Public Service Announcement 11 of 2016: Blindspot, Inside Obama’s White House


I know it’s only been six weeks but it feels like forever since unpopcult’s favourite slice of tv madness, Blindspot, stopped for mid-season break in a flurry of cliffhangers and craziness. No more waiting, though; Jane/Taylor, Kurt/Mr Angry and the rest of the team are back tonight at 9pm on Sky Living and unpopcult is delighted. We’ll be reviewing every week as usual, and probably getting very excited in the process.

At the same time tonight, meanwhile (albeit so far at the other end of the tv spectrum  it’s almost falling off the end),  “Inside Obama’s White House“, a four-part documentary series following the Obama administration in office kicks off on BBC2. Not only does it look fascinating in its own right, but the timing seems particularly apt given the current, mostly terrifying coverage of the U.S. election campaign coming at us from all directions: it’s nice to be reminded that there are plenty of perfectly sane people in politics as well. I don’t expect to review it, but I’ll be watching.

Public Service Announcement 10 of 2016: Quantico

ABC’s kind-of hit – which is, Empire apart, the only sort of hits networks have these days – Quantico starts in the UK tonight. The premise is that a new FBI recruit, Alex Parrish (the Indian actress Priyanka Chopra), is suspected of being responsible for a terrorist attack on New York City, and while she fights to clear her name there will be flashbacks to Alex and her group of trainees at the FBI’s academy in Quantico, Virginia. And, let’s face it, those of us who have watched American procedural dramas will already have heard enough about Quantico to be able to get through basic training ourselves. Reasonably well-received, with enough of a following to get a 22-episode order and, as of last week, renewed for a second season, Quantico sounds as if it might be worth a look. I’m not planning to review it, but I am planning to watch it (tonight, 9pm, Alibi).

And Amazon Prime releases season 2 of Bosch tomorrow – I love the Michael Connolly books on which the show is based, but have never seen it, and probably never will. Peak TV, eh? Which reminds me: Blindspot, Big Bang, and Modern Family are all returning soon for their post-hiatus runs, and Jane the Virgin will be starting season 2 before the end of the month. More about those shows and others in due course.

Public Service Announcement 9 of 2016: How To Get Away With Murder, Scandal, Legends of Tomorrow, Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, Thicker than Water

A quick PSA round-up. The increasingly incomprehensible How To Get Away With Murder – who are these people? What are their names? And what’s going on? – returns for the second half of its second season, with Annalise having been shot, and Wes (?) wondering why she knows his birth name. Still worth watching, I suppose, for its sharp scripts and Viola Davis’s powerhouse performance (Tuesday 2 March, 10pm, Universal).

Scandal is also back after its midseason hiatus. Could go either way, this one: there were encouraging signs in the first half of the season that the show was ridding itself of its B-613 fixation, and in the last episode before the break the good ship Olitz hit the rocks. On the other hand, Rowan and Jake seem to have reconciled. Reviews as ever (Wednesday 3 March, 10pm, Sky Living).

In the world of comic book adaptations, DC is flinging a lot at us: The Flash is back (Tuesdays, 8pm, Sky 1); Arrow is back (Wednesdays, 8pm, Sky 1); and Legends of Tomorrow, which is (as far as I can discern; I don’t really care) a spin-off from both, starts on Thursday, once again at 8pm on Sky 1. The magnificent Victor Garber is in it, mind you, as is the Rev. Paul from Broadchurch, and Brandon Routh.

House of Cards’s fourth season drops on Friday on Netflix. The funniest show on TV, Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, returns to dance on the grave of stand-up comedy on Thursday (10pm, BBC2). And Walter Presents’s latest, um, presentation is Swedish family saga Thicker Than Water. It might be good, but I don’t think I’m ever going to find out, as I’ve got too much piling up already. Please tell me if I’m missing out, though (Thursday 3 March, 10pm, More 4).

Coming soon, among others: Quantico, Modern Family, The Five, Game of Thrones, and BLINDSPOT BLINDSPOT BLINDSPOT.

Public Service Announcement 8 of 2016: The Night Manager, Parks and Recreation, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, Person of Interest, The Blacklist

A handful of slightly lazy, behind-the-times PSAs to start with. The BBC is continuing to try to muscle its way into the “cinematic TV” market with a six-part adaptation of John le Carre’s post-Cold-War-novel The Night Manager. On the face of it, the show has been cast with everything you’d need to market it at home and abroad: a proper film star (Tom Hiddleston); an international TV star (Hugh Laurie); British TV royalty (Olivia Colman, Tom Hollander); and Mme Secretary-General from Spin (Aure Atika). Advance word was good, reviews have been fine… but to be honest I’ve had my fill, for now, of overrated British TV dramas which start well and fizzle away into either incomprehensibility or absurdity. So I’m sitting this one out (Sundays, BBC1, 9pm; last night’s on BBC iPlayer).

Somewhat later than we were promised, Dave has started showing what might or might not be the final run of Parks and Recreation on UK TV: season 5 for now, with a possibility of running straight through seasons 6 and 7 thereafter (double bills on Sundays at 11pm; last night’s available on demand and on the Dave website).

And last night, on the reliable Storyville strand, the BBC showed Stanley Nelson, Jr.’s excellent documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015), which was given a limited cinematic release last year. As well as containing vivid, moving, fascinating, and enraging archive footage, the film assembles (Bobby Seale apart) as comprehensive a collection of talking heads as could reasonably be expected nearly 50 years after the foundation of the Black Panther Party. A documentary about an organisation devoted to the defence of African-Americans is, of course, of more than just historical interest, a point which it makes eloquently and economically in its final scenes. Not entirely without flaws, but highly recommended (BBC iPlayer).

Now to the new stuff. Unpopcult favourite Person of Interest returns for its fourth season this week. My view is that the season 3 represented something close to the best that network TV has to offer, although this opinion wasn’t held by everyone (hashtag Root). Unfortunately, it looks as if channel 5 is showing the whole season in double-bills. On the plus side this might mean that it actually broadcasts all of the episodes; on the minus, it’s not a schedule which suits me, particularly if I want to review them as well. So although it offends the completist part of me, it may be that Unpopcult won’t be covering this season. I’ll definitely be watching, though (Wednesday 24 February, Channel 5, 10pm).

And The Blacklist is returning from its midwinter hiatus. One episode per week. That I can cope with. Reviews as usual (Friday 26 February, Sky Living, 9pm).

Also starting this week, among others: the penultimate season of Girls (tonight, Sky Atlantic, 10.45pm); and post-hiatus Grey’s (Wednesday, Sky Living, 10pm). And coming soon: HTGAWM, Quantico, Blindspot, Scandal, House of Cards.

Public Service Announcement 7 of 2016: Limitless, American Crime Story (The People v. O.J. Simpson), Heroes Reborn, Vinyl

With Person of Interest, Parks & Rec, The Blacklist, Blindspot, Scandal, and Quantico just some of the shows starting or returning in the UK over the next few weeks, Unpopcult’s dancecard is pretty much at full capacity. So we’re going to need to be selective.

We will, however, be making time for Limitless, the TV adaptation of the bonkers-but-entertaining 2011 film about a wonder drug which enables the user to maximise his or her potential. Jake McDorman is your man for the enhanced abilities, using them to help FBI agent Debra Morgan from Dexter. And Bradley Cooper, recurring only, reprises his role from the film as Eddie Morra. (Incidentally, when we were watching Alias all those years ago, did any of us anticipate that the dude occasionally playing the lovelorn journalist was going to end up as the biggest star of the whole cast? I certainly didn’t.) Limitless received lukewarm reviews when it started in America, but Unpopcult’s friend e assures us that it’s worth watching, and that it really gets going after a few episodes. Besides which, I actually like procedurals with a silly backstory (see The Blacklist, Blindspot, etc.). So I’ll review the first double-bill, and see how we get on after that (Wednesday 17 February, Sky 1, 9pm).

I’m also going to be watching, if not reviewing, American Crime Story, FX’s true crime anthology, which in its first season offers a dramatic reconstruction of the O.J. Simpson murder case of 1994-95. The show has an astonishing cast: Cuba Gooding, Jr., as the Juice, plus Nathan Lane, David Schwimmer, John Travolta, Courtney B. Vance, Bruce Greenwood, Sarah Paulson, Connie Britton, and others. Glee guys Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy are among the exec producers, and the show debuted in America about a fortnight ago to extravagant critical praise. It’s good to see the BBC investing again in quality US drama, and as a bonus it isn’t hanging on to the show for a year or so before showing it (tonight, BBC Two, 9pm).

But we’re not bothering with Heroes Reborn, the revival of a show which should have been put out of its misery long before the axe fell. Our CJ was one of the most stoic defenders of the original Heroes, and not even she is going to be watching (Tuesday 16 February, 5star, 9pm).

Nor with Sky Atlantic’s new HBO import Vinyl, which was simulcast in the middle of the night with its American debut, and appears later this evening in its regular slot. Martin Scorsese – who also directs the pilot – and Mick Jagger are among the exec producers of this drama, set in the music industry of the 1970s. It’s had reasonable reviews in America, but it looks a little bit TV-for-boys to me. Still, I’m listening if anyone wants to tell me I’m missing out (tonight, Sky Atlantic, 9pm).

And finally, season 2 of Better Call Saul is available tomorrow on Netflix.

Public Service Announcement 6 of 2016: The X-Files

imageAs we’ve said before, the huge increase in programming/viewing options over the past few years tends to mean significantly fewer viewers for each individual show. I mean, none of us can watch everything. Broadcasters continue, therefore, to look to past glories to try and reel people back in, with reboots, re-imaginings and just plain old sequels to long-finished (and sometimes not-so-long-finished) shows all over the place.

The latest batch of these includes a new mini-series of seminal sci-fi scariness The X-Files, which freaked me out in the best possible way for years before Mulder left and it all went a bit haywire. A couple of movies (one good, one not) and several years later, however, and with Chris Carter, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson all reporting for duty once again, it’s BACK.

The new six-episode run hit US screens just a couple of weeks ago and reaches UK screens tomorrow (Monday) at 9pm on Five. Reviews suggest the first episode is something of a disappointment while the rest are considerably better, but I don’t suppose reviews really matter. It’s Mulder and Scully, for goodness’ sake. MULDER AND SCULLY. I’m not sure I’ll be reviewing, but I’ll be watching. The truth is… well, you know.

Public Service Announcement 5 of 2016: Madam Secretary, The Good Wife, Elementary

It’s hard for me to say anything about Madam Secretary without sounding as if I’m damning it with faint praise. It’s a solid, carefully-crafted show, with an excellent cast: well-scripted and well-acted TV for grown-ups. This gives it an almost old-fashioned air; drop Mad Sec into the TV landscape of, say, 15 or 20 years ago and it would be hoovering up award nominations. In today’s world of television auteurs producing edgy drama for cable and streaming services, though, it’ll likely manage to go its entire lifespan without crossing Emmy’s radar. It’s good, and I always enjoy it, but it’s never quite felt like essential viewing. In short, what I think I’m saying is that Madam Secretary isn’t The Good Wife. Anyway, it’s back for season 2, and at the moment it looks set for another renewal. Fine by me (tonight, Sky Living, 9pm)

By coincidence The Good Wife itself – the outstanding network drama of its era – returns to UK screens this week for its seventh and, in all likelihood, final go-round: creators/showrunners Robert and Michelle King have indicated that they’re stepping down at the end of the season, and Julianna Margulies has described herself as “unemployed come April”. It might be as well: even Wife stans like Unpopcult wouldn’t argue that season 6 was up to the standards of previous years, and advance word from America would suggest that the decline in quality is ongoing in season 7. Still, even a tired Good Wife is better than just about anything else on TV, so we’ll be watching and reviewing until the end (Thursday 28 January, More 4, 9pm).

And Elementary is back after its mid-season hiatus. No unfunny “comedy” episodes, no overlong and self-indulgent flashback episodes: the best Sherlock currently on TV. Oh yes it is (Thursday, Sky Living, 9pm). Also starting on the same night, season 2 of Agent Carter (FOX UK, 9pm).