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.
At the soft opening of Steve and Danny’s restaurant, The Money Pit, Steve meets Milton Cooper, retired HPD detective and buddy of his grandfather, who was killed during the Pearl Harbor attack. Milton hands over a briefcase which belonged to Steve’s grandfather, and which contains papers relating to an unsolved crime – the disappearance of plantation girl Lila Kekoa, in 1932 – which not even the legendary detective Chang Apana could solve.
Steve reads over the material, then dozes off and finds himself back in the Oahu of December 5, 1941 as his grandfather, with Danny as Milton, and the two of them set about solving the crime. As ever with these episodes, the main cast members all get their moment with the clothes and technology of the time; I particularly liked Jerry using a magic lantern as a stand-in for the iTable. Adam, needless to say, is a villain. It’s not the fastest-moving H50 episode ever, it has to be said, but its main purpose is to transfer the cast back to the hats and gats of the Jazz Age, just before Pearl Harbor changed everything forever, and that it does with a certain amount of charm. Some of the characters even smoke, which isn’t the sort of thing you really see on US network dramas these days, and the big-band rearrangement of the famous Five-0 theme is something of a banger.
There’s an odd little coda, though, when the Steve and Danny restaurant plot, which has run for nearly two seasons, is wrapped up in about a minute. Neither of them really wants to be a restaurateur, you see, so they sell out to Kamekona. Huh.
Blindspot returns this week, with a very high concept but sadly fairly low entertainment value episode set mostly inside Jane’s head. (Once she and Kurt have given each other a really brutal beat-down, that is.) Only just surviving the fight, he manages to dose her with the magic blah formula so Patterson, Rich and Dr Agent Whose Name I’ve Forgotten can administer the magic blah brain treatment which might kill her or destroy her higher cognitive functions, but seems unlikely to do either since this is a network procedural and she’s the female lead.
Anyway, this magic fix is very simple: you strap a comical-looking brain helmet/ swimming cap with electrodes onto Jane’s head and you stand around freaking Kurt the hell out by continually telling him that when the treatment works it’s very, very good, and when it doesn’t, it’s horrid. And you look sympathetic and worried while most of the “real” action – I use this term very loosely, since it’s not only not “real” because it’s a tv show, it’s not actually “real” on that tv show either – happens in her brain.
As Jane and Remi duke it out for control, Jaime Alexander and her stunt double put in a load of work, a few familiar faces (some less welcome than others) pop in to visit and there are some nice callbacks to more fun times (The Big Chair of Truth! The painting with the bullets!), but it’s just not enough to redeem an “experimental” episode which probably seemed like a great idea on the page but comes across as a load of slightly tedious psychobabble on screen. And is far too heavy on the Doe family therapy for me at least. I’m glad Jane’s back, and I’m glad Blindspot’s back too, but I’d really like the rest of the season to be set in the physical world as opposed to the mental one, even if that means we’re now swapping the “Is Jane Really Evil Now?” story for the “Is Zapata?!” one.
This week on Madam Secretary’s tour of the world’s trouble spots: the Balkans. Elizabeth has brokered a deal which would bring both Serbia and Kosovo into NATO. Great, huh? Well, first of all Spain indicates that it can no longer support the plan; it doesn’t want to encourage breakaway republics given its own local difficulty in Catalonia. Then news emerges of a mass grave which has just been found in Kosovo, dating back to its war with Serbia. Inevitably Kosovo pulls out of the NATO proposal, and for a moment it looks as if a full-blown civil war is about to break out.
The thing is, there’s no mass grave. (No newly-found mass grave, anyway.) It’s a made up story, propagated through the world’s media. Cui bono? Who in all the world (Russia) would stand to gain (RUSSIA) from ensuring the failure of a deal (RUSSIA RUSSIA RUSSIA) to admit East European countries to NATO? Well, Russia, of course. But Mad Sec wants proof before she tackles Foreign Minister Avdonin. It’s all inevitably, and typically, well-handled. And although it might be argued that the final scene, in which ethnic Albanian children and Serbian children share a classroom and plant hugely symbolic bulbs, is a bit on-the-nose, it should be said that the episode hardly gave us a happy ending on the macropolitical level.
Meantime, there are a couple of nice subplots in D.C. First of all, Secretary of Defense Becker turns up at the McCord home late at night. He’s somewhat, uh, overwrought, and is eventually shepherded away by his apologetic wife. The next day the incident is chalked up to sleeping medication, or something like that, but when Henry says that it needs to be reported anyway he’s on the receiving end of a bizarre little powerplay from the White House chief physician. And Blake’s first task in his new role is to sign off on a request for further funding from an NGO which has successfully reduced the incidence of malaria. Having done so, he then has to deal with representations from another NGO which points out that the mosquito nets he’s funding are killing fish. It’s a brisk and entertaining introduction to realpolitik for Blake, who is simultaneously grappling with having to watch Nina, his replacement as M-Sec’s assistant, knock it out of the park in a way he does not approve of, because it isn’t him doing that job any more.
Greyzone is Channel 4’s latest Scandi-drama purchase. It stars Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, who was of course Katrine Fønsmark – you know, the journalist one who should have ended up with Kasper – in Borgen. She plays Victoria, a drone engineer (DRONES!), who is abducted by terrorists wanting to repurpose her technology for their own ends. It also stars Tova Magnusson, Viktoria in season 2 of Bron/Broen (The Bridge), and it’s supposed to be a sleek, intelligent thriller. If it had appeared a few weeks ago I’d probably have given it a go, but at the moment I have plenty to watch and there’s more coming soon. The whole season is available on All 4 after the first episode is shown tomorrow night at 10.45pm.
I’ll probably also be skipping Dirty John, in which Unpopcult royalty Connie Britton plays Debra, a successful woman who is suckered into a relationship with dangerous con man John (Eric Bana); Valentine’s Day viewing par excellence, you’d have to concede. It’s a kind of amazing but true story, first brought to public attention in the 2017 podcast of the same name. Unfortunately – because I LOVED the podcast – the critical response to this TV adaptation has been muted, and I know what happens anyway. So I’m not planning to watch, but I’m happy to be told that I should be. Meantime, listen to the podcast. Really. It’s great (Netflix, Thursday).
It’s post-quarantine, the hospital’s getting a deep clean, and it’s just about everyone’s day off. Since the writers clearly feel we’ve had enough of medicine for the time being, The Good Doctor gets to kick back and relax a little, in a sparky but unexceptional episode.
Morgan invites a startled Claire – after all, they don’t like each other – for mimosas and brunch. The two of them then help Claire’s mother to move out of her apartment, because she’s being beaten up by her partner. (Whether this episode should have started with ‘Kiss With A Fist’, Florence + The Machine’s jaunty take on domestic abuse, is moot.) Morgan, it turns out, was the victim of stalking while at college, and in consequence carries a gun; she and Claire track the boyfriend down in order to tell him to back off, only to discover that believing Claire’s mom is never a good thing. Still, the repositioning of Morgan is now more or less complete, even if I wonder whether we now have the whole truth about her Secret Pain.
Park spends the day with his ex-wife Mia and their son, and by the end Park has persuaded Mia that they might be able to give their relationship another shot. Lim is constipated, both literally and metaphorically: she and Melendez bicker a bit, but then she relents and admits to having feelings for him. They agree it would be a bad idea to pursue a relationship; if, that is, anyone finds out about it. I’m HERE for #Melimdez (?). What they don’t know, mind you, is that a post-virus investigation by the Governor’s office, or whatever it was, is going to recommend that the two of them, plus Shaun, are suspended for their various ethical and personal failings during the virus outbreak.
And Shaun, Lea, and Glassman – head finally repaired, probably – do some go-karting. When Lea goes home, Glassman essentially asks Shaun if he wants to hit that. Shaun is clearly pondering the possibility, but when he gets back to their apartment Lea has a date with some dude named “Jake”. Shaun is clearly not entirely happy about that. This storyline is not one I’m looking forward to.
I’ve been in a bit of a weird mood with tv recently – there are thousands of things I could watch, and hundreds of things people keep telling me are excellent (*cough* Russian Doll *cough*), but very little that’s floating my boat. I keep trying shows that everyone else loves and either shrugging my shoulders or outright hating them. What is WRONG with me? (Don’t answer that.) To take my mind off this existential crisis/most first world problem ever, then, I’m very relieved to see the return of the reliably, unapologetically bonkers Blindspot, which probably has more than its fair share of flaws but also has the Patterson and Rich Dotcom dream team I so desperately need to perk my viewing back up again. Team Tat are back on Sky Witness at 10pm tomorrow (Monday) with the second half of season 4, and I’m on review duties as usual.
At the other end of the sanity spectrum meanwhile, I’m also delighted to see The Great British Sewing Bee has finally made it back out of tv limbo and back onto U.K. screens. Season 4 was shown in 2016, but then the BBC and Love Productions fell out over the Bake Off and there were rumours buzzing (sorry) that the poor Bee got caught in the middle. Who knows? Either way, it’s back on BBC 2 on Tuesday night at 9pm, with Joe Lycett replacing Claudia Winkleman as host. It’s not my usual type of show, and I really don’t have a craftsy bone in my body – I can sew an errant button back on, but that’s about it – but there’s something weirdly comforting about the Bee, and I have a sizeable crush on super-handsome judge Patrick Grant, so bring on the pins and the patterns, woo hoo!