Public Service Announcement 32 of 2015: Crossing Lines, UnREAL

A couple of unusual new shows to think about this week, both starting tomorrow (Tuesday) night.

First up, cross-border curio Crossing Lines which has already aired two seasons on various platforms in various countries but finally makes its way onto UK tv screens (as opposed to online streaming) for the first time at 9pm on Alibi. Starring William Fichtner and, of all people, Donald Sutherland, it follows a (fictional) specialist police unit drawn from all over the world, attached to the International Criminal Court, and investigating crimes all over Europe. It all sounds a bit cheesy to me, but it’s been renewed for a third season and does seem to have a very impressive list of guest stars popping in, so it might be worth a look, especially if you fancy combining your procedural-watching with potential holiday destination-browsing.

Hot on the global detectives’ heels, meanwhile, brand new Lifetime US dramedy UnREAL starts its UK run at 10pm on Lifetime UK, a few weeks after it began airing in the States. Lifetime shows don’t tend to inspire much enthusiasm amongst critics (or me, tbh), but UnREAL, set behind the scenes of an outrageous tv dating show, seems a little different, having bucked the trend with lots of stellar reviews from somewhat surprised pundits. I do like a bit of telly about telly, so I’ll be giving it a go and reviewing at least the first episode. I’ll let you know how I get on….

Public Service Announcement 31 of 2015: Under The Dome, Cordon, Royal Pains

I watched season 1 of Under The Dome, which – in the manner of most high-concept TV shows – started reasonably well and then disappeared down any number of rabbit-holes. On that basis I skipped season 2, so I can’t tell you if it ever got any better. And now we’re at the third season, starting in the UK just a few days after American transmission. Well done, Channel 5. I won’t be watching this one either, although I do have a feeling that if I did I’d probably quite enjoy it (Monday 29 June, 10pm, Channel 5).

Another show I won’t be bothering with is Belgian drama Cordon, which started last night, and sounds a little like Under The Dome without the dome: the centre of Antwerp is walled off in an attempt to contain a deadly virus. Usual stupid double-bills (Saturdays, 9pm, BBC4, available on demand).

One show I have stuck with is Royal Pains. We’re more or less a full year behind America with this trivial but diverting story of doctors in the Hamptons, but as I’ve never met anyone else who watches the show I really can’t complain; it’s as if it were being broadcast just for me (tonight, 8pm, Universal, with first showings pointlessly early on Sunday mornings; it’s not as if it’s being simulcast or anything).

Public Service Announcement 30 of 2015: Odyssey (American Odyssey)

These days, BBC2 doesn’t show too many current American dramas, so their acquisition of Odyssey – or American Odyssey as it’s called in the US – is an interesting move. Apparently conceived as a modern version of Homer’s epic, the show follows an American soldier (played by the British Anna Friel) in Africa who stumbles onto an international conspiracy (yes, another one) and has to make her way across the world, presumably with / in search of the truth and, avoiding, I’m guessing, a bunch of people wanting to stop her, at all costs, etc etc, you know the drill.

Maybe the Friel factor prompted BBC2’s interest, or maybe they’re big fans of ancient Greek poetry, who knows? I’m not sure how long-term this foray back into the American drama market will turn out to be, though. The first two episodes of Odyssey will air on BBC2 tomorrow night (Sunday, 9.15pm – double bill, natch), coincidentally the same night the finale will air on NBC, but, given the low ratings and “mixed” critical response in the US, it would take some sort of miracle for a second season to be ordered, so these 13 episodes may well be all we get on either side of the Atlantic.

That may put some people off, but sometimes a single season of something, as long as they finish the story, is enough, I think. Either way, it’s not going to put me off, because the word is that unpopcult favourite Gregory Fitoussi joins the show as a recurring player in episode 3, and the prospect of Pierre Clement / Henri Leclair coming back to our screens is more than enough to get me watching and reviewing for now, anyway. I’ll report back as soon as I can.

Public Service Announcement 29 of 2015: True Detective, My Mad Fat Diary

The first season of True Detective was definitely worth watching despite its Damaged Men, cod philosophy, and problematic attitude to women. As promised, it’s returning with a new cast and new storyline – so out go Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, and in come three men whose careers, for various reasons, need the credibility that a quality cable TV drama can provide: Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrell, and Tim Riggins out of Friday Night Lights. Rachel McAdams and Kelly Reilly are also in the main cast, and presumably hoping to get more to work with than the female characters did last time round. On looking back at my reviews of the first run I see that I promised to “watch the shit out of” a new season. Except… I’m not going to, for a couple of reasons.

When looking back at the first season I suggested that it perhaps looked like great TV, without actually being great TV. Much of the remarkable look and feel of the show was down to director Cary Fukunaga, who helmed all of the episodes first time round (and won an Emmy). This time, though, he’s out of the director’s chair, amid rumours of conflict with creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto. Meantime Fukunaga remains as exec producer, although given that (apparently) one of the episodes will feature an unflattering portrayal of an Asian-American director one might reasonably wonder what his continuing involvement actually amounts to.

And, crucially, the second season just isn’t as good, according to the critics who’ve seen the first few episodes. I suspect that part of this will be a delayed season 1 backlash, but the consensus so far is that Pizzolatto hasn’t managed to pull off the same trick twice. The good news is that, once again, Sky Atlantic is sticking very closely to American transmission, which starts today, so for UK viewers there’s a 2am simulcast in the early hours of tomorrow morning and a 9pm repeat (Mondays, Sky Atlantic).

One show I will definitely be watching, though, is My Mad Fat Diary, back for its third and final season. At the end of season 2 I suggested that the last episode had rounded things off nicely, but I’ll be delighted to see whether there’s a little more mileage in this fresh, funny, and charming show, anchored by a dazzling but subtle performance from Sharon Rooney. Three episodes this time round, and weekly reviews again (Mondays, E4, 10pm).

Also starting: three-part Sheridan Smith vehicle Black Work, in which she plays a police officer investigating the murder of her detective husband (tonight, ITV, 9pm); Tim Robbins and Jack Black in HBO’s new and reputedly not-terribly-good geopolitical comedy (sic) The Brink (Mondays, Sky Atlantic, 10.10pm); season 3 of Chicago Fire (Tuesdays, Sky Living, 9pm). And we should probably have mentioned Norwegian six-parter The Saboteurs, about the struggle to stop Nazi Germany developing an atomic bomb during the Second World War, before now (Fridays, More4, 9pm; first episode available through the usual on-demand services).

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.