Public Service Announcement 5 of 2019: Star Trek: Discovery

Since Discovery started last year, the Star Trek spin-offs are coming thick and fast, with new series planned for one Philippa Georghiou and TNG’s Picard, at the very least. No air dates for them as yet, but season 2 of this Burnham et al’s space odyssey starts today (Thursday 17th) in the US and tomorrow on Netflix in the UK. Kudos to Netflix once again for not making us wait.

Season 1 didn’t get off to a good start, but it changed tack and won me over, and part 2 was a lot of fun, even if I was a little ambivalent about some aspects of it. One of those aspects, namely the show clinging to Spock and the original series instead of boldly going with wholly unrelated characters, I will just have to make my peace with though since Spock himself, Captain Pike and the pre-Kirk Enterprise crew are joining the show. And turns out Pike is being played by Anson Mount, an underrated (and in no way unattractive) actor I have a lot of time for, so all right then, you’ve twisted my arm, make it so. I’ll review ep 1 at least and we’ll take it from there. Meantime, yellow alert: if you’d like an appetiser before the main event, the 4 Stark Trek Short Treks mini-episodes are now officially available to UK viewers too – you can find them on Netflix in Discovery’s “Trailers and More”.


Public Service Announcement 4 of 2019: Magnum P.I., True Detective

Nearly nine years ago – my God – I reviewed the first two episodes of the Hawaii Five-0 reboot, noting that “(e)ither I’m the worst possible viewer for the Hawaii Five-O reboot, or the best… I’ve never seen a single episode of the original”. Tucked away in the comments under that piece you might find one from a CJ Cregg, saying of Magnum P.I., “No doubt someone somewhere is watching to see how H50 does before they decide to remake that too…”.

And… here we all are. Yes, it’s finally time for another reboot of another Hawaiian-based TV classic of which I haven’t seen a single episode. This iteration of Magnum P.I. has Jay Hernandez – for Unpopcult purposes, Curtis Pryce in Scandal and Dante in Nashville – in the title role, supported by, among others, Zachary Knighton (FlashForward, Happy Endings), and Perdita Weeks. And Tim Kang, forever part of Unpopcult’s roll of honour for playing the gloriously deadpan Cho in The Mentalist. It’s exec produced by H50’s Peter Lenkov, among others, and it would seem to be part of CBS’s Hawaiian Television Universe, as Noelani and Kamekona might pop up. Obviously, it will be a lot of nonsense. Obviously, I will be watching (Wednesday 16 January, 9pm, Sky One).

Meantime, prestige-TV anthology drama series True Detective has just returned for its third season. I thought the first good, if flawed (principally in respect of its jaw-dropping attitude to women), and on the back of poor reviews I didn’t bother with the second. This time around Oscar-winning Mahershala Ali leads the cast, it’s about a “macabre child murder”, and the critics appear to be back onside. It would, however, take a little effort for me to watch it, given that it’s on Sky Atlantic, and that’s more effort than I’m presently minded to expend (Mondays, 10.10pm).

Public Service Announcement 3 of 2019: The Passage

I’ve tried to get my head round what new drama The Passage is about, but since it’s apparently based on a wildly popular trilogy of novels spanning 1000 years, I imagine I’ve barely scratched the surface. The tv version anyway, involves a super-secret, super-worried US. government project sending federal agent Zach from Saved by the Bell to go collect a particular little girl, the plan being to experiment on her with a super-secret, super-bad virus they’ve been playing around with that looks like it’s about to bring about the end of civilisation as we know it. No biggie. Agent Zach is too much of a good guy to go through with this, though, so the cross-country chase/ “good of the many vs good of the few” etc debate is on. The show premieres tonight in the US and, happily, UK viewers don’t have to wait very long to catch up – we’ll get to see it tomorrow (Tuesday) at 9pm on Fox UK. Well done, Fox UK. Given that it’s all over the trailer, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that there are vampire-adjacent themes, so this is one for unpopcult’s undead/ apocalypse department (ie me) rather than Jed. I’ll review the first episode and see how we go after that.

Public Service Announcement 2 of 2019: Bull, Better Things, Sex Education, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

It’s difficult to know what to give top billing to. So let’s start with Bull, more or less explicitly a vehicle for Michael Weatherly with a slight procedural drama attached: he plays Dr Jason Bull, the head of a jury consulting firm. But really you could change “jury consulting firm” to “private investigation company” or, for that matter, “big-city FBI office”, and following some very minor tweaking of plots and characters it would still be the sort of thing one could half-watch while ironing, or idly perusing the web. Which is fine; as I keep saying, TV drama can’t – and shouldn’t – be wall-to-wall premium shows which need you to do your homework before and after watching. Season 2 ended with Dr Bull having a heart attack, and season 3 is now well under way in America, which suggests that, y’know, he survived, because the clue’s in the show’s title.

But here, of course, is the thing: Eliza Dushku, who was in three episodes at the end of the first season, and had been tapped for a regular role going forward, has just received a vast amount of cash money from CBS as an out-of-court settlement after being fired from the show following her complaints about Weatherly’s on-set conduct. This is… not good, and it will be interesting to see whether it affects the show’s future; traditionally, shows have kept going if they make financial sense, and everything would otherwise point to Bull being nailed-on for a fourth season. But the way in which the Roseanne reboot was summarily executed might suggest that times are changing (Friday 11 November, FOX (UK), 10pm).

And, continuing that general theme, the first season of acclaimed comedy-drama Better Things makes its way to the UK tonight. It’s very much a collaboration between the exceptional Pamela Adlon and her long-time friend and supporter Louis C.K.; between them, they wrote every episode in the first two seasons. Adlon – very often the best thing in Louie – stars as Sam Fox (a name which clearly has less significance in the US than in the UK), an actress and single parent to three children. (She has three children in real life.)

But here, again, is the thing: Louis C.K. has since been unmasked, to Adlon’s evident anguish, as a serial sexual predator, is not involved with the show’s third season, and in his post-shame comedy routines he appears to be doubling-down on being a persona non grata. This is… not good. I plan to keep the art and the artist firmly apart, though, and watch this show (tonight, BBC Two, 9pm).

Two less #problematic shows: Netflix’s dramedy Sex Education, starring Gillian Anderson as a sex therapist and Asa Butterfield as her teenage son, who starts to provide therapy to his peers. The critics who have seen it like it, generally quite a lot. And Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is back on Netflix in the UK this weekend for its final run of episodes. I haven’t found it easy to write about, but I’ve started so I’ll finish; reviews until the end.

Also starting: season 8 of amiable cops-in-the-sun drama Death in Paradise (tonight, BBC One, 9pm); season 2 of The Orville (tonight, FOX (UK), 9pm); season 2 of Friends From College (tomorrow, Netflix); and season 1 of Titans (tomorrow, Netflix).

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).


Public Service Announcement 47 of 2018: Hawaii Five-0, MacGyver, NCIS: LA, The Undiscovered Tony Hancock (etc.)

Sky Living’s all-American all-procedurals Sunday line-up is back in place as of tomorrow, with perennial Unpopcult favourite Hawaii Five-0 (9pm) joined by MacGyver (8pm) and NCIS: LA (10pm). I can’t comment on the other two, but H50 showed the strength of the format and its leads by surviving, quite comfortably, the loss of Grace Park and Daniel Dae Kim. Weekly reviews as usual.

And a word about The Undiscovered… Sky Arts’s Victor Lewis-Smith-produced short season of documentaries about British comedy actors Kenneth Williams, Peter Sellers, and Tony Hancock. All are available on catch-up until mid-January and something close to unmissable, marrying diligent research and crisp social commentary. The real shame is that they were tucked away on Sky Arts: any public service broadcaster worth its licence fee would be chucking shitloads of money at Lewis-Smith, a sui generis talent, and inviting him to make whatever the hell he wants.

Public Service Announcement 46 of 2018: You, Torvill & Dean

Netflix, in dropping season 1 of acclaimed psychological thriller You on Boxing Day, is presumably aiming squarely at the sitting-around-at-home-over-Christmas demographic. It stars Penn Badgley as Joe, a bookshop manager who becomes obsessed with one of his customers, and apparently it’s very good indeed, offering an intelligent and nasty take on privacy in the age of social media, wrapped up in a queasy drama about stalking. It’s another example of the welcome trend towards shorter seasons – ten episodes only – and it’s been renewed for a second season. I think this’ll be worth a look.

And in an hour or so ITV is showing Torvill & Dean. Now, you young people think you know about shipping, whether in dramas or in real life. But I’m here to tell you that you. Know. NOTHING. Unless, that is, you were alive and sentient during the period 1981-1984, when ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean bewitched the UK, then the world, with a series of gold medal performances at European and World Championships, culminating in their still-remarkable free dance Bolero routine at the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics, although their paso doble during the same event is in at least one viewer’s opinion the greatest thing they ever did: all of the artistry and technical brilliance without the sense that they’re self-consciously trying to create a piece of history. And Dean’s four steps down the ice, trailing Torvill like a bullfighter’s cape… shiver.

Anyway. We all wanted them to be in love. The nation – hell, the WORLD – was shipping them HARD. Jayne and Chris said, then and now, that it was platonic, which means this dramatisation apparently goes the same way. (Had I been scripting it… well, maybe they’d have skipped the 1983 Worlds, or something, in order to DO IT.) But Virtue and Moir shippers (which includes Unpopcult, as you’d probably guess) might like to see who wrote this particular playbook.