Public Service Announcement 50 of 2015: The Apprentice, River

In the 16th and 17th centuries members of the public were allowed, on payment of a small fee, to enter Bethlem Royal Hospital – whence we got the word “bedlam” – in order to laugh at the deluded. Meantime, this week in 21st century Britain we’re getting the start of the eleventh season of The Apprentice, a show which – as far as I can see, and allowing for post-filming creativity in the editing suite – even its admirers concede is there to give people an opportunity to laugh at the deluded. There are undoubtedly plenty of things I like, on TV and elsewhere, which others won’t think much of; equally, reality TV isn’t my thing, and The Apprentice is a particularly egregious example of it (BBC One, Wednesday 14 October, 9pm).

So let’s move on to River. This is an intriguing proposition, which sounds as if the BBC has tried to replicate its success with bought-in Scandi-crime drama by getting production company Kudos to make one and set it in London instead. It’s written by Abi Morgan (The Hour/Suffragette), and starring Stellen Skarsgård as Detective John River, who is of course brilliant yet troubled, or troubled yet brilliant. The supporting cast includes Nicola Walker (Spooks/Last Tango in Halifax), Adeel Akhtar (Utopia/Four Lions), Lesley Manville, and Eddie Marsan. It sounds as if it should be good, but Kudos is by no means above the occasional clunker. We might watch the first episode and see how it goes (BBC One, Tuesday 13 October, 9pm).

Also starting: season 2 of Flash (Sky 1, Tuesday, 8pm); season 10 of Supernatural, which my teenage daughter loves (E4, Wednesday, 10pm); season 4 of Arrow (Sky 1, Wednesday, 8pm).

And coming soon to their own PSAs: Fargo, Mr. Robot, Les Revenants, Dr Khan out of Homeland, The Blacklist, and many more.

Public Service Announcement 49 of 2015: Homeland

One of the biggest and most welcome surprises of 2014 was the renaissance of Homeland, a show which looked as if it had run out of steam at the end of its third season. The show was reinvigorated by killing off one of its central characters, though, and season 4 was a return to form, even allowing for the curiously underpowered final episode.

And it looks as if season 5 is intended to keep up the momentum: there’s been a two year time jump between seasons, and Carrie’s now in Berlin with her daughter, working in the private sector as head of security for a wealthy philanthropist. Apparently the show will reference Syria, Vladimir Putin, and ISIS, among other hot-button topics, so it looks as if it’s got the ripped-from-the-headlines thing bang on. Critical response in America has been positive, and once more we’re only a few days behind US transmission – so well done again, Channel 4; as Homeland has throughout its run been one of the very few US shows with ratings worth a damn in the UK, it looks as if treating the viewers with respect has been worth it. As ever, weekly reviews here (Channel 4, Sunday 11 October, 9pm).

Also starting: zombie fun with The Walking Dead (FOX UK, Monday 12 October, 9pm); and 80’s set comedy Red Oaks (Amazon Prime, available now).

And coming soon: Mr.Robot, The Blacklist, Code Black (with Khan out of Homeland as a doctor), Les Revenants, Fargo, Catastrophe, and plenty of others.

Public Service Announcement 48 of 2015: Empire, CSI: Cyber, Battle Creek

Three American shows starting on Tuesday: one an old favourite, two new to the UK. The returning show is Empire, which by the end of its first season had turned into something of a ratings behemoth in America. We had to wait a long time to see it in the UK, but clearly E4 has taken notice of the way in which the show has become a cultural phenomenon, and for season 2 we’re right behind American transmission. This is always a good thing.

As for the show itself: I watched, and enjoyed, the first season, although I was at a bit of a loss to understand exactly why it had become the most popular scripted show on US TV. Part of it, I’m guessing – and simultaneously checking privilege – is that it was very unmistakeably an African-American show, and those are rare indeed on mainstream television. Putting that aside, though, it was also great fun, with a spectacular performance from Unpopcult idol Taraji P. Henson as Cookie. It’ll be interesting to see if the show can keep it up, particularly with a loose cannon like Terrence Howard in a key role. I’ll definitely be watching; haven’t yet decided about reviews (Tuesday 6 October, 9pm, E4).

As for the new shows: The once-mighty river of CSI shows has dwindled to a trickle. Only CSI: Cyber is left, in which Patricia Arquette leads a team of cyber-cops, including Dawson off of Dawson’s. John ‘The Biscuit’ Cage is also in it for the first season, which got mediocre reviews and ratings which were just about good enough to merit a grudging renewal. I can’t really think of a reason to watch this (Tuesday 6 October, 10pm, Channel 5).

And as my least favourite American TV trope is the one in which the FBI and the local police butt heads (“Comin’ in here, telling’ us what to do, stealin’ the glory after we’ve done all the work”/”This is my case, douchebag”/”You gotta let it go. Orders from City Hall”) a comedy-drama entirely based on that premise doesn’t fill me with anticipatory joy. Having said that, the reviews for CBS’s Battle Creek, with Josh Duhamel as FBI and Dean Winters as local cop, were actually pretty good. Vince Gilligan and David Shore are co-creator and exec producers, and Bryan Singer directed the pilot, so on the face of it Battle Creek has quite a lot going for it. But it only lasted 13 episodes, which probably means it isn’t worth getting invested (Tuesday 6 October, 10pm, Universal).

Lots coming in October. Homeland next.

Public Service Announcement 47 of 2015: The Leftovers

A quick reminder for UK fans of Damon Lindelof’s latest US drama The Leftovers: the show returns to Sky Atlantic for its second season this Monday (5th) at 10pm – ie just one day after its US return, so well done Sky Atlantic. Season one wasn’t for everyone, of course, and, in fairness, I can see why its slow pace and deeply melancholy tone turned some people off. I thought it was absolutely terrific, though, so I’ll be watching and reviewing each ep and doing my best not to ponder my own mortality / throw myself from a great height as I go.

Public Service Announcement 46 of 2015: The Daily Show with Trevor Noah; You, Me, and the Apocalypse

A few months ago, without fanfare or explanation, Comedy Central Extra stopped showing The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in the UK, leaving its hardcore audience (me and a few others) bereft. Which makes it just weird that the British arm of Comedy Central will be showing the Trevor Noah iteration of The Daily Show, which starts this week, no more than a day or so behind American transmission. I can’t begin to work out the logic behind this: is it cheaper than it used to be? Does Comedy Central think the buzz around the show’s relaunch will get it a few more viewers? And why can’t we get Colbert?

Noah, it should be said, doesn’t lack courage: he’s very much up against it, as anyone replacing Stewart would be. Jason Jones and Sam Bee both left towards the tail-end of Stewart’s run, although new correspondents have been hired to fill the gaps; and, of course, two Daily Show alums – John Oliver and Stephen Colbert – are, at different ends of the market, making their own waves. Add that to Noah’s previous lukewarm appearances on TDS, and it starts to look very much as if this is inevitably going to be a painful slow-motion car-crash, with Noah playing David Moyes to Stewart’s Sir Alex. Still, my pessimism might look foolish in a few months (Tuesday 29 September, 11pm, Comedy Central).

Sky and NBC’s Slough-set comedy-drama You, Me, and the Apocalypse, about a disparate group of people coping with the last month before a comet hits Earth, launches in the UK this week. It has a fairly impressive cast: Rob Lowe plays a priest, and Pauline Quirke, Megan Mullaly, Mathew Baynton from Horrible Histories, and Jenna Fischer from the American version of The Office, also star. Another car-crash? Possibly, although advance word has actually been rather good (Wednesday 30 September, 9pm, Sky 1).

A couple of other things: the last ever CSI, with Petersen and Helgenberger returning for a feature-length farewell (Tuesday, 10pm, Channel 5); poorly-received American sitcom Undateable (Tuesday, 9.30pm, Comedy Central); and season 2 of The Last Man On Earth (Monday, 9pm, Dave).

Lots coming in October, of which more soon: The Leftovers, Fargo, Modern Family, Mr. Robot, Empire, How To Get Away With Murder, Les Revenants, Homeland, Code Black, and that’s barely half of it. TV vacation’s nearly over, folks.

Public Service Announcement 45 of 2015: Justified, Orphan Black

After being dropped by Five USA and spending a couple of years in the exclusive wilderness of “Sky Go box sets,” season five of unpopcult favourite Justified finally makes it to actual UK television on Friday (25th) night at 10pm on Spike (another one of the Five stable for those keeping track). The sixth and final season has already finished in the US, obviously, but late is better than never and I love me some Raylan Givens so I’ll be tuning in and doing weekly reviews as soon as I can.

Speaking of wilderness, meanwhile, in “perhaps the most bizarre scheduling decision in history” as described entirely accurately by our very own Jed, BBC3 has finally got round to showing season three of Orphan Black, starting on Sept 27th. On one view, three months after it finished in the U.S. isn’t anywhere near the longest delay we’ve seen, but showing it in daily double bills starting at 2.10AM on a Sunday morning (and then continuing with equally mad but slightly different times each morning thereafter) is actually crazy. Season three is arguably weaker than the previous two and its US ratings lower, but either show it at a halfway sensible time or don’t show it at all. This madness suggests that either BBC3 schedulers are lunatics or they’ve given up entirely on people watching on TV pending their proposed move online. The fact that all of OB season three is going to be available on iPlayer as of tonight lends credence to the latter theory, but why anyone would think experimenting with a tiny niche show like OB in this way would work is beyond me: it’s not going to teach the masses to watch online, since the masses don’t actually watch it. Which brings me back to lunacy being the most likely explanation. I hate double bills, I hate early mornings and I hate daily showings of anything so well done BBC3. I won’t be doing regular reviews this time around but I’ll maybe just do a wrap-up at season’s end.

Public Service Announcement 43 of 2015: Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, The Go-Between

The weekend is (finally) upon us, and so is the return of Saturday night stalwart Doctor Who – back for another run at 7.40 pm tomorrow on BBC1. Steven Moffat’s running the show, Peter Capaldi’s still in the big blue box, with Jenna Coleman as his trusty companion (for now) and we’re promised guest appearances by Arya Stark and Missy (argh), amongst others. Last season was a mixed bag, so I’m a little apprehensive about what this one will bring but, as usual, I’ll be reviewing each ep as soon as I can.

For those looking for something at the opposite end of the space-time continuum, however, period puff piece Downton Abbey is back for its final series on ITV1 on Sunday at 9pm and going head-to-head with BBC1’s sumptuous new adaptation of The Go-Between (at 9pm as well) with the peerless Jim Broadbent and Vanessa Redgrave. Unpopcult isn’t planning on watching either of them, but let us know how you get on if you are.