Public Service Announcement 64 of 2019: The Heart Guy (Doctor Doctor)

When I first saw reports that season 4 of The Heart Guy (Doctor Doctor) was about to start in the UK, I’ll admit I was dismissive of them: I’m a big enough fan of this medical drama to be keeping tabs on where it’s at in its native Australia, and I was aware that it wasn’t going to be shown there before 2020. Hey-ho, I thought; someone’s got confused about a season 3 repeat, or something, and we probably won’t see any new episodes for at least a year.

Well, I was wrong about all of that. All of it. It turns out that we in Britain are getting a world premiere of season 4 right here and now, and Australian audiences will still have to wait until next year. The reason given by its native broadcaster, Nine, for this is less than convincing to me – something to do with funding and its alleged popularity in the UK – but as I’ve said before I don’t need to be an expert on the business of TV to be a viewer, and anyway I don’t care.

Much as I love this show, mind you, I had two problems with the third season. The first was that I simply didn’t believe in the way that independent, single parent career woman Dr Penny Cartwright (the refulgent Hayley McElhinney) fell to pieces because of her foundering romance with reformed-bad-boy Dr Hugh Knight (Rodger Corser). But that might just be because Hugh isn’t my type; I’d probably fall to pieces if the possibility of a relationship with Dr Cartwright were snatched away from me. Secondly, I’m afraid that I was quite unable to get to grips with the detectably pregnant Nicole da Silva playing a character who was quite insistent that she didn’t ever want to have kids. Da Silva is an excellent actor, but she couldn’t square that circle. Or maybe that one, too, is on me.

Anyway. Bottom line is that the Whyhope crew is BACK with a double-bill at 10pm NEXT SATURDAY, on Drama, and I am both surprised and delighted. I might even review a few episodes this time, given that we’re not months behind everyone else. And, for the avoidance of doubt, I am still RIDE-OR-DIE for the Penny/Hugh ship.

Public Service Announcement 63 of 2019: Watchmen, Daybreak

Unpopcult’s fantasy department (ie me) is intrigued by but not sure it can face two interesting new shows this week. First up is Damon Lindelof’s take on Watchmen (for HBO) which – wisely – is a brand new, sort-of-sequel to the seminal graphic novel rather than a straightforward (not that anything about Watchmen is straightforward) adaptation. I have a huge amount of time for Lindelof – I don’t care what anybody says, I thought the Lost finale was brilliant, and The Leftovers astonishing – and word is that this is a genuinely daring, insightful and challenging look at racial division, politics, policing and violence in a superhero/vigilante/alternate history context. The cast is tremendous too, led by the peerless Regina King and including Louis Gossett Jr, Jean Smart and Jeremy Irons, amongst others. This version of Watchmen looks smart, dark, genuinely unsettling and unlike anything else on tv, but it also looks like it completely fails the “will it make me feel happy or good?” test I‘ve been applying to my viewing recently in order to try and stay sane, so it’s maybe not for me right now. If you’re looking to check it out though, it’s on Monday nights (the day after it’s shown in the US) on Sky Atlantic – episode 1 is currently on Sky Go, with episode 2 coming next week.

At the other end of the fantasy scale, meanwhile, is Daybreak, a post-apocalyptic high school zombie comedy drama with Matthew Broderick – Ferris Bueller himself! – of all people as the headmaster. The only reason I’m interested in this is that one of the episodes was written by Ira Madison III of Keep It podcast fame, and I absolutely love Keep It. Having watched the trailer, though, I think I may be a bit too old to love Daybreak. If you’re not, the first season now available for streaming on Netflix. And Keep It is available online if you fancy a listen – new episodes on Wednesdays, archive of old ones all right there for you too.

Public Service Announcement 62 of 2019: The Good Doctor

ABC’s The Good Doctor returns to UK screens tonight for its third season. It’s a mostly excellent and occasionally outstanding medical procedural in which Freddie Highmore plays Shaun Murphy, a gifted surgeon who has high-functioning autism. In its first year it was very much about Shaun, but  it detectably became more of an ensemble show during season 2, focussing less on Highmore’s character and more on the rest of the (talented, it should be said) cast. Which meant, in turn, that it became a bit more of a standard snipping-and-shipping hospital drama, but without any drop-off in quality, which is a nice balance to strike. As with the first two seasons, I’ll be reviewing episode-by-episode (tonight, 9pm, Sky Witness).

Public Service Announcement 61 of 2019: Dublin Murders

I rarely watch TV or film adaptations of books I’ve read and enjoyed, because… well, what’s the point? I know the story, I know the characters, and I know the ending. And if anything significant has been changed, it’s unlikely to be for the better.

I’m almost prepared to make an exception for the BBC’s new eight-parter Dublin Murders, though, because I love the books on which the show is based – In The Woods and The Likeness, the first two in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series – so much. In the parallel universe in which so-called genre fiction is treated as seriously as so-called literary fiction, French is even now wondering whether there’s room on her mantelpiece for any more Booker Prizes. In The Woods, in particular, is one of the best books I’ve ever read: it’s both a thrilling and complex murder mystery, and a nuanced and empathetic exploration of childhood trauma and adult relationships. And that’s barely the half of it.

So… maybe? On the other hand, though, the tie-in editions of In The Woods and The Likeness are badged as “the inspiration for” the TV drama, which doesn’t entirely fill me with optimism. Oh well. Maybe not (Monday and Tuesday, 9pm, BBC One).

Public Service Announcement 59 of 2019: Unbelievable, The I-Land, Raising Dion

It seems like the more that’s on, the less I want to watch, but Netflix hasn’t let that stop them so I thought I’d mention a few things that are currently streaming in case you have better luck with the whole tv thing this week than I do.

First up, in the “I know I should, but I can’t” column, is Unbelievable, a profoundly serious, by all accounts absolutely excellent drama about the investigation of a series of rapes by two female detectives. It’s based on a true (Pulitzer prize-winning) story, has a tremendous cast including Kaitlyn Dever, Merritt Wever and Toni Collette, and takes an unflinching look at how rape survivors can be treated by the system and the devastating effect that can have. It looks like incredibly important but also incredibly harrowing television and I want to be the kind of brave, committed viewer who can handle watching it without collapsing in a puddle of despair, but I’m not, and I can’t, so I won’t be. If you’re tougher than I am, it’s meant to be more than worth it, though.

Not even close to worth it, however, is The I-Land, an utterly wretched attempt to make a nihilistic, misanthropic Lost crossed with Lord of the Flies, The Hunger Games, Gilligan’s Island (if Gilligan’s Island were evil) and a cheap, nasty computer game. It has some quite appalling characters, eye-wateringly off gender politics, eye-openingly terrible dialogue and a script that’s just…. really bad. I made it to about halfway through the third episode out of sheer astonishment but then they made the elementary error of revealing the answer to the main mystery, and I was free! And lucky too – I went back and read what happens after that on Wikipedia, and all I can say is… Wow. Save yourselves.

If you’re looking for some fantasy tv that might actually be good, though, it may be worth checking out Raising Dion, an intriguing new series about a widowed, African-American mum (Alisha Wainwright) trying to raise her little boy while also hiding the fact he seems to have superpowers. It’s based on a well-regarded comic and short film; it aims to ground the superhero stuff with real issues of race, inequality and single motherhood; it’s executive-produced by Michael B Jordan (who is fantastic in everything I’ve ever seen him in) and he also recurs as Dion’s dad, all of which I think might put it right up my street. Of course, Martin Scorsese might not necessarily fancy it, but I don’t much like the look of The Irishman either, so each to their own.

Public Service Announcement 58 of 2019: Mary Kills People, New Amsterdam

I thought the first season of Canadian mercy-killing drama Mary Kills People was absolutely terrific: black humour, great acting, and some weighty moral issues. The fact that the second season is being shown in the middle of the night would suggest that not very many people agreed with me. Hunt it out, folks, hunt it out (Wednesdays, 12.10am, More 4).

Meantime, New Amsterdam is the latest in the very long line of medical dramas to make their way from America to the UK. Unfortunately, it’s coming in the same week as the 25th anniversary (yes, 25 actual years, don’t shoot the messenger) of the first broadcast of the genuinely brilliant and revolutionary ER, all 15 seasons of which are going to be made available for streaming on All 4. There’s nothing obviously out-of-the-ordinary about New Amsterdam, but it has Tom out of The Blacklist (Ryan Eggold) in the lead role as the new medical director of a hospital which needs fixing (Thursday 26 September, 9pm, More 4).

Public Service Announcement 57 of 2019: My Life Is Murder

It used to be in-depth analysis of the subtleties of Mad Men round these parts. And detailed episode-by-episode recapping of complex Scandi-noir. But ever since the world started going to h. in a h.c. – which I’d date to somewhere between 23 June and 8 November 2016, inclusive – we’ve craved something, well, nicer. More comforting. A big Unpopcult hello, then, to My Life Is Murder, an Australian comedy-drama about private investigator Alexa Crowe (Lucy Lawless). In all honesty I’m hoping for a sort of Antipodean equivalent of Private Eyes, which would do me just fine as civilisation nears its end point (Tuesday 24 September, Alibi, 9pm).