Private Eyes s2 ep 3

Hello and thanks, first of all, to Gare Joyce, author of the Brad Shade Mysteries – without which there would be no Private Eyes – who made our LIVES a few days ago by telling us he likes our reviews on Twitter. To say this caused a degree of excitement and hyper-ventilation at Unpopcult HQ is something of an understatement but, before we squeal ourselves into orbit, let’s head back down to earth for this week’s review.

After all my chat last week about Zoe being the New Jules, this week the Old Jules reappears, as if determined to prove me wrong, and the action shifts to her school, of all places. She has been around a lot less than she was in season one, though – as Jed said, probably due to school or college – so perhaps she and Zo are job-sharing. Anyway, while New Jules spends the week at the office, with a Chucklevision style sub-plot rendered charming by Ennis Esmer’s Maz, Shade and Angie are called in to Posh High Academy (possibly not its correct name) to investigate and hopefully quash the allegation that Old Jules’s favourite teacher has, er, a particular favourite student, before it turns into a giant nightmare scandal and ruins the woman’s life.

Shade, running point and deciding he’s too famous to pretend to be anyone else, delights both himself and everyone but his partner by sending her in as a lycra-clad substitute teacher to field awkward questions about sex ed from some very excited teenagers – oh GOD – while he pretends he’s turned his hand to a new career in motivational speaking. Old Jules, getting more than a tad excited herself, seizes the opportunity to ask Miss Everett some awkward questions too. And, despite a curiously defeatist attitude from the principal who called on our heroes in the first place, everyone has a whale of a time with one-liners and secret societies, before solving the mystery in the usual amusing, good-natured fashion. Although this time the story ends with a little too much good nature for me to be honest; I know it’s Private Eyes so nobody was going to set up stocks and rotten fruit in the school playing fields, but dudes. I’d have expelled those kids’ asses without even blinking.


Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams ep 1: The Hood Maker

Set in a future which looks, as sci-fi futures tend to look, like a particularly grim, off-key vision of the past, The Hood Maker sensibly wastes little time on exposition, opting instead to focus on establishing its characters from the start and letting us see their world through their eyes while filling in any gaps for ourselves.

So Holliday Grainger is Honor, a telepath or “teep”, working for some sort of law enforcement agency, paired up with Richard Madden’s ostensibly reluctant Agent Ross to investigate mounting, violent unrest and stop the mysterious Hood Maker making things worse. The Hood Maker himself is a symptom rather than the cause of the pressure building up in the city, though: the teeps are second-class citizens, openly despised and exploited in imaginatively horrific and disturbing ways, while the “normal” majority rage against what they see and fear as the impending loss of their own power and control to a minority of people other than them. (If it sounds familiar, then it’s meant to.)

Ross seems different, however, as sci-fi heroes tend to seem, and he and Honor quickly – too quickly? – form a bond over runny egg sandwiches and dank, dirty crime scenes. Or do they?

If the romance is a touch speedy, and a couple of the story beats (the purpose of the Hood is blindingly obvious the second we see it, for all it seems to take Honor ages to work it out) a bit predictable, it’s still engaging and involving to watch. Madden and Grainger have so much chemistry, I would have been deeply disappointed if there hadn’t been any romance, and in fairness, these stories were written so long ago and Philip K Dick has been so influential, we’re bound to find themes and ideas we recognise. This episode’s aesthetic, for instance, is a mix of Blade Runner’s grimy, seedy neon and Indiana Jones’s dusty 40s chic; the former only to be expected given that it’s based on a PKD story too, and the latter because there are few things cooler than a tall, handsome man who can rock a fedora. The similarity with Spielberg’s cornball adventures ends there, however; a couple of flashes of humour aside, this story is much bleaker, darker and more ambiguous than your Raiders or your Temple of Doom. Which makes it very well-made, very engaging, somewhat old-fashioned but also entirely current since authoritarianism, oppression, slavery and prejudice are, sadly, timeless.

With all that said then, my problem with The Hood Maker may be an unavoidable side-effect of the anthology format itself rather than this story. I liked it so much I’m not actually ready to be done with it. Could we not spend more time with these characters in this world, rather than moving onto new people in a new story just yet? Come on, Channel 4 – any chance of a Hood Maker spin-off? Please?

Public Service Announcement 36 of 2017: Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams

Not, as far as I can tell, anything to do with one of my favourite songs of all time, new anthology drama series Electric Dreams is instead based on various self-contained short stories by seminal sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick and looks like the most ambitious thing channel 4 has done in a long time.

A (very expensive-looking) collaboration with Amazon Prime and Sony Pictures, the series involves a vast, impressive array of talent both behind the camera and in front of it, with writers like Battlestar Galactica’s Ron D Moore and Life on Mars’ Matthew Graham, big-time directors like Tom Harper and Jeffrey Reiner, and a cast of recognisable faces including Bryan Cranston, Liam Cunningham, Anna Paquin, Steve Buscemi and Timothy Spall, amongst others, popping in for various turns. In short, for sci-fi fans – including me – this is Big. News. Unfortunately, channel 4 seems to be adopting the US network model of mid-season hiatus by only showing the first six episodes this year (Sundays, 9pm) and saving the last four for 2018, but hey ho. The first instalment “The Hood Maker” starring Richard “Robb Stark” Madden and Holliday “also appearing in Strike over on BBC1 at exactly the same time” Grainger kicks off tonight (Sunday) at 9pm, so I’ll review this one and see how we go from there.

Private Eyes s2 ep 2

It’s not quite up there with “pretending to be a couple”, but the “things that go bump in the night” episode is another time-honoured procedural trope that at least half of unpopcult is very fond of, and the rules are pretty clear. Number one: The Mulder/Scully principle – one partner’s super-sceptical, one’s more open-minded to the possibility of supernatural goings-on. Two: by episode’s end, there will be a rational explanation for most of the supposedly unexplained shenanigans. Three: but not for all of them, because Four: a little lingering eerieness is no bad thing. And five: yeah, no, I think that about covers it, unless – bonus ball – the OTP have to hold/hug/grab onto each other at some point because, y’know, scary times.

So, faced with the prospect of all these delights in addition to the usual joy that is Private Eyes, my levels of excitement on sitting down to watch this week’s were almost as high as Mount Logan. It’s to the show’s credit, then, that, despite it breaking just about every rule on the list and turning the episode into something entirely different than I expected, I thoroughly enjoyed it anyway.

From the start, nobody – and certainly not Shade, my pick for the likely Mulder – even entertains the prospect of anything supernatural. No, the rational explanation is revealed very quickly and the rest of the episode drops any hint of eerieness (and any hope of hold/grab/hugging) in favour of a fight against the far more prosaic realities of corruption, big business and Angie’s unique filing system. Which, because this is Private Eyes, is not just fine, but surprisingly fun and warm-hearted. It also seems to be a gentle way to reset the template for the rest of the season. Angie’s Dead Parent Conspiracy Arc takes a sharp swerve away from the expected route and ends up being nothing of the sort, albeit still giving us some very SQUEE-able moments along the way. New character Zoe, doing a decent job treading the fine line between quirky and annoying, might say she’s needed as “a buffer” between Shade and Angie – she isn’t, they’re lovely and they clearly adore each other, come on – but she’s really there to fill the space left by the absent Jules. And Ennis Esmer’s Maz looks like he’s going to be taking up the screen time Nolan would have had last year, which is great because Nolan is always angry, Maz is great fun, and HELLO, it’s Ennis Esmer, COME ON.

With the innate niceness at its heart, the relatively low-stakes (I mean, yes it’s corruption and threats and whatnot, but most procedurals we watch involve mass murdering serial killers and such) mystery solved and the villains vanquished in “if it wasn’t for those pesky kids…” Scooby Doo fashion, the whole thing is very, very Canadian, which I mean as a compliment of the highest order. I suspect that the world would be in significantly better shape if folk tried to be a bit more Private Eyes and a bit less True Detective, but there we go.

Private Eyes s2 ep 1

There are few things more confusing than the serious announcement that “This programme is sponsored by American Assassin, rated 18,” just before the start of what is usually one of the most amiable, peaceable and far-from-assassins-and-18-ratings shows on tv. Happily though, this alarmingly incongruous combination of sponsor and tv real estate doesn’t in fact signal a very sudden, very sharp turn into dark territory for our beloved Private Eyes – and just as well, since unpopcult can only take so much tumult in the world at the one time. No, our favourite show is as easy-going as it ever was, and season 2 gets off to a flying (sorry) start with Shade hurtling, not entirely voluntarily, through a glass window – homage to John Reese? You decide – just as Angie comes home suspiciously early from her holiday with Detective Speedbump, and everyone slots back easily into exactly the affable, loveable, shippable show we want. Phew.

The mystery of the week is significantly better than it needs to be, with an interesting twist, some swoonworthy Shade heroics and an unexpectedly moving resolution. I’m not a fan of Dead Parent Conspiracy Arcs as a general rule, but the Angie’s Dad story begins promisingly and pensively enough. Becca’s only in it long enough to be booed. (BOOOO!) And on the shipping front, Angie’s real reason for abruptly terminating her Nolan-time is beginning to dawn on Nolan if not on Angie herself (it’s because of Shade, you guys, SHADE); she and Shade pretend to be married for no real reason other than WE LOVE IT; Shade asks her out for dinner twice even if she chooses not to notice (WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, GIRL?); and he also pays 500 bucks (plus 500 for cleaning!) to retrieve that sofa just to make her happy, and me SQUEE. Sigh. I’m so happy! “Private Eyes, we’re watching you…” And loving it.

Public Service Announcement 33 of 2017: Private Eyes

I was going to start this post with a list of terrible, terrifying things happening in the world right now, but I don’t want to be responsible for the entire unpopcult readership taking to their beds in abject despair, so let me just get to my point instead: we could all use some light in the darkness and, friends, a veritable sunburst is at hand. Season two of the warm, cheery, wonderful Private Eyes – a White Collar-esque tale (sans electronic tag) of delightfully mismatched crimefighting buddies who bicker loudly but love each other secretly – arrives on UK screens tomorrow (Monday) at 8pm on Universal, and not a moment too soon. Unpopcult fell deeply, some might say hysterically, in love with Shangie and co last season, and who can blame us? With a charming cast including Jason Priestley, Cindy Sampson, and unpopcult royalty Ennis “Rich Dotcom” Esmer; a bushel of resolutely inconsequential, light-hearted mysteries; and a ship we’re so on board we’ve got our own cabins, Private Eyes got us through some tough times last year and we’re counting on it to do the same once again. Maybe that’s a lot of pressure to put on a will-they/won’t-they comedy procedural, but we can’t help it. We love this show SO MUCH. Reviews every week, as fast we can write’em, then, and, just to start the ball rolling: SQUEEEEEE.

Game of Thrones s7 ep 7


Everything I wanted, a few things I didn’t and plenty more besides: the biggest show on tv ends its biggest season with a super-size finale drawing together the past, the future and the forthcoming apocalypse in epic fashion, with a few extra helpings of fan service along the way.

At Kings Landing, it seems like Team Targaryen and Team Lannister’s parley is really just an excuse – like last week’s ill-fated Bravo Two Zombie expedition – for a series of charming reunions that I didn’t even know I wanted, ranging from the affectionately snarky (Tyrion and NotRobson Bronn! Tyrion and Pod! The Hound and Brienne!) to the moodily taciturn (Brienne and Jaime!) to the drowning in outright hatred (Cersei and Tyrion! The Cleganarama!). Oh yeah, and Theon’s there too. In fact, for someone absolutely nobody who ever watched GOT gives a flying raven about, there’s really quite a lot of Theon this week. Theon being needled by his nasty uncle; Theon having a heart-to-heart with the very understanding Jon Snow and learning that although he doesn’t have to choose between being a Stark and a Greyjoy, Starks are obviously much nicer; and Theon getting his face pounded by Iron Man (not that one) before becoming King of the Iron Islands Dinghy and sailing off to rescue his Iron sister…. Huh. Much like the show, suddenly I’ve spent ages banging on about Theon too.

Back to the rest of the story.

After Daenerys’s impressive entrance – although, did she really think Cersei Lannister wouldn’t be able to count to two? – and a bit of panto villainy from Euron (Boo! Hiss! He’s behind you! etc), there’s a mortifying moment when it looks like the guest of honour has passed his best before date and the mood is going to change from knife-edge anticipation to “wha, wha, whaaaa” farce but, after a few seconds of making me want to crawl under my sofa, the show relents and, with a little help from the Hound, out dashes Mr Wight in satisfyingly scary form, with even Cersei Lannister looking a bit worried. Well done Mr Wight. Sorry ’bout your arm. And your torso. And, er, everything else.

Of course, because Jon is Ned Stark’s son in everything but actual biological fact, he can’t make the promise Cersei wants so things don’t go entirely according to parley plan, but it doesn’t matter all that much because Cersei doesn’t really want it anyway. “I always knew you were the stupidest Lannister,” she tells the sorely-tried Jaime, who finally walks/rides away to join the fight against the dead because “Fuck loyalty,” says Brienne. Only if it’s loyalty to your homicidal psychopath of a sister, though, Jaime. It’s taken you long enough to join Team Living, don’t be getting any ideas about betraying them too.

On the topic of homicidal psychopath sisters, meantime, Littlefinger’s advice to Sansa is essentially to get rid of crazyface Arya and bump Jon from the Throne in the North. Sansa looks like she’s buying it, too, but – oh my God, at last! – turns out she isn’t, she hasn’t been and she won’t ever again, as the remaining Stark children unite to expose the man at the root of just about everything evil that ever happened to their family, and END him. It’s not unexpected, but it’s been a long time coming and all the more satisfying for it. As is Sansa and Arya’s (little sis now not so much crazyface as crazy like a fox) sweet, sad exchange on the walls of Winterfell. “The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.” Indeed. (And I miss Ned too.)

For his part, however, the current lone wolf is becoming a lot less solitary, as weeks of various GOT characters trying to convince me Jon and Daenerys have the hots for each other culminate in Jon and Daenerys showing me exactly how much. While Bran – with an assist from lovely, steadfast Sam that surely the know-all-see-all Three-Eyed Raven shouldn’t have needed? – solemnly confirms, for anyone not paying attention at the back, that the King in the North is actually the rightful King of everywhere else. And dude is having sex with his aunt. (Ewww.) Can Daenerys get pregnant? Is Cersei? *Shrugs* Family and parenthood have been recurring themes throughout all seven seasons of the show, and they’ve been particularly prominent this season and this episode, but let’s be honest, the people of Westeros have much bigger problems. Namely the DRAGON THAT JUST DESTROYED THE ENTIRE WALL AND THE ARMY OF THE DEAD NOW MARCHING UNCHECKED ACROSS THE PLANET!

Eff. Me. What a show. What a season. And what a spectacular way to finish. This run hasn’t pleased all of the people all of the time, but I loved that the Game sped up, and I loved the way it mixed so many quiet, powerful scenes of significance and feeling with so much all-out bloody mayhem. Assuming the real world doesn’t end before then, I am very, VERY excited for season eight.