Public Service Announcement 18 of 2016: Locked Up, The Americans, Billions

Spanish prison drama Locked Up (Vis a Vis) is the latest show from Channel 4’s Walter Presents strand, and as it’s made it to the main terrestrial channel it’s one in which Walter and 4 have a fair amount of confidence. It’s set in a women’s prison; they all wear citrus-coloured uniforms (yellow this time); and we’re promised violence, sex, and dark humour. That having been said, we apparently need to be clear that it isn’t, if you will, Naranja is the New Negro. Might be worth a look, though (tonight, 10pm, Channel 4).

One of the current best-show-on-TV contenders, 1980s-set spy drama The Americans, starts its fourth season on UK television this week. Unfortunately, after a couple of seasons on the main ITV channel, it was shifted to Sky-only platform ITV Encore, and it’s still there (Thursday 19 May, 9pm).

And we should, albeit  belatedly, mention Billions, Showtime’s generally well-received financial drama, starring Damian Lewis. It’s showing on Thursdays, and I believe that the whole of the first season is now available through Sky. CJ reckons it’s TV for boys, and I don’t quite have the time, so Unpopcult’s sitting this one out (Sky Atlantic, 9pm).

Public Service Announcement 16 of 2016: Heartbeat

New NBC drama Heartbeat, starting tonight in the UK, stars Melissa George as brilliant – but idiosyncratic!!1! – surgeon Alex Panttiere. And from here, we really could pitch it ourselves: she’s a maverick with a boss who plays by the rules; she’s working with her boyfriend, but her romantic life isn’t straightforward; she juggles her family and professional lives; Cases of the Week. If it sounds tired, that’s because, in the view of the American critics, it is. I don’t mind Ms George, but I’m unsure whether that’s a majority view. Either way, I don’t expect to watch (9pm, TLC).

Public Service Announcement 15 of 2016: Game of Thrones

In news that’s not a surprise to anyone, HBO has renewed GOT for a seventh season before season six has even started. Not that we have to wait much longer; early birds/ nighthawks in the UK can watch episode one of season six at 2AM on Monday morning (as usual, it’s a simulcast with the US showing) on Sky Atlantic, wait for the prime-time screening at 9pm on Monday night, or catch it on Sky GO in-between. Either way, not long now before we rejoin the remaining Starks, Lannisters, Targaryens, Tyrells et al, and learn how they’re going to bring back Jon Snow. Because they are, right? RIGHT?

I’ll be watching and doing weekly reviews as usual – come join me and we’ll find out together.

Public Service Announcement 14 of 2016: The Five, 11.22.63, Empire

As I’ve said on here more than once, I’m a huge, and long-standing, fan of American thriller writer Harlan Coben. Over the past few years there seems to have been a proliferation of the high-concept, ordinary-guy-in-peril, dead-person-is-alive, breathtakingly-twisty kind of book; well, Coben got there first, and does it best. Also, not that it matters too much in this context, because I’m a firm believer that the art and the artist can be separated, but as far as can be discerned Harlan is good people. So I’m very much looking forward to his first TV drama, The Five, even more so given that it’s a specially-written standalone, rather than an adaptation of an existing work. (I know what Myron Bolitar and Win Lockwood look like, ta. I don’t need an actor getting in the way of that.)

On the face of what I know about The Five, it sounds like classic Coben: we start with a group of children in a forest, one of whom disappears. Twenty years later, the missing kid’s DNA is found at a fresh murder scene. I’m already in, largely because I know what Coben can do with this sort of material. The only problem is that Sky 1 has decided to show all ten episodes in weekly double-bills, which is fine if you’re paid to watch TV or have nothing else on the go, neither of which apply to me. So reviews are unlikely, but we’ll see (Friday 15 April, 9pm/10pm, Sky 1).

Also available: season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and season 4 of Orphan Black (both Netflix, from Friday).

And a couple we haven’t covered yet. 11.22.63 is an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, exec produced by, among others, J.J. Abrams and King himself. So it’s the sort of thing which would have been made into a film twenty years ago, but these days makes its way to the small screen. Anyway, it’s about a time traveller (James Franco) who has the opportunity to go back to the Texas of the early 1960s and prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a subject in which I’m extremely interested. (Spoiler alert: it was Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, but don’t let that spoil your fun. I certainly don’t.) I’d planned to watch episode 1 by now, but it’s a double-length job, which means it’ll need to wait (Sundays, 9pm, Fox UK).

Also, Empire has returned from mid-season hiatus. Now, I need to be pretty careful what I say here, because the show’s comparative failure in the UK and elsewhere in the world has been attributed, in some quarters, to good old-fashioned racism. I’m not sure, privilege duly checked, that I agree. Firstly, there are, these days, literally no American shows which do that well in the UK, no matter how diverse or non-diverse their casts. (Like most US shows Empire is shown in Britain on a digital channel with a relatively low number of viewers – E4 on this occasion – rather than a network one. In that context its audience share – 2.2% for season 2, according to the Billboard article linked above, is actually quite good, and compares favourably to E4’s average 1.3% share.)

Secondly, as I’ve wondered before, it might be that Empire speaks to part of a particular area of experience, which doesn’t necessarily have the same resonance worldwide.

And, thirdly, Empire… really isn’t that good, perhaps? It should be noted that ratings are down around a third in America since the start of the second season, which is hardly catastrophic, but might suggest that even American audiences are starting to tire of the inconsistent characterisation and uneven plotting. I haven’t decided whether I’m going to continue watching, and while one always needs to try to acknowledge one’s own prejudices, I don’t think that’s for racist reasons (Mondays, E4, 10pm).

Public Service Announcement 13 of 2016: Colony, Undercover, Marcella

It’s entirely understandable that, even after the failure of Intelligence – cancelled after 13 episodes – TV producers would continue to look for a vehicle for Josh “Sawyer off of Lost” Holloway, given that he’s scorchingly hot and charismatic as all hell. This time he’s teamed up again with Carlton Cuse to make the USA Network’s Colony, set in a dystopian near-future following an alien invasion of Earth. Holloway plays a former FBI agent and Army Ranger who collaborates with the occupiers to give himself an opportunity to find his missing son. I think there might be an allegory or two going on. As it happens the reviews were reasonably good, and the show has been renewed for a second year. I have a feeling that this is worth watching, but I’m not sure – even at a nicely-manageable ten episodes – that I’ve got the time (Thursday 7 April, 9pm, Sky 1).

Two new British dramas started earlier this week. Undercover stars the seriously talented Sophie Okonedo as a British lawyer trying to overturn the death sentence of President David Palmer from 24 (Dennis Haysbert). But although she seems to have an ideal home life with her husband (Adrian Lester), there’s something she doesn’t know. I haven’t seen it, but I’ve read enough about it to know that the background is loosely based on a real life scandal (Sundays, 9pm, BBC1). And over on the commercial channel, meantime, the creator of The Bridge, Hans Rosenfeldt, has been tapped up to create Marcella, in which Anna Friel plays – who’d have thought it? – a damaged female detective (Mondays, 9pm, ITV 1).

Of the two, my guess is that Undercover – “thrilling, bold, troubling” (The Guardian); “intriguing” (Daily Telegraph); “gripping” (The Times) – is a better bet than Marcella. But at the moment I’m not planning to watch either, as I want to make sure I have the time to try out Harlan Coben’s The Five, of which more next week.

A few other shows getting under way: last night saw starts for season 4 of Bates Motel (10pm, Universal); season 3 of Rectify (9pm, AMC Global); and season 2 of The Mysteries Of Laura (9pm, 5USA). And critically-acclaimed dramedy You’re The Worst starts on 5star tomorrow at 10pm.

Public Service Announcement 12 of 2016: Jane the Virgin, Blue Eyes (Blå ögon), Line of Duty

I called the first season of the wonderful Jane the Virgin “perhaps the most pleasant TV surprise of 2015”, so I’m delighted that season 2 has finally made its way to the UK, and that the show has already been renewed for a third year. We left the show in the middle of a typically absurd (and I mean that in a loving way) cliffhanger – the abduction of Jane’s baby Mateo by international mega-criminal Sin Rostro – although I can’t imagine that will be allowed to stand in the way of the good-natured comedy for too long.

As well as a witty, knowing script, Jane the Virgin has an excellent cast which plays the show’s over-the-top melodrama for all it’s worth, while creating characters worth caring about. They’re all good, although – as we’ve said before – it’s Jaime Camil as the narcissistic-but-lovable Rogelio who steals every scene he’s in. I’ve got too much on to review it from the start of the season, but like last time I might pick it up towards the end (tonight, E4, 7.30pm).

More from Walter Presents later this week, with the first episode of Swedish political drama Blue Eyes (Blå ögon). I think it’s a good thing that we in the UK are getting the opportunity to see more of our continent’s TV. Unfortunately, I’m so busy with the American stuff that I don’t really have time for it, which is undoubtedly my loss (Friday 25 March, More4, 9pm).

And I don’t have time for the British dramas either, such as Line of Duty, back for a third season (Thursday 24 March, BBC Two, 9pm).

Public Service Announcement 11 of 2016: Blindspot, Inside Obama’s White House


I know it’s only been six weeks but it feels like forever since unpopcult’s favourite slice of tv madness, Blindspot, stopped for mid-season break in a flurry of cliffhangers and craziness. No more waiting, though; Jane/Taylor, Kurt/Mr Angry and the rest of the team are back tonight at 9pm on Sky Living and unpopcult is delighted. We’ll be reviewing every week as usual, and probably getting very excited in the process.

At the same time tonight, meanwhile (albeit so far at the other end of the tv spectrum  it’s almost falling off the end),  “Inside Obama’s White House“, a four-part documentary series following the Obama administration in office kicks off on BBC2. Not only does it look fascinating in its own right, but the timing seems particularly apt given the current, mostly terrifying coverage of the U.S. election campaign coming at us from all directions: it’s nice to be reminded that there are plenty of perfectly sane people in politics as well. I don’t expect to review it, but I’ll be watching.