Public Service Announcement 43 of 2018: Blindspot

The fourth and possibly final – who knows, at this point – season of Blindspot hits UK screens tomorrow (Monday) night at 10pm on Sky Witness, with a number of potentially encouraging signs. For one thing, REDACTED is dead. Woo! Unfortunately, though, it looks like that alone doesn’t mean we’ll be rid of him and his whining – I’m guessing he’ll crop up in plenty of flashbacks, nonetheless. Boo! Let’s try another, then: OTHER REDACTED has switched back to evil! Well. As we said at the end of last season, the show really needs a shake-up and this is certainly that. But I really don’t like stories where people “secretly” act like pantomime villains for the audience while the good guys act oblivious, so l hope OTHER REDACTED switches back to good in two or three eps, rather than twenty-three of them. Third time’s the charm, then: Rich Dotcom is now a series regular! We adore Ennis Esmer round here, and his partnership with Ashley Johnson’s Patterson – the (remote, maybe, but I ship, therefore I am) possibility of PATDOTCOM! – is the greatest gift the show could possibly give us this year. I’d keep watching and reviewing just for them, but if the Chair of Truth could make another appearance and Weller could hang out with Bill Nye the Science Guy again, that would be more than welcome too.

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Public Service Announcement 42 of 2018: The Little Drummer Girl, Condor, Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj

Hot on the heels of Berlin Station last week, spy season continues apace with new adaptations of a couple of old-school spy novels tonight and tomorrow.

After the success of The Night Manager a couple of years ago, the BBC has gone back to the John le Carré well with a shiny new six-part adaptation of The Little Drummer Girl. Featuring, amongst others, internationally-famous people Alexander Skarsgård, Michael Shannon, and Charles Dance, and the soon-to-be-famous Florence Pugh, and directed by internationally-renowned movie director Park Chan-Wook; someone has quite clearly spent a lot of money on this with a view to international markets. US viewers will get to see it in November, but UK viewers can start tonight (Sunday) at 9pm on BBC1, if so inclined. A lot of people will be watching, but I checked out after one episode of Night Manager and I don’t like Drummer Girl’s plot, so I’m unlikely to be one of them.

Tomorrow at 9 PM meanwhile, the Universal channel rolls out Condor, based on the novel Six Days of the Condor and previous version Three Days of the Condor, but now dispensing with the numbers entirely. Max Irons – pulling a double-shift, since he pops up in Drummer Girl as well – is the lead, and again the cast includes the internationally-famous (and Oscar-winning) William Hurt and Mira Sorvino, as well as Henry from Ringer. There are ten episodes in this first season and a second has already been commissioned, which puts me off somewhat, since this looks very much like the kind of story that should be wrapped up in a two-hour movie (as indeed it previously was), or, if you really want to stretch it out a little, a six-hour mini-series. It also kicks off with a double bill, for goodness sake, and you know how we feel about them round here. So I’ve set my Sky+ to record but whether I get around to the actual business of watching is another matter. We‘ll see.

If you’re looking for something completely different however – although the title is still very much on-brand for the spy theme – Hasan Minhaj’s weekly comedy show, Patriot Act, during which Netflix tells me he will “explore the modern cultural and political landscape with depth and sincerity” starts today on the streaming service. Daily Show graduate Minhaj’s stand-up special “Homecoming King” is already there too, and it’s terrific, but as the first weekly US comedy show hosted by an Indian-American, Patriot Act is both a big deal and a little ray of hope in an increasingly terrifying landscape. As we’ve said before, representation matters. And Minhaj is hilarious, smart and utterly fearless, so give him a go.

Public Service Announcement 41 of 2018: Berlin Station, Great News, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Ah, autumn. Leaves falling, winds blowing and, uh….spy dramas raining down on us all of a sudden?! Huh. We’ll talk about the upcoming Little Drummer Girl and Condor over the weekend, but unpopcult’s spy season kicks off with the very long-awaited (by me, anyway) Berlin Station, tomorrow (Thursday) night on More 4 at 9pm. Set at the, um, Berlin Station of the CIA, the first season is 10 episodes, second is 9 and third has already been commissioned. None of this information is anywhere near as important to unpopcult (or at least this half of it), however, as the fact that Richard Armitage is in it. Yes, I said RICHARD. ARMITAGE. So I’ll be on (very eager) reviewing duties for that, and hoping that his Daniel Miller gets a much better ending than his Lucas North did, although ideally not for a long while yet.

On Netflix meantime, a couple of things of interest. First up, the second and final season of US sitcom Great News is available for streaming from tomorrow, although there is a very strong possibility I might be the only person in the UK who watched any of the first one. It’s an unapologetically silly but very easy watch (especially when you’re on the train) about a tv news producer whose mother joins her at work as an intern. It won’t rock anybody’s world, but it doesn’t take itself remotely seriously and I’m shipping producer Katie and her boss Greg like gangbusters, so if they don’t get together by the end of the season…..*sniffle*… send cake.

And finally, for now, the baffling success of the terrible Riverdale means comic book pal Sabrina the teenage witch has been dusted off and given an edgy new reboot of her own: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is available on Netflix from Friday (26th), just in nice time for Halloween. Those of us of a certain age who remember the resolutely cheery 90s version with chirpy Melissa Joan Hart may want to adjust our expectations, however. This version has Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka, satanism and a much darker take on life as a supernatural teen with a malevolent cat and two witchy aunts in tow. Forewarned is forearmed. I haven’t made my mind up whether I’m curious/brave enough to give it a go, but if you are, let me know how you get on.

9-1-1 s1 ep 10 (and Public Service Announcement 40 of 2018)

I’ve already written about the final episode of the first season of For the People, my favourite of Sky Witness’s three launch shows. Next up, and next best, is 9-1-1. (Sorry Instinct; I’ll get to you in due course.) I really couldn’t, in all honesty, make a case for 9-1-1 being anything other than a decent procedural, with a generous side helping of the characters’ complicated private lives. But, y’know, sometimes that’s enough.

In the show’s favour, it has done an excellent job of developing its ensemble cast. It’s also always prepared to make astute use of the quickly-over-and-done plot as well as the ones which linger for an episode or more. And this episode had a decent handful of the former. First up was what looked like being a domestic abuse he-said-she-said, in which the woman’s employment of all of the cliches from the American Scriptwriter’s Big Book O’ British Tropes was driving me utterly mad, to the point where I was taking the man’s side without any examination of the facts. But the show was well ahead of me. 

Next was a death in a psychic’s uh, office? Parlour? Except the dead person isn’t dead. This isn’t a spoiler. And after that, Midlife Crisis Guy buys a big red motorbike and on his way home is cut in half in an accident, but survives long enough to make a phone call to his son, who’s waiting to see him drive up to the house in triumph. I was moved. Bobby (Peter Krause) is affected to the point where he needs to go and pray, accompanied by Athena (Angela Bassett). 

And at this point a strange thing happens. Given how alive Unpopcult is to the possibility of the ship, I thought, it’s odd that I’ve never even considered Bobby and Athena – attractive, same age, now single – as a couple. But looking at them sitting there… we’ll come back to that. Because there’s lot of other relationship drama going on. 

Abby (Connie, obvs) is trying to reclaim her home, and her life, after the death of her mother, and decides to go to Dublin, not for a weekend break either. Buck (Oliver Stark) is properly supportive, even though he’s dealing with an unfortunate situation in which a dude sitting a trailer is pretending to be him and catfishing/ghosting women online. Possibly also gaslighting. I’m not sure I know how to use these words. The show, in fact, deserves credit for the way in which the nice little Abby/Buck relationship was handled. Hen (Aisha Hinds), meantime, is trying to get back together with her boring wife Karen (Tracie Thoms, not her fault), and forswearing her nastier but evidently more exciting ex Eva. Karen eventually gives way.

All of which leads to Bobby going on a date… with Athena. You know, despite not even having THOUGHT about this as a ship I am ENTIRELY ON BOARD with it. And also with the second season, which we in the UK are going straight into on Wednesday of this week at 10pm, 9-1-1 having been a reasonably successful purchase for Sky Witness. (I can’t imagine that going on directly after new episodes of Grey’s, which it will be, will hurt it either.) Connie isn’t coming back, mind you, which is a loss.

Public Service Announcement 39 of 2018: 54 Hours: The Gladbeck Hostage Crisis

54 Hours: The Gladbeck Hostage Crisis (Gladbeck in its native Germany) is a two-part dramatisation, by German broadcaster ARD, of a scarcely-believable 1988 incident which spiralled out of control in the most remarkable way: over two days, police and media tracked a group of hostages and abductors across Germany and into the Netherlands, with reporters interviewing hostages while they were actually being held at gunpoint.

Its broadcast in Germany was controversially – accidentally? deliberately? I have no idea – timed to coincide with the release from prison of one of the hostage-takers, which no doubt contributed towards the strong ratings. Advance critical word, from both there and here, is good (tonight, BBC4, 9pm).

Public Service Announcement 38 of 2018: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

It’s quite possibly the best thing on TV, and it’s back for its fourth and final season: episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, starring the insanely talented Rachel Bloom, are being brought to the UK by Netflix the day after American transmission. 

If I’m being entirely honest, mind you, I have two misgivings going in. Firstly, although the show managed its transition from black comedy about an adorable eccentric to black comedy about someone with borderline personality disorder reasonably well, there is still, I think, a landing to be stuck. Secondly, I’m going to need to be convinced that casting Skylar Astin, as a replacement for Santino Fontana, in the key role of Greg is a good idea. But the creative team behind the show has earned our trust, so let’s see how he goes. Most importantly of all, though, the world’s a horrible place just now, and we really need Rebecca Bunch back in our lives (Netflix, from tomorrow).

Public Service Announcement 37 of 2018: The Good Doctor

It’s been a long, dry summer. And autumn. But proper TV – and proper Unpopcult – is back, with the return tonight of The Good Doctor for its second season. A huge ratings hit in America, insofar as such a thing exists any more, it’s a well-crafted medical drama with one or two things which elevate it above the average: a terrific central performance from Freddie Highmore (who writes tonight’s season opener); interesting plotting which veers off in unexpected directions; and an engaging and well-deployed supporting cast. In short, it’s much better than you think it is. Weekly reviews, at least until I get too busy (tonight, 9pm, Sky Witness).

And there’s more proper TV coming soon.