Public Service Announcement 34 of 2018: Killing Eve, A Discovery of Witches, Shut Eye

BBC America’s Killing Eve was, when shown in the USA, a critical hit and – on its own terms – a ratings success, with its viewing figures almost doubling during its 8-week run, and a season 2 renewal in the bag. It’s an adaptation of Luke Jennings’s novella series Codename Villanelle, which has been developed and partly written by the insanely talented Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer star as a MI5 agent and assassin respectively. I’m particularly pleased about the praise Comer has been getting; we loved her in My Mad Fat Diary, and she deserves her subsequent success. (Kim Bodnia from Bron/Broen also appears.) Having managed to deliver old-fashioned monster ratings with Bodyguard, the BBC has plainly decided that it doesn’t want them with Killing Eve: although it will be broadcasting it on a week-by-week basis on BBC One, starting tomorrow at 9.15pm, the whole season will be available for (ew ew ew) “bingeing” on BBC Three.

A few other things. A Discovery of Witches is also an adaptation, this time of a novel by Deborah Harkness. It’s something to do with witches and vampires forming an alliance, which sounds like the sort of thing I don’t care about. The cast includes Matthew Goode and Alex Kingston (tonight, Sky One, 9pm).

Unpopcult royalty Jeffrey Donovan stars in Shut Eye, one of the first shows on Virgin’s new Ultra HD channel. Donovan plays a magician who starts to have psychic visions. With a cast of triple-tested TV talent – David Zayas, Susan Misner, Emmanuelle Chriqui, KaDee Strickland, Isabella Rossellini – this sounds as if it might be quite interesting. The reviews and ratings would, however, suggest otherwise; it was cancelled after two seasons (Monday 18 September, Virgin TV Ultra HD, 10pm). And Constantine, an apparently mediocre DC Comics adaptation, lasted only one before cancellation (Monday 18 September, FOX (UK), 9pm).

And two from the streamers: season 5 of BoJack Horseman (Netflix), and the first season of Maya Rudolph/Fred Armisen vehicle Forever (Amazon Prime), both dropped today.

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Public Service Announcement 33 of 2018: Press

Mike “Doctor Foster” Bartlett’s latest showPress is pitched as a “West Wing-style” (it should be so lucky) drama about the newspaper business, with rivalry between a left-leaning broadsheet and a splashy tabloid played out against a background of the rise of digital journalism, the prevalence of “fake news” and every other media-related issue you can think of. It all sounds very well-meaning, but whether it’s any good or not is another matter, of course. Since my previously dormant interest in British drama has recently been re-kindled by Bodyguard, Keeping Faith and The Split, though, I think I’ll try an episode or two to find out. BBC1, 9pm tonight (Thursday) or iPlayer shortly thereafter if you want to join me.

Public Service Announcement 32 of 2018: Vanity Fair

On one view, a new adaptation of Thackeray’s classic Vanity Fair with its unapologetically ruthless female lead refusing to let class, poverty and gender get in the way of what she wants, sounds very timely – for a 19th-century novel, Becky Sharp is a very 21st-century anti-heroine. As far as I’m concerned, though, ITV1’s latest version (beginning tonight, Sunday, 9pm with episode 2 tomorrow) comes too late, for a couple of reasons. The first being wholly personal: I watched the BBC version with Natasha Little years ago, I made it two-thirds of the way through the book before I couldn’t take it any more, and I deliberately avoided the Mira Nair film on the basis that, although it looked very promising, I’d had enough of this particular story which I didn’t really like in the first place. In short, I really don’t need any more versions of Vanity Fair in my life. The second reason is a bit more practical: Bodyguard started last Sunday, so a large chunk of the available audience (including me) already has Richard Madden/Keeley Hawes-related plans for tonight’s 9pm slot, thanks.

Having said all that, though, Vanity Fair boasts an impressive cast including Suranne Jones, Simon Russell Beale and Michael Palin, with Olivia Cooke (who was excellent in Me, Earl and the Dying Girl) as the irrepressible Becky herself, and production company Mammoth‘s recent run of successes (including Poldark, Victoria and Parade’s End) shows they know their way around a period drama. So if you’re in the market for a lavishly-costumed social satire with a very sharp (sorry) edge, dive on in. This water’s got a lot of bite.

Public Service Announcement 31 of 2018: Bodyguard, The Bodyguard

BBC1’s big new Sunday night drama Bodyguard, with Keeley Hawes and Richard “Robb Stark” Madden, comes with some high expectations. Writer Jed Mercurio’s impressive body of controversial, big-ticket work includes not only recent mega-hit Line of Duty but also Cardiac Arrest, Bodies, and, er, Strike Back season 1 (I was surprised too), so his latest take on the political action thriller should be interesting, at the very least, and ideally more complex and nuanced in its politics than your standard shoot’em up fare. One very clear thread running through Mercurio’s work (even those four episodes of Strike Back, if you squint a bit) is his determination not to idealise authority or the establishment – he’s always trying to look behind the façade to the murkiness beneath – and this tale of a police officer assigned to protect an ambitious politician from the very types of danger it suits her agenda to magnify looks like it might well be in the same mould. So if it somehow turns out to be a right-wing reactionary fantasy instead, I’ll be somewhat annoyed, but there’s only one way to find out. First episode is 9pm tonight (Sunday) and I’ll review as soon as I can.

Those looking for a bit more of a nostalgic take on the theme meanwhile, might want to switch to Channel Five tonight at 10pm, ie just when ep 1 of Bodyguard finishes, since, in a frankly genius move, they’re showing the Whitney Houston/ Kevin Costner classic – don’t even bother arguing with me on this – The Bodyguard. What a night for fans of the bodyguard/ hate-to-love romance genres! (Yes, I mean me.) Sadly, it finishes after midnight and I have to get up annoyingly early for work in the morning so I’ll have to give it a miss, but since I haven’t seen it since I was about 15 and I’ve become significantly more cynical since then, it might be just as well. This way it can remain pristine and beloved in my memory instead. All together now, “If I should stay, I would only be in your way…..”

Public Service Announcement 30 of 2018: Instinct, The Innocents

Following For the People and 9-1-1, Instinct is the third of Sky Witness’s launch schedule of big new American dramas. Alan Cumming stars as Dr Dylan Reinhart, a triple-threat academic, author, and retired CIA officer, who is – of course – dragged back into solving crimes. Apparently Reinhart is the first openly gay lead character in an American network drama, so well done CBS. Unfortunately the reviews would suggest that the show isn’t great. On the other hand it’s been renewed for a second season, and this first run is only 13 episodes long – I will NEVER get tired of celebrating first seasons which don’t go on for 24 episodes – so it might be worth a look. I’ll be reviewing the first episode at least (Thursday 23 August, 9pm, Sky Witness).

And on Friday, Netflix drops all eight episodes of supernatural YA drama The Innocents, which has been getting some decent advance buzz. If Unpopcult watches, it’ll be CJ, the head of our teen programming division – ask her about To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – who tells you what we think.

Public Service Announcement 29 of 2018: Burden of Truth; 9-1-1; Ten Days In The Valley

The premise of Canadian drama Burden of Truth is defiantly, almost ostentatiously stitched together from other TV shows and films: Kristin Kreuk stars as the big city professional who goes to a small town (Northern Exposure); specifically, she’s an attorney (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend); specifically, it’s her hometown (The Heart Guy); specifically, she’s fighting for people who have been poisoned by the actions of a corporate giant (Erin Brockovitch). It’s Erin Kreukovich, if you will. I’m guessing there’ll be a dash of Secret Pain, and maybe a Childhood Sweetheart she’s never really got over as well? Anyway, the reviews have been reasonably good, it’s only ten episodes long (although it has been renewed) and it’s Canadian, and Unpopcult is ALL ABOUT shows from the former Empire at the moment. In short, my suspicion is that this will be unexpectedly watchable (Tuesday 14 August, 9pm, Universal TV).

And the premise of American drama 9-1-1 seems to have stemmed from someone’s realisation that if you do a show about firefighters or medics or cops you’re limiting yourself unnecessarily: why not do a show about all three? Why not indeed. So the TV exec producer dream team of Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Tim Minear, and Bradley Buecker has recruited a Star (Angela Bassett), some TV royalty (Connie Britton and Peter Krause), some excellent support (Kenneth Choi and Unpopcult favourite Rockmond Dunbar), and wrapped it all up in a great big first-responder drama in which, according to American broadcasters Fox, the protagonists “must try to balance saving those who are at their most vulnerable with solving the problems in their own lives”. You… don’t say. The reviews have been OK-ish, but Murphy and Falchuk know what they’re about, and Britton and Krause have been over the course and distance before. Once again, it’s a ten-episode first season; once again, it’s been renewed (Wednesday 15 August, 9pm, Sky Witness).

We’ll have first episode reviews of both as soon as we can. We probably won’t be reviewing ABC’s Ten Days In The Valley, which starts tonight, but it’s worth saying that it might well merit a look: Kyra Sedgwick stars as a TV producer whose daughter disappears in the middle of the night. Currie Graham, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Erika Christensen are in the cast as well, the reviews were reasonable, but audiences didn’t bite. Ten episodes again. I like this trend towards shorter first seasons a lot (tonight, Alibi, 10pm).

Public Service Announcement 28 of 2018: For the People, The Good Doctor

Apparently Sky Living’s name has been causing Sky TV one or two problems. Its market research has revealed that some of those who are unfamiliar with Living expect it to broadcast lifestyle shows; whereas it is, in fact, probably the UK’s most reliable source of American procedural dramas. As of tomorrow, therefore, Sky Living will be rebranded as Sky Witness. Hee. Sky Witness! Do you see what they did there? (Actually, I’m not 100% sure myself that I see what they did there. so let’s move on.)

As part of the launch there will, in August, be three new American shows on Witness, and the first of these is For the People, a legal drama from Shonda Rhimes’s Shondaland stable. It stars – among others – Ben Shenkman, who latterly became one of the most interesting things in Royal Pains; Britt Robertson;  Ben Rappaport, the “other Cary” in The Good Wife; the wonderful Hope Davis; and Anna Deavere Smith. Now, this doesn’t need to be great to push my buttons: give me some shipping, some Secret Pain, some ethical dilemmas, and some “Objection!” “Sustained!” “Counsel, approach!” dialogue and I’m likely to be on board.

The more interesting subplot, it seems to me, is whether Rhimes is still in possession of her mojo, particularly as she’s about to jump ship to Netflix for scarcely-conceivable amounts of cash money. Scandal remained relevant at least until it concluded, but it undoubtedly went downhill after its second season. How To Get Away With Murder and Gray’s Anatomy are hanging on in there, but her most recent new show, The Catch, crashed and burned after two seasons. I liked it quite a lot, but that opinion wasn’t shared by enough people to keep it going.

For the People has been renewed for a second season, and this first season is only ten episodes long. This seems to be a trend in American TV, and it’s one of which I wholly approve; with so much choice these days, it’s asking a lot of a viewer to commit to a 20-plus episode season of any new show. Anyway, I’m going to give this a go. CJ will be reviewing the first episode, and I’m sure we can rely on her to give a Shondaland show starring someone out of Royal Pains a fair review. *looks to camera* (Monday 6 August, 10pm, Sky Witness.)

And just a quick word about The Good Doctor: if you missed it first time round, Sky Witness is running season 1 from the start, commencing on Monday 6 August at 8pm. It’s a well-crafted medical drama, which I realise sounds as if I’m damning it with faint praise. But the acting is good, the plots quite often head off in unexpected directions, and it’s definitely worth a look.