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).

Public Service Announcement 4 of 2016: Code Black

Just a quick reminder to the handful of folk watching Code Black in the UK that the show’s winter break is over and season one resumes tonight (Thursday) at 9pm on Watch. Hopes of a second season are slim to non-existent, so we may only have a few eps left to enjoy what has turned into a generally agreeable if not in any way revolutionary hospital drama, but a few eps with Raza Jaffrey’s Dr Neal and Bonnie Somerville’s Dr Christa is better than none, so I’ll be watching and reviewing for now anyway.

Public Service Announcement 3 of 2016: Spin (Les Hommes de l’ombre), Mr Selfridge

Apparently, good things do come to those who wait.

Regular readers will know that since we first clapped yeux on Pierre Clement in Spiral (Engrenages) season 1 all those years ago, In Our Dreams winner Gregory Fitoussi has been something of a favourite with me.

Last year, there was the heady but all-too-brief joy of the Fitoussi Watch Weekend with Spiral (Engrenages) and Mr Selfridge respectively, followed by the summer madness of Odyssey but, at the risk of sounding like a deranged stalker, I’ve also been hoping for a long time that someone – anyone – would buy the UK rights to exceedingly grown-up (even the trailer has “nudity and adult themes”) French spin doctor drama Les Hommes de l’ombre, because the idea of a critically acclaimed, utterly fantastic-looking, sharp political drama, in French, with Gregory F in it (as well as a bunch of other potentially fabulous folk I’m not yet acquainted with), sounds so amazing I’m scared I might have dreamt it.

Not only did I not dream it, however, but Walter has bought seasons 1 and 2 for me! Now called “Spin” in accordance with that oddly patronising tv convention where imported drama is given an anglicised new name when screened in the UK (we can cope with the entire programme being in French, you guys, I think we can cope with the title being in French too), Les Hommes will be making their UK tv debut on Friday (8th January) at 9pm on More 4 (in a double bill. Naturellement.) and I will be watching, reviewing and generally getting very, very excited over the whole business as soon as I can.

Ironically, however, at the same time, same night, but over on ITV 1, Mr Selfridge, now without Mr Fitoussi, returns for its fourth, final and much less inviting run. I’m not sure if I’ll be watching or not; having sat through three seasons of diminishing returns, and without the prospect of any Henri and Agnes to leaven the mix, I don’t quite know if I can face any more of Mr S’s downward spiral or Mr Colleano’s Club/Casino carry-on. Especially since history suggests it’s not going to end well. If I do decide to tune in, it’ll be for completeness more than anything else, but I’ll let you know…