Public Service Announcement 9 of 2018: Homeland

The argument against season 7 of Homeland (and seasons 2-6 as well), generally from people who don’t watch it any more, runs as follows: it should have finished after one season with the death of Brody, which would have left it standing as a unique, brilliant, and imaginative one-off drama. It’s never been as good since. It’s all about the money now.

And the argument in favour: well, it’s difficult to quibble with much of that. But we are where we are; successful TV shows are always all about the money, and they generally don’t stop while they’re still making bank; we should instead discuss whether it’s any good, rather than worrying about whether it should exist at all.

On balance I’m in the latter camp. Homeland, it’s true, has never quite hit the heights of its first season, and is unlikely to ever again. Evaluated on its own terms, though, for what it is, rather than what it isn’t: it’s not bad at all. Inconsistent for sure; but capable of being an intelligent and well-made drama, which in recent seasons has shown a welcome willingness to grapple with hot-button topics – for example, terrorism in Europe in season 5, and an alt-right fake news factory in season 6. On the other hand, the treatment of Quinn last time around was frankly bizarre: why bring him back from almost certain death just to make him suffer, then kill him anyway? (And getting rid of Astrid as well was a grievous error, assuming that the actor didn’t want out.)

This time round, at least to start with, Carrie will be dealing with the consequences of the events of the last season, in which President Keane somewhat brutally cleaned house and restricted civil liberties. Although given that she’d barely survived a right-wing coup attempt led by Dar Adal, one can see why she might have wanted to tighten her grip a little. Looking forward to this. Weekly reviews as ever (tonight, Channel 4, 9pm).

 

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Public Service Announcement 8 of 2018: Collateral, Trauma

It’s John Simm vs John Simm tonight (Monday), as the BBC and ITV have somehow managed to ignore every other day of the year and schedule both of their big new dramas featuring the same man, on the same night at the same time. Um…well done?

At 9pm on BBC2, and first up for our purposes, is Collateral, a project so steeped in pedigree it should have its own category at Crufts. Written by Oscar nominee/ BAFTA winner and generally venerated playwright Sir David Hare, and starring Oscar nominee/ BAFTA winner and generally venerated actress Carey Mulligan, with a supporting cast including the aforementioned Mr Simm and the wonderful Nicola Walker, it couldn’t sound more prestigious if it tried. Mulligan plays a detective investigating the murder of a pizza delivery driver and, without wishing to wander into spoiler territory, this is a serious BBC drama in four parts, so it’s going to delve into some uncomfortable, upsetting issues. I can’t face any more weighty, worthy detective dramas at the moment though – if I need a reminder of the appalling things people can do to each other, I can just watch the news – so I’m going to give it a miss.

Also at 9pm, then, ITV1 has Trauma, an “event series” showing across three consecutive nights – as if anybody has time for that – written by Mike “Doctor Foster” Bartlett, and starring Simm as a grieving father who blames (rightly or wrongly, I’m guessing we’ll find out) trauma consultant Adrian Lester for the death of Simm’s teenage son while under Lester’s care. Whether it’ll be any good or not, and whether it’ll be a sad, sobering look at class, grief and the magnitude of the challenges facing the NHS, or a scenery-chewing soap opera, I have no idea and I don’t think I’ll be tuning in to find out, but let us know if you do.

Public Service Announcement 6 of 2018: Requiem, Altered Carbon, The X-Files

The chill isn’t just outside this week, with a bumper crop of genre shows of varying degrees of creepiness hitting UK tv screens.

First up is BBC1’s new supernatural drama Requiem about a woman (with a very strange haircut) who returns home to rural Wales after her mother’s suicide, only to find herself drawn into the long-unsolved mystery of a child’s disappearance. It’s supposed to be terrifying but, if you’re brave enough to check it out, the BBC has gone all Netflix-y about it and put all six episodes on the iPlayer at once. If you’re more an “episode a week” kind of person, though, you can catch it on Fridays at 9pm. (First episode was last night, currently available on catch-up.)

Netflix itself meanwhile offers up some potentially interesting, unnerving sci-fi in the form of Altered Carbon, a ten-part adaptation of the novel of the same name, set in a future where the minds of the dead are routinely uploaded into fresh bodies – or “sleeves” as they’re apparently known – so if you’re rich enough, you never really die at all. There’s a murder mystery and whatnot, but every article I’ve tried to read about the show has been so densely packed with information it’s given me a sore head so I think it’s probably easier to watch and find out for myself. The whole season is currently available for streaming so if I give it a go, I’ll report back.

And finally, an old favourite joins all these upstart newbies as The X-Files is back again for a second run of its, er, second run. I think we’re calling it Season 11. Last year’s “Event Series” wasn’t an unmitigated success – it was a joy to see Mulder and Scully back in action, but one genuinely terrific episode (“Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” since you asked) out of six in a season that turned the already overcooked “mythology” aspect of the show into complete goobbledygook hardly made for a triumphant return. But the chemistry between the two leads is as electric as ever, and with Gillian Anderson maintaining that this season will be her last, it’s not like I’ll be able to resist tuning in. Advance word suggests that it’ll be worth it too, with critics saying the first episode is a disappointment but the rest are a return to form. If you want to see for yourself, the season kicks off at 9pm on Monday (5th) on channel 5.

Public Service Announcement 5 of 2018: Lethal Weapon, Bull, How To Get Away With Murder, Outsiders, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction

Some big American network shows return in the UK this week. Top of the bill in this PSA is, of course, the terrific Lethal Weapon. I sat down to watch the first episode with, frankly, low expectations, and was blown away by just how good it was. And then it kept on being good, week after week. It’s capable of being moving, thrilling, charming, and funny, all in the same episode. It has a great ship, a lovely marriage, plenty of big, dumb action sequences, and a sense of humour about all of them. It has proper acting (most notably from Damon Wayans, Clay Crawford, Kevin Rahm, and Keesha Sharp, although there isn’t a weak link in it). And in the engine room it has writers and director who know what the hell they’re doing. In short, it’s one of the best network shows available at the moment, and if you’re not watching you’re missing out. I might even review this time round (tonight, ITV, 9pm).

Then there’s Bull, which is a perfectly passable way to spend an hour: a proper ratings success, as these things go, and a show which feels as if it has quite a lot of potential being held in reserve. I like it (tonight, FOX UK, 10pm).

And… then there’s How to Get Away With Murder, which returned earlier this week for its fourth season, and which I gave up on during its second year when I realised that I didn’t know who any of the characters actually were. Having said that if the rumours of a Shondaland crossover are true, I am THERE for any scene in which Viola Davis and Kerry Washington face off (Tuesdays, Sky Living, 10pm).

A couple of other things. Both seasons of now-cancelled Appalachian family drama Outsiders have made their way to UK Netflix. Reviews for this show were mixed, but there are some trustworthy critics who really, really like it. I suspect it’s worth a look. Also on Netflix: David Letterman’s new talk show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, a six-part series in which Dave goes one-on-one with some seriously big names, He starts with Barack Obama, though, which is likely to provoke the most exquisitely painful nostalgia (both available now).

Public Service Announcement 4 of 2018: Star Trek: Discovery

Since tonight seems to be wall-to-wall cop shows, it’s probably a good time to remind ourselves that there’s still some tv out there which doesn’t involve car chases and folk asking “What do you got?”. Yes, those of us who enjoy a space ship and an intergalactic battle or two instead, or perhaps in addition, are in luck: with the holiday hiatus firmly over, the first season of Star Trek: Discovery resumes on Netflix UK tomorrow (Monday), with each weekly episode showing less than 24 hours after its US premiere. (Once again, well done to Netflix for not keeping us waiting.)

After a disappointingly plodding start, the show found its footing in episode 3 and by the end of the first half of the season, I was pretty much hooked, albeit I’m much more interested in the supporting cast in the form of Lorca, Tyler, Tilly and Stamets, than the purported (deeply annoying) lead character, Lt Michael Burnham. Burnham doing my head in notwithstanding, though, the show is much, much better than I thought it was going to be after those first two episodes, so if you gave up at that point – and who can blame you? – it might well be worth giving it another chance.

Public Service Announcement 3 of 2018: Hawaii Five-0; MacGyver; NCIS: LA; Top Of The Pops

Hawaii Five-0 returns tomorrow for a new season. Surprisingly, though, during its off-season this amiable cop romp found itself at the centre of a dispute which quickly became about race and gender: it was announced that Daniel Dae Kim (Chin) and Grace Park (Kono) would not be back for S8, as it had not proved possible to resolve a pay dispute between the two of them and CBS, which makes the show.

The show’s producers, well aware of the fact that when a show set in Hawaii loses its two main non-Caucasian characters the “optics” aren’t great, have responded by promoting Adam Noshimuri, Kamekona, Noelani, and Duke to cast regulars. On top of that, the recruitment gap in the Five-0 itself will be filled by two new characters, played by Meaghan Rath (of Indian descent) and Beulah Koale (of Samoan descent). Ratings have remained solid, suggesting that it’s the format rather than the supporting cast which viewers are turning up for. And I’ll be reviewing weekly as normal (Sunday, Sky 1, 9pm).

In other news, Sky 1 has cornered the American procedural market on Sunday nights: as well as H50, tomorrow sees the return of MacGyver (8pm), and NCIS: LA (10pm), for their second and ninth seasons respectively. Channel 4’s The End Of The F***ing World has made it to Netflix, available now. And BBC Four’s year-by-year rerun of Top Of The Pops has reached 1985 (Fridays, repeats scattered across the schedule).

Public Service Announcement 2 of 2018: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend; Will & Grace; Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency; The Good Place; NCIS

There’s a lot starting this weekend, so we’ll need two PSAs: there’ll be another one tomorrow or the day after covering Sunday’s cop-stravaganza.

The highlight of this one might well be the post-hiatus return of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a genuine contender to be the pound-for-pound Best Show Currently On TV; and a show which got into some very dark territory in the first half of this third season, as Rebecca toyed with suicide and was diagnosed as having borderline personality disorder. A tonal shift like this midway through a show’s run isn’t at all easy to pull off, as it means that the audience has to reassess much of what it’s already seen. In this case, having performed the delicate balancing act of successfully creating, during the first two seasons, a musical comedy show about stalking, the writers now have to treat Rebecca’s behaviour in those episodes as indicative of psychiatric illness after all, rather than being just some capers with songs attached. Tricky stuff.

Still, the show continues to be underpinned by Rachel Bloom’s sensational performance as Rebecca, and the impressive supporting cast is being given more and more to do: the highlight of the last episode before the break, of course, being the wonderful Donna Lynne Champlin, as Paula, storming through the Abba-pastiching ‘The First Penis I Saw’. Netflix in the UK is once again bringing us new episodes the day after broadcast in America; round of applause for Netflix (tomorrow).

Tonight, meantime, sees the start of season 9 of Will & Grace, only eleven years after the conclusion of season 8. I’m aware that more than one opinion is available on this topic, but for what it’s worth – perhaps not much given my #privilege – I remain convinced that the show, during its original run, was a force for good in the way in which it contributed to the breaking down of prejudice against gay people. And it was funny. The critical response to the revival has generally been positive, and the ratings have been good enough to warrant renewal for a tenth season (Channel 5, 10pm).

Netflix also has the second and final season of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, which our friend e – whose taste is reliable – regarded as her favourite show of 2017; and the second half, week by week, of season 2 of The Good Place. And old warhorse NCIS is back for its 15th season tonight on Fox UK at 9pm.

More soon.