Public Service Announcement 1 of 2019: Catastrophe, LA To Vegas, Charmed

Dysfunctional marriage comedy Catastrophe is back for its fourth season tonight. During its first run of episodes I described it as “performing minor miracles… pulling off the trick of being adorably sweet, filthy, and funny all at the same time”. Unfortunately, in seasons 2 and 3 it misplaced the sweetness and a lot of the humour, replacing them with a sour and angry misanthropy. To be clear: there is very much a place for anger, and sour misanthropy, in my life and on my TV. But I expect my comedies to be funny at least; and, despite the presence of Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, two of the most attractive and likeable performers around, Catastrophe just became a lot harder to love. Will this be remedied in season 4? We’ll find out from 10pm tonight on Channel 4.

Also starting tonight: the first and only season of LA To Vegas, an American sitcom about a budget airline. Apart from the curiosity value of seeing Jack from Stalker in a comedy, there doesn’t seem much reason to watch this: the critical response was lukewarm at best, and it was cancelled by Fox after 15 episodes (Paramount, 9pm). Also, The CW’s reboot of witchy fantasy drama Charmed gets under way tonight. This time the reviews might best be described as “mixed”, but Unpopcult has a track record of liking CW shows (E4, 9pm).



Madam Secretary s5 ep 4

The remains of some World War 2 fighter pilots have been found in the Philippines, but the Filipino government is being uncooperative about their return, and is holding out for a nice big dollop of military aid. Meantime, a campaign group led by the daughter of one of the deceased is putting pressure on Dalton and his administration to get a result, a problem he doesn’t need in the run-up to the midterms. POTUS takes the problem away from the Department of Defense and gives it to State instead, which is a vote of confidence in Elizabeth, but potentially problematic given that the last time she met the idiot Filipino president, Andrada, he sexually assaulted her and she punched him on the nose. And Henry and Stevie are refused service in a DC restaurant by the ex-serviceman who owns the premises.

It presumably takes most of M-Sec’s diplomatic savvy to prevent her from ordering the carpet-bombing of the Phillipines, and having someone smash the pissy little restaurant up as well. Instead she tries to break the logjam. She starts in America, where authorisation of the military aid package is being held up by one “Senator Callister”, who turns out in fact to be Luke Wheeler out of Nashville. I was hoping that at some point she would offer to start wheelin’ and dealin’ with him, but I was sorely disappointed. Anyway, Senator Wheeler declines to change his position, which he dresses up as a principled stance on the human rights record of Andrada; but which instead, on investigation, turns out instead to have been motivated by a nasty little collision between his xenophobia and his ambition: he is considering a run for the White House himself and sees Elizabeth as a potential rival. President Luke Wheeler! Wheels up on Air Force One! I could go for that, particularly if, say, Juliette Barnes were made his Chief of Staff.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Returning to Mad Sec as presently written: Elizabeth, having struck out with Wheeler, decides to fly to Manila to tackle Andrada on his home patch. She is ultimately successful in bringing the boys home, but another problem then presents itself: one of the deceased might not be eligible for a military funeral because he had deserted before returning and dying in battle. So which is more important: the desertion or his death? Send for Mr Ethics himself, Henry, whose advice the Commander-in-Chief listens to and ignores. Meantime, M-Sec’s younger daughter Alison is working for the campaign of a charismatic young candidate for Congress, but when he compromises on a key policy she’s so appalled she decides not to vote. Quite rightly, Elizabeth tells her to get the hell over herself already and go and vote. (Personally, I’d not only make it easier to vote, I’d make it compulsory. That’s how you ensure that politicians take more account of the needs of the presently disenfranchised.) The show draws a line linking deaths in battle and the right to vote: it’s about as subtle as, well, having your plane blown out of the sky by artillery fire, but that’s very much par for the course with this show at the moment. Like last week, this episode was no more or less than Mad Sec doing its thing, which it does very well.

Hawaii Five-0 s9 ep 1

We open with someone floating face-down in what looks like some sort of sensory deprivation tank, wearing a surprisingly old-school rubber suit. The someone is then removed and the suit cut open… by Wo Fat! And it’s Steve inside! And he’s dead! (And the rubber suit is indeed old-school, because this episode is a remake of the original show’s 1968 pilot episode.) Well, I thought, bringing Wo Fat back from the dead to kill Steve in a giant swimming pool probably wouldn’t be the most ridiculous thing H50 has ever done. But… wait. It isn’t Wo Fat. And Steve’s alive. I have no idea what’s going on, so can we please have an expository flashback?

Of course we can; because this is Hawaii Five-0, where in medias res is your, and my, friend. And back we go a couple of days, to Steve and Junior burying large sums of cash money in Steve’s garden. It turns out that this represents Kamekona’s investment in The Money Pit, Steve and Danny’s restaurant, and this act of complete idiocy is justified by Steve, somewhat unconvincingly, on the basis that he… doesn’t want to take it to a bank, because then he’d need a formal partnership agreement, or something? I mean, I can see why convicted criminal Kame might be happier keeping his financial affairs on a strictly greenbacks-only basis, but the head of the Five-0 Task Force…? 

Fortunately a corpse has been washed up on the beach, so we can skip to the actual plot. The DOA is Tom Hennessy, an old CIA bud of Steve’s. Agent Greer, leading the investigation, tells Steve that Hennessy seems to be one of a number of murdered Company operatives, and that there’s probably a mole giving them up. Isn’t there always? A little spice is added when it’s revealed that Greer is a former girlfriend of Steve’s, and Danny, for one, thinks that Steve should be looking to get down to some “grown folks’ business” with her once the case has been solved.

The investigation leads the Five-0 to a ship, where they find the sensory deprivation tank. So Steve decides that the best way of flushing out the mole is for him to allow himself to be captured and dangled in the tank, whereupon he will feed his captors false information. Danny thinks this is “really stupid”, which seems to be understating the position by a factor of about a billion. But Steve goes ahead and does it anyway, which is where we came in. It’s a delightfully demented episode with which to open a new season, while also nicely paying homage to the show’s original iteration, and giving us a potential new Big Bad into the bargain. Good work all round.

9-1-1 s2 ep 10

I was going to start doing week-by-week reviews of 9-1-1 with this episode, but it turns out that it’s the midseason finale. Never mind; it’s a good one. In fact, it’s been an excellent season so far. I was worried about how the loss of Unpopcult royalty Connie Britton might affect the show, but if anything it’s got better; it may be that the strong ensemble cast is getting a little more attention. The additions of Jennifer Love Hewitt as Buck’s sister Maddie, now a 911 operator, and Ryan Guzman as #hotdad firefighter Eddie, haven’t hurt either.

Anyway, as ever this episode is divided into Emergencies and Personal Stuff. Emergencies first, all loosely Christmas-themed. A neighbourhood rivalry about Christmas lights leads to a man being knocked off his own roof by a huge inflatable Santa, then put in an ambulance with a Christmas wreath on the back doors, which I’m guessing isn’t actually a thing. Brandon, who works in a despatch centre, is knocked into a packing box on a conveyor belt, then recovers consciousness to find himself shrinkwrapped and in the cargo hold of a Milwaukee-bound plane. Two waiters are arguing about their relationship when one has her nose sliced off by their restaurant’s Mistle-drone. And a marine is on his way home to surprise his daughter by turning up to her choir’s performance. The bus he’s on is hit by a truck, and he helps to keep one of the passengers alive until the first responders arrive, which means that he won’t make it to his daughter’s school in time. Except he will, of course, because he’s shoved into a fire truck and driven there at top speed. “Soldier reunion videos on YouTube always get me”, observes Buck. Me too, dude. Me too.

It’s all good, and there’s plenty happening on the personal side of the ledger as well. Athena suggests to Bobby that they might move in together, and he seems somewhat startled: is this the end for #Bathena? He gets a pep-talk from Athena’s husband, which I know is a Good Thing but which still feels a little weird. Eddie and his estranged wife Shannon are doing it every chance they get, but Eddie is reluctant to let Shannon back into Christopher’s life. Until, that is, Christopher asks Santa to find his mom for Christmas. There ain’t no way Eddie can resist that. And Chimney, playing the long game with just-not-ready-yet Maddie, is trying to raise her spirits. He buys a tree, which she doesn’t really want, then a DVD (?) of Die Hard, both times being assisted by mysterious stranger Jason Bailey (Brian Hallisay, Jennifer Love Hewitt’s IRL husband). I thought Bailey was going to be some sort of magical-spirit-of-Christmas, revealed to have been killed years before in a toy shop fire, or something. I was wrong.

I thought this one of the best episodes of the season, but 9-1-1 has been on generally excellent form recently. And, crucially, it’s largely a show about decent people doing their best. In these cynical times, we need a bit of that.

Madam Secretary s5 ep 3

It’s Fashion Week in Milan, M-Sec has been invited by the Italian prime minister, and Blake is desperate for an excuse to go. But none presents itself until a factory fire in Italy kills a number of undocumented Chinese workers, and throws a spotlight on dubious labour practices in the fashion industry, in particular the overpriced part of it. President Dalton and Elizabeth rattle China’s cage about this, resulting in China raising tariffs on American goods and threatening a trade war, so Elizabeth files out to Milan, knowing that her old frenemy Ming Chen, the Chinese foreign minister, will be there, and hoping that she can shame China into endorsing an international agreement on the treatment of workers.

What she doesn’t know, though, is that Chen is in the running to be appointed as the new President of China, and that the last thing he needs right at that moment is any suggestion that he’s going soft on America. It leads to the sort of episode that Madam Secretary does well: a delicate dance of diplomacy, with Elizabeth leaning heavily on her personal connection to a foreign diplomat to achieve something that looks like progress. Chen, in the end, isn’t successful in becoming President, and there are signs that he’s becoming restless with his government’s direction of travel.

Will Elizabeth be more successful in her own run for office? She finally confirms to advisor Mike (as ever, a lovely turn from Kevin Rahm) that she’s going to be a candidate to be POTUS, but Mike thinks she needs a big issue on which to hang her hat. She finds it when she’s at a courthouse to find out if she’s being selected for jury duty, and she bumps into a young woman facing imprisonment because of bad luck and poor representation. She arranges for Mike – an “avenging angel of justice”, in his own words – to represent the woman, then decides that criminal justice reform will be her thing. Good luck with that, Mad Sec: it’s a worthy cause, but not much of a vote-winner. Henry, meantime, has decided to accept appointment as Dalton’s ethics advisor – conflicts of interest clearly being something on which his own ethics are malleable – and Daisy is fretting about her daughter’s future, but cheered by the visit of a party of schoolkids to the White House, enabling her to remind herself how far she’s come, and to deliver a be-proud-and-work-hard message to the kids.

Tracks of the Year 2018 10 – 1

Tracks 20-11 here, and my top 20 albums here.

Fingers crossed for us all in 2019. As for 2018: looks like I picked the wrong year to quit sniffing glue.

10 Beak>, ‘Brean Down’


9 Sharon Van Etten, ‘Comeback Kid’

8 Arctic Monkeys, ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’

7 Tomberlin, ‘Self-Help’

6 Adrianne Lenker, ‘symbol’

5 Christine and the Queens, ‘The Walker’

4 Noname, ‘Self’

3 Shame, ‘One Rizla’

2 Thom Yorke, ‘Suspirium’

1 Ariana Grande, ‘thank u, next’

Previous winners:
2017 Calvin Harris featuring Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry, and Big Sean, ‘Feels’
2016 Radiohead, ‘Burn The Witch’
2015 Beach House, ‘Elegy To The Void’
2014 Taylor Swift, ‘Shake It Off’
2013 Daft Punk, ‘Get Lucky’
2012 Tame Impala, ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’
2011 Metronomy, ‘The Bay’
2010 Janelle Monáe, ‘Cold War’
2009 Yeah Yeah Yeahs, ‘Heads Will Roll’
2008 Fleet Foxes, ‘White Winter Hymnal’

Tracks of the Year 2018 20 – 11

My top 10 tracks tomorrow, to finish the year. As ever, there was plenty of excellent music which didn’t quite make my final list, such as ‘High Horse’ by Kacey Musgraves, ‘After The Storm’ by Kali Uchis (featuring Tyler, The Creator and Bootsy Collins), ‘Missing U’ by Robyn, ‘Mariners Apartment Complex’ by Lana Del Rey, ‘Everybody Loves You’ by SOAK, ‘M.A.H.’ by U.S. Girls, ‘New England’ by Phosphorescent, ‘Never Be The Same’ by Camila Cabello, ‘Love It If We Made It’ by The 1975, ‘Talking Straight’ by Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, ‘Nothing Breaks Like A Heart’ by Mark Ronson and Miley Cyrus, ‘Shallow’ by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, and ‘No Tears Left To Cry’ by Ariana Grande.

‘Shallow’ and ‘No Tears’ are also on CJ’s top 5 of the year, as are ‘Never Enough’ by Loren Allred; ‘These Days’ by Rudimental featuring Jess Glynn, Macklemore and Dan Caplen; and ‘This Is Me’ by Keala Settle. Her list is in no particular order. Mine very much is, otherwise what’s the point? (This question continues to be rhetorical.)

20 Beach House, ‘Lemon Glow’

19 Cardi B (featuring Bad Bunny & J Balvin, ‘I Like It’

18 Interpol, ‘The Rover’

17 Father John Misty, ‘Mr. Tillman’

16 Janelle Monáe, ‘Make Me Feel’

15 Christine and the Queens (featuring Dâm-Funk), ‘Girlfriend’

14 Courtney Barnett, ‘Charity’

13 Kacey Musgraves, ‘Butterflies’

12 Iceage (featuring Sky Ferreira), ‘Pain Killer’

11 Thom Yorke, ‘Unmade’