Public Service Announcement 36 of 2017: Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams

Not, as far as I can tell, anything to do with one of my favourite songs of all time, new anthology drama series Electric Dreams is instead based on various self-contained short stories by seminal sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick and looks like the most ambitious thing channel 4 has done in a long time.

A (very expensive-looking) collaboration with Amazon Prime and Sony Pictures, the series involves a vast, impressive array of talent both behind the camera and in front of it, with writers like Battlestar Galactica’s Ron D Moore and Life on Mars’ Matthew Graham, big-time directors like Tom Harper and Jeffrey Reiner, and a cast of recognisable faces including Bryan Cranston, Liam Cunningham, Anna Paquin, Steve Buscemi and Timothy Spall, amongst others, popping in for various turns. In short, for sci-fi fans – including me – this is Big. News. Unfortunately, channel 4 seems to be adopting the US network model of mid-season hiatus by only showing the first six episodes this year (Sundays, 9pm) and saving the last four for 2018, but hey ho. The first instalment “The Hood Maker” starring Richard “Robb Stark” Madden and Holliday “also appearing in Strike over on BBC1 at exactly the same time” Grainger kicks off tonight (Sunday) at 9pm, so I’ll review this one and see how we go from there.


Public Service Announcement 35 of 2017: Murder in the First, Rellik, Liar

Murder in the First returns to British screens this week for its third and, as it turns out, final season. I thought the first season to be an underrated gem; the second, unfortunately, less so. But I’m on board again for this. Steven Bochco is still at the wheel, an excellent cast is once again led by Kathleen Robertson and Taye Diggs, and the formula is the same: a Murder One-esque focus on a single case through the whole (10 episode) season, this time the nightclub shooting of a professional American footballer (Tuesday 12 September, 9pm, FOX UK).

Rather weirdly, the terrestrial channels have scheduled two six-part crime-based dramas written by brothers Harry and Jack Wiliams (The Missing, One of Us) against each other. So in the BBC One corner there’s Rellik, in which Richard Dormer plays a detective on the trail of a serial killer. The show’s USP is that the story is told in reverse; hence, I’m guessing, the title. Bothering be won’t I. And in the ITV corner there’s six-parter Liar, in which Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt accuses Ioan Gruffudd of date rape (both Monday 11 September at 9pm).

Some other bits and pieces: Cold Feet is back (Thursdays, 9pm, ITV); the TV adaptation of JK Rowling’s Strike, after a ratings triumph for its first season, goes straight into season 2 (tonight, BBC One, 9pm); there’s a show about dancing (Saturdays, BBC One); Amazon Prime has season 3 of Outlander from tomorrow; and season 4 of BoJack Horseman has dropped on Netflix.

Finally, the first episode of the new season of American Horror Story is set, almost fittingly, on the night of Donald Trump’s election; almost fittingly because it’s been a horror story for more than just America (Fridays, 10pm, FOX UK).

Public Service Announcement 34 of 2017: Doctor Foster, Tin Star

Clearly, the only thing we really care about this week is Private Eyes. There are a few other things worth mentioning, though. The BBC has brought back ratings blockbuster Doctor Foster for a second go-round of middle-class adultery and revenge. While the first season had the usual UK drama flaws – too many episodes, occasionally ridiculous contrivances – it was entertaining enough, and writer Mike Bartlett was prepared to make his lead character somewhat unlikeable. So a second season might be worth a look. I don’t expect to review this time round (Tuesday 5 September, BBC One, 9pm).

Sky Atlantic, meantime, will be showing the latest drama from hit-and-miss production company Kudos. Tin Star, um, stars Tim Roth and Christina Hendricks, with Roth as a London detective who moves to the Rocky Mountains and encounters trouble from oil workers. It’s already been renewed for a second season, which suggests that someone has confidence in it. The whole season will be available on demand for (ew) bingeing, because these days we’re children who can’t wait a whole week for another episode (Thursday 7 September, Sky Atlantic, 9pm).

And the BBC iPlayer has the fascinating documentary Frank Lloyd Wright: The Man Who Built America for another three weeks or so. Highly recommended.

Public Service Announcement 33 of 2017: Private Eyes

I was going to start this post with a list of terrible, terrifying things happening in the world right now, but I don’t want to be responsible for the entire unpopcult readership taking to their beds in abject despair, so let me just get to my point instead: we could all use some light in the darkness and, friends, a veritable sunburst is at hand. Season two of the warm, cheery, wonderful Private Eyes – a White Collar-esque tale (sans electronic tag) of delightfully mismatched crimefighting buddies who bicker loudly but love each other secretly – arrives on UK screens tomorrow (Monday) at 8pm on Universal, and not a moment too soon. Unpopcult fell deeply, some might say hysterically, in love with Shangie and co last season, and who can blame us? With a charming cast including Jason Priestley, Cindy Sampson, and unpopcult royalty Ennis “Rich Dotcom” Esmer; a bushel of resolutely inconsequential, light-hearted mysteries; and a ship we’re so on board we’ve got our own cabins, Private Eyes got us through some tough times last year and we’re counting on it to do the same once again. Maybe that’s a lot of pressure to put on a will-they/won’t-they comedy procedural, but we can’t help it. We love this show SO MUCH. Reviews every week, as fast we can write’em, then, and, just to start the ball rolling: SQUEEEEEE.

Public Service Announcement 32 of 2017: Star, Lucifer, Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling

While Unpopcult waits excitedly for season 2 of Private Eyes – not long now, deep breaths – there are a few things worth noting, if not necessarily watching. The first episode of the TV adaptation of The Cuckoo’s Calling, the debut novel by JK Rowling-writing-as-Robert-Galbraith, started on Sunday, is available on the BBC iPlayer, and was well-enough received. It was aggressively scheduled against the second season of ITV’s historical drama Victoria, the first episode of which is available on whatever ITV calls its iPlayer equivalent. And some show about cakes has moved to Channel 4. You might have missed that.

What else? Well, there’s the comic-book inspired Lucifer: hitherto available on Amazon Prime, now on actual TV, in which Satan gets fed up with the Infernal Regions and moves to LA, where he opens a nightclub and starts to assist LAPD Detective Lori from Hawaii Five-0 with her crime-fighting. This is plainly an absurd premise for a procedural, but I’m generally open to them. Unfortunately, the critical reaction was mixed at best. Still, with two seasons now in the can and a third on the way, there’s no reason not to get invested if you want to. I sometimes have a feeling that a show might be worth watching and, in spite of everything, I’m getting that feeling now (Thursday 31 August, 9pm, FOX UK).

Then there’s Star, a show about three young singers created by Lee “Empire” Daniels. The reviews weren’t great, and this time I’m not getting that feeling (Thursday 31 August, 9pm, 5Star). And season 3 of Narcos drops on Netflix this Friday.

So with that all out of the way, it’s time to set the TiVo and dream of Shangie…

Public Service Announcement 31 of 2017: Atypical, Valkyrien, False Flag, The Man Who Fought The Planners: the Story of Ian Nairn

More Netflix. Atypical is an eight-part family comedy about 18-year-old Sam, who is on the autism spectrum, and starting to take an interest in girls. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Michael Rapaport play Sam’s parents. The critics kind of like it, mostly (Netflix, available now).

And more Walter Presents. Valkyrien is a drama from Norway, although – refreshingly, perhaps – not about dysfunctional cops dodging the snow to solve the inventive and brutal killing of a young woman. Instead it picks up and runs with a device familiar to those of us who watch American procedurals – the underground doctor who provides clandestine treatment to those who don’t want to go to normal hospitals. The first episode is going to be broadcast in the old-fashioned way, then the whole thing will be available on All 4 for (ew) “bingeing” (Sunday 13 August, 9pm, Channel 4).

The next two fall into the ICYMI category. Israeli drama False Flag (Kfulim) started a couple of weeks ago, but both of the episodes shown so far are still available on catch-up. Five apparently ordinary citizens suddenly find themselves drawn into an international crisis when they discover, via media reports, that their identities have been stolen and used by the perpetrators of the abduction of an Iranian politician from an Russian hotel. It’s loosely based on the real-life story of the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, alleged to have been carried out by Mossad agents using false passports; and it’s supposed to be quite good (Mondays, 9pm, FOX UK).

Finally, something I can recommend because I’ve seen it, although I’m prepared to concede that it’s a little bit, uh, niche. The Man Who Fought The Planners: the Story of Ian Nairn is a terrific documentary about the incendiary and brilliant Nairn, an architectural critic, writer, and broadcaster whose tragically early alcohol-related death robbed us of a unique voice. If you’re interested in architecture, journalism, post-war Britain, or urban planning, this is for you (Sunday 13 August, 12.15 am – i.e. early Monday, if you see what I mean – BBC 4).

Public Service Announcement 30 of 2017: Top Of The Lake – China Girl; Ozark; Midnight, Texas; The Last Tycoon

I’m in two minds about whether to watch the second season of Top Of The Lake, because I was in two minds about the first one: amazing scenery, amazing Elizabeth Moss, and a decent enough procedural struggling to get out; but overlong and unhelpfully pretentious as well, particularly that commune living in the shipping containers. Season 2 relocates the action to Sydney, and adds Nicole Kidman and Gwendoline Christie, while – crucially – retaining Moss, who even in a crowded marketplace has genuine claims to be one of the very best TV actors of her generation. The first episode is being shown on broadcast TV, and immediately thereafter the whole thing will be on the iPlayer to (ew) “binge”, which I suppose is in line with current viewing trends, but makes it less likely that people will be talking about it (tonight, 9pm, BBC Two).

Netflix’s latest is the interesting-sounding Ozark, in which Jason Bateman plays a financial advisor who has been laundering money for a Mexican drug cartel, and who suddenly finds that there is a pressing need for him to relocate from Chicago to a summer resort in the Missouri Ozarks with his wife Laura Linney. It’s been reasonably well-received, and were I not so busy I might be tempted to give this a go (available now).

I’m less interested in Midnight, Texas, which seems to be some supernatural nonsense based on some novels by Charlaine Harris, the author behind True Blood. Commendably, we’re only a few days behind American transmission, so well done Syfy UK; unfortunately, the reviews suggest that it may only be of interest to those who are, well, interested in this sort of thing. Which I’m not (tonight, 9pm, Syfy UK).

And I’m unable to see Amazon’s The Last Tycoon, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished last novel, and starring the unfairly handsome Matt Bomer, who is Unpopcult royalty and our CJ’s future husband, did he but know it. Kelsey Grammar and the wonderful Rosemarie DeWitt are also in the cast. Unfortunately the critics, overall, haven’t been particularly impressed by this either (tomorrow, Amazon Prime).