Picard s1 ep 1

Do starship captains dream of electric friends? This beautifully-calibrated new addition to the Trek canon suggests they do but, like all dreams on TV, they’re never just dreams.

In 24th century France, Jean-Luc Picard is slowly living out his retirement/”waiting to die”, his memories never quite letting him rest. His uneasy peace is shattered when a young woman, Dahj, seeks refuge chez Picard after a John Wick-style encounter with assassins out to get her, and it becomes clear that the Admiral’s dreams may mean much more than he thought. Who is Dahj? Why is she special? The answers to these questions are obvious very early on if you’ve ever watched Star Trek: The Next Generation before and, to its credit, this new iteration doesn’t beat about the Borg bush for too long trying to hide them. Instead, it quickly, deftly paints a much bigger picture of Picard’s past 15 years or so, why he left Starfleet, and where Dahj fits into both that and all the Trek lore we already know.

It’s a skilful, careful mix of the old and the new, with a deep reverence and love for the titular character and the entire Next Generation embedded in its very DNA and evident in every line, every idea and every shot. The history of these characters forms the building blocks of a new story that, in this first episode at least, manages that impossible combination of being both a fitting elegy for the past and a wholly contemporary, relevant piece for the present. The cinematography is gorgeous too, with the lush, serene fields of Château Picard contrasting with the sleek, pristine lines of space age cities and labs, and the infinite awe of space. And the acting is everything: this is as self-assured and thoughtful a spin-off as I’ve seen in years, but it would never have worked without the utterly mesmerising performance from Patrick Stewart at its heart, infused with melancholy, tenderness and the indelible, inescapable weight of a long life lived. It’s a performance that will never be acknowledged by standard award shows because it’s in Star Trek, but don’t let that fool you – it’s exquisite. I rather suspect the rest of the series will be less contemplative and more action-oriented, but if it’s even half as good as this first instalment, that’ll be more than good enough.

Public Service Announcement 8 of 2020: Avenue 5, Picard

Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of the space cruise ship Avenue 5, created by Armando “The Thick of It” Iannucci, captained by Hugh Laurie and sailing on to British screens tonight for its maiden prime-time episode, having swung by HBO a few days ago (and aired on Sky 1 already at 2AM this morning). I like a bit of space tv, and I like a bit of comedy, but the mix isn’t easy to get right and, despite Avenue 5’s impressive pedigree, the trailer did not float my boat – the tone of it just set my teeth on edge. That said, it was just the trailer. If you want to give the actual show a fair shake, you can catch episode 1 on Sky Go or on Sky 1 at 10pm tonight (Wednesday). I’m as yet undecided.

Right at the other end of the space spectrum, meanwhile, and I suspect much more my speed, the first episode of the long-awaited Picard – or What Jean-Luc Did Next – hits CBS All Access in the US tomorrow and Amazon Prime in the UK on Friday (24th). Which is nice and prompt, just as we like it round here. And they’re only showing one episode a week, which we like round here as well. A sequel to/spin-off from the iconic Star Trek: The Next Generation and its movies, Picard has living legend Sir Patrick Stewart back on board and will feature other members of the Next Gen cast as well, which is more than enough of an incentive for me to watch it (I loved The Next Gen, especially Riker and Troi, SQUEE) even if I’m a little ambivalent about the idea of dragging the Admiral out of retirement. Let the poor man rest! Although not if it means an entire season of watching him just wandering round a vineyard. A happy medium between action and reflection is what I’m looking for in my OAP space adventures, thank you, Picard – make it so.

Taken Down ep 1

Abeni and her two young sons flee violence in Nigeria, seeking safety across the ocean, only to find themselves stuck indefinitely in the holding pattern of the asylum system. Eight years later, they are still waiting, stuck in the same mouldy room in the same Direct Provision Centre in Dublin, when the body of a young fellow resident is found at the bus stop across the road. Who killed her?

Serious-minded crime dramas about the murders of young women are of course ubiquitous nowadays, and Taken Down isn’t immune from some of the usual clichés of the genre – there’s a troubled cop with a Secret Pain (albeit a physical one for a change), a community steeped in secrets, that type of thing – but its focus on and empathy for people seeking asylum is what makes it a little different. It treats people at the Centre as exactly that; people, each with their own hopes, stories and feelings, a crucial perspective that is regrettably all too often missing from public discourse. The casually cruel indifference of the system and some of the people in it provides a poignant backdrop to the story, with such a palpable sense of sadness and resignation hanging over everything that the final scene, devastating though it is, is less of a shock than an inevitability. This first episode is not in any way cheerful viewing, but it is beautifully-acted and wholly compelling. I won’t be doing weekly reviews but I will be watching again.

Medical Police s1 ep 1

Netflix comedy Medical Police is a spin-off from WB’s medical drama parody, Children’s Hospital (no, me neither), the USP being that, this time, two of the doctors – exes no less! – from the, er, Children’s Hospital are recruited by the CDCC to save the world from a deadly virus and a global conspiracy, so it’s a spoof of medical dramas, spy/conspiracy thrillers, and maybe even will they/won’t they bickering duos too! Well! This all sounds like a tremendous idea, more than ripe for laughs, and each episode’s less than thirty minutes long, which would make Medical Police the holy grail of tv for me, except that this first episode at least is…. not funny. The digs it makes at genre cliches like characters repeatedly telling each other what they already know are clever enough, and the cast clearly had a whale of a time making it, but they enjoyed themselves a lot more than I did. It was just too over-the-top silly and sometimes irritating for me – I smiled a couple of times but more in a “touché” rather than a “teehee” kind of way, and there was nothing about the story or the characters (especially Owen, my God, he was annoying) I was interested in hearing more of. The trailer was better than the show. I’ll not be bothering with eps 2-10.

Public Service Announcement 2 of 2020: Chicago Med, Chicago Fire, Chicago PD

UK fans of Chicago’s fictional emergency services rejoice! Friday night is now wall-to-wall earnest, shouty, sanctimonious yet glamorous people engaging in regular feats of heroism in between looking pained over their complicated personal lives night on Sky Witness, with new seasons of Chicago Med (moving over from the Universal channel), Chicago Fire and Chicago PD starting tonight at 8pm, 9pm and 10pm respectively. If you’ve watched any of these shows before, you know what to expect, and if you haven’t, welcome to the Dick Wolf Chicago televisual universe! Or not. Nobody is saying it’s essential viewing. The only one I watch (and yell at) regularly is Med, but even I couldn’t recommend it as actually being any good. I tried Fire once at the start and I thought it was the pits, but it’s extremely popular, so maybe it improved. And I’ve only ever seen a couple of minutes of PD at a time, but it seemed… no fun. Maybe it was having a bad day. Or maybe I was. If you like any or indeed all of the three, you’re far from alone. Enjoy.

If you’re looking for some decidedly lighter, sunnier, significantly less fraught tv, however, unpopcult’s latest obsession The Mallorca Files is just the ticket. After a successful, but very speedy, daytime/iPlayer showing at the tail end of 2019, season 1 is getting a more relaxed (as befits the show’s leisurely vibe), weekly, Saturday tea-time outing for the new year, starting tomorrow at 5.30pm. All the episodes are still on iPlayer if you want to binge, though – and you may well want to binge. I cannot overstate just how much Jed and I love this show, but I also need to make absolutely clear that if you’re looking for hard-hitting realism, you’re not going to find it pottering around Mallorca with Detectives Blake and Winter. What you will find, though, is an abundance of charm, cheer and shipping opportunities, which, frankly, suits me down to the ground. Begone, January blues!

Dracula ep 1

Well, that was horrible. And funny and daring and provocative and violent and very, very clever, but, mostly, really, really horrible. As it absolutely should have been: the brooding, emo romanticism of so many modern takes on vampire stories (many of which you know I love) aside, Dracula, the main man, really should be a proper horror – scary and unsettling – and this first instalment of the BBC’s new version was certainly that, with its unapologetically, cheerfully, implacably evil Count (a terrific performance from Claes Bang) and his legion of brides, flies, wolves and general, bloodcurdling unpleasantness. Full marks to Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss for a take that’s fresh and modern but still faithful to the essence (if not the text) of the subject matter, and especially for the delightful, unflappable Sister Agatha (Dolly Wells, tremendous) and a witty, smart script that leavened proceedings considerably if never quite enough to make me entirely comfortable. This was beautifully done, but absolutely as nasty as it needed to be, which means way too nasty for a horror lightweight like me. Much as I admired this first ep, I think I’m out.

Public Service Announcement 1 of 2020: Doctor Who, Dracula, Spinning Out

Happy new year, everybody, hope your 2019 ended as peacefully/ riotously (delete as applicable) and merrily as you could possibly have wished. Since we’re all watching so many different things at so many different speeds, Jed and I decided not to do our unpopcult poll this year, but thank you nonetheless to everyone who has read and commented over the past 12 months and indeed the past decade. You’ve been fab.

TV stops for nobody, though, so the first day of 2020 brings with it – as well as the customary repeat of The Sound of Music, which is on in the background as I type this – a couple of the BBC’s big hitters for the new year. First up is the return of Doctor Who, with its new ten-part series starting tonight at 6.55pm on BBC1. I lost interest in it some years ago, but there are plenty of other folk still watching so I doubt I’ll be missed. Slightly more intriguing (to me, anyway), however, is the decidedly more adult new version of Dracula, brought to you by former Who head honcho Steven Moffat and his Sherlock teammate Mark Gatiss who seem to be making a habit of new versions of old tales. It looks like the kind of thing I might like but also the kind of thing which might scare me witless so I’m a little torn as to whether I should give it a go or whether I really need a nightmare-free sleep tonight. We’ll see. If you’re brave enough to risk it, the first ep is on at 9pm tonight on BBC1, with eps 2 and 3 following tomorrow (Thursday) and Friday. Keep some garlic handy.

If you’re looking for some much more earthly chills, meanwhile, Netflix kicks off the new decade with what, at first glance, looks suspiciously like its own new version of an old tale, although I don’t think that’s the official line. Theoretically, Spinning Out is a brand new ten-part series about a gifted figure skater who is shaken by a terrible fall, and joins forces with (per Wikipedia) a “talented bad boy partner”. Fans of 90s teen movies will recognise that as very close to the plot of The Cutting Edge, which was amazing and wonderful when I was in my teens (I LOVED that film) but may quite possibly be terrible now – I haven’t seen it in about 20 years, although I suddenly feel the need to remedy that. In fairness, though, from the trailer and what I’ve read, Spinning Out does seem a lot darker, with a focus on mental health and the difficult relationship between protagonist Kaya Scodelario and her mother January Jones. As long as they don’t skimp on the skating and the shipping….. If you want some triple axels with your teen troubles too, then, Spinning Out is streaming now.