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.

Public Service Announcement 10 of 2016: Quantico

ABC’s kind-of hit – which is, Empire apart, the only sort of hits networks have these days – Quantico starts in the UK tonight. The premise is that a new FBI recruit, Alex Parrish (the Indian actress Priyanka Chopra), is suspected of being responsible for a terrorist attack on New York City, and while she fights to clear her name there will be flashbacks to Alex and her group of trainees at the FBI’s academy in Quantico, Virginia. And, let’s face it, those of us who have watched American procedural dramas will already have heard enough about Quantico to be able to get through basic training ourselves. Reasonably well-received, with enough of a following to get a 22-episode order and, as of last week, renewed for a second season, Quantico sounds as if it might be worth a look. I’m not planning to review it, but I am planning to watch it (tonight, 9pm, Alibi).

And Amazon Prime releases season 2 of Bosch tomorrow – I love the Michael Connolly books on which the show is based, but have never seen it, and probably never will. Peak TV, eh? Which reminds me: Blindspot, Big Bang, and Modern Family are all returning soon for their post-hiatus runs, and Jane the Virgin will be starting season 2 before the end of the month. More about those shows and others in due course.

Public Service Announcement 9 of 2016: How To Get Away With Murder, Scandal, Legends of Tomorrow, Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, Thicker than Water

A quick PSA round-up. The increasingly incomprehensible How To Get Away With Murder – who are these people? What are their names? And what’s going on? – returns for the second half of its second season, with Annalise having been shot, and Wes (?) wondering why she knows his birth name. Still worth watching, I suppose, for its sharp scripts and Viola Davis’s powerhouse performance (Tuesday 2 March, 10pm, Universal).

Scandal is also back after its midseason hiatus. Could go either way, this one: there were encouraging signs in the first half of the season that the show was ridding itself of its B-613 fixation, and in the last episode before the break the good ship Olitz hit the rocks. On the other hand, Rowan and Jake seem to have reconciled. Reviews as ever (Wednesday 3 March, 10pm, Sky Living).

In the world of comic book adaptations, DC is flinging a lot at us: The Flash is back (Tuesdays, 8pm, Sky 1); Arrow is back (Wednesdays, 8pm, Sky 1); and Legends of Tomorrow, which is (as far as I can discern; I don’t really care) a spin-off from both, starts on Thursday, once again at 8pm on Sky 1. The magnificent Victor Garber is in it, mind you, as is the Rev. Paul from Broadchurch, and Brandon Routh.

House of Cards’s fourth season drops on Friday on Netflix. The funniest show on TV, Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, returns to dance on the grave of stand-up comedy on Thursday (10pm, BBC2). And Walter Presents’s latest, um, presentation is Swedish family saga Thicker Than Water. It might be good, but I don’t think I’m ever going to find out, as I’ve got too much piling up already. Please tell me if I’m missing out, though (Thursday 3 March, 10pm, More 4).

Coming soon, among others: Quantico, Modern Family, The Five, Game of Thrones, and BLINDSPOT BLINDSPOT BLINDSPOT.

Public Service Announcement 8 of 2016: The Night Manager, Parks and Recreation, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, Person of Interest, The Blacklist

A handful of slightly lazy, behind-the-times PSAs to start with. The BBC is continuing to try to muscle its way into the “cinematic TV” market with a six-part adaptation of John le Carre’s post-Cold-War-novel The Night Manager. On the face of it, the show has been cast with everything you’d need to market it at home and abroad: a proper film star (Tom Hiddleston); an international TV star (Hugh Laurie); British TV royalty (Olivia Colman, Tom Hollander); and Mme Secretary-General from Spin (Aure Atika). Advance word was good, reviews have been fine… but to be honest I’ve had my fill, for now, of overrated British TV dramas which start well and fizzle away into either incomprehensibility or absurdity. So I’m sitting this one out (Sundays, BBC1, 9pm; last night’s on BBC iPlayer).

Somewhat later than we were promised, Dave has started showing what might or might not be the final run of Parks and Recreation on UK TV: season 5 for now, with a possibility of running straight through seasons 6 and 7 thereafter (double bills on Sundays at 11pm; last night’s available on demand and on the Dave website).

And last night, on the reliable Storyville strand, the BBC showed Stanley Nelson, Jr.’s excellent documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015), which was given a limited cinematic release last year. As well as containing vivid, moving, fascinating, and enraging archive footage, the film assembles (Bobby Seale apart) as comprehensive a collection of talking heads as could reasonably be expected nearly 50 years after the foundation of the Black Panther Party. A documentary about an organisation devoted to the defence of African-Americans is, of course, of more than just historical interest, a point which it makes eloquently and economically in its final scenes. Not entirely without flaws, but highly recommended (BBC iPlayer).

Now to the new stuff. Unpopcult favourite Person of Interest returns for its fourth season this week. My view is that the season 3 represented something close to the best that network TV has to offer, although this opinion wasn’t held by everyone (hashtag Root). Unfortunately, it looks as if channel 5 is showing the whole season in double-bills. On the plus side this might mean that it actually broadcasts all of the episodes; on the minus, it’s not a schedule which suits me, particularly if I want to review them as well. So although it offends the completist part of me, it may be that Unpopcult won’t be covering this season. I’ll definitely be watching, though (Wednesday 24 February, Channel 5, 10pm).

And The Blacklist is returning from its midwinter hiatus. One episode per week. That I can cope with. Reviews as usual (Friday 26 February, Sky Living, 9pm).

Also starting this week, among others: the penultimate season of Girls (tonight, Sky Atlantic, 10.45pm); and post-hiatus Grey’s (Wednesday, Sky Living, 10pm). And coming soon: HTGAWM, Quantico, Blindspot, Scandal, House of Cards.