Public Service Announcement 14 of 2016: The Five, 11.22.63, Empire

As I’ve said on here more than once, I’m a huge, and long-standing, fan of American thriller writer Harlan Coben. Over the past few years there seems to have been a proliferation of the high-concept, ordinary-guy-in-peril, dead-person-is-alive, breathtakingly-twisty kind of book; well, Coben got there first, and does it best. Also, not that it matters too much in this context, because I’m a firm believer that the art and the artist can be separated, but as far as can be discerned Harlan is good people. So I’m very much looking forward to his first TV drama, The Five, even more so given that it’s a specially-written standalone, rather than an adaptation of an existing work. (I know what Myron Bolitar and Win Lockwood look like, ta. I don’t need an actor getting in the way of that.)

On the face of what I know about The Five, it sounds like classic Coben: we start with a group of children in a forest, one of whom disappears. Twenty years later, the missing kid’s DNA is found at a fresh murder scene. I’m already in, largely because I know what Coben can do with this sort of material. The only problem is that Sky 1 has decided to show all ten episodes in weekly double-bills, which is fine if you’re paid to watch TV or have nothing else on the go, neither of which apply to me. So reviews are unlikely, but we’ll see (Friday 15 April, 9pm/10pm, Sky 1).

Also available: season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and season 4 of Orphan Black (both Netflix, from Friday).

And a couple we haven’t covered yet. 11.22.63 is an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, exec produced by, among others, J.J. Abrams and King himself. So it’s the sort of thing which would have been made into a film twenty years ago, but these days makes its way to the small screen. Anyway, it’s about a time traveller (James Franco) who has the opportunity to go back to the Texas of the early 1960s and prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a subject in which I’m extremely interested. (Spoiler alert: it was Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, but don’t let that spoil your fun. I certainly don’t.) I’d planned to watch episode 1 by now, but it’s a double-length job, which means it’ll need to wait (Sundays, 9pm, Fox UK).

Also, Empire has returned from mid-season hiatus. Now, I need to be pretty careful what I say here, because the show’s comparative failure in the UK and elsewhere in the world has been attributed, in some quarters, to good old-fashioned racism. I’m not sure, privilege duly checked, that I agree. Firstly, there are, these days, literally no American shows which do that well in the UK, no matter how diverse or non-diverse their casts. (Like most US shows Empire is shown in Britain on a digital channel with a relatively low number of viewers – E4 on this occasion – rather than a network one. In that context its audience share – 2.2% for season 2, according to the Billboard article linked above, is actually quite good, and compares favourably to E4’s average 1.3% share.)

Secondly, as I’ve wondered before, it might be that Empire speaks to part of a particular area of experience, which doesn’t necessarily have the same resonance worldwide.

And, thirdly, Empire… really isn’t that good, perhaps? It should be noted that ratings are down around a third in America since the start of the second season, which is hardly catastrophic, but might suggest that even American audiences are starting to tire of the inconsistent characterisation and uneven plotting. I haven’t decided whether I’m going to continue watching, and while one always needs to try to acknowledge one’s own prejudices, I don’t think that’s for racist reasons (Mondays, E4, 10pm).

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