Public Service Announcement 24: Nashville, The Affair, Wayward Pines

Before getting onto the shows starting this week, we should probably pause for a moment (of Zen) to note that, on election day last week, Comedy Central UK quietly pulled The Daily Show with Jon Stewart off its schedules, with some bobbins excuse about “moving away from talk shows”. (It’s still available on iTunes, but frankly I already spend enough on TV.) On one hand, this is very bad news, because TDS is essentially peerless. On the other hand, as someone who watched every single episode, I do get a significant chunk of TV-watching time back.

Which I’m immediately going to invest in Nashville, returning to UK screens tonight for its third season. (By coincidence, the same day on which the final episode of season 3 is shown in America. I’m sensing a lack of commitment from its British broadcaster.) I’m guessing it’ll continue to be good soapy fun with occasionally great music and some very strong acting performances, particularly from Hayden Panettiere. And it’s been renewed for another season, although it’s anyone’s guess when we might get that. Weekly reviews if I can manage them, which should become easier in a month or so.  (tonight, E4, 10pm).

I’m probably not going to get around to Showtime’s The Affair, though, which is a bit of a shame. It was very well received in America, where a second season has been commissioned, and it’s only ten episodes long, which I’m really starting to cherish. And not that Golden Globes really count for anything, but it did win the Best Drama Globe, with Ruth Wilson picking one up for her performance as well. Dominic West, Maura Tierney, and Joshua Jackson also feature in a high-class cast. Let me know if I’m missing out (tonight, Sky Atlantic, 9pm).

And I’m probably out of Wayward Pines as well, which is starting on the same day in America and the UK – this, folks, is the way forward – although the first episode has been available on demand for a while. M. Night Shyamalan exec produces another outstanding cast (Matt Dillon, Toby Jones, Juliette Lewis, Reed Diamond, Melissa Leo, Terrence Howard, etc.) in this Twin-Peaksy-sounding story of a Secret Service agent who goes to an Idaho town to search for two missing federal agents. The advance word is mixed, although not wholly negative by any means (Thursday, FOX UK, 9pm).

Nurse Jackie seems to have dropped off the schedules again, but Castle and Glee are coming soon, as well as Danish drama 1864 and the BBC’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. More on all of these soon.

Public Service Announcement 23 of 2015: Empire, Broad City

New American TV shows, even popular and well-reviewed ones, generally lose viewers between their first and second episodes, after which either they stabilise, or the downward drift continues as less-than-committed viewers are shaken off. Jane the Virgin, for example, started to critical hosannahs, but has so far lost around a third of its (already small) American audience over the course of its run.

Fox’s hip-hop saga Empire, though, has rewritten the rules: it opened strongly, and the ratings just kept on rising to the point where it ended its first season as the best-rated scripted show in America, overtaking perennial heavyweights like Modern Family, NCIS, and The Big Bang Theory. That’s not just a TV show: that’s a phenomenon.

Which has meant that the question of whether Empire is actually any good has been rather lost in the clamour. So is it? The somewhat King-Lear-crossed-with-The-Godfather-esque premise has Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), the CEO of Empire Entertainment, stricken with a terminal disease, and trying to decide what to do with his company. Part of this will mean dealing with his ex-wife Cookie (Unpopcult favourite Taraji P. Henson). Reviews were generally positive, if not unanimous, but ultimately I’m persuaded that Empire is worth a go by Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker, who described it as “unapologetic melodramatic fun”. That’s normally enough for me. This first season is only twelve episodes long, and the show has of course been renewed. We’ll review the first episode at least (tonight, 9pm, E4).

And UK viewers also (and finally) get our first chance to see acclaimed comedy Broad City tonight. Deliberately low-concept – it stars Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson as, yes, Ilana and Abbi, two New Yorkers trying to get through their twenties: men, drugs, work, that sort of thing. Amy Poehler exec produces, and occasionally appears. Viewing figures are about a zillionth of Empire, but the critics love it (tonight, 10pm, Comedy Central UK).

More to come in May: The Affair, Nurse Jackie, Castle, Wayward Pines, and others, if we haven’t simply collapsed under the weight of TV by then.

Public Service Announcement 22 of 2015: Jane the Virgin, Madam Secretary

Two new shows fronted by female leads this week, but the gender of the main character would seem to be where the similarity ends.

First up is the long-awaited (very, very long-awaited) UK debut of Jane the Virgin, tonight (Wednesday) at 9pm on E4. Based on a Mexican telenovela, the premise seems a trifle alarming – poor Jane is unknowingly and mistakenly artificially inseminated with the sperm of somebody she used to know, WTF – but reviews have been stellar (no mean feat for a CW show), a second season has already been ordered and our own e says it’s great, which is the hat-trick as far as I’m concerned. Unpopcult is in, and on reviewing duties for the first ep at least.

And secondly, season 1 of CBS’s Madam Secretary takes up its post on Sky Living, tomorrow at 9pm. This story of a former (maverick, I’m sure) CIA analyst who’s asked to come out of retirement and slot into the Secretary of State job instead doesn’t interest me nearly as much, and Thursday is already a busy night tv-wise so I’m not planning on adding it to my schedule. Reviews are mostly decent, though, a second season has already been ordered, and Jed likes the look of it, so expect a review of ep 1 in due course.

Public Service Announcement 21 of 2015: Louie, Daredevil

On looking back, I see that after previewing it I didn’t say anything about the last season of Louie. Actually, I thought it was the best so far, a view not shared by everyone who saw it. It was probably the least amusing, but as I’ve said before Louie has never really been a comedy to me; capable of being very funny for sure, but more of a surreal drama.

And season 4 was as varied, as hard-hitting, and as brilliant as anything on TV: the astonishing ‘So Did The Fat Lady’, for instance; the multi-part ‘Elevator’; the flight-of-fancy of ‘Model’, with Yvonne Strahovski. Most daring of all was ‘Pamela Part 1’ and its now-infamous and disturbing “This would be rape if you weren’t so stupid! You can’t even rape well!” scene, in which Louis C.K. seemed to me to be deliberately challenging male notions of consent, and the distance or otherwise between onscreen Louie and offscreen Louis C.K. I’d expect Louie to remain essential viewing (tonight, 11pm, Fox UK).

A friend of the blog has chastised me for not mentioning Netflix’s Marvel adaptation Daredevil, all 13 episodes of which are available now for streaming. He’s right; perhaps because I decided some time ago that comic book adaptations and I don’t really get on. In addition, I recognise that I’m not the best person to be saying anything about Daredevil, because until I wrote this I didn’t actually know anything about it.

I might need to acquire a knowledge of comic book culture, though, because on top of all of the other film and TV adaptations we’ve had over the last few years, Netflix is going for this in a big way: Daredevil is the first of four planned Marvel live-actioners, leading to a miniseries based on The Defenders (?).

So this sort of thing isn’t going away; and fairness requires me to record that Daredevil has had very good reviews, excellent word-of-mouth, and this story of a blind lawyer-turned-vigilante (?) looks as if I’d probably enjoy it if I watched it. And there’s the problem: there’s always a time of year at which Unpopcult becomes convinced that broadcasters are trying to kill us with TV. We may have reached that point: PSAs soon for Jane the Virgin, Madam Secretary, and Empire, all coming before the end of April. Then there’s May. So Daredevil might have to wait.

Public Service Announcement 20 of 2015: Game of Thrones

Monday is coming. And, in the UK, it brings with it season 5 of Game of Thrones, but not soon enough for some viewers. While the entire season will be shown in 170 countries at exactly the same time as it’s being shown on HBO – a simulcast of laudable ambition and common sense, and hopefully a portent of things to come – Sky Atlantic has decided not to join in with the grand unveiling in the early hours of the morning and, instead, will wait 19 hours till 9pm tomorrow to screen the premiere.

People are pretty upset about this but, to be honest, I’m not one of them. You guys, the show is being screened hours after its US premiere. Not weeks, not months, not years – hours. We despise delayed scheduling at unpopcult and we say so every chance we get. But while, yes, it’s a little disappointing that viewers in the UK can’t join in the big GOT event with like-minded fans across the world and the “water-cooler” reason given by Sky Atlantic is both patronising and unconvincing, I’ll be reserving my ire for broadcasters like More 4 which waits nearly 4 months every year to show The Good Wife and seems to have forgotten Nashville completely; E4 which won’t get round to showing Jane the Virgin till late April, 6 months after its US debut; BBC4 which started showing Parks and Recreation several years late and has been sitting on season 4 for so long, the show has actually finished all of its seven seasons in the US; Five which took a 10 month break between seasons 2 and 3 of Person of Interest leaving us a year-and-a-half behind, and its stablemate Five USA which stopped showing both Parenthood and Justified completely, leaving fans twisting in the televisual wind or taking their chances with Sky Box Sets and the forthcoming Spike channel. So, yes, as far as I’m concerned, the GOT simulcast is a wonderful, glorious thing, but so is some perspective. Waiting 19 hours (especially when, had it been on at some wretched time in the morning, I would just have recorded it and watched it at night after work anyway) doesn’t seem all that terrible to me.

Public Service Announcement 19 of 2015: Mad Men

There’ll be time enough to write Mad Men’s obits when it’s finally done, but for now it’s worth pausing to note that this is the start of the last run of one of the best TV shows of all time, and having stuck with it since the start I’m certainly not bailing now. Incidentally I’m not buying for a second this nonsense about splitting season 7 of Mad Men into two parts; it’s almost a YEAR, for heaven’s sake, since we had the “first part”, which effectively means that on just about any other show this would be regarded as a discrete season. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, but it annoys me.

As ever showrunner Matthew Weiner has been keeping everyone involved on the shortest of leashes, and almost nothing has leaked out about what’s going to happen. Which, “teasers” be damned, is how I like it. British viewers are only a few days behind American transmission – which, of course, is also how I like it – and even if latterly the show hasn’t quite managed to live up to its first four seasons there’s no shame in that, because the same could be said of most other shows in the history of TV. So: drumroll, please; for the very last time, it’s Mad Men (tonight, Sky Atlantic, 10pm).

Public Service Announcement 18 of 2015: Gracepoint

American remakes of European shows generally don’t work. (And vice versa.) Gracepoint, the US re-do of Broadchurch, doesn’t seem to have bucked that trend: after generally lukewarm reviews it was canned by Fox after one season. David Tennant reprises his lead role as tortured cop with a Secret Past, and Anna Gunn plays Olivia Colman. In truth, I can’t think of a single reason to watch this, unless you’re a Tennant stan. If you do, though, apparently it has a different ending. Inasmuch, that is, as the UK version actually had a season 1 ending, following its deconstruction in season 2 (ITV Encore, tonight, 10pm).

And the ongoing search for the highest of high TV concepts reaches its logical – if unpleasant and exploitative – conclusion, with new drama Parts, in which a reputedly wealthy heiress is kidnapped. In each episode her abductors send one of her severed body parts to someone connected to her past or present life, thus unfolding more of the mystery. So “Part 1” is her left ring finger, “Part 4” will be her right ear, and so on. Do you see how this works? It’s difficult to see how Parts could make it to a full 22-episode season, as they’ll presumably start to run out of limbs – Part 7 will apparently be her right hand – and one would guess that a second season with the same victim is completely out of the question. On the bright side, though, UK viewers are in the same position as everyone else, as the first episode is being shown everywhere today. April 1st.

And coming soon, some TV heavyweights: Mad Men, Louie, Treme, Jane the Virgin, Madam Secretary, and a show with dragons in it.