Potay-to, Potah-to.)

Anyway, the statue debate is well-meaning and it would be important, except that it doesn’t get the depth or time it needs, what with everything else going on, and instead is treated as an opportunity for the President to patronise the living daylights out of Mike, and yet another opportunity for the most unnecessary character in the history of characters, Lyor, to say something infuriatingly glib to save the day. Or something. That guy is loathsome. And yet, inexplicably, getting a vast amount of screentime, be it relating to statues, the failings of his new colleagues, or some cutesy nonsense about hermaphrodite frogs.

Let me be clear, then. I usually like Designated Survivor a lot, and I didn’t hate this episode, but it really laid bare the main faults of this “difficult” second season. The show has definitely shed its early, joyous craziness and moved on to trying to do too many different, earnest things in each episode, all of which have been done better elsewhere. It has brought in too many characters, with the result being that the ones I already know and like (and ship!) are completely sidelined. And Lyor really, really sucks.

Private Eyes s2 ep 6

Spoilers. People make out.

Shade and Angie have been hired by Mel, a lawyer involved in the high-profile trial of a woman known in the popular press as Naughty Nancy, a rather whimsical nickname for someone who stands accused of stabbing her husband to death. So the Eyes head to court to meet him, and manage to catch a few minutes of the female prosecution lawyer savaging Nancy in cross-examination. Whew, babbles Shade afterwards, she was scary but hot. So where’s this Mel dude? Mel, of course, was the female prosecutor, one Melanie Parker; she hears every word; and she’s distinctly unimpressed by this jock who calls himself a PI. Not a good start to their business relationship.

The Case of the Week, then, is Melanie’s: she thinks that one of her jurors is behaving unusually, and that it’s because there’s some good old-fashioned jury tampering going on. Shade and Angie investigate, and discover that the juror in question is a good-natured and untampered-with middle-aged man whose private hobby is attending a nudist club. Nothing to see here, they report to Melanie, apart from juror number five’s Mr Happy. But the Eyes were themselves photographed while carrying out surveillance, and whoever did that is using it as leverage to get Melanie to drop the case.

We’ve only got 40 minutes or thereabouts, so a quick leap of logic is called for at this point in order to establish that another PI, Norm Glinski, is the person who is also watching the juror. And Norm is played – and because I wasn’t really paying attention to the credits I did not see this coming – by TV royalty William Shatner. Eventually Norm – an old rogue, but one who knew Angie’s father and is therefore redeemable – will join forces with the Eyes to uncover evidence proving that Naughty Nancy isn’t so naughty after all. The crucial intervention will, inevitably, come when Shade and Angie burst into court holding an envelope containing the evidence mere seconds before the jury delivers its verdict. To call it a well-worn device would be a grievous and possibly actionable understatement, but as ever with Private Eyes the whole thing is carried out with so much charm and affection that it’s impossible not to love.

But on top of that there are developments elsewhere: Shade père is interested in Shona, his new business partner at the cafe. Meh, I thought: it isn’t the ship I come to this show for, but I suppose it’ll do meantime. What, wonders Matt, is Angie’s view of workplace relationships? “Not enough tequila in the world, Shade”, she retorts. Hold that thought, girlfriend, and we’ll maybe come back to you next week to discuss it. Because by the end of the episode Shade and Melanie are vigorously making out in the latter’s office. Tequila time, Angie?

Public Service Announcement 43 of 2017: Mindhunter, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jane The Virgin

Netflix all the way in this PSA. Firstly an original, and an intriguing proposition at that: Mindhunter is a 70s-set drama about the FBI’s then nascent Behavioral Sciences Unit, with Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallanny as special agents who interview serial killers – yes, me too, I was also thinking that it really is about time someone featured them in a TV show – in order to help solve other cases. David Fincher and Charlize Theron exec produce. Netflix has kept its cards close to its corporate chest with Mindhunter, which might indicate either a lack or a surfeit of confidence. (At the time of writing I’m not entirely sure how many episodes there will be, although renewal has already been confirmed.) But the critics have now had a chance to see the first two episodes, and the reaction has been… generally positive? Available from tomorrow.

And two of the CW’s charmers are back on Netflix on Saturday: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, starring the preposterously talented Rachel Bloom, is simply one of the best things on TV. It returns for a third season. Jane The Virgin, perhaps a little off the boil last time out, starts season 4. Once again Netflix gets its customary round of applause for bringing these shows to UK audiences within hours of US transmission. Well done, Netflix.

Designated Survivor s2 ep 2


It’s Designated 24 week!

Not content with the usual earnestness combined with the near certainty that Papa Bauer will at some point snarl someone into submission – although obviously that happens too – this week’s Designated Survivor has a bash at the kind of time-limited, high-risk, low-plausibility threat that made 24 the stuff of tv legend. Yes, Big Bad Patrick Lloyd, having trashed the First Mother-in-Law’s house and just about evaded Agent Q and Mr MI6, holes up in an elaborately booby-trapped bunker and gives PJB two hours (?) to pardon him or DC gets a sarin gas makeover. Oh noes!

In case the homage isn’t obvious enough, there’s even an on-screen clock, although it’s a silent, sedate little white one instead of the big 24 timer, because this is meant to be a semi-serious drama too, you guys. Oh yeah, and a big 24 timer might get somebody sued.

Alarming though it may be, this crisis is not without its advantages, however, the chief one being that it takes screen time away from the White House Correspondents Dinner as the latest iteration of this weird new vibe the show has that the senior staff don’t know what they’re doing. Not that it does away with that entirely: Aaron and Emily escape with professional reputations unscathed this week, but Seth, once again, bears the brunt of the relevant “surprise, you’re a muppet!” sub-plot, which is, ironically, since it’s about his ostensible inability to write jokes, NOT FUNNY.

Since a full episode of cringing might have been more than I could stand, though, it’s just as well the main focus is on the possible imminent gassing of the entire metropolitan area by a guy with Daddy Issues (again with the Daddy Issues). Despite Q and MI6’s best efforts, Lloyd will not be deterred, and even a FaceTime with the Pres himself doesn’t work. (Perhaps he should have growled like he did last week.) So what’s an administration to do? Well, after a lengthy discussion suggesting my concerns about Aaron’s National Security Advisor qualifications might have been misplaced – did he do a quick degree in Strategies, Munitions and Modern Warfare Techniques in the off-season? – since he somehow civiliansplains every possible military solution to a decorated General, PJB decides drones are the way forward. Yay, drones! Except the military using them against a US citizen on US soil would be illegal. Boo, drones! But the FBI using them would be fine. Yay, drones again! Or yay, the opposing lawyer who feeds Aaron the answer, thereby giving Reed Diamond – yay! Reed Diamond’s back! – a chance to lead the charge, and me renewed hope that Qiamond might happen after all. I mean, she called him John and asked him to trust her, you guys. I didn’t even know he had a first name.

Of course, 24 would have had all this be for naught and released the gas anyway, but since Designated Survivor already blew up the Capitol, the writers maybe thought that was a bridge too far. Instead, the day is saved, but just temporarily since it’s only episode 2 and the law enforcement half of the cast needs something to do. With that in mind, before he dies, Lloyd “uploads something to the cloud.” I’m reasonably confident it’s not cat videos, but we shall see.

For the moment, it means Team FBI/MI6 can still run around urgently, Chuck can still gaze wistfully at Agent Q with absolutely no chance of more than a hearty hug back, and Aaron can still act as a slightly incongruous bridge between the two parts of this show, and – bonus! – can apparently now wear a polo shirt to work.

I don’t know. We are only a couple of weeks in, so maybe it’s too early to worry but, giant explosions aside, the new season isn’t quite firing on all cylinders yet, is it? I don’t like Lyor. Emily and Aaron seem a bit cold with each other. Seth’s workplace woes are bumming me out. And the show is relying a little too much on Kiefer Sutherland staring people down. Which he’s excellent at, don’t get me wrong, but use it too many times and it starts to lose its power. Last season was completely mad and all the mightier for it – I hope this one sidesteps the current existential crisis and goes back to being big and bonkers again soon.

Public Service Announcement 42 of 2017: Dynasty, X Company, The Big Bang Theory, Mr. Robot, Nile Rodgers: How To Make It In The Music Business

More, more, more. Back in the day I was a HUGE fan of Dynasty. Blake. Fallon. Sammy Jo. Krystle. Alexis. Krystle and Alexis bitch-slapping each other. I mean, come the eff on. This was as vital and as gloriously, trashily entertaining as 80s TV got. So I am, in theory at least, entirely on board for this Josh Schwartz-created CW reboot. Thus far, though, the reviews have been mixed, and I may to hang on to see if a positive consensus emerges. Once again, though, well played Netflix, which is bringing new episodes to UK viewers within a day or so of American transmission (Thursday 12 October).

Such is Unpopcult’s affection for all things Canadian at the moment that there’s a part of me considering taking a look at World War 2 drama X Company, about spies who are trained in Ontario then sent into action in Europe. This first season is a couple of years old now – two more were made – and as far as I can tell it was generally well-received (History, tonight, 9pm).

Also starting: season 11 of you-know-what-you’re-getting comedy The Big Bang Theory (E4, Thursday 12 October, 8.30pm); season 3 of Mr. Robot (Amazon Prime, Thursday 12 October); season 2 of Riverdale (Netflix, Thursday 12 October); and season 7 of Once Upon A Time (Netflix, today).

And a word about Nile Rodgers: How To Make It In The Music Business, a three-part series in which Rodgers unpacks his changing career. Part 1, which was shown last Friday, took us through Rodgers meeting his musical soulmate Bernard Edwards, the Chic years, and their move into collaborating with other artists. Or, put another way, through the creation of some of the finest pop music of all time; and we haven’t even reached Upside Down yet. It’s on the iPlayer; part 2 is on Friday.

Private Eyes s2 ep 5

Episode five finds Shade and Angie in pensive mood. Their client is a heartbroken classical musician who can’t accept his missing violinist fiancée “died” a year ago; the case brings them back up against an embittered Nolan who declares that “not every love story has a happy ending” but, much to Angie’s discomfort, is talking about a different “love story” entirely; and Shade feels for everyone, while having his own worries about what exactly his dad is hiding and whether Don Shade might be much longer for this earth.

The answer to the riddle of the missing muso and the fact that Nolan is handling it all wrong is obvious almost as soon as the detective opens his mouth – the more evidence there is the missing Laura is still alive, the more adamant he is that Shade and Angie should accept she’s dead, really? – but there’s a bit of Chopin, a bit of heartache and a recurring joke about Shade trying to bust down doors, so the episode manages to combine the sublime, the tragic and the amiably self-deprecating in the usual entertaining, if slightly more musically high-brow than usual, fashion. And just in case anyone was worried Private Eyes was going to get all serious on us, it culminates in a fun chase round a lovely Concert Hall where everybody gets to be a hero and the notion of Nolangie is dispatched fondly but firmly and (hopefully) finally – bring back Maz, you guys, Nolan is no fun – before a bunch of folk I really like sit down and share some frankly delicious-looking chicken. Good times.