Public Service Announcement 9 of 2020: Curb Your Enthusiasm

Sky Comedy launched yesterday. (It replaces Universal TV on the EPGs, and if a new home isn’t found for Unpopcult’s beloved Private Eyes, there will be TROUBLE.) Its schedule, largely American in origin, comprises a decent mix of re-runs of shows like Modern Family, 30 Rock, Veep, The Mindy Project, Sex and the City, and the essentially perfect Parks And Recreation; a slate of late-night American talk/sketch shows (Corden, Fallon, Oliver, SNL); and some new-to-the-UK comedies, such as AP Bio, Mrs. Fletcher, and Miracle Workers. Many will also be available as boxsets.

There’s some extra good news for Virgin Media viewers like me, who don’t have access to Sky Atlantic: it looks as if a few shows which were previously on that channel have been moved to Comedy. Veep and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver fall into that category, as does Curb, back for a tenth season of semi-improvised misanthropy. I didn’t see season 9 for that reason, but I’m going to assume that I can just pick it up again, from tonight at 9pm. Also tonight: The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon (10.50pm), and The Late Late Show with James Corden (11.50pm).

Public Service Announcement 8 of 2020: Avenue 5, Picard

Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of the space cruise ship Avenue 5, created by Armando “The Thick of It” Iannucci, captained by Hugh Laurie and sailing on to British screens tonight for its maiden prime-time episode, having swung by HBO a few days ago (and aired on Sky 1 already at 2AM this morning). I like a bit of space tv, and I like a bit of comedy, but the mix isn’t easy to get right and, despite Avenue 5’s impressive pedigree, the trailer did not float my boat – the tone of it just set my teeth on edge. That said, it was just the trailer. If you want to give the actual show a fair shake, you can catch episode 1 on Sky Go or on Sky 1 at 10pm tonight (Wednesday). I’m as yet undecided.

Right at the other end of the space spectrum, meanwhile, and I suspect much more my speed, the first episode of the long-awaited Picard – or What Jean-Luc Did Next – hits CBS All Access in the US tomorrow and Amazon Prime in the UK on Friday (24th). Which is nice and prompt, just as we like it round here. And they’re only showing one episode a week, which we like round here as well. A sequel to/spin-off from the iconic Star Trek: The Next Generation and its movies, Picard has living legend Sir Patrick Stewart back on board and will feature other members of the Next Gen cast as well, which is more than enough of an incentive for me to watch it (I loved The Next Gen, especially Riker and Troi, SQUEE) even if I’m a little ambivalent about the idea of dragging the Admiral out of retirement. Let the poor man rest! Although not if it means an entire season of watching him just wandering round a vineyard. A happy medium between action and reflection is what I’m looking for in my OAP space adventures, thank you, Picard – make it so.

Public Service Announcement 7 of 2020: Modern Family, Cobra, Sex Education

American comedy heavyweight Modern Family is back for its eleventh and, we are told, final season. It’s easy to be sniffy about it, and I’m not going to be: it’s past its peak, perhaps, but what a peak it was. And in Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ed O’Neill, Eric Stonestreet, and Sarah Hyland, among others, it still has one of the best sitcom casts around (Friday 17 January, Sky One, 8.30pm).

It precedes the first episode of Sky One’s new political drama, Cobra, in which Begbie from Trainspotting (Robert Carlyle) is prime minister. Almost worth watching for that alone, I’d say. The title refers to the UK Government’s COBRA committee, which meets to discuss emergencies. Helping PM Begbie to get through a widespread energy crisis are Victoria Hamilton, Richard Dormer, David Haig, and White Collar’s Marsha Thomason, who I didn’t even know was British (Friday 17 January, Sky One, 9pm).

And the second season of Netflix’s Sex Education is available as of tomorrow. Meant to watch season 1. Never did.

Public Service Announcement 6 of 2020: Good Omens, The Rookie, Taken Down

Based on the 1990 book by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, Good Omens is an Amazon/BBC co-production which has been available on Prime since May 2019, and now makes its way to terrestrial TV. Leads David Tennant and Michael Sheen play a demon and an angel trying to save the Earth. A stellar cast also includes Frances McDormand – as, quite rightly, the voice of God – Jon Hamm, and Nick Offerman. Good Omens was reasonably well received when first shown, but as I have no interest in the work of Gaiman and Pratchett, or in fantasy as a genre, this probably isn’t for me. Having said that it doesn’t sound a million miles away from Lucifer, which I love (tonight, BBC Two, 9pm).

I’m much more interested in The Rookie, which in my view is one of those procedurals which becomes, as it finds its feet, a little more than the sum of its parts. I liked its first season a lot, and I’m pleased that it was renewed for this second season. It does not, of course, return entirely unscathed, and I’ve already said pretty much all that I have to about the loss of fan favourite Afton Williamson from the show. Mekia Cox (as the lead character’s new TA), Harrold Perrineau, and Ali Larter all join the cast this time round (Thursday 16 January, Sky Witness, 9pm).

And RTE’s six-part crime drama Taken Down makes its British debut tonight at 10pm on BBC Scotland. (It will, I think, be available UK-wide on the iPlayer.) A young Nigerian woman is found dead at a Dublin bus stop, and the investigation leads police officers into the world of asylum seekers. It’s co-written by Jo Spain, one of my favourite crime authors, and is probably worth a look for that alone.

Public Service Announcement 5 of 2020: The Yorkshire Ripper Files: A Very British Crime Story; Superstore

Just under a year ago I previewed The Yorkshire Ripper Files: A Very British Crime Story, and expressed the hope that it would be “unmissable”. As I anticipated, it’s an excellent piece of work, exploring both the repeated failures in the investigation, and the widely-held attitudes which fuelled some of those failures. Any accusation that the show judges the 70s through the prism of the values we hold decades years later is, in my view, both inaccurate and, in any event, beside the point: these attitudes and failures led directly to the murder of women and the terrorising of the wider female population.

If I have a criticism, it’s that the programme makers too often implied that they had turned up something new or previously unknown; in fact, there’s little here which will come as news to anyone with more than a passing interest in the case. But that’s a minor irritant rather than a reason for not watching, and I very much recommend this show (tonight – Wednesday, BBC Four, 9pm).

Also tonight, season 5 of Superstore gets under way. Never watched it, but sources close to Unpopcult like it a lot (ITV 2, 8.30pm).


Public Service Announcement 4 of 2020: The Enemy Within, Jett, Messiah

I’m a little disappointed that NBC’s The Enemy Within apparently isn’t great, because I very much like the sound of the premise: former high-ranking CIA officer Erica Shepherd (Jennifer Carpenter), imprisoned for espionage and treason, is recruited by the FBI to assist in the hunt for a terrorist. Carpenter was great (for the most part) in Dexter and (eternally) in our beloved Limitless, and with Morris Chestnut and Raza Jaffrey also in the cast as FBI agents, this sounds like a winner on paper. Unfortunately something went wrong between paper and screen: the critics were lukewarm and the viewers didn’t bite either, leading to cancellation after one (13-episode) season (5USA, Tuesdays at 9pm, first episode was yesterday but available on catch-up).

Cinemax’s Jett, meantime, stars Carla Gugino as another ex-con: this time a “world-class thief” who, on release, is offered work in her specialist area. Created, produced, and directed by Sebastian Gutiérrez, who is also Gugino’s off-screen partner, it all sounds like pretty good, high-octane fun. This first season has nine episodes; no word, as far as I know, on renewal, which probably doesn’t bode well (Sky One, Tuesdays at 10pm; also started yesterday and available on catch-up).

Finally, I know someone who’s enjoying Netflix’s Messiah – in which Mehdi Dehbi plays someone who appears in the Middle East, claiming to the scepticism of the CIA to be the returning Jesus – quite a lot.

Public Service Announcement 3 of 2020: Better Things, Jonestown – Terror in the Jungle

The remarkable Better Things is returning to British screens tonight for its third season. It’s difficult to pin down: a sort of low-key comedy-drama, rooted in realism but with flights of fantasy, with Pamela Adlon in the lead role as an actor and single mother trying to negotiate career and parenthood.

As an auteur-driven series – Adlon is creator, exec producer, director, writer, and star – if it has a predecessor it’s the equally dazzling Louie, a vehicle for Adlon’s former friend and collaborator Louis C.K., who was also involved in the first two seasons of Better Things. When C.K. was accused of, and admitted, sexual misconduct, Adlon severed her personal and professional ties with him, and this third season is the first one without his involvement. That Better Things has – according to American critics – not only survived, but actually got even better, is further evidence of Adlon’s genius. What it continues to have in common with Louie is the ability to wrongfoot the audience, and to produce genuinely astonishing TV out of the most mundane of family situations. It’s also worth saying that the three young actors playing Adlon’s daughters – Mikey Madison, Hannah Alligood, and Olivia Edward – are terrific. (Especially Alligood, on the evidence of the second season.) This is truly great TV (tonight, 10pm, BBC2).

I’m also here for Storyville’s two-part documentary ‘Jonestown – Terror in the Jungle’, about Jim Jones and the People’s Temple in Guyana, a subject I find endlessly fascinating (tonight, 9pm, BBC 4).