Our first PSA of 2018, and we’re bringing in the new year with old favourite The Blacklist, returning for its fifth season. Those of us who have stuck around were rewarded, in season 4, with a run of episodes as strong as anything the show’s produced in years. At the end of it all the vexed question of Liz’s paternity was finally (?) resolved, even as Red’s empire crumbled around him, setting things up nicely for season 5. I’m not sure how much more juice there is in this show, mind you, so I plan to enjoy it – and keep reviewing it – while I can (tonight, Sky 1, 9pm).
Also starting: US comedy Superstore, starring America “Betty Suarez” Ferrera, which – as far as I can tell from the critical response – started slowly and got better. We’re a couple of years behind with this show, which has now started its third season Stateside. I’m pleased that Ferrera, who is both talented and #woke, has a vehicle, although Unpopcult will go to its deathbed still regretting that we didn’t get to see Damascus, or Ugly Betty Lawyer Nun as we were ready to call it. We’d even gone to the trouble of casting it (tonight, ITV 2, 8.30pm).
Coming soon: Hawaii Five-0, Lethal Weapon, Bull, and some others.
Hello Dave (tonight, BBC 2, 10pm).
And Ryan Murphy’s latest anthology, Feud: Bette and Joan, telling the story of the great Davis/Crawford Hollywood rivalry, began on BBC 2 on Saturday night. Jessica Lange plays Joan Crawford; and Susan Sarandon, taking time off from doing her little bit to ensure that Trump would be elected, plays Bette Davis. A stellar supporting cast includes Judy Davis, Stanley Tucci, Alfred Molina, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kiernan Shipka, and Reed Diamond. American critics were generally very much in favour (Saturdays at 9pm; episode 1 now on the iPlayer).
The Orville is a new science fiction dramedy set on a 25th century spaceship, and created, written by, and starring Seth MacFarlane (Ted/Family Guy). The American critics didn’t like it much at all; that having been said, The Orville has undoubtedly found its audience – I’m always at least a little sympathetic towards shows which manage to do that in the present era – and, in consequence, Fox has renewed it for a second season. MacFarlane himself can be funny, although his performance as host of the Academy Awards in 2013 looked, at the time, to be crass, boorish, and sexist at best, and now looks rather sinister as well. On balance I‘m giving it a miss, although CJ might take a look at the first episode at least (tonight, FOX UK, 9pm).
You might just have heard that Netflix has season 2 of its own royal drama The Crown. As well as that, it now has the first season of Discovery Channel’s Manhunt: Unabomber, with Paul Bettany as Una, and Sam Worthington tracking him down.
And two shows starting this evening: season 4 of The Librarians (Syfy UK, 8pm); and season 3 of Sky’s The Tunnel, its Anglophone adaptation of The Bridge. The original is returning soon-ish for a fourth season. I’d be inclined to wait for that instead (Sky Atlantic, 9pm).
The word I keep using about Madam Secretary is “underrated”, because it seems to me that despite its obvious strengths – tight plotting, political relevance, and one of the best casts on network TV – it kind of gets damned because it isn’t The West Wing, rather than appreciated as a solid, smart, grown-up drama which almost always delivers. This is its fourth season, so it probably isn’t going to snag any uncommitted viewers by now. But I expect it to remain one of the highlights of my TV week (tonight, 9pm, Sky Living).
And there are two new offerings from Netflix, both available as of now. Probably the more intriguing is Spike Lee’s ten-episode adaptation of his own 1986 movie She’s Gotta Have It. I liked that a lot at the time, but to be honest haven’t seen it since, so it’s entirely possible that it would look a little anachronistic in 2017. The good news is that, according to the positive advance critical response, Lee might well have managed to successfully bring the lead character, Nola, into the 21st century without sacrificing the film’s verve and energy. Very probably worth a look.
Godless, meantime, stars Michelle Dockery, Jeff Daniels, Jack O’Connell, and Unpopcult royalty Merritt Wever and Sam Waterston in a seven-part Western, created by Scott Frank and Steven Soderbergh. This, too, if the critics are to be believed, is exceptional. But who has time to watch all this TV?
Well, here’s a thing. I was starting to think about my preview for the seventh and final season of Scandal, and I decided to go back and look at my review of the final episode of season 6. Except… I didn’t publish it, and I have no idea why. None at all. Anyway, as we’ve said before, on Unpopcult we’re nothing if not completists, and while publishing a months-old review might look as if I’m taking that to a preposterous conclusion, I wrote the damn thing and I also believe in using every last bit of the pig. So it’s under this PSA.
And it reminds me that, ridiculous as much of the Peus/Ruland arc was – why not just kill them, for God’s sake? – there were definitely things in the sixth season which also entertained me. So I’m looking forward to Scandal’s final chapter, I’m hoping that Olitz in Vermont will be endgame, and I’ll be reviewing every week (tonight, 10pm, Sky Living).
Also starting tonight: season 4 of Peaky Blinders (9pm, BBC Two).
In yet another example of just how big a deal TV is these days, the BBC tonight kicks off its four-part adaptation of E.M. Forster’s Howards End, with a screenplay by Kenneth Lonergan. That’s Academy Award-winning Kenneth Lonergan. Hayley Attwell, Tracey Ullman, Matthew Macfadyen, and Julia Ormond are among the cast. I loved the book and the Merchant/Ivory film adaptation. I don’t think, though, I’m quite going to have the time for this (tonight, BBC 1, 9pm).
And a couple we missed: old warhorse Grey’s Anatomy, back for its fourteenth season (Wednesdays, 9pm, Sky Living); and The Sinner, from the USA Network, starring Jessica Biel and Bill Pullman, in which Biel plays a woman who murders someone in public but has no idea why she did so. It’s supposed to be very good (all episodes on Netflix).
Since real life means I won’t get near my tv this week, it’s raining things I want to watch. First up and now streaming on Netflix UK is Alias Grace, based on from Margaret Atwood’s novel about real-life maid Grace Marks, convicted of two murders in Canada in 1843 and sentenced to life imprisonment as a result. Adapted by Sarah Polley, with a cast including Sarah Gadon, Anna Paquin and Zachary Levi, and coming hot on the heels of the astonishing Handmaid’s Tale, this looks pretty special in its own right. If I ever get time to watch it, I’ll report back forthwith.
If you need cheering up after Alias Grace, meantime, you could do far worse than dip into the return of Channel 4’s documentary series The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds (Tuesday, 8pm), which is the type of thing I wouldn’t normally bother with, but I caught a couple of episodes by chance last year and it is just adorable.
Also on the documentary front, albeit featuring considerably fewer dimples and nap breaks, BBC4 is repeating Ken Burns’s ten-part The Vietnam War around 11.30 on Saturday nights. (I’ve given up trying to understand scheduling practices.) Episode 1 was on this weekend, but you can catch up on iplayer if you’re so minded. I have to confess that 17 hours of war documentary is probably not something I’m going to be able to make time for, but word – from Jed, in particular – is that it’s excellent so if you can fit it in, it sounds like it’s more than worth the investment.
The big news as far as unpopcult is concerned though, is the return of our beloved, demented Blindspot. Season 3 kicks off tonight (Monday) at 10pm on Sky Living and the even bigger news is that Ennis Esmer’s magnificent RICH DOTCOM – RICH DOTCOM! – is joining the cast on a recurring basis. We’ve been promised he’ll appear in at least ten episodes; Jed and I have been so excited since we heard, we’ve been close to combusting. RICH DOTCOM, you guys! I’ll be doing weekly – very possibly slightly hysterical – reviews as usual, and let me just say this now: if PAT DOTCOM were to happen, it would make my year.