Public Service Announcement 26 of 2018: Harrow

Fill-in-the-blanks time. Harrow is an Australian drama which stars (a) as a brilliant, yet maverick and rule-breaking (b), with a passion for (c), a complicated (d), and a Secret (e).

The answers are as follows: (b) forensic pathologist; (c) old movies; (d) home life, of course; and (e), unsurprisingly, is Pain. Which makes (a) all-important, because we really have, one imagines, seen this all before, and it will therefore stand (e.g Private Eyes) or fall on its actors. And this time the brilliant maverick etc. is played by Ioan Gruffudd. Which is good news for him at least, as no more than a few years ago he was complaining about not getting any good parts, and generally sounding like someone in need of a cwtch. However, Gruffudd is not an actor with whom I get on, so I’ll be giving this a miss. Ellie from Hawaii Five-0 (Mirrah Foulkes) also features. The season is only ten episodes long, and the show has been renewed, so if it sounds like your sort of thing it’s probably worth getting invested (tonight, Alibi, 9pm).

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Public Service Announcement 25 of 2018: Picnic at Hanging Rock, Keeping Faith

I’m not entirely sure about this new adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock. Six episodes might not seem very much when we’re used to twenty-plus episode-a-season procedurals but when we’re talking about a story previously filmed and wrapped up in under two hours, six of them seems like overkill. In fairness, I don’t think I’ve actually ever made it through the iconic 1975 film – I’m sure I caught a little bit of it accidentally recently but the one time I remember actually sitting down to try and watch it was years before, when I was quite young and also scared OUT. MY. MIND. I was so freaked out, I couldn’t finish the film. Which I think is the best compliment I can pay it, so this new version has a lot to live up to if it’s going to try and match the woozy, dream-like creepiness of its predecessor. The new one does however have Natalie Dormer, who was terrific in both Game of Thrones and The Fades, so that’s a big plus in its favour. And, unlike the first time I tried to watch the film, I now know it’s not based on a true story so there’s a slightly better chance of me a) not hiding from my tv in terror and b) still being able to sleep after I watch it. So, weighing up all these factors in highly scientific “it’s summer, might as well” fashion, I’m going to try episode 1 at least. 9pm tonight (Wednesday) on BBC2 if you want to join me.

From one female-centric mystery to another, albeit significantly less other-worldly, one, meanwhile: BBC Wales’s Keeping Faith is finally getting a proper showing across the rest of the country after its hugely successful runs on Welsh tv (in Welsh on S4C as Une Bore Mercher and in English on BBC1 Wales) and smashing UK iPlayer records all over the place. I’m one of the millions of people who heard about it by word-of-mouth and ended up devouring it on iPlayer as a result, and although I didn’t love the ending (a new season has been commissioned, fear not), I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of it. Eve Myles is superb at the centre of it all (her gorgeous yellow raincoat is almost a character in itself), the story is very twisty and turny (if not always 100% plausible), and the Welsh scenery is breathtaking. If you haven’t caught it already then, now’s your chance – 9pm tomorrow (Thursday) on BBC1 everywhere. Yay!

Public Service Announcement 24 of 2018: This Is Us, Good Girls, Shades of Blue

Some heavyweight shows heading to our screens over the next couple of days. Top of the list is family drama This Is Us, a proper, old-fashioned, equal-opportunity tear-jerker for both men and women, with huge American audiences, critical credibility, and the Emmy-winning Sterling K. Brown producing yet another powerhouse performance. To paraphrase Brian Clough, he might not be the best actor on TV at the moment, but he’s definitely in the top one. Maybe the top two, with Elisabeth Moss as his competition.

Anyway, our CJ reviewed the first season until she could take no more of the weekly tragedy overload. (I’m more of a cold fish.) So we’ll definitely be watching, but reviews might be beyond us, at least to start with. Significantly, in the UK it’s been moved from Channel 4’s main outlet to a more niche channel, suggesting that once again a big American show hasn’t managed to make much of an impact on audiences here. Which, folks, is precisely why these shows don’t get put on at prime time on BBC1 or ITV. Just be grateful we can get them at all (Wednesday 4 July, 9pm, More4).

I’m also very interested in Good Girls, NBC’s dramedy about three suburban Detroit moms who decide to rob a supermarket. With a cast to die for – Christina Hendricks, Retta, and Mae Whitman, all wonderful in previous roles – it’s a bit of a shame that American ratings and critics were lukewarm. However, it’s been reviewed for a second season, and there are only ten episodes in this first run, which makes it a very tempting proposition (Netflix, from today).

And it’s your last chance to see Jennifer Lopez in the third and final season of Detective J-Lo, or Shades of Blue as the spoilsports at NBC insisted on calling it. Unpopcult watched to the end of the first season, which was both better and more ambitious than I’d been expecting, but for various reasons – choice on my part, technofail on CJ’s – we didn’t hang around for season 2, which makes it highly unlikely we’ll have much more to say at all. On the evidence of what I saw, though, Lopez deserves another vehicle; she’s both a star and a talent (tonight, 9pm, Sky Living).

Public Service Announcement 23 of 2018: Nashville

It’s closing time at the Bluebird Café, by the looks of things: Nashville defied death once before, of course, but no-one seems inclined to intercede on its behalf this time. So this post-hiatus tranche of episodes is, most likely, the show’s final final final run: eight more slices of songs, shipping, stables, steroids, and Secret Pain to round off its sixth and last season (tonight, 9pm, Sky Living).

Public Service Announcement 22 of 2018: The Heart Guy (Doctor Doctor), Atlanta

The first season of The Heart Guy (Doctor Doctor in its native Australia) has just finished, and I am TREMENDOUSLY excited by the news that UK broadcaster Drama is taking us straight into season 2, because I LOVE THIS SHOW. Faced with a flimsy and, indeed, familiar premise – doctor is required to return to the small town he did his best to escape – the writers and actors have made the very most of it. 

In particular, although the show was trailed on the basis that lead character Dr Hugh Knight (Rodger Corser) was a roguish – yet lovable! – bad boy surgeon, the show has refused to give him a pass on the worst of his behaviour: his appalling treatment of nurse Aoife (Shalom Brune-Franklin) was rightly regarded with disdain by his hospital colleagues; the way in which he has blown up his brother’s marriage verges on the wantonly cruel; and his complicated relationship with his adopted brother Ajax (Matt Castley) has developed in unexpected ways, most of which don’t necessarily reflect very well on Hugh.

The show’s morality is also more complex than it might at first appear. In the crucial ninth episode, for example, widowed Penny (the excellent Hayley McElhinney) woke up in bed with a younger man who turned out to be still at school (but of age). Rather than treating this as an appalling scandal everyone concerned just got on with life, with Penny having to endure no more or less than the appropriate amount of giggling prurience from her colleagues. On the other hand, Hugh was ultimately persuaded to help to end the life of one of the show’s main characters, something from which I thought the show would move on quickly, but which in fact turned out to be pivotal in the season finale.

Let’s not kid, though: one of my main reasons for watching is that I am shipping Hugh and Penny hard. VERY HARD INDEED. And so should you (tonight, Drama, 8pm; season 1 still available on demand).

The big TV news of the weekend, though, is probably the return of Atlanta for its second season. The rise of niche auteur-driven TV shows has revealed that some people (such as Rachel Bloom and, yes, Louis C.K.) have an unfair amount of talent. It may be that Donald Glover, the creator/exec producer/star/writer/director of Atlanta, has more talent than all of them. Season 1 was one of the most uncategorisable yet amazing things I’ve seen in recent years, and the critical response to the second season would suggest that, if anything, it’s even better (tonight, FOX UK, 10pm).

Public Service Announcement 19 of 2018: A Very English Scandal, The Handmaid’s Tale, Elementary

A big weekend of TV. Top of the list, despite my long-standing antipathy to British TV drama, is A Very English Scandal, the BBC’s adaptation of John Preston’s brilliant book about the relationship between politician Jeremy Thorpe and Norman Scott; and the subsequent trial when Thorpe was accused, with others, of conspiring to murder Scott. (Even if you don’t watch this, the book is unequivocally recommended.)

I’ve been interested in l’affaire Thorpe since it happened, pretty much, so I would have been watching anyway. But when the casting details were released I hugged myself with sheer joy. Hugh Grant as Jeremy Thorpe strikes me as almost laugh-out-loud perfect. And I’m intrigued by the prospect of Ben Whishaw as Norman Scott: Whishaw certainly has all the beauty of the young Scott, and then some, but as an actor he always seems to me to have an enigmatic inner stillness, something which – by all accounts – Scott didn’t necessarily have in abundance back then. Can’t wait. Bunnies can (and will) watch A Very English Scandal. (Sunday, 9pm, BBC 1.)

And if that weren’t enough, at exactly the same time UK viewers will be getting their first look at season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale. Now, as you may have inferred, Unpopcult – certainly this 50% of it – is kind of fed up with big meaningful important TV drama that feels like homework, and has been retreating into fun procedurals instead. But the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale managed to be incredibly serious and terrifically entertaining at the same time, and of course benefitted greatly from having Elisabeth Moss – maybe the best TV actor at work today – in the starring role (Sunday, 9pm, Channel 4).

On top of that Elementary returns for its sixth season, on the back of the news that it’s already been renewed for a seventh. I say again – best Sherlock on TV (Monday, 9pm, Sky Living).

Public Service Announcement 18 of 2018: Lucifer

Once the Catholic in me had come to terms with watching a procedural drama called Lucifer, in which the Prince of Darkness himself is the sort-of-hero, I enjoyed it: actually, I thought it improved as the first season went on, with one or two episodes which were really very good indeed. So I’m delighted that the second season – which has been available in the UK on Amazon – is now making its way to broadcast TV, even if that pleasure is tempered by the recent announcement that the show has been cancelled after its third year. Won’t stop me watching, though. And shipping (tonight, 9pm, FOX UK).