The Good Doctor s3 ep 5

It’s Shaun’s turn to get his first lead case: Beth, a good-natured woman who requires apparently straightforward surgery for oesophageal cancer. Unsurprisingly, it becomes more complicated, and when Shaun’s patient communication skills aren’t quite up to the mark Beth requests that he be taken off the case. Lim – who hand-picked this case for Shaun, which troubles Andrews – intercedes and Shaun is reinstated, but when the surgery actually starts Shaun appears to be having a meltdown. Andrews and Lim eventually discern that Shaun has actually found a way of performing the surgery which will be better for the patient, but which is too complex for him to perform. Thus Beth’s life is improved, Shaun loses his lead surgery, and Andrews and Lim can debate whether Shaun is worth the trouble.

Meantime, Claire and Morgan are treating Curtis, an alcoholic who has been sober for six years, he says. He has all the symptoms of intoxication, though, and Claire doesn’t believe him. Even when Curtis’s wife says that she stands by her husband, Claire isn’t remotely convinced. We kind of know how this one’s going to go as well: sure enough, Curtis has a medical condition which is causing his intoxication. Of course, all of this business about refusing to believe an alcoholic is off the drink is bound up, so far as Claire is concerned, with her Coming To Terms with the Loss of her Mother, something about which I truly don’t care, because her mother was appalling. I really, really hope that this won’t go on for too much longer.

And Glassman’s new wife Debbie has a gun. Glassman is appalled; Debbie says it’s her thing and she’s not giving it up. Relationship counsellor Shaun prescribes second base to Glassman, this being an experience he’s presently enjoying with Carly. It works for Glassman. And, presumably, Debbie and Carly. It’s not The Good Doctor at its absolute best – the Cases of the Week are a little too predictable – but it’s perfectly fine.

The Blacklist s6 ep 22

As I’ve said more than once, there’s nothing quite like the sheer swagger of The Blacklist at its best. And the opening half of this season-ending episode is a case in point: most of the Task Force has been arrested by McMahon’s goons, but Liz is still on the loose and with the help of teen tech geek Tadashi – one of Red’s rotating cast of familiars – manages to free them, just so that they can all be recaptured and incarcerated in the Red Box, just so that Red and his squad of goons can free them again. It’s a heist movie without the heist. And then it’s off to a restaurant Red knows, for French toast kebabs with Vermont maple syrup butter dipping sauce.

But even though Red is clearly enjoying himself – “Have some fun! It’s going to be a riot!” – there’s serious business afoot, that being the culmination of the McMahon/POTUS Plot Against America. (President Robert Diaz is this week’s Blacklister.) Last week, everyone thought that the President was conspiring to have the President assassinated, so when the Task Force gets word that he’s at a televised debate they rush there and manage, just in time, to put off a sniper, who instead hits the First Lady. Then the Task Force is arrested. Again. And busted out. Again.

As it happens, the sniper wasn’t aiming at the President after all. And the reason for the Plot is somewhat underwhelming. Nonetheless, it’s enough to bring Diaz down. Red, meantime, is meeting with Brett Cullen, as a mysterious stranger who is, presumably, his brother or something like that? (And as you don’t just cast Brett Cullen for two minutes, I assume we’ll see him again in season 7.) And then to Paris, for an encounter with Liz’s mother, Katarina Rostova (Laila Robins, who was Martha Boyd in Homeland), who seems to have known he was coming, given what she does to him. It’s been a terrific season: I continue to be impressed by the way in which The Blacklist’s team of writers negotiates its subtle reinventions while keeping the standard remarkably high.

The Good Doctor s3 ep 4

St Bonaventure has a patient on the “celebrity track”: one Mitchell Stewart, conspiracy theorist, played with brio and star quality by our old friend Joshua Malina. (Unfortunately he doesn’t appear in any scenes with Richard Schiff. How hard could it be to contrive that, folks?) He has a genetic liver problem, but insists he’s being poisoned by – well, who knows? Someone determined to stop him from spreading his batshit ideas about “crisis actors” and the like. Nor does he trust any of the hospital staff; apart from Shaun, that is, as he realises that Shaun would find it very difficult to lie to him. Even if he claims that Shaun’s autism was caused by vaccination, something Shaun immediately debunks. Anyway, Stewart is being poisoned, after all, but not by who or what he thinks.

It’s an entertaining diversion from the rest of the episode, which is loosely themed around the question of whether we can ever know someone. Well, can we? Can we? Patient of the Week number 2 is Lily, who doesn’t really think there’s much wrong with her, until she turns out to have a ruptured appendix of which she was entirely unaware. She can’t, it transpires, feel physical pain. And just as I was thinking we’d probably seen this before in a medical procedural or two, her story takes an intriguing twist: she can’t feel emotional pain either. Well, well, well. This leaves Lily’s husband somewhat adrift: does she actually love him? Can you love someone without the possibility of loss, and the pain which ensues, hanging over you? This, of course, is a topic close to Claire’s heart this week, given that her useless mother checked out last time round. I’m not mad on the final scene, in which Claire numbs the pain with meaningless sex: I mean, I’m all for numbing pain with meaningless sex, but if this is going to turn into a season-long exploration of destructive behaviour, then count me out.

Meantime, Glassman is just about to get married to Debbie, when he’s thrown by the discovery that Shaun and Carly are working their way through a whole list of topics designed to ensure that they know as much as they can about each other. How much does he actually know about Debbie, and what the hell crazy kind of idea is it to leap into marriage anyway? And Shaun negotiates, with Carly, the tricky business of hand-holding: she wants to, he doesn’t. It’s a likeable and engaging episode, if not quite as good as this show is capable of being.

Arena – The British Guide to the End of the World

Here on Unpopcult we like to stand up for the things we like, rather than bother with the things we don’t. And it’s in that spirit that I have to tell you that ‘The British Guide To The End Of The World’, a documentary in the BBC’s long running Arena strand, is one of the most amazing, extraordinary things I have ever seen. It’s a collection of archive footage, illustrating various examples of how Britain – and, more importantly, British people – navigated the nuclear age, from weapon-testing, through the Cold War, to Protect and Survive.

Some of it was ferociously frightening, like the opening sequence – soldiers recalling their experiences of being on Christmas Island when Britain was testing its first hydrogen bomb – which is something I don’t expect to forget in a hurry. “It wasn’t an explosion”, said one soldier of the blast. “It’s the creation of another sun”. Birds in flight were set alight by the heat: “like Catherine wheels, spiralling from the sky”. Some of it was touchingly absurd, like the woman telling a branch of the WI how to prepare for war. “A change of clothing… And sensible clothing, please. Pyjamas. Much better than a nightie”. Some of it was chilling: the young man in the 80s with the keys to a nuclear shelter and plans for the brave new post-Bomb world. “We know exactly what people we have got to put in the shelter”. And some of it felt like a gut-punch – the dawning realisation of the Christmas Island soldiers that they had, very deliberately, been used as guinea-pigs.

I’m stopping short of making this an unqualified recommendation: it’s a touch idiosyncratic, and it’s possible that the approach will put some people off. But, my God, give it a try. It’s on the iPlayer for the next three weeks.

Public Service Announcement 64 of 2019: The Heart Guy (Doctor Doctor)

When I first saw reports that season 4 of The Heart Guy (Doctor Doctor) was about to start in the UK, I’ll admit I was dismissive of them: I’m a big enough fan of this medical drama to be keeping tabs on where it’s at in its native Australia, and I was aware that it wasn’t going to be shown there before 2020. Hey-ho, I thought; someone’s got confused about a season 3 repeat, or something, and we probably won’t see any new episodes for at least a year.

Well, I was wrong about all of that. All of it. It turns out that we in Britain are getting a world premiere of season 4 right here and now, and Australian audiences will still have to wait until next year. The reason given by its native broadcaster, Nine, for this is less than convincing to me – something to do with funding and its alleged popularity in the UK – but as I’ve said before I don’t need to be an expert on the business of TV to be a viewer, and anyway I don’t care.

Much as I love this show, mind you, I had two problems with the third season. The first was that I simply didn’t believe in the way that independent, single parent career woman Dr Penny Cartwright (the refulgent Hayley McElhinney) fell to pieces because of her foundering romance with reformed-bad-boy Dr Hugh Knight (Rodger Corser). But that might just be because Hugh isn’t my type; I’d probably fall to pieces if the possibility of a relationship with Dr Cartwright were snatched away from me. Secondly, I’m afraid that I was quite unable to get to grips with the detectably pregnant Nicole da Silva playing a character who was quite insistent that she didn’t ever want to have kids. Da Silva is an excellent actor, but she couldn’t square that circle. Or maybe that one, too, is on me.

Anyway. Bottom line is that the Whyhope crew is BACK with a double-bill at 10pm NEXT SATURDAY, on Drama, and I am both surprised and delighted. I might even review a few episodes this time, given that we’re not months behind everyone else. And, for the avoidance of doubt, I am still RIDE-OR-DIE for the Penny/Hugh ship.

The Good Doctor s3 ep 3

It looks as if Claire’s first patient as lead surgeon is going to be Michelle, a troubled teenage girl whose gallbladder will need to be removed, but she has plenty of distractions. Shaun wants her to speak to Carly and sort out his love life. (She eventually does, and Carly tells her to mind her own.) She needs to go to therapy with her waste-of-space mom. And Michelle’s mom (Traci Thoms, currently playing another kind of annoying character in 9-1-1) is pretty appalling herself: she has three foster children who Michelle seems to be expected to bring up, and Michelle is unhappy to the point where, unknown to her mother, she’s been self-harming. So Claire arranges for a psych consult for Michelle; Michelle’s mom finds out and complains; and Lim takes her off the surgery.

But then Michelle insists on Claire performing the surgery, and she gets to do it after all. The surgery itself, which goes wrong towards the end but not fatally, is a quite terrific sequence – I’ve seen hundreds of these on TV before but never one quite like this – and Claire’s little dance of triumph afterwards is earned by the character and the show. 

In the B-plot, Wilson out of House (Robert Sean Leonard) has a marlin hanging off his leg, Probably a dead marlin, although there’s a little doubt about that. Anyway, it would be reasonably straightforward to hack Brer Marlin in two, but that would mean it couldn’t be stuffed and mounted, something which Wilson is very keen to do. The marlin extraction isn’t straightforward, and Claire takes ten seconds off from everything else to provide a snap diagnosis of what else – apart from the marlin – might be wrong with Wilson. The fish is saved.

I suspect that we’re supposed to see the final scene as a tragedy. Thing is, I didn’t like that character at all, and I’m not remotely sorry to see her go. I just hope that Claire doesn’t beat herself up for weeks. That aside, though – and not for the first time – this is popular TV of the highest quality.

The Blacklist s6 ep 21

Anna McMahon, the season’s Big Bad, is finally also this week’s Blacklister. She and her team are trying to find the USB drive which contains the McGuffin-esque dossier, and which was dropped by Bastien Moreau into the backpack of a random schoolkid several episodes ago. The Task Force is also after it. And, in plot terms at least, that’s mostly it for an episode which is entertaining enough, but somewhat short of The Blacklist at its supercharged best. 

Eventually, though, Ressler and Liz manage to lay their hands on the drive and bring it back to the Task Force HQ, where it can be decrypted, which means that they’re now in on the details of the great big conspiracy against America, specifically a plot to assassinate the President. Cooper wants to warn POTUS over Red’s warnings, but just in time Aram turns up evidence that the President is also involved, Which means that the President, it appears, is part of a conspiracy to… assassinate the President. This is such obvious WTF-ery that it’s repeated several times by various characters, then presumably to put a stop to that McMahon and her Secret Service goons bust into the Task Force HQ and arrest Cooper and his colleagues for their plot to assassinate the President. Liz manages to avoid them, though, and will presumably launch her counterattack, with Red’s help, in next week’s season finale.