Public Service Announcement 9 of 2015: Mr Selfridge

Coffees and keyboards at the ready, everybody – our Fitoussi Watch team (ie me) will be pulling triple shifts for the next few weekends thanks to the return of Mr Selfridge to ITV 1 tomorrow (Sunday) at 9pm for its third season. The undisputed leader in the shipping and shopping genre – The Paradise having limped unceremoniously to cancellation after season 2 – is fast-forwarding past the First World War (a sensible decision, I think, since this isn’t a show built to cope well with serious wartime drama) and jumping straight to 1919.

The second season was infinitely better than the first, despite Agnes being a complete idiot for most of it, but since Gregory Fitoussi is rumoured only to be in 5 of the 10 episodes this time around, I’m concerned that, if that’s true, a) they might be tempted to revive the disastrous love triangle again with Henri being sidelined in favour of the horrendous Victor (I mean, seriously, HOW is this possible? Will you just LOOK at Henri?) and b) the programme will be pants. Mon Dieu. I can only hope Mr Crabbe and Miss Mardle are around to supply a little sweetness when M Leclair is not, since my interest in the Selfridge family themselves – despite their ever-increasing numbers and screen time – is purely as a means of keeping the legendary shop open. We shall see, but meantime check back here for weekly reviews as quickly as I can write them.

Public Service Announcement 8 of 2015: The Mysteries of Laura, Extant, Wolf Hall, Cucumber

More juggling-single-mother this week with the debut of NBC’s The Mysteries of Laura, a comedy/drama about homicide detective Laura Diamond, who has twin sons and is in the middle of divorcing her husband, who is also her boss. You can see the possibilities for comedy/drama piling up right there. Laura is played by Debra Messing, whose sitcom Will and Grace will be more than a footnote when the history of the struggle for gay rights is written; and the show is exec produced by, among others, Greg Berlanti (Dawson’s, Eli Stone, The Flash, Brothers and Sisters) and “McG” (Chuck, Nikita). I won’t be watching – Murder in the First got in there to fill the single mom/murder cop gap in my life – but I just have a feeling that this is a little bit better than the hostile critical response in America would suggest: viewing figures have held up well enough, to the point where renewal is at least a possibility, and Messing is an engaging screen presence (Tuesday 20 January, 9pm, 5 USA).

If sci-fi’s your thing, and it generally isn’t mine, NBC’s Extant makes its way to UK TV screens the same night.(Although it’s already been on Amazon.) Halle Berry stars as an astronaut who returns home pregnant after 13 months on a solo mission. But… how? And she’s married to Dr Luka Kovač off of ER, Goran Visnjic himself. As well as Berry and Visnjic the cast includes Hallie from The Newsroom (Grace Gummer) and Renee Walker from 24 (Annie Wersching, who deserves a regular gig). And the whole thing is co-produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, with Spielberg exec producing. It’s a nice compact 13 episodes and has a second-season renewal in the bag, so it’s worth getting invested if you’re interested (Tuesday 20 January, 9pm, Syfy UK).

On the home-grown side of the house this week, we have Wolf Hall, based on Hilary Mantel’s celebrated novel, which squats threateningly on my book shelves, all 700 or so unopened pages of it. (Yes, I know. I might be the only person nostalgic for the days when Mantel used to produce dazzling, sour, challenging fiction of a readable length. Eight Months on Ghazzah Street. Beyond Black. Fludd. A Change Of Climate. Those were books.) Mantel has endorsed the adaptation, and the cast includes Damian Lewis, Mark Rylance, Mark Gatiss, Jonathan Pryce, and Joanne Whalley, among others. CJ, who heads our historical drama department, will be reviewing the first episode at least (Wednesday 21 January, 9pm, BBC Two).

Finally, Russell T Davies’s latest project Cucumber gets under way this week, about middle-aged gay life in Manchester. It will run in tandem with Banana, about younger characters in the same fictional world, and Tofu, an online accompaniment. The ambition at least is to be applauded, whether or not the drama lives up to expectations (all on Thursday 21 January: Cucumber 9pm Channel 4; Banana 10pm E4; Tofu 10.30pm 4OD).

And coming soon: Mr Selfridge, The Good Wife, and Fortitude, among others.

Public Service Announcement 7 of 2015: Murder in the First, Ascension

The more I think about Murder in the First, the more I realise that I’m going to watch the pilot at least. From cable network TNT, it’s a detective drama which, in its temptingly short season of ten episodes, follows a single case in San Francisco. After reasonable reviews and viewing figures, it’s finished its American run and has been renewed for a second season. A decent cast includes Taye Diggs and Kathleen Robertson as the detectives investigating two apparently unrelated murders, with James Cromwell, Richard Schiff, Ian Anthony Dale, Steven Weber, and Tom Felton in the house as well. And the first episode is directed by West Wing alum Tommy Schlamme.

Most of all, though, Murder in the First is created and exec produced by Steven Bochco. He, of course, rewrote the TV drama rulebook with the brilliant and innovative Hill Street Blues – which, by coincidence, started on this day in 1981 in America – following it with LA Law and NYPD Blue among others. His CV has at least as many misses as hits – Cop Rock, anyone? – but as far as I’m concerned his most overlooked show is Murder One, a show I’ve mentioned on here several times, which of course also focussed on a single case. So I’m in for – and reviewing – the first episode to start with (Friday, FOX UK, 10pm).

After all that I’m unable to get too excited about Ascension, a miniseries import from Syfy, about a spaceship which took off in 1963 at the height of the cold war, with the intention of keeping the human race alive should life on Earth be wiped out. Sky is desperate to tout this as ‘Mad Men In Space’, but the lukewarm reviews when it was shown in America would suggest that it isn’t fit to lace Roger Sterling’s drinks. On the other hand the cast includes sci-fi’s go-to actor Tricia Helfer, along with Brian Van Holt, Catherine from Ringer, and Billy off of Ally McBeal. Not for me, but undoubtedly for someone (Friday, Sky 1, 9pm).

In other news, Call The Midwife’s back for more 50’s based ob/gyn fun (Sunday, BBC One, 8pm); and season 8 of Psych starts on the same night (Universal, 7pm).

More next week, including The Mysteries Of Laura; and we’re now only a fortnight away from the return of The Good Wife…

Public Service Announcement 6 of 2015: Girls, Marry Me

A quick round-up of some of this week’s returning and starting shows. Walking thinkpiece generator Lena Dunham is back with the fourth season of Girls, with a fifth already ordered. And although this episode was only shown in America like ten minutes ago – well played again, Sky Atlantic – it’s already controversial. One word: motorboating (tonight, Sky Atlantic, 10pm).

The fifth and final season of one-time Unpopcult favourite Damages makes it to broadcast TV this week, just as co-creators Kessler/Kessler/Zelman gear up for new project Bloodline, starring Kyle Chandler – COACH TAYLOR – and coming to Netflix in March. We’ll have more on that in due course, but for now farewell, Damages (tomorrow, Lifetime, 10pm).

And NBC sit-rom-com Marry Me starts in the UK this week: created by David Caspe, who was behind Happy Endings, and sharing a few cast-members with that show as well, it was moderately well-received in America and has had a full-season (well, 18 episodes) pick-up, even if a second season looks unlikely (Thursday, E4, 9.30pm). It slots in to E4’s Thursday night American comedy schedule after The Big Bang Theory, returning this week for the second half of its eighth season (8.30pm), and season 2 of Brooklyn Nine Nine (9pm).

Also back: season 4 of Suits (Thursday, Dave, 10pm); season 10 of Bones (Wednesday, Sky Living, 9pm); and the second half of season 4 of American Horror Story (Wednesday, Fox UK, 10pm). Murder In The First and Ascension both start later this week as well, but we’ll have more on them in a separate PSA.

Public Service Announcement 5 of 2015: Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Those looking for an undemanding couple of hours in front of the tv may be interested in catching up with Daniel Meade’s latest, Signed, Sealed, Delivered starting today in the UK at 5pm on Movies 24. Hallmark’s series about a team of postal workers, led by Eric Mabius himself, who make it their mission to match up undelivered mail (and life lessons) with the relevant people seems to have done well amongst its particular demographic in the US, with a third season planned for this year, so if you like your Sunday afternoon tv warm, cheesy and determinedly old-fashioned (would using text or email or even – heavens! – Facebook not short-circuit a lot of these stories?) this might well post your parcel.

Public Service Announcement 4 of 2015: Spiral (Engrenages)

It feels a little bit wrong to be getting excited about a French crime drama given the horrific events in France of the past couple of days, but tv is escapism as much as it is entertainment so I’m giving myself a pass for looking forward to the return of Spiral (Engrenages).

With its mix of dodgy cops, dodgy lawyers and dodgier criminals, Season 4 was a masterclass in dark, daring, often difficult drama, but while I’d like to pretend I loved it purely for its hard-hitting look at les issues, the searing chemistry between star-crossed lawyers Pierre and Josephine probably had a lot more to do with it. Are Gregory Fitoussi and Audrey Fleurot the two most beautiful people on tv? Discutez.

Anyhoo, season 5 (“Double Murder”) promises more from les angsty avocats, as well as the return of wily Juge Roban and the usual “unorthodox” police work from Capt Laure and co. Despite unpopcult’s tireless campaign against the tyranny of double bills, OF COURSE that’s what we’re getting again, with the first two episodes of season 5 kicking off at 9pm on BBC 4 tomorrow (Saturday). So be it. I’ll be watching and reviewing as soon as I can, and likely getting very excited in the process.

Public Service Announcement 3 of 2015: Scandal; The Americans

When Sky Living bought the UK broadcast rights to Scandal I optimistically expressed the hope that it would mean we’d get to see new episodes a little closer to American transmission. It seems to be happening: season 3 finished in December, and around a month later we’re straight into season 4, which means that we’re now only a few episodes behind the US. Well played, Sky Living.

The third season, with its focus on the antics of black-ops specialists B-613, was a little below the standard of the astonishing season 2, although it should be acknowledged that some of the creative decisions were faits accomplis, as Kerry Washington’s pregnancy meant that her screen time had to be limited (and creatively filmed), and that the season itself had to be truncated. But season 4’s back with a full 22 episodes, full Kerry availability, and (on the basis of a spoiler-dodging trip round online reactions) full-on Scandalesque deliciousness. Week-by-week reviews of this one, as ever (tonight, 10pm, Sky Living).

The TV Lord giveth, though, and she taketh away: ITV has just announced that it won’t be showing season 3 of The Americans, which returns in a couple of weeks in the US. This is very disappointing, if hardly surprising. Much as I love that show – and I do; I think it’s one of the very best things on TV at the moment – I’ve always wondered what it was doing on the UK’s biggest commercial TV channel on a Saturday night, when it’s on cable in America. Even though I think that everyone should be watching The Americans, if I’m honest it’s niche viewing at best. Still, with so many outlets available for broadcast and streaming these days, here’s hoping that someone’s prepared to make it legitimately available in the UK.

Meantime, there are plenty of other shows starting in January and February – we’ll be previewing the return of Spiral (Engrenages) soon, and there’s much more to come, including UK debuts for Murder In The First and The Mysteries Of Laura.