Public Service Announcement 56 of 2019: The Hot Zone

The Hot Zone is a six-part drama series based on Richard Preston’s best-selling non-fiction book about unpleasant diseases; specifically, an incident when an Ebola-like virus was found in America. It stars Unpopcult royalty and proper Big TV star Julianna Margulies, and there’s a decent supporting cast as well: Noah Emmerich, James D’Arcy, Topher Grace, Robert Sean Leonard, and Grace Gummer, among others.

I can’t decide whether to watch or not: on the one hand the reviews were pretty good when it was shown in America, and it’s undoubtedly an interesting topic. On the other, I tend to skip articles about medical crises – antibiotic-resistant bacteria, fast-spreading haemorrhagic viruses, and so on – because it all strikes me as a frighteningly plausible way in which human life might end, if we don’t overheat first. And, as our CJ sniffed, the shower scenes in The Hot Zone are unlikely to be particularly sexy (Tuesday 10 September, National Geographic, 9pm).


Public Service Announcement 55 of 2019 – Darkness: Those Who Kill (Den som dræber – Fanget af mørket)

What did BBC Four do before Scandi-noir? Anyway, its insatiable appetite for the inventive murders of young Scandinavian women is fed tonight at 9pm with the first two parts of Danish drama Darkness: Those Who Kill (Den som dræber – Fanget af mørket). There’s a missing woman, a possible connection to a murder 10 years previously, and a determined detective (Kenneth M Christensen). You know the drill. As far as I can tell it’s quite good.

Incidentally, if the name rings a bell it’s because there was a first season of Those Who Kill a few years ago, but apparently it’s an entirely different cast this time round.


Public Service Announcement 54 of 2019: Instinct, Franco Building

I really wanted to like Instinct more than I do. I really, really, did. I even watched the first season all the way to the end. Unfortunately, this CIA-operative-turned-professor-turned-police-consultant procedural didn’t quite work for me, notwithstanding the presence of Alan Cumming in the lead role, and an interesting performance from Bojana Novakovic as the Beckett to his Castle. Even more unfortunately audiences seem to agree – this second season is also the last. A bit of a wasted opportunity (tonight, 9pm, Sky Witness).

More excitingly, though, tomorrow night BBC Four has Franco Building, a documentary about the architectural legacy of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, presented by the very great Jonathan Meades, a writer and film-maker of the highest calibre. This finally completes Meades’s remarkable quartet about Western Europe’s four most significant 20th century dictators: 1994’s Jerry Building (the architecture of the Third Reich); 2006’s Joe Building (ditto, but Stalin); and 2016’s astonishing Ben Building (Italian modernism during the Mussolini era). Some people don’t like Meades’s idiosyncratic presenting style, or his views on modernist architecture, but these people are idiots who shouldn’t be trusted. I fully expect this to be one of the television events of the year (Tuesday 27 August, 10pm, BBC Four). 


Public Service Announcement 53 of 2019: No Second Chance (Une chance de trop)

Despite being a huge fan of American writer Harlan Coben, I have never yet watched any TV show with his name on it. This time he exec produces a six-part French adaptation of his 2003 novel No Second Chance, in which – as ever – terrible things happen to ostensibly settled suburbanites. The unsuspecting victim is Dr Alice Lambert (Alexandra Lamy) who is shot in the back at her house by a mystery intruder, then wakes from a coma to discover what happened to her family. As far as I can tell it’s pretty good, I really do like Coben, and Dana Delany is in it, so it’s probably about time I gave one of these a go. First episode tonight at 11.10pm on Channel 4; everything available thereafter through Walter Presents.

Public Service Announcement 52 of 2019: FBI

If you thought tv was short another Dick Wolf franchise, or perhaps another show set in the New York office of the FBI, Sky Witness is here to help you out: Mr Law and Order’s latest, the imaginatively-named “FBI” has its UK premiere tonight (Thursday) with a double-bill kicking off at 9pm. But will it be any good? Depends what you mean by “any good,” to be honest.

If it’s anything like Law and Order original flavour, it’ll be efficiently-made, staid and self-righteous but very watchable when it’s on daytime tv at lunchtime and you happen to come upon re-runs nestled between home makeover shows and Bargain Hunt. If it’s anything like SVU, it’ll be efficiently-made, wildly sensationalist and self-righteous, but very watchable when it’s on in double or triple bills late at night on three channels at once, and you really don’t want to go to bed yet. Or if it’s anything like Chicago Med, it’ll be efficiently made, super-soapy and self-righteous, but its watchability will depend entirely on which characters are on screen at any given moment. Dick Wolf Televisual Universe completists will have many more examples but I think you get the picture. Not that you need me to tell you – if you’ve never seen a single minute of a Dick Wolf show, congratulations, you’re a unicorn. Or perhaps you’re Jed. Anyway, in the grand tradition of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” I’m guessing this will be slick, over-wrought, determinedly unchallenging procedural television, absolutely secure in its own attitudes and rectitude but, either way, it’s not alone: Dick Wolf shows being like buses, this new one (having already been shown in the US) arrives not only with a second season already commissioned but also with its very own spin-off ”FBI: Most Wanted” ordered to series as well. All of a sudden, I am so tired. I don’t know if I can bring myself to watch this, but if I do, I’ll let you know.

Public Service Announcement 51 of 2019: Fosse/Verdon, Below The Surface (Gidseltagningen), Der Pass, The Teacher (Belfer)

The latest show to roll off the Prestige TV production line is FX’s Fosse/Verdon, about the creative and romantic partnership between actor/dancer Gwen Verdon and her husband, director/choreographer Bob Fosse. With seven Emmy nominations in the bag, and Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams in the leading roles, there are plenty of reasons to give it a go. On the other hand the subject matter doesn’t greatly interest me, and it feels a bit too much like Homework TV for my liking, so I’ll probably pass (tonight, BBC Two, 9pm).

Meantime, if subtitles are your thing, there’s plenty of new drama to choose from. Top of the list, on the basis of precedent, is season 2 of Below the Surface (Gidseltagningen), the first run of which I described as “not an exceptional show, but a good one”. Is that enough to tempt me back? Dunno. Anyway, this time around the action shifts from the Copenhagen underground railway to a ferry between Denmark and Sweden (Saturday, BBC Four, 9pm). And another show “inspired” by the between-countries device in The Bridge, is Der Pass, where the action is set in a mountain, um, pass between Germany and Austria (Wednesdays, Sky Atlantic).

I’m more intrigued by The Teacher (Belfer), a Polish crime thriller from 2016, in which a teacher moves to a small town for work and starts to investigate the murder of one of his school’s students. Broke ratings records in Poland and won Best TV Series at the Polish Film Awards, apparently (All4/Walter Presents, available now).

Public Service Announcement 50 of 2019: Manifest

A plane flight from Jamaica to New York City experiences some turbulence. When it lands, the passengers discover that five and a half years have passed on the ground, and everyone assumed they were dead. That’s the not-entirely-unfamilar premise of NBC’s Manifest, which reaches British screens tonight. So is it a new Lost, or a bit more FlashForward/The Event? The American critics were somewhat lukewarm, but in all honesty I’m a sucker for this sort of high-concept nonsense, so I’ll be watching the first episode at least. It’s worth noting that after initially-strong viewing figures it was renewed for a second season, so if you want a show with a little longevity it might be worth piling in (tonight, Sky One, 9pm).