Killing Eve s1 ep 1

Can Killing Eve stand up to the hype? Actually, it just about can. Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) is a MI5 desk-jockey, assistant to the world-weary Bill (David Haig), and living life in a state of moderate dissatisfaction. A Russian politician has been assassinated in Vienna, and Eve – to the disdain of her superiors – has concluded that the assassin is most probably a woman. So when the girlfriend of the deceased, who witnessed the assassination, lands in London, and Eve is given the job of making sure that she’s looked after, she goes a little further and carries out an unauthorised interview in the hope of confirming her suspicions.

We already know that she’s right: preternaturally skilled psychopath and killer-for-hire (?) Villanelle (Jodie Comer) is not only behind the Vienna wet job, but a pile of others as well; including, by the end of the episode, the Russian politician’s girlfriend. This, together with the off-the-books investigation, is enough to get Eve the sack, although she’s subsequently approached by Carolyn (Fiona Shaw), head of the Russia desk at MI6, with an offer to continue the investigation.

I liked this a lot. The soundtrack is terrific; I had Shazam to hand throughout the episode. And the acting is great: Oh is entirely convincing as bored-but-perceptive Eve, and Owen McDonnell does a fine job as her husband Niko, as does Shaw as the experienced spook Carolyn. Haig is magnificent as Bill, and Kim Bodnia is clearly enjoying himself as Villanelle’s thuggish handler. Comer has the toughest job of the lot – she has to convince as a barely-out-of-her-teens star assassin – but I’ve seen enough of her in the past to be confident that she’s got this.

Killing Eve also scores highly for its dialogue (this episode was written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), which is witty without being sparkling, but this is by design: it’s the conversation of people in jaded, cynical middle age, fighting battles they don’t think they should be fighting any more. It reminded me in parts of the Slough House series of books by Mick Herron, and those who know me will know that there’s no higher praise I can give anything. Killing Eve isn’t at that level, but it’s tremendous Saturday-night fun.

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Public Service Announcement 34 of 2018: Killing Eve, A Discovery of Witches, Shut Eye

BBC America’s Killing Eve was, when shown in the USA, a critical hit and – on its own terms – a ratings success, with its viewing figures almost doubling during its 8-week run, and a season 2 renewal in the bag. It’s an adaptation of Luke Jennings’s novella series Codename Villanelle, which has been developed and partly written by the insanely talented Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer star as a MI5 agent and assassin respectively. I’m particularly pleased about the praise Comer has been getting; we loved her in My Mad Fat Diary, and she deserves her subsequent success. (Kim Bodnia from Bron/Broen also appears.) Having managed to deliver old-fashioned monster ratings with Bodyguard, the BBC has plainly decided that it doesn’t want them with Killing Eve: although it will be broadcasting it on a week-by-week basis on BBC One, starting tomorrow at 9.15pm, the whole season will be available for (ew ew ew) “bingeing” on BBC Three.

A few other things. A Discovery of Witches is also an adaptation, this time of a novel by Deborah Harkness. It’s something to do with witches and vampires forming an alliance, which sounds like the sort of thing I don’t care about. The cast includes Matthew Goode and Alex Kingston (tonight, Sky One, 9pm).

Unpopcult royalty Jeffrey Donovan stars in Shut Eye, one of the first shows on Virgin’s new Ultra HD channel. Donovan plays a magician who starts to have psychic visions. With a cast of triple-tested TV talent – David Zayas, Susan Misner, Emmanuelle Chriqui, KaDee Strickland, Isabella Rossellini – this sounds as if it might be quite interesting. The reviews and ratings would, however, suggest otherwise; it was cancelled after two seasons (Monday 18 September, Virgin TV Ultra HD, 10pm). And Constantine, an apparently mediocre DC Comics adaptation, lasted only one before cancellation (Monday 18 September, FOX (UK), 9pm).

And two from the streamers: season 5 of BoJack Horseman (Netflix), and the first season of Maya Rudolph/Fred Armisen vehicle Forever (Amazon Prime), both dropped today.

Bodyguard s1 ep 4

Spoilers

“What”, asked The Guardian the other day of Bodyguard, “does its mix of politics, terrorism and sex have that other series don’t?” Well, yes. The clue might be in the question. The first three episodes, certainly, were as much Boabyguard as Bodyguard. (I know that joke doesn’t travel well, but it’s all I’ve got.) To that I would add – and it’s a point I’ve made a gazillion times before – that appointment TV only becomes a thing when you have episodes at regular intervals, ideally one per week, rather than letting viewers “binge” (ew) at their own pace. There’s little which has given me more pleasure over the past few weeks, than reading the complaints on social media from people who’re unhappy with waiting a week for each new episode. A week. Come on, folks. We’re not children.

So Bodyguard is a ratings and critical success, and thus far both have been well-deserved. On the other hand, it’s a British drama, which means the ever-present possibility that it will run out of steam soon enough. The most recent example of that phenomenon is the bewilderingly overrated Keeping Faith, which started brightly enough and would have made a good two- or three-parter, but which instead was stretched into eight increasingly pointless episodes. The scenery was nice, though.

Will Bodyguard hit the same wall? Well… maybe not. This fourth episode, dealing with the consequences of episode 3’s bomb blast, was never less than compelling, although it was undoubtedly less thrilling. As we wait to discover whether Julia has survived, Mike Travis happily slithers into her place as acting Home Secretary, immediately handing back control of the investigation to the police, much to Anne Sampson’s joy. (This might be controversial, but I’m firmly of the view that, thus far, the best acting performance in the show is being given by Gina McKee as the magnificently ambitious but inscrutable Sampson.)

David Budd (the excellent Richard Madden, becoming a star before our very eyes), meantime, is unravelling. He’s being pursued by the dogged detective duo Sharma and Rayburn, who have noted that since David took over as Julia’s PPO she’s been the target of two assassination attempts. The first narrowly failed; but, as we learn during the episode, the bomb has succeeded. She’s been killed. Budd’s response to this is to shoot himself. And at this point I was thinking: wow, taking out both of your main stars halfway through a season within a few minutes is quite a baller move.

Except… David isn’t dead: the bullets in his gun had been replaced with blanks, by someone as yet undetermined. And so, despite the fact that Sharma and Rayburn are convinced he’s hiding something – which, of course, at a bare minimum is undoubtedly true of his relationship with Julia – he’s allowed to interview Nadiya, the suicide bomber from the now-famous train scene at the start of episode 1. The theory is that whoever was behind the assassination of Julia was also responsible for the bomb that Nadiya was strapped to. Unhelpfully, Nadiya can’t be certain about who gave her husband that bomb.

But we do have suspects. We’ve seen slimy political advisor Rob handing Tahir the briefcase which is presently presumed to have been carrying the bomb, and Rob and Mike Travis have the sort of elliptical conversation which strongly implies that something dodgy is going on. Then there’s mysterious Richard Longcross, whose presence in the hotel Julia was staying in has been entirely erased by someone from the hotel’s CCTV. 

And there are things we haven’t seen. What happened to that sacked PA who disappeared into the big car in the first episode? What was actually in that briefcase? Who do all the documents from episode 3 refer to? And, most significantly of all, we haven’t actually seen Julia’s corpse. She’s not dead, is she?

Instinct s1 ep 1

There isn’t much that’s new about Instinct: it is, essentially, another variant on the Sherlock Holmes story. Our super-detective this time is Dr Dylan Reinhart (Alan Cumming), presently an academic with an interest in behavioural psychology. He rattles off some instant Holmesian analysis at his first meeting with Lizzie Needham (Bojana Novakovic), who he correctly deduces to be a NYPD detective. But how does he know she’s a…? “Oh, come on. The I-don’t-care-how-I-look pantsuit, the humdrum flats, the almost total absence of…”. You get the picture, and you got the picture in House and The Mentalist, never mind in Elementary and Sherlock.

Dylan is also the author of a book about psychopaths, and Lizzie is in his lecture hall in the hope of persuading him to help with her investigation into a particularly nasty and bizarre murder. Initially he refuses. But that wouldn’t make much of a show, and even as the corpses start piling up he agrees to help. He does, though, need to keep this a secret from his husband Andy (Daniel Ings) because, as well as being an academic, author, and now a police consultant, Dylan used to be a CIA operative, and he seems to have promised Andy that he’d give up the dangerous stuff. Insofar as he has a Secret Pain that appears to be it. (As promised in pre-broadcast publicity Dylan’s sexuality is no big deal; it’s just there. Well done, CBS. Representation matters.) Lizzie’s Pain is more substantial – the murder of her last partner – but it isn’t much of a Secret as it’s revealed before the end of the episode. Naveen Andrews (Sayid in Lost) drops in as Julian, one of Dylan’s old CIA contacts, now freelancing as the obligatory tech guy.

Of Sky Witness’s three big new American dramas I thought this the least satisfactory. There’s a fair amount to like: the plot is pacy and entertaining in a ridiculous sort of way – the killer, at the scene of each murder, leaves a playing card which is a clue to the next victim – but the baddie was screamingly obvious as soon as s/he appeared. And the script is good in places, but very clunky in others. It’s the first episode so, in fairness, some allowance has to be made, but there’s a lot of exposition. Much of it comes from Lizzie, who, after summarising Dylan’s CV to his face for our benefit, then casually reminds her boss and BFF, Jasmine (Sharon Leal), that she’s “the youngest lieutenant in the department’s history”, something of which Jasmine is presumably well aware.

On balance, though, I’ll give it another episode or two before making a final decision on whether to become a regular viewer or not. This is probably because of the leads: I’ve been a fan of Cumming for 30 or so years now, dating back to his days in cabaret act Victor and Barry. Novakovic, meantime, is an appealing and ever-so-slightly off-kilter screen presence: I spent most of the episode trying to work out where I’d seen her before, but a review of her filmography would suggest that she’s new to me. The two of them work well together, and make Instinct worth watching. 

Nashville s6 ep 16

Last episode, ever ever ever. Juliette puts her house on the market, in order to buy a farm (?), and Hallie tells Avery that Juliette is pregnant. Juli, however, makes it clear to Avery that she doesn’t want him to come back to her for the baby; it has to be because he needs her, which he really doesn’t. Not that that’s going to be a problem, of course, But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Deacon is offered a tour as headliner. He seems overwhelmed. I kind of thought that he would have headlined a tour before now, but apparently not, given his reaction. Before he can decide what to do, though, he and The Girls have one or two more traumas to negotiate. Maddie is now hanging out with Twig, who has become… kinda annoying and a little needy, like the guy who can’t believe his luck that he’s dating the most popular girl in school. Maddie rips the plaster off. Sorry, Twiglet. It isn’t her; it’s you.

Deacon has kicked his father out, but makes the mistake of giving him the opportunity to come out with some more self-serving pap about his past, his alcohol use… so we know we’re not going to be rid of him. And to compound that, Daphne invites Gideon to the final of Brad’s stupid reality show, for which Brad has deliberately given her a song to perform which isn’t in her wheelhouse. Daphne loses the competition, and is pretty upset. On the plus side, her coach Ilse – who has actually been really nice – flirts rather endearingly with Deacon.

Avery, Will, and Gunnar decide to get the band back together, minus Alannah, who is now fully engaged in the final phase of Project Brad. He invites her to his hotel room and makes violent advances towards her, which she repels. He then runs through some #MeToo talking points: powerful women and beautiful women, that’s the deal, you’ll never work again, stopping just short of asking “Got enough?” Because, of course, Alannah recorded the whole thing. Thus Zach – I had totally forgotten about his Senate run – and Deacon, and a lift full of women, including Jessie, march on Brad’s office and tell him that he’s going to sell (name of record company – still can’t be bothered looking it up) for a tenth of its market value and give Jessie full custody of their son. Otherwise the recording, and the rest of the allegations, will be made public.

Now, hold on there. I appreciate that analysing the plot of Nashville is a fool’s errand, but it’s the last time I’m going to have that chance, so here goes. Much as Brad deserves to be screwed over, I’m not at all sure that blackmail is the way to do it. And in the event that Nashville’s Ronan Farrow equivalent breaks the story – and word will get out somehow, there’s no doubt about that, given how many victims there are – how is it going to look for a Senate candidate to be party to a deal which suppressed evidence of serious sexual misconduct in return for a business deal which is favourable to him? Oh, the hell with it; it’s the finale. Well done, everyone. #Time’sUp, Brad.

Then it’s flash-forward time! I do like a good flash-forward. Six months on Maddie is moving into her own house and Daphne is signing a record deal. Since this is the final round-up I’m going to say, yet again and for the final time, that I wouldn’t have believed how much these characters have improved, and how good Lennon and Maisy Stella have been. I hope they both have great careers doing whatever they want to do. (Particularly Maisy, who has been close to being the show’s MVP in the final season.) Alannah – hey! – is supporting – ho! – The Lumineers. I remain utterly steadfast in my view that she was one of the show’s good guys, and I liked the actor (Rainee Blake). Will and Zach are a couple. The Last Highways (sic) are a success.

As for romantic endgames: I don’t get my Gunnlett, because Scarlett is engaged to… well, whatever that was. Everyone else gets Julvery, though, because the writers decide to let Avery pretend that he can’t live without Juliette, and let the viewers pretend that this time Juliette isn’t going to pull the football away, so he travels out to live on her stupid farm with her and her stupid goats, and they live happily ever after, until the next time she makes his life miserable.

But the final scenes belong to Deacon, who is on his first solo tour. It’s worth noting that it’s only a year and a half since he staggered off with our Most Annoying Character award, something which seems inconceivable now. I mean, it’s completely inconceivable while we have Toby from This Is Us in our lives, but the way in which the character turned around to fill the Rayna-shaped void in the show felt organic, which is a huge tribute to Chip Esten’s acting throughout. And he – and we – get our reward, with the appearance of Connie Britton, doing a Clooney. 

So we get a lovely little scene in which they flash back to their wedding night – and Esten and Britton are so good together – which becomes a full-on, fourth-wall-shattering onstage finale, in which just about everyone who’s ever been in Nashville joins in with ‘A Life That’s Good’. It’s not perfect: I could really have done without Deacon and Gideon reconciling (“Son, I know all your songs”), for reasons which I’ve gone into in previous reviews, and I could happily have lived without seeing Beverly ever again. On the other hand – Rayna! Mayor Teddy! Both of the twins who play Cadence! Luke! And acknowledgement being given to creator Callie Khouri, and the people behind the scenes as well. 

Nashville, I loved you. May we all have a life that’s good. And that’s a wrap.

Public Service Announcement 30 of 2018: Instinct, The Innocents

Following For the People and 9-1-1, Instinct is the third of Sky Witness’s launch schedule of big new American dramas. Alan Cumming stars as Dr Dylan Reinhart, a triple-threat academic, author, and retired CIA officer, who is – of course – dragged back into solving crimes. Apparently Reinhart is the first openly gay lead character in an American network drama, so well done CBS. Unfortunately the reviews would suggest that the show isn’t great. On the other hand it’s been renewed for a second season, and this first run is only 13 episodes long – I will NEVER get tired of celebrating first seasons which don’t go on for 24 episodes – so it might be worth a look. I’ll be reviewing the first episode at least (Thursday 23 August, 9pm, Sky Witness).

And on Friday, Netflix drops all eight episodes of supernatural YA drama The Innocents, which has been getting some decent advance buzz. If Unpopcult watches, it’ll be CJ, the head of our teen programming division – ask her about To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – who tells you what we think.

9-1-1 s1 ep 1

Abby (Secret Pains: boyfriend left her, mother has Alzheimer’s; played by Connie Britton, good but comfortably in her wheelhouse) is an emergency dispatcher in LA: she answers the calls, directs the first responders, and keeps the panicked caller talking until help gets there. That help is provided by, among others, fire department captain Bobby (Secret Pain: recovering alcoholic; played by Peter Krause, good but etc.) and LAPD sergeant Athena (Secret Pain: her husband, the father of her children, has just come out as gay; played by Angela Bassett, and you know how this goes by now).

They are supported by, among others, young hothead LAFD rookie Buck (Oliver Stark, interesting), whose inability to keep his, uh, hose in his firetruck around attractive women ultimately leads to Bobby giving him a #MeToo era sacking (“It’s not 1950 any more. We work with women side by side”); and LAFD paramedics Hen (Aisha Hinds) and Chimney (Kenneth Choi).

And that’s pretty much it as far as the premise goes. There are three Cases of the Week in this episode. In the first, a stoner calls in claiming that there’s a baby crying inside the walls of his apartment: maybe someone flushed a baby down the toilet and it got stuck? This is clearly preposterous, except that’s what happened. In the second, a woman is being choked to death by her pet snake. The amount of time it takes the assembled first responders to decide to kill the effing snake is surprising.

So far, so meh; and I was left thinking that I would have expected a show with Ryan Murphy’s name on it to be a little bit more exciting, or shocking, or… something? The third Case of the Week, though, works. Abby takes a call from a nine-year-old girl, alone in her suburban house, who claims that home invaders are trying to get into her home; and she doesn’t know her address because they’ve just moved in.

To start with, the precise nature of the threat is left tantalisingly unclear, until it all snaps into focus. Abby, by phone, quarterbacks the terrified girl round her house, while trying to find out where she lives in order to direct the emergency services. It’s nothing new, but it’s done very well, and in a way which gives Buck an opportunity to redeem himself while assuring Abby that she’s the real hero. It actually occurred to me while watching this that it would be entirely possible – in fact, likely – that Abby might not ever be in the same room as any of the emergency workers. On the other hand, as she and Bobby – attractive, been round the block once or twice, ruefulness in their eyes – are the show’s obvious ship, I’d be a little disappointed if the writers didn’t at least give that a go.

On balance, I’m probably going to watch 9-1-1 again, although that might well be, in part, because of the comfort offered by the familiar: I like Britton, I like Krause, and I like slick procedurals. If you want more than that, I’m not sure yet that this is the show for you.