The Passage s1 ep 1

*SPOILERS*

“The Passage”, and possibly the end of civilisation as we know it, begins with a group of scientists including Desmond from Lost searching out a magical old man in Bolivia who is apparently immune to all disease and has survived 250 years. Turns out this is only because he hasn’t met Desmond and co yet: in a near-perfect (if perhaps unintentional) metaphor for colonisation, as soon as the invaders show up, they upset the delicate system preserving the balance between the old man and the wider community – in other words, they let the old vampirey man out of his vampirey cage – and everything goes so badly wrong that not only is the world’s oldest man now the world’s deadest man, but he’s infected Dr Desmond’s best pal Dr Tim with the vampire virus which may eventually destroy us all. Whoops.

A few years later, and Dr Desmond and co – now calling themselves Project Noah – are keeping Dr Tim sitting in a glass case looking veiny and terrifying, beside a number of glass cases containing similarly-affected persons originally tempted away from Death Row with the promise of clemency, time and participation in a secret “drug trial” for the government. All of these promises being true, technically, but lacking a little detail in the fine print.

(I should pause at this point to say that Dr Desmond and co don’t want to label Dr Tim and his friends “vampires”, but since the individuals in question are impervious to human ailments and feed on human blood, I feel pretty relaxed about using the term myself.)

As if non-vampire humanity doesn’t have enough problems, however, an outbreak of avian(?) flu somewhere is apparently about to take us all out before Dr Tim and co even get a chance to, so Project Noah decide it’s time to go for broke and see how the vampirey virus works on a child. Accordingly, Federal Agent Zach from Saved By the Bell/ aka Agent Brad Wolgast is dispatched, along with another agent whose name I don’t remember so we’ll call him Agent Jerk, to collect Amy Bellafonte, the poor orphaned kid who’s unwittingly drawn the short straw.

Although Agent Zach/Brad initially appears to be cool with this, he’s obviously much more complicated than that: he has an ex-wife he still loves (not unusual for tv) who still loves him back (slightly less common), a Secret Pain (who doesn’t?), and a stern expression concealing a tender heart and a great way with kids. And he’s read A Wrinkle In Time, which means he’s cool too. So when the secretly awesome Agent Zach/Brad meets the openly awesome smart, no-nonsense Amy, the two very quickly bond, ditch the appalling Agent Jerk and hit the road, with the most sinister goons Project Noah can rustle up in hot pursuit.

So “this is how the world ends”. A lot of work and a lot of money looks like it’s gone into this expensively-shot, well-choreographed and well-acted pilot episode, but it’s almost completely ruined by the lengthy trailer Fox released in advance – as someone who hasn’t read the source novel, I could have been thrilled and shocked so many times watching the episode, but since the trailer told me almost every major point of signicance beforehand, I was mostly just mildly entertained and never remotely surprised. Except maybe by the vamps taking over people’s dreams, which was properly scary and freaked me the hell out.

There’s something else that sets The Passage apart from your other basic apocalyptic vamp/virus tv shows that even the trailer couldn’t ruin, though, and that’s the bond between Amy and Agent Zach/Brad, which could have come across as weird and forced, but instead feels unusually solid and sincere almost immediately. Saniyya Sidney and Mark-Paul Gosselaar play off each other beautifully, and their scenes together are very sweet and often quite moving (even when they’re hurtling about the country trying not to get captured by evil government agents).

I’ve seen a lot of dramas about the end of the world – pre, post and peri – and they only ever work if they have characters and relationships (of whatever sort) you care about. The other characters in The Passage I’m not remotely bothered about at the moment – the ex-wife, ex-BFF Richards and everyone at Noah are all a bit perfunctory so far – but after this first instalment, I care about Amy and Agent Zach/Brad a whole lot, so if The Passage focuses on them and they keep being lovely together, I’m in. I don’t think I’ll be reviewing every week but, for now at least, I think I’ll be watching.

Advertisements

Public Service Announcement 5 of 2019: Star Trek: Discovery

Since Discovery started last year, the Star Trek spin-offs are coming thick and fast, with new series planned for one Philippa Georghiou and TNG’s Picard, at the very least. No air dates for them as yet, but season 2 of this Burnham et al’s space odyssey starts today (Thursday 17th) in the US and tomorrow on Netflix in the UK. Kudos to Netflix once again for not making us wait.

Season 1 didn’t get off to a good start, but it changed tack and won me over, and part 2 was a lot of fun, even if I was a little ambivalent about some aspects of it. One of those aspects, namely the show clinging to Spock and the original series instead of boldly going with wholly unrelated characters, I will just have to make my peace with though since Spock himself, Captain Pike and the pre-Kirk Enterprise crew are joining the show. And turns out Pike is being played by Anson Mount, an underrated (and in no way unattractive) actor I have a lot of time for, so all right then, you’ve twisted my arm, make it so. I’ll review ep 1 at least and we’ll take it from there. Meantime, yellow alert: if you’d like an appetiser before the main event, the 4 Stark Trek Short Treks mini-episodes are now officially available to UK viewers too – you can find them on Netflix in Discovery’s “Trailers and More”.

Public Service Announcement 3 of 2019: The Passage

I’ve tried to get my head round what new drama The Passage is about, but since it’s apparently based on a wildly popular trilogy of novels spanning 1000 years, I imagine I’ve barely scratched the surface. The tv version anyway, involves a super-secret, super-worried US. government project sending federal agent Zach from Saved by the Bell to go collect a particular little girl, the plan being to experiment on her with a super-secret, super-bad virus they’ve been playing around with that looks like it’s about to bring about the end of civilisation as we know it. No biggie. Agent Zach is too much of a good guy to go through with this, though, so the cross-country chase/ “good of the many vs good of the few” etc debate is on. The show premieres tonight in the US and, happily, UK viewers don’t have to wait very long to catch up – we’ll get to see it tomorrow (Tuesday) at 9pm on Fox UK. Well done, Fox UK. Given that it’s all over the trailer, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that there are vampire-adjacent themes, so this is one for unpopcult’s undead/ apocalypse department (ie me) rather than Jed. I’ll review the first episode and see how we go after that.

Charmed (2018) s1 ep 1

Without claiming to be a fan as such, I’m quite fond of the original Charmed. I wasn’t a regular viewer but I caught a lot of repeats over recent years and I shipped Piper and Leo hard, so even though the series technically ended in 2006, it really doesn’t feel that long ago to me, and a reboot/ re-imagining seems both very early and somewhat unnecessary as a result. I can understand why some of the show’s fanbase are so upset by it. But I can also understand why the CW thought it was a good idea. I mean, ok, on the surface, it’s a fantasy romantic drama about sisters who happen to be legendary witches using their extraordinary magical powers to save innocent people from evil things, but look a little deeper and it’s a warm-hearted feminist fable about a group of women, persecuted throughout history, and the immense power for change and for good that they have when they band together. In the Time’s Up/ Me Too era, it’s bang on trend.

Unfortunately, however, Charmed 2.0 knows exactly how “now” it is and is determined to make sure the viewer is too. I’m not talking about the changes made to the sisters’ ethnicity or sexual orientation; if you have to do a reboot, diversifying the main characters and changing things up so the new, modern version of the show has a new, modern identity of its own is fair enough. But this new version and these new characters are ill-served by the programme-makers’ determination to imbue them with as many Twitter talking points as humanly – or indeed magically – possible. Every second line is either a homily about something – consent, representation, the patriarchy, sexual harassment, etc – delivered with all the subtlety of a foghorn, or it’s a set-up for the next one, and while I’m completely on board with what the show is trying to say, even l don’t particularly enjoy being lectured for fortyish minutes.

Don’t get me wrong, I want my tv drama to be progressive and feminist and inclusive. I want it to be woke. This show is preaching to the choir as far as I’m concerned. But I also want my tv drama to be entertaining and well-written and New Charmed is neither of those things, largely because it doesn’t seem to trust itself or its audience with anything more than constant, flashing neon reminders of how well-meaning it all is. The sisters’ mother, for instance, is (a) a women’s studies professor who is (b) murdered while (c) spearheading an investigation into (d) sexual harassment allegations by a young woman who has (e) since been suspiciously silenced against (f) a respected male professor who turns out to be an ancient demon who (g) feeds his power by draining women of their strength – it’s like the writers are playing liberal bingo, and checking off as many talking points as they can possibly cram in to one episode. Save some for next week, Charmed!

I’ve been trying to write thus review for three days now and each time I end up feeling bad about it. The bottom line is that tv drama is a great tool for exploring important issues and changing attitudes, and New Charmed is commendably keen to be a part of that. It’s just far too heavy-handed about it, and the fun and the, er, charm of the original show is conspicuously missing from this pilot episode as a result. It might well get better once it stops trying so hard, but at the moment it seems boring and cringe-worthy, and neither the characters nor any of the plotlines are anywhere near entertaining enough to make me want to waste any more time on it. I’m done.

Blindspot s4 ep 8

*SPOILERS*

It’s the mid-season finale, so the stakes are astronomical but, on Blindspot, when are they not? “A ballistic missile is inbound to New York!” Patterson announces. “Er… again?” I wonder. Team Tat is trying to stop a nuclear attack, you guys, so it must be … Monday.

In fairness though, they do an excellent job of making this one seem even more apocalyptic than usual, with lots of chat about evacuation (though, really, how far is anyone going to get in 37 minutes?) and staying till the end and calling our respective soulmates even though they might be in a mood with us or maybe even threatening to kill us and bring down global civilisation as we know it. Relationships go through rough patches, y’know, and this is a nuclear weapon we’re dealing with.

Except – hurrah! – it’s not! Since Weller very sensibly fills PatDotcom in on the whole Dr Jane/Ms Hyde Remi situation early doors, Team Tat’s axis of awesomeness works out it’s a trick pretty quickly, but the CIA and their extremely half-hearted black site evacuation protocols – 2 agents in a van? That’s it? Really? – are unmoved. So Remi and Fauxman spring Shepherd (albeit a significantly older and keener-on-a-quiet-life Shepherd) and it is ON. By which I mean, Operation Save Jane Whether She Likes It or Not is ON: Weller is in charge of driving very fast and getting shot at, and Rich and Patterson handle the snazzy tech, with a significant assist from one Boston Arliss Crabb who is very sorry he accidentally caused international nuclear panic, and hopes very much that you won’t make him go back to Supermax because of it, please.

Luckily for Boston, nobody will. I struggle to believe he’d get off quite that easily, but plausibility has always been a rare commodity on Blindspot and since I’m momentarily furious when it looks like he’s actually going to take the fall for NotJane, I’m quite pleased that realism ends up taking the hit instead.

With Boston taken care of then, the plan is for Patterson and Rich (who, lest we forget, are not actually doctors) to attempt some completely experimental, possibly fatal and definitely crazy brain surgery to try and get Kurt’s best girl back. Weitz and “Ed”, meanwhile, are in Mexico trying to get Reade’s best girl back, which means that this half-season really is all about rough patches in relationships, huh?

Of course, it’s a tad too much of a coincidence that Madeleine dashes off just in time for Team Zap to corner their erstwhile colleague alone – did Madeleine know they were coming? If so, I hope it’s not because Weitz is on her payroll. He’s been one of the surprise pleasures of the season so far and I want him to hang around but I don’t think secretly working for Ms Burke is going to help with that. Who knows, though? Team Tat and the show obviously think even actual murderers Remi and Zapata can eventually be welcomed back into the fold, so maybe taking a little coin from this year’s global supervillain doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker, after all.

Anyway. The show’s winter run has had some terrific eps and some not-so-terrific eps, and we end this pretty good one with half of the team trying to corral rogue agent no.1, the other half trying to corral rogue agent no.2 and Remi and Kurt running right at each other, which is a great final scene, even if the supervillain in me wonders why Remi doesn’t just shoot him. I guess Kurt’s right and there’s a lot more Jane left in the lady after all.

Unpopcult Awards 2018: The Results

poll picHappy new year, everybody! 2018’s done and so’s our poll – thanks again for all your votes, it’s time to announce the results of the Unpopcult Awards 2018. Here are your winners:

Best Show: The Good Fight

The Good Wife was a remarkable achievement, but somehow show supremos the Kings have managed to catch lightning in a bottle twice. The second season of its astonishing spin—off consistently covered politics, technology, race, gender in the smartest, fastest, sharpest way and was damn funny too. Beating hot newcomer Bodyguard into second place, Diane and co won 2018 and should be back with a third season soon.

(Previous winners for US Show: 2008 – Lost; 2009 – Mad Men; 2010 – Lost; 2011 – The Good Wife; 2012 – The Good Wife; 2013 – Scandal; 2014 – The Good Wife; 2015 – Game of Thrones; 2016 – Stranger Things; 2017 – The Handmaid’s Tale) 
(Previous winners for UK/International Show: 2010 – Spooks; 2011 – Being Human; 2012 – Sherlock; 2013 – The Almighty Johnsons; 2014 – Sherlock; 2015 – The Bridge (Bron/Broen); 2016 – Deutschland 83), 2017 – Private Eyes

Best New Show: Killing Eve

I’m probably not the best person to write about Killing Eve, since I pretty much hated it, but as far as the Unpopcult massive (and the rest of the planet) are concerned, I’m something of an outlier. Just about everybody else seemed to love this tale of female spy vs female assassin, and fair enough. The girls beat the boy (Bodyguard) into second place by some distance, so well done ladies and all the best for season two.

(Previous winners: 2011 – Game of Thrones; 2013 – The Blacklist; 2014 – True Detective; 2015 – Jane the Virgin; 2016 – Stranger Things; 2017 – The Handmaid’s Tale)

Best Actor: Sterling K Brown, This Is Us

What is there left to say about SKB? Our Best Actor three years in a row, now, for a warm, beautifully-calibrated performance that stands out even in This Is Us’s superlative cast. The more he makes us cry, the more we love him. Sob.

(Previous winners: 2008 – Jon Hamm, Michael C. Hall, Zeljko Ivanek; 2009 – Hugh Laurie; 2010 – Michael Emerson; 2011 – Timothy Olyphant; 2012 – Damian Lewis; 2013 – James Spader; 2014 – Josh Charles; 2015 – Jaime Camil; 2016 – Sterling K Brown; 2017 – Sterling K Brown)

Best Actress: Christine Baranksi

Last year’s winner Elisabeth Moss just missed out on the crown this time around, but Diane Lockhart is a legend, and Christine Baranski’s performance has been one for the ages since the first time she donned a patterned jacket and chunky necklace so many years ago on The Good Wife. She RULES.

(Previous winners: 2008 – January Jones, Kristin Chenoweth, Glenn Close; 2009: Hermione Norris; 2010 – Jane Lynch; 2011 – Margo Martindale; 2012 – Julianna Margulies; 2013 – Julianna Margulies; 2014 – Julianna Margulies; 2015 – Taraji P Henson; 2016 – Sarah Paulson; 2017 – Elisabeth Moss)

Best Ensemble: The Good Fight

The main cast alone would have more than deserved this, but add in the wonderful recurring cast of judges, foes and family, as well as the consistently brilliant guest stars of the week, and you have the deepest bench on tv. The Good Fight stormed to victory in this category and deservedly so – I love a lot of the other nominees, but nobody came close to Diane and co. Fantastic.

(Previous winners: 2008 – Lost, Mad Men and Battlestar Galactica; 2009 – Mad Men; 2009 – Lost; 2010 – Lost; 2011 – Southland; 2012 – The Good Wife; 2013 – Game of Thrones; 2014 – Game of Thrones; 2015 – The Good Wife; 2016 – Game of Thrones; 2017 – Game of Thrones)

Ship of the Year: Shade and Angie, Private Eyes

The nicest show on tv gives us unpopcult’s shippiest ship on the year for the third time in a row. We ❤️ Shangie forever.

(Previous winners: 2011 – Lund and Hartman; 2012 – Will and Alicia; 2013 – Jane and Lisbon; 2014 In Memoriam Award – Will and Alicia; 2016 – Shade and Angie; 2017 – Shade and Angie

In Our Dreams (Male): Richard Madden, Bodyguard

Having come second in a bunch of other categories, Bodyguard’s honour is salvaged by a win for Richard Madden who broke hearts and delighted them in equal measure this year as the damaged, determined and super-attractive David Budd. Commiserations to the other nominees, you’re all lovely, but Robb Stark is the King in the North of Unpopcult’s hearts this time around.

(Previous winners: 2009 – Richard Armitage; 2010 – Richard Armitage; 2011 – Shane West; 2012 – Simon Baker; 2013 – Gregory Fitoussi; 2014 – Michiel Huisman; 2015 – Gregory Fitoussi; 2016 – Gregory Fitoussi; 2017 – Gregory Fitoussi)

Most Annoying Storyline: Juliette and the Cult, Nashville

A strong bunch of contenders this year, but this bafflingly irritating storyline not only came close to destroying one of Nashville’s best characters but separated its best actress from the entire rest of the cast for most of its final season, destroyed her relationship yet again and locked her up in a closet in Bolivia. Or something. Whatever, it was awful and it’s over. Thank goodness.

(Previous winners: 2012 – Dana’s Hit-and-Run, Homeland; 2013 – Kalinda’s Ex, The Good Wife; 2014 – Jack being a “Good” Stalker, Stalker; 2015 – B-613, Scandal; 2016 – Everyone’s inexplicable love for Beverly, Nashville; 2017 – FLOTUS, FMILOTUS and re-framing an entirely legitimate investigation as a “witch hunt”, Designated Survivor)

Most Annoying Character: Scarlett, Nashville

It’s been a long time coming, but Scarlett, after five years of doing everyone but Jed’s head in has finally made it! I don’t want to be mean, but annoying people more than Toby, Deacon’s Dad and the rest of the desperadoes in this category is quite the feat. You go, girl! Especially now that the show has finished and I never have to see/hear you again. Woo hoo!

(Previous winners: 2008 – Mohinder Suresh, Heroes; 2009 – President Allison Taylor, 24; 2010 – Susan Delfino, Desperate Housewives; 2011 – Will Schuester, Glee; 2012 – Ellis Boyd, Smash; 2013 – Van Pelt, The Mentalist; 2014 – Damian, The Good Wife; 2015 – Francis Poldark, Poldark; 2016 – Deacon, Nashville; 2017 – Toby, This Is Us)

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is that for unpopcult’s 2018. As ever, thank you all for your votes, and for watching, reading and commenting with us over the past year. May your 2019 be full of fun and good times, on tv and otherwise.

Blindspot s4 ep 7

*SPOILERS*

Continuing the recurring Blindspot theme of wonderfully, completely demented cold opens, Weller and NotJane’s long-delayed, impressively nasty confrontation is interrupted by perhaps the maddest one yet this week. While Weitz and “Ed” hang out, and Patterson somehow finds Roman’s next cache using turtles in a 3D movie made by Rich Dotcom (yes, I know), a woman posing as a neighbour’s mild-mannered babysitter and an entire team of operatives crash into Casa Weller, looking for the money NotJane stole from the bad people’s bank a few weeks ago. Disgruntled customer Eve would like at least some of her cash back please, and a little free gift to compensate the Dabbur Zam for their trouble too. So of course the solution is to force the Warring Wellers to steal it from an FBI evidence storage facility, which, if you don’t mind me saying, has significantly less security than I would have expected. I mean, sure, there are the two guards at the front gate, and maybe a hidden camera or two, but really, that’s it?! Too. Easy.

Anyway, the Wellers manage to fit saving each other’s lives in between jibes, and it all works out, if by works out you mean only the baddies die, the other baddies don’t get the McGuffin they wanted (good job it wasn’t a nuke, hey, Kurt? Or blowing it up might have backfired somewhat), Weller vows to rescue Real Jane from inside NotJane, and NotJane is outta here, so everybody’s happy. Sort of.

At Tat HQ, meanwhile, PatDotcom have a mildly amusing time with the filler plot but it must not be as good as their times usually are because I’m distracted by the fact that this hidden caches story arc makes even less sense than even the whole Tats on Jane’s body as Communication thing did. I mean FFS, why would you travel the planet hiding SD cards or memory sticks or whatever the eff everywhere if you actually want to pass this info on? Have you heard of Dropbox?! Argh. And in really-stretching-this-storyline-out-now-land, Zapata does whatever she’s doing yet again (this week in a pink satin camisole which is an odd choice for daywear if you ask me, but I’m not exactly an authority on what well-dressed, disgraced/ former/ secret/ double agents are wearing these days). And “looks like we’re going to Mexico” next week. Ok. Spectacular cold open aside, the rest of this was fine to pass the time, but that’s about it.