Public Service Announcement 28 of 2015: Humans, Person of Interest

Channel 4 / AMC’s new 8-part series Humans is notable for a number of reasons beyond the transatlantic collaboration involved in bringing it to the tv screen. New, prime-time, network (in the UK, if not the US) sci-fi, based on Swedish hit Real Humans, starring William Hurt and built around the increasingly plausible (and completely terrifying) idea of synthetic humans being developed as a slave underclass to “serve” natural ones…. Whoa. This sounds like something I should be super-excited about, and I might be too, had the magnificent Ex Machina not already burrowed under my skin and freaked me the hell out a few months ago. I’m not convinced Humans will add much to the AI conversation – the trailer makes it look a lot more like a robot Hand that Rocks the Cradle than anything akin to Ex Machina’s serious, scary examination of identity, exploitation and what it means to be “alive.” But trailers can be deceiving, it’s summer, and it’s about to get kinda quiet around here, so I’ll be giving Humans’ first ep a go at least. It kicks off in the UK tomorrow (Sunday) night at 9pm if you fancy doing the same.

Thursday night (18th) meanwhile brings with it the return to UK screens of artificial intelligence of a different kind: Team Machine FTW! Yes, indeedy, unpopcult favourite Person of Interest season 3 is back on Channel Five at 10pm. This mid-season hiatus has been a lot shorter than we feared it might be, but since we’re already almost two seasons behind the U.S. thanks to Five messing around and the show should never have been yanked off screen mid-way through a three-part story in the first place, forgive me for being less than effusive about them “only” taking it off for a few weeks to show Big Brother. HURRUMPH. Anyway, better late etc and at least it’s actually coming back (*looks sadly at the ghosts of Justified and Parenthood*) so yay. Weekly reviews to follow as usual.

Public Service Announcement 27 of 2015: Hannibal, Orange Is The New Black, Murder In The First

You can’t watch everything these days, of course, so we all have a list of shows we’d like to watch but haven’t quite got round to. Hannibal is in the top 3 of my must-see list – I promised to myself that I would catch up after season 2 and before the third season started, but here we are; it’s kicking off tonight, and I haven’t managed it. Which is a shame, because I know, I just know, that I would like it. I will get to it, though; perhaps in time for the fourth season, if there is one (tonight, 10pm, Sky Living).

I am, though, entirely across Netflix’s sensationally good Orange Is The New Black, which returns this week for its third season, and has already established itself as one of the best things on… TV? (If that’s what you call it these days.) Joyously female-centric, with standout performances everywhere you look, and whether you regard it as drama or comedy it’s capable of delivering on both fronts, often simultaneously. I’m planning to review this season, but haven’t yet decided how: perhaps I’ll drip-feed the reviews during July, when it’s a bit quieter (Friday 12 June, Netflix).

And there’s more good news, with the return of Steven Bochco’s Murder In The First for its second run. I thought the first season was excellent in an old-fashioned sort of way: a good story, an even pace, two attractive leads, and a terrific supporting cast. (CJ, it should be said, was less than convinced.) There was even a half-hearted ship, although the problem there was that the characters had fantastic workplace chemistry and very little of the romantic kind. Anyway, it’s back, and this time we’re getting it a matter of days, rather than months, after American transmission, which is also good. I’m probably not going to do week-by-week reviews this time round, although I’ll have something to say about the first episode, just to make sure it’s still ticking over nicely (Friday 12 June, 10pm, FOX UK).

Also starting: British drama The Interceptor, which not even the Radio Times can be bothered to pretend is worth watching (tonight, 9pm, BBC One); some more inheritance fun and games in the second season of Denmark’s The Legacy (Friday 12 June, 9pm, Sky Arts 1); and Scandi-gloom with added missing children in Sweden’s Jordskott (tonight, 10pm, ITV Encore). And a one-off which is worth mentioning: Chris Evans’s TFI Friday, which during its swaggering imperial phase kick-started the 90’s weekend, is back with a special edition (Friday 12 June, 9pm, Channel 4).

Public Service Announcement 26 of 2015: Glee

I’m a couple of days late with this one, but to be honest I’m not sure how many people care about Glee any more. Ratings were already in decline when the show, in unspeakably tragic circumstances, lost its main man, and its innocence with it: real life had intruded onto the McKinlay High fantasy, and there was really no way back from that. The strange thing is that the show subsequently rallied and in the second half of season 5 produced its strongest run of episodes for a while, for the benefit of those of us still watching. So partly because of that, and partly because I’ve reviewed all of the other episodes and I’m a completist anyway, I’ll be reviewing the final season here as well (Thursdays, 9pm, Sky 1).

And coming in June: Orange Is The New Black, Hannibal, True Detective, Murder In The First, Doll & Em, Royal Pains, and others. More soon.

Public Service Announcement 25 of 2015: 1864, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Castle

I’m not a fan of costume drama; at least, not if it’s set any earlier than the 1950s, so on one hand I’m probably not the target audience for BBC4’s new Scandi-import 1864. On the other hand, though, it’s made by DR, the Danish national broadcaster that gave us Forbrydelsen, Borgen, and The Bridge, and it stars just about everyone: Sidse Babett Knudsen (Birgitte in Borgen); Pilou Asbæk (Kasper in Borgen); Nicolas Bro (Buch in season 2 of Forbrydelsen); Søren Malling (Jan in Forbrydelsen and Torben in Borgen); Lars Mikkelson (the peerless Troels Hartmann in Forbrydelsen); and our very own Barbara Flynn. Plus millions of others.

It’s broadly about the Second Schleswig War between Denmark and Prussia, apparently an event of considerable significance to Danes. In fact, 1864 seems to have provided some controversy in Denmark, where it was shown last year, with critics on the right wing accusing DR of a revisionist and inaccurate retelling of the story. I realise that in saying this I’m opening myself up to – no doubt justified – accusations of philistinism, but I’m afraid that a hot take on a 150-year-old Danish/Prussian war isn’t my thing, and even if it were the BBC is showing it in those stupid double-bills (BBC4, Saturdays, 9pm, and on the iPlayer).

And not to be outdone, the BBC itself is showing its adaptation of the critically-acclaimed alternate-history 19th-century-set novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, with the always-watchable Eddie Marsan on board as Norrell. Our friend at @ShowStartUK drew our attention to the undoubtedly impressive trailer, but once again this doesn’t look like something for me (BBC 1, tonight, 9pm)

Castle, on the other hand, very much is my sort of thing; it’s hardly rewriting the rulebook for TV crime procedurals, but it’s amiable good fun, and it’s long been one of my favourite go-to shows when I don’t want to work too hard for an hour of TV enjoyment. I mean that very much as a compliment, incidentally. The UK is finally getting to see season 7 this week – with a further season renewal now confirmed – so it’s back to the day of the wedding and Castle’s disappearance. Cold feet? Probably not (Alibi, Wednesday 20 May, 9pm).

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.