Public Service Announcement 7 of 2017: O.J.: Made in America, Broadchurch, Catastrophe, Quantico, Black-ish, Taken

Just as American Crime Story: The People v O.J. Simpson is one of the best TV dramas I’ve seen for years, ESPN’s Oscar-nominated non-fiction account of the Simpson story, O.J.: Made in America, is a truly outstanding documentary. It’s now available to UK viewers on the BBC iPlayer, and I can’t recommend it highly enough, although at three episodes, each clocking in at around three hours each, it represents a bit of a commitment. But don’t let that put you off.

Next, a couple of shows from this side of the Atlantic. I realise it’s disproportionate for me still to be annoyed about season 2 of Broadchurch, back this week for a third run, but taking TV too seriously is pretty much my niche. So here goes again: the decision to use the second season as a running criticism of the dramatic choices of the first season is one of the most insultingly stupid things I’ve ever seen on TV. In passing, I note that the Radio Times, which called season 2 “thumpingly good” while it was on, is now admitting that it “misfired”, which is a kind of moderate version of what I was saying at the time. So you can take its recommendation of the first episode of season 3 with a pinch of salt, I’d say. This time round I won’t be reviewing (Monday 27 February, 9pm, ITV).

I also thought season 2 of Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney’s marital dysfunction comedy Catastrophe to have fallen short of the standards of its first season: it had always been filthy and nasty, which I mean as a compliment, but in its second season it seemed to have misplaced the sweetness at its core and replaced it with a sour misanthropy, which made it much more difficult to love. So we’ll see what season 3 brings (Tuesday 28 February, 10pm, Channel 4).

Turning to American TV: first up is the return of Quantico. In season 1, beautiful FBI recruits – one of whom may be behind a deadly terrorist attack on Grand Central Station – slept with and betrayed each other, which makes it sound somewhat more appealing than it actually was. Lead character Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra) is, in season 2, off to the CIA, probably to do the same sort of thing. I stuck it out through the first season, but there’s next to no chance of me watching any more (Thursday 2 March, 9pm, Alibi).

Also starting: season 3 of Black-ish (Tuesday 28 February, 8.30pm, E4); and Amazon Prime in the UK has NBC’s adaptation of Taken, available within hours of broadcast in the US. As ever, Unpopcult applauds this practice (Tuesday 28 February).

Public Service Announcement 6 of 2017: Person of Interest, SS-GB

We’re the best part of a year behind America with the fifth and final season of Person of Interest, but if any network show is worth waiting for it might be this one. It started out as an above-average high-concept procedural, with Jim Caviezel’s studied blankness nicely offset by Michael Emerson’s wry fussiness, but as it went on it became one of the richest and most complex dramas on TV, picking up some fairly hefty themes, including political authoritarianism, an intriguing examination of morality and, latterly, a increasing theological bent. At the same time, it never lost sight of the need to have Caviezel throw someone through a window every now and again. In short, one of the very best things on TV. Weekly reviews (Wednesday 22 February, 9pm, 5USA).

The BBC’s new drama, SS-GB, is set in a Britain which lost the Second World War to Germany. I read the book on which it’s based in 1980 or thereabouts and, young as I was then, the War and everything connected to it seemed like impossibly ancient history. That was 37 years ago. 37 years before that the Germans were surrendering in North Africa, Guadacanal was taken by American forces, Mussolini was arrested, and Hamburg was firebombed. I suppose to my parents it wasn’t ancient history at all. Anyway, the first episode was broadcast on Sunday and the primary reaction seems to have been that large parts of the dialogue were unintelligible. One word: subtitles. I never watch TV without them these days (Sundays, 9pm, BBC1, first episode on iPlayer).

Lots of other things starting or returning this week: the second half of season 10 of The Big Bang Theory (Thursday 23 February, 8.30pm, E4); season 2 of Billions (tonight, 9pm, Sky Atlantic); Judd Apatow’s Crashing (tonight,10.10pm, Sky Atlantic); season 2 of The Magicians (tonight, 9pm, 5star); season 4 of Sleepy Hollow (Wednesday, 9pm, SyfyUK); Criminal Minds (Mondays, 9pm, Sky Living); and Law & Order: SVU (Mondays, 10pm, Universal Channel).

And more soon: Catastrophe, Quantico, Broadchurch, Lethal Weapon, and others.

Public Service Announcement 5 of 2017: 24: Legacy; Madam Secretary; The People v O.J. Simpson

I’m genuinely curious about 24: Legacy, as a more or less unashamed fan of its parent series. This isn’t always an easy position to defend in polite liberal company, because the 24 caricature – it’s all torture, evil Muslims, and America First – sometimes has more traction than the show’s reality. As it happens, 24’s politics were always significantly more nuanced than its critics, most of whom probably don’t watch it anyway, would have you believe: it really wasn’t season after season of Islamist terrorists at all, and to suggest that it was is grievously to misrepresent the show’s equal opportunities approach to villainry. I’m a little more squeamish, mind you, on the question of whether 24 normalised the use of torture, particularly when there is little real life evidence that jamming the bad guy’s swingers into a vice and shouting “WHERE IS THE BOMB?!” at him would yield anything approaching actionable intel. But the show’s unique format demands that the plot keeps driving forwards, and patiently spending months building a rapport with a suspect probably isn’t going to deliver the same onscreen thrills.

Anyway, can a reboot without Jack Bauer and Chloe O’Brian be a success? Well, Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton) is in as the hard-perimeter-demanding male lead, supported by Miranda Otto (who was in season 5 of Homeland), Unpopcult royalty Jimmy Smits, Dr Langham (Teddy Sears) from Masters of Sex, the much-missed James Novak (Dan Bucatinsky) from Scandal, DR NATHAN KATOWSKY (Gerald McRaney) from This Is Us, and 24 survivor Tony Almeida in due course. So I’d say that it has given itself a fighting chance. I’ll be reviewing the first episode at least (Wednesday 15 February, 9pm, FOX UK).

Also starting: the third season of Madam Secretary, an underrated show which, as I’ve said before, suffers a little because of what it isn’t – The West Wing, House of Cards, Scandal – rather than being appreciated for what it is: a modestly ambitious political drama for grown-ups with one of the best ensemble casts on network TV. Probably no reviews, but I love this show (Wednesday 15 February, 10pm, Sky Living).

Other stuff: the final season of Girls is under way (Mondays, 10pm, Sky Atlantic); season 13 of Grey’s Anatomy resumes (Wednesday, 9pm, Sky Living); John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight has returned (Mondays, 10.35pm, Sky Atlantic); and Australian drama The Kettering Incident starts (Wednesday, 10pm, Sky Atlantic).

And I’ve kept the best for last. The outstanding The People v. O.J. Simpson – American Crime Story is on Netflix UK from tomorrow (Wednesday): one of the best TV dramas of recent years, with remarkable performances from a stellar cast, in particular Courtney B. Vance, Sarah Paulson, and the nonpareil Sterling K. Brown.

Public Service Announcement 4 of 2017: Legion, MacGyver, Roots, The Blacklist, The Moorside, The Good Wife, Brass Eye

In normal circumstances I wouldn’t be going near Legion: superheroes and I don’t get on, comic book adaptations and I don’t get on, so adaptations of comic books about superheroes are not my thing. I’ve tried and failed. And as far as I can tell (I’m not going to pretend that the rest of this sentence means anything to me) Legion is about a Marvel Comics character, David Haller, with psychic abilities, who is connected to the X-Men universe. Couldn’t care less. And yet, and yet… it’s created by Noah Hawley, the writer of the TV version of Fargo, which I regard as pretty much the best show of the last five years or so. Hawley also writes the first two episodes of Legion, by which time I should be able to decide if I’m all in or not. It’s starting today in America, but those critics who have already seen it have lavished praise on it. So… ok. Let’s give it a go (Thursday 9 February, 9pm, Fox UK).

Now a couple of remakes. I’ve never seen even a frame of the original of MacGyver, so I have no nostalgic interest in CBS’s reboot, which stars Lucas Till in the title role, and CSI’s George Eads in support. The American critics generally hated it, but the viewers have turned up in sufficient numbers to warrant a back-9 order at least, with renewal for a second season looking like a reasonable bet. In other circumstances I might take a look, but we’re getting hella busy round here (tonight, 8pm, Sky 1). And the History Channel has remade the record-breaking 1977 series Roots, with a fairly spectacular cast and a lot of money. This one the critics loved (tonight, 9pm, BBC 4).

A few more things: The Blacklist is back for the second half of its fourth season, having moved channel; we’ll be doing weekly reviews as before (tonight, 9pm, Sky 1). The remarkable Sheridan Smith stars in ITV’s The Moorside, a drama about the real-life disappearance of Shannon Matthews, which is from most angles one of the most depressing events it’s possible to imagine (Mondays, episode 1 available on catch-up). The Good Wife’s seventh season is now on Netflix in the UK. And the full-on, flat-out genius of Chris Morris is on display in Brass Eye, available on All 4 to stimulate your Shatner’s Bassoon.

Public Service Announcement 3 of 2017: The Nazis – A Warning From History; Scandal

In any normal week, the return of Scandal would be the first item on the PSA agenda. However, these are not normal times, and the most important show on British TV this week – maybe this year – is a re-run of the landmark 1997 documentary series The Nazis – A Warning From History. It’s particularly significant in a week when the new White House administration issued a statement, ostensibly commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which managed not to mention the Jewish people. And on being challenged about that the new Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, doubled down, claiming that “Everyone’s suffering in the Holocaust including, obviously, all of the Jewish people affected… is something that we consider to be extraordinarily sad…”. These are entirely recognisable as anti-Semitic expressions. As someone asked on Twitter: “Did they just ‘All Lives Matter’ the Holocaust?” Yes. Yes they did.

I remember watching A Warning From History when it was first on, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I do recall, though, wondering whether the title was unnecessarily portentous. Maybe it seemed that way in 1997. Twenty years later, though, it’s time to pick a side (Thursday 2 February, 11pm, BBC Four).

All of which means that I’m finding it difficult to decide whether we really need the sixth season of Scandal to be a tremendous distraction, or whether panem et circenses are the last thing we want at the moment. I thought the last season was mixed at best; and, of course, Scandal has to struggle with the fact that whatever it comes up with is unlikely to be any more horrifying or implausible than the IRL shitshow we’re being forced to sit through. We’re just behind American transmission here, so well done Sky Living. As usual, weekly reviews (Thursday 2 February, 10pm, Sky Living).

Public Service Announcement 2 of 2017: Homeland, Apple Tree Yard

At least part of the excitement of anticipating a new season of Homeland is wondering which version we’re going to get: the tired, directionless Homeland of season 3, say, or the taut, exciting Homeland of season 5? I thought the move to Berlin last time round reinvigorated the show, taking it out of its America-centric bubble and allowing it to respond in something close to real time to developments in Europe. (The involvement of the refulgent Nina Hoss didn’t hurt either.) So I’m slightly disappointed that season 6 moves the action to New York, and a little perturbed that it’s set in the period between the presidential election and the inauguration: as I’ve said more than once, what’s actually happened in America over the past year has made it very difficult for drama to respond. You can’t outflank the actual President for idiocy, absurdity, or malevolence; and choosing instead to go with a female President, as Homeland has apparently done, runs the risk of looking like wistful liberal wish-fulfilment. But let’s see. Weekly reviews as usual, and once again Channel 4 should be commended for keeping us close to American TX (Sunday 22 January, Channel 4, 9pm).

And, starting at the same time, there’s a BBC drama which – I know, I know – might be worth a look: Apple Tree Yard, an adaptation of Louise Doughty’s bestselling thriller about a middle-aged woman who embarks on an exciting but risky affair. There’s some serious talent in the cast: Emily Watson, Ben Chaplin, and Mark Bonnar. It’s four episodes long, which sight unseen I’m prepared to bet will be one too many, but I might try to fit this in (Sunday 22 January, BBC 1, 9pm).

Public Service Announcement 1 of 2017: Bull, The Whispers, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

CBS’s legal comedy-drama Bull, in which Michael Weatherly, formerly of NCIS, plays psychologist and trial consultant Dr. Jason Bull, starts in the UK tonight. It was on the receiving end of a generally poor critical reaction in America, which suggested that the show didn’t have much going for it beyond Weatherly’s star appeal; and, as I’ve never knowingly watched NCIS, that don’t impress me much. Bull, however, opened big and held onto a sizeable chunk of its audience, earning a swift back 9 order and looking, as things stand, odds-on for a season 2 renewal. All of which suggests that Bull must be doing something right. With Unpopcult regulars Homeland and Scandal returning shortly, though, I may not have time to find out what that is (tonight, FOX, 10pm).

Creepy-sounding 2015 ABC drama The Whispers is available from today: children in Washington, D.C. are communicating with an invisible friend called Drill, playing Drill’s games in return for rewards, having accidents… enough. Not watching. Shiver. It’s based on a Ray Bradbury short story; it stars Aidan from Revenge, Jack from This Is Us, and Lily Rabe from AHS, among others; it was reasonably well-liked by the American critics, and it bit the dust after 13 episodes. Sorry, Drill. Please don’t cause an accident to befall me. (All episodes available on Sky and Virgin Media On Demand, and maybe elsewhere as well. I don’t know.)

And Netflix’s well-received eight-episode adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events drops today.