Public Service Announcement 38 of 2016: Sherlock, The Witness for the Prosecution, To Walk Invisible

It’s our last PSA and last post of the year, so time for a quick look at some top-tier BBC drama of the kind that only ever appears over the holidays.

First up, two-part Agatha Christie adaptation The Witness For the Prosecution (which was on tv on 26th and 27th December) is currently available on iPlayer, should you wish to catch up. After the success of last year’s And Then There Were None, another Christie adaptation must have seemed like a great idea at the time but, despite an impressive cast headed by the always terrific Toby Jones, I’m not sure they picked the right one. Where Mammoth Screen’s take on ATTWN was thrilling and scary, their version of Witness is more depressing and gloomy, as well as – as we’re always saying about British tv – very, very slow. I sat through it more in determination than entertainment, but if you want a slice of miserabilia with your hot cocoa, carry on.

Also falling under the heading of “maybe not the cheeriest” is Sally Wainwright’s one-off feature-length drama about the Bronte family, To Walk Invisible. Anyone even remotely acquainted with the Bronte history knows it was hardly all jam and biscuits so, despite being Unpopcult’s Head of Dept for This Type of Thing, I’ve not exactly been in a hurry to watch it myself. 2016 has depressed me enough. The Guardian called it “bleak and brilliant” though, and who knows, it might well turn out to be empowering and inspiring, so if you’re up for it, iPlayer is the place to go once again.

Finally, though, something new to kick off 2017: a year after the last one-off special, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’s Sherlock returns tomorrow (New Year’s Day!) at 8.30 pm on BBC1 for a new three-part run. My feelings on the show are well-documented: as I’ve said before, at its best, I think it’s one of the finest things on tv, and even at its worst, I think its ambition and intelligence are still evident. So while lots of people have fallen very vocally out of love with it in the years since the first episode, I’m still on board and I’ll be watching and reviewing each ep as soon as I can.

And that’s it for this year, folks. I’ll be back tomorrow with our Poll results so I’ll save my happy new years till then, but meantime, have a safe and happy Hogmanay and a rousing chorus of Auld Lang Syne on us. Health and happiness to you all!

Public Service Announcement 37 of 2016: Hawaii Five-0, Modern Family

Our penultimate PSA of 2016 contains some returning old favourites. First up is the seventh season of Hawaii Five-0, which has done a very good job of managing Scott Caan’s reduced commitment to the show by becoming more of an ensemble piece, with Chi McBride in particular stepping up. At the end of season 6 we left Steve and Danny in hospital, following the insertion of Danny’s organ into Steve. And, yes, that’s exactly what happened, dress it up as you might. Weekly reviews as normal (Sunday 1 January, 9pm, Sky 1).

Modern Family is back tonight for its eighth season. The ensemble cast remains strong, even if the writing occasionally betrays a lack of inspiration, but if season 7 is anything to go by it’s Ty Burrell’s show these days (8.30pm, Sky 1).

And a few other bits and pieces: season 8 of NCIS: Los Angeles (Sunday 1 January, 10pm, Sky 1); Dawn French, Iain Glen, Sheila Hancock, and Emilia Fox star in infidelity drama Delicious (tonight, 9pm, Sky 1); and Jonathan Creek was on a couple of nights ago and, although it’s had one or two sniffy reviews, it wasn’t bad at all (BBC iPlayer).

Public Service Announcement 36 of 2016: Timeless, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Elementary, Mom

The big new American drama hitting UK screens this week is NBC’s Timeless, in which Dr Luka Kovač from ER plays a former NSA operative who steals a time machine, then uses it to bounce around history with the intention of changing it. Fortunately there’s another time machine available for a group of pursuers. It also stars Matt Lanter (90210), British actor Paterson Joseph, and Abigail Spencer (Rectify). The reviews were reasonable, and ratings have been OK, but at the moment renewal is looking unlikely. CJ thinks it looks like an expensive Librarians. I might take a look (Wednesday 14 December, E4, 9pm).

Meantime, the Netflix/BBC America co-production of the Douglas Adams-inspired Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency has already been renewed for a second season. Our friend e has already steered us, gently but firmly, towards this show, and (notwithstanding that it might not be a direct adaptation) I’m a huge fan of Adams’s work. So I might take a look at this as well (Netflix, tomorrow).

One show I’ll definitely be watching is Elementary, returning for its fifth – and, in all likelihood, final – season. It went off the boil just a little in season 4, but it remains a reliable pleasure; and, of course, the best Sherlock Holmes adaptation currently on TV (Tuesday 13 December, Sky Living, 9pm).

And also starting: season 4 of the magnificent Allison Janney in Mom (Thursday 15 December, ITV 2, 12.25 am).

Public Announcement 35 of 2016: This Is Us

imageUnpopcult loves both a good cry and a heartwarming American ensemble drama. Combine the two and do it well, and you have a show that’s not only right up our street, but smack bang in our front yard, waving and smiling right into our living room windows.

It’s no surprise then, that we’re IMMENSELY excited about NBC’s smash hit new drama/ teardropallooza This Is Us hitting UK screens tomorrow (Tuesday, Channel 4, 9pm). Starring Milo “Peter Petrelli” Ventimiglia, Sterling “Chris Darden” K. Brown, and Mandy “the girl from A Walk to Remember” Moore, it follows a group of people who happen to share a birthday and… I don’t actually know all that much more than that, but I can tell you that Mandy is married to Milo and about to give birth, Sterling has Daddy Issues, and there’s some kind of big twist that I’ve been trying desperately not to stumble on to before it airs over here.

Anyway, with Friday Night Lights long done, Parenthood’s last few seasons M.I.A in the UK, and Nashville being bonkers, we’re long overdue something we can either dab our eyes discreetly at (like Jed) or sob till we’re so dehydrated we need an IV (that would be me), so we’ve stocked up on tissues and we’re READY. Bring on the blubbing; we’ll review as soon as we can.

Public Service Announcement 34 of 2016: In a Lonely Place (1950)

We don’t normally do this for movies, because TV is, of course, Unpopcult’s bae.  But I’m making an exception for Nicholas Ray’s post-war film noir classic In A Lonely Place (on More4 at 11.20 am on Tuesday 22 November) which stars Humphrey Bogart as violent, volatile screenwriter Dix Steele, and Gloria Grahame as Laurel Gray, a neighbour who gives Steele a false alibi when he’s accused of murdering a hat-check girl. Laurel falls for Dix, but then starts to believe that he might have killed the girl after all.

Offscreen Ray and Grahame were husband and wife, but their marriage was falling apart, and they separated during filming; Ray, in fact, had Grahame sign a contract in which she undertook that Ray would be “entitled to direct, control, advise, instruct and even command (her) actions during the hours from 9 AM to 6 PM, every day except Sunday… I acknowledge that in every conceivable situation his will and judgment shall be considered superior to mine and shall prevail”, and that she would not “nag, cajole, tease or in any other feminine fashion seek to distract or influence him”. The full story of Ray and Grahame’s relationship – and how it influenced Ray’s rewriting of the film – is explored in episode 68 of Karina Longworth’s excellent podcast You Must Remember This.

“I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.” Dark, sweaty, passionate, and nasty, In a Lonely Place is an absolute masterpiece.

Public Service Announcement 33 of 2016: Black-ish, Blindspot, The Grand Tour, Pure Genius, Shooter

A mixed bag of things coming up over the next couple of days.

If the past week somehow hasn’t already filled your cup to overflowing with despair at what people are capable of, you can catch US gun-promo-masquerading-as-a-drama series Shooter (adapted from the terrible film of the same name) on Netflix from today (Wednesday) or Jeremy Clarkson’s post-Top Gear/ post-assault-in-the-workplace project The Grand Tour on Amazon Video UK from Friday. Alternatively, if you’d rather a show about a multi-millionaire that you can roll your eyes at without worrying that it will bring about the apocalypse, you could try critically-reviled new US medical drama Pure Genius, starting tonight on Universal at 9pm, and probably finishing sooner rather than later, since it’s about to be cancelled.

If you think laughter might be the best medicine, meanwhile, there’s season 2 of Black-ish on E4 on Friday at 7.30pm, but if, like me, you’re in the market for a reliably bonkers, riotously enjoyable combination of thrills, spills and action/ conspiracy/ romance nonsense, season 2 of Unpopcult’s beloved Blindspot (the only one of these shows I’ve actually seen, in fairness) starts tomorrow (Thursday) at 9pm on Sky Living and thank God for that. Ratings for season 2 haven’t been that impressive, and there’s always the risk that the show might make the Blacklist-like mistake of getting itself so focussed on Jane Doe’s parentage/ origin story that it forgets to be FUN, but s1 was such a great ride that s2 is more than welcome at Unpopcult HQ anyway. Check back with us for weekly reviews as soon as we can manage them.

Public Service Announcement 32 of 2016: The Blacklist, The Crown, Atlanta

A busy week already; and here are another three shows, each in its own way a  heavyweight. First up is Unpopcult favourite The Blacklist, with the irresistible James Spader bulldozing his way through the ethics of the FBI in order to track down master criminals while settling private vendettas. I’m a little concerned that the launch of a spinoff – The Blacklist: Redemption – runs the risk of diluting the parent show, particularly if we lose Ryan Eggold and Edi Gathegi to it on a permanent basis. (No word, yet, about whether UK viewers will have the chance to see Redemption.) I thought season 3, though, to be a significant improvement on its predecessor, so I’m looking forward to this. As usual, weekly reviews (Friday 4 November, 9pm, Sky Living).

Next up is Netflix’s The Crown, a 10-part dramatization of the early years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. The Crown is (potentially) interesting as a TV show, and even more interesting for what it says about Netflix’s business model: Netflix, in short, presently attracts a predominantly young audience, so there’s plenty to watch if you’re Netflix and chill; not so much if you’re Netflix and over-the-hill.

The Crown, though, represents an unequivocal parking of tanks on the lawns of the British broadcast networks in the hope of interesting their viewers, and hoovering up the worldwide Downton audience into the bargain: costume drama, royalty, a top-notch cast, and all done on the sort of extravagant budget that the BBC, these days, can’t begin to compete with. Not only that, but it’s scripted by Peter Morgan, who has an untouchable track record in this area, with films such as The Queen (2006), Frost/Nixon (2008), and The Damned United (2009) on his CV. The idea seems to be that The Crown will, in due course, run to six seasons, one for each decade of Her Majesty’s reign. The critics who’ve seen the first couple of episodes seem to like them, but it might not be for me (Netflix, from Friday 4 November).

Finally, the first season of ten-part comedy-drama Atlanta makes it to the UK on Saturday. Donald Glover, who also writes and exec produces, stars as one of two cousins involved in the Atlanta rap scene. Advance word suggests that this is one of the best new shows of the year, and it’s already been renewed for a second season. (Saturday 5 November, 10pm, FOX UK).