Nashville s6 ep 1

It’s New Year’s Eve, it’s the start of Nashville’s final run, and just about everyone seems a little out of sorts. Gunnar and Scarlett are officially Not A Couple, but don’t seem entirely happy about it. Presumably because they’re still actually in love with each other but don’t want to admit it, and since they’ve been BEHAVING LIKE IDIOTS and BREAKING MY HEART for five seasons now, I guess it would be unrealistic to expect anything different at this stage.

Gunnar, with a courageous hairstyle, and somewhat adrift without the other half of The Exes, almost falls apart on stage, but is rather sweetly rescued by Will, in a sequence which for all the world looked as if it was building to a big New Year’s kiss. Scarlett, meantime, is chaperoning Maddie, who’s been invited to play a concert with Jonah Ford.That’s JONAH! FORD! OMG! Daphne is SO. EXCITED. He’s like… a slightly nicer Justin Bieber who looks not unlike a young Gunnar, I suppose? Anyway, there’s mutual attraction between Maddie and Jonah, of course, even though he, annoyingly, has a “posse”, or whatever it’s called these days. Maddie’s song at the concert, incidentally, is the best of the night. A melancholy Scarlett toys with phoning Gunnar, but doesn’t. As I say, idiots.

Deacon seems to have reached some sort of détente with Zach, who has moved on from Will, to the latter’s chagrin, and is encouraging Deacon to get back out there and live his post-Rayna life. He’s not the only one doing so either, and since Kaitlyn Doubleday’s name appears in the credits I assume that what everyone actually means is that Deacon should be endeavouring to hit it with Jessie. Deacon, though, is quite happy to stay at home and read his book. I feel ya, Deac.

The main storyline of the night, though, belongs to Juliette. At the start, she’s back in diva mode, and running through her usual checklist of appalling behaviour in the run-up to the start of her first tour in two years; St Avery, as ever, looking on patiently, although unless I imagined it I detected just the slightest hint that he’s finally growing wearily of her shtick.

All, then, is normal on Planet Juliette. But when she takes to the Bridgestone Arena stage, one or two audience members hold up placards calling her out for stealing a song from Maddie. And, despite the fact that it’s an otherwise full house which is all on Team Juliette, she mumbles something about how people wouldn’t love her if they knew her, and walks off. (What that says for Avery’s more or less unconditional love for her is clearly something she hasn’t thought about.) She and Avery then decide to have a getting-away-from-it-all trip, but she’s unable to sleep; finding herself in a hotel lounge at 2am, she has a curious encounter with a mysterious, yet irritatingly smug, stranger who describes himself as “someone on (your) journey”.

Unfortunately, that’s not the last we will see of Smug Stranger; not by a long way. Juliette is later watching TV when he turns up, now identified as Darius Enright, standing outside his Church of Coherent Philosophy and talking the sort of nonsense that sounds profound but isn’t, apart from a reference to how everyone has a Secret Pain, which is certainly something Unpopcult has learned over many years of watching TV.

Darius then contacts Juliette through Glenn and they have a meeting, at which he spouts more woo – the “fake power of celebrity” is “diminishing (your) authentic power within”; “you have to give up control in order to get control”; that sort of thing. Juliette, lacking in confidence and suffering from depression, laps it all up, even as Darius maintains that he isn’t running a cult. This is stupid, but also good: I kind of feel that Nashville at any given time always has at least one story arc that annoys me beyond measure, and this season it’s going to belong to Darius and his not-a-cult. I wonder if he’s going to want, I don’t know, some money from her? Anyway, this wasn’t the best Nashville by any means, but I’m delighted it’s back.


Lethal Weapon s2 ep 9

A body is found in a dumpster, and the main suspect is an off-his-meds schizophrenic whose apartment is one big Conspiracy Wall. Once it’s established that he’s not the killer, Riggs and Murtaugh have to deal with his theory that Elvis is alive and controlling the traffic. And, as it turns out, he has a point. It’s an entertaining romp, and it has a DRONE. A talking one at that. I had less time for the C-plot, in which Murtaugh and Trish are trying to get their daughter into a tony pre-school. It feels like I’ve seen this a million times before, and the punchline is always that at least one parent will feel obliged to behave like a total idiot to impress the pretentious asses who run the school. Which is what happens. Inevitably, it’s Murtaugh who is on idiocy duty.

The really big news, though, is that Riggs and Molly KISS! (SQUEE!) Actually, she kisses him, and he spends the rest of the episode agonising about it, and listing reasons why they shouldn’t date, because he’s an MORON. Fortunately he comes to his senses by the end of the episode, and they totally make out. Kristen Gutoskie, incidentally, has considerable comic timing and quite a way with smart, snappy dialogue, neither of which she really got a chance to demonstrate in Containment, because she was too busy dying.

Public Service Announcement 13 of 2018: The Good Fight, Keeping Faith

The Good Fight or “What Diane Lockhart Did Next” hit screens last year with some very big heels to fill – things went awry for The Good Wife towards the end of its run, but it will always be one of my favourite programmes of all time. Happily, TGF did its mother show proud: its first season wasn’t perfect (neither was TGW’s) but, as I said in my review of the season finale, it wasn’t just a worthy follow-up to one of the best tv shows ever made but a genuinely terrific one in its own right. So I’m looking forward to season two, starting on More 4 tonight (Thursday) at 9pm and pleased to see that we’re getting a very civilised thirteen episodes this time around instead of the mere ten we had before. Statement necklaces at the ready: we’ll be reviewing weekly, as usual.

Talking of shows about female lawyers, meantime, BBC Wales’s eight-part drama Keeping Faith has been quietly hidden away from the rest of the UK, with episodes going out at 9pm on Tuesday nights on BBC 1 Wales while everyone else has to make do with Shetland or something. Eve Myles stars as solicitor Faith (yes, the title is stupid, but don’t let it put you off) whose husband Evan just up and disappears one day, leaving her with their kids, their legal practice and no idea what is going on. All five episodes shown so far are available on iPlayer and while the first episode takes a little while to get going, once Evan vanishes things get very compelling very quickly – Faith herself is a great, rounded character, the mystery deepens with every episode, and, as one of my workmates made me realise today, the show manages to be quite gripping without, if I can paraphrase Jed, relying on the usual thriller motif of “artfully-displayed” naked female corpses (take note, True Detective, The Fall and co). It’s not anywhere near as glamorous or as sharp as The Good Fight, but I really, really like it – if you’re interested, it’s worth a shot.

Designated Survivor s2 ep 12


Designated Survivor has always been a tremendously silly show and normally I love that about it, but this week’s spy shenanigans may have pushed me too far. Materialising like the ghost of boyfriends past in Agent Q’s bedroom, the agent formerly known as Mr MI6 finally resurfaces, having been on the run (since Q shot him) from his Russian handlers because they know he’s been burned and his British employers because they know he’s a traitor. His options somewhat limited, therefore, he offers himself to the Americans who indirectly blame him for the death of their First Lady, and very directly blame him for bruising Q’s heart.

Happily, Q gets to bruise his face in retaliation, before dragging him off to be interrogated by her and Aaron. This is admittedly somewhat surprising but, as we’ve learned over the course of the season, Aaron’s duties as National Security Adviser are much more varied and plot-dependent than common sense and real life would necessarily suggest. Anyway, turns out Damian has some information on how to track down the hacker who’s hobbled NASA and Roscomos and is preventing them from saving a crew of astronauts stuck on the malfunctioning International Space Station from a highly unpleasant death. Space being infinite, the stakes literally could not be higher then, and so, instead of being huckled to a CIA black site and waterboarded forever, Damian is popped back into the field to save the spacemen and spend some quality alone time with Q before he goes to jail.

I can just about understand the rationale for this when we’re dealing with the skittish secret source who’ll only talk to his old buddy, but any attempt at plausibility goes running headfirst off a cliff when Q takes Damian, and only Damian, along to a very public, very open flower show to see some guy who doesn’t know him from Adam, Chuck, Reed Diamond or any number of people still legitimately in law enforcement and available to help Q out.

‘Twas ever thus on procedural drama, I suppose. Plausible or not, it’s all over soon enough: the systems are fixed, the astronauts are saved, and Damian is duly dropped off at a nearby penitentiary to think about what he’s done. I hope we don’t see him again – now I’ve decided to get on board the good ship Qaron, I don’t need him trying to muscle his way on board – but the writers seem weirdly fascinated with the man, so he’ll probably be in every episode from now till the season finale. Sigh.

Meantime, unexpected consequences of the whole business include President Jack Bauer reuniting with (and being very impressed with) Audrey from 24, who is now some sort of science genius; Lyor behaving like an eight-year-old; and Cornelius Moss reading his boss the Riot Act and ending the Icarus investigation, both of which seem like extremely positive developments for the show if not for Cornelius, who is immediately and angrily kicked to the kerb by PJB. He must not have watched the first half of the season.

It’s not a bad episode, but there’s a little too much that’s a little too daft for it to succeed entirely. The Damian stuff is one example, but the thing that bugs me most is just how much time the President of the United States devotes in the middle of an urgent, critical and potentially devastating interstellar crisis to the sorrows and tribulations of one Little P. Lessons obviously haven’t been learned from season one’s ill-advised focus on Kirkman family storylines – here we are again, taking time out from the politics and the spy adventures, otherwise known as the stuff we actually tune in to this show for, to meet with Penny’s Principal. Come on, now.

Scandal s7 ep 9

Spoilers, kind of

This episode, Good People, is something of a Quinn and Rowan two-hander: it starts by rewinding to the point at which Quinn was abducted by Rowan, then shows us what happened thereafter from their point of view, although we didn’t quite get to the end of last week’s episode and Charlie throttling Rowan.

So, yeah, the big headline is that Quinn isn’t dead: in fact, she’s alive, and now fully aware of the fact that Olivia was prepared to sacrifice her. But we take an unnecessarily long time to get there, we really do.

There were one or two things to like: I was entertained by Rowan’s repeat visits to a big supermarket, where he starts by getting store employee Marvin to give him a bit of buying advice. In due course Rowan and Marvin become friends, resulting in Marvin (a) buying a gun for Rowan in his own name; (b) delivering Quinn’s baby; and (c) ending up dead on Rowan’s basement floor. But that apart there wasn’t much going on, and with only a handful of episodes left, I’m not sure the show can afford to fritter one away on something as insubstantial as this. Scandal in its pomp would have combined last week and this, crammed the action from both into the first two-thirds of an episode, and had enough time left over for Huck to torture a randomly-selected member of Congress.

The Blacklist s5 ep 10

We start in Toronto, and for a moment I fantasise about what a crossover between The Blacklist and Private Eyes might look like. It wouldn’t be anything like this, though: a nerve gas is released in a crowded nightclub, leading to the death of 57 people from foaming-at-the-mouth disease. I can’t see Angie and Shade wanting anything to do with that.

The terrorists responsible are arrested quickly, and the bank accounts which financed the attack are traced. They’re due to be frozen in a couple of days: it’s slightly odd that it can’t be done immediately, but maybe even account freezers need a weekend off. Which gives this week’s Blacklister, The Informant, the opportunity to obtain access to the accounts and lock them. His plan is that, for a price, the account holders will be given an opportunity to get their money out before their accounts are frozen.

While that’s going on Liz is back, and starting to construct what will in time be, I expect, a splendid Conspiracy Wall dedicated to tracking down Tom’s killer. And Prescott is connected to the main Informant suspect, a man called Howard Bishop, and once again blackmailing Ressler in order to keep the Task Force away from Bishop.

This should have been a much better episode than it was: there’s plenty of set-up, and the ending is very strong. (The conversation between Cooper and Ressler, both men who know they’ve sold their souls in their own way, is powerful.) Moreover, The Blacklist remains very willing to kill characters off: there are two significant deaths this week, and the way in which the writers have always been prepared to throw a petrol bomb over their shoulders while exiting an episode has always been bracing. The bit in the middle, though, felt somewhat underpowered.

Below The Surface (Gidseltagningen) s1 ep 1; s1 ep 2


Below The Surface is the latest drama to fill BBC4’s Subtitled Saturday slot, and it’s actually quite good. Not great, not spectacular, but good.

The first episode starts with the hijacking of an underground train in Copenhagen: fifteen passengers are marched off at gunpoint by three captors, then caged in a part of the metro system which is under construction. The terrorists are helpfully Anglophone, incidentally, which might be verisimilitude, or a production company with an eye on international sales.

The job of finding the hostages and securing their safe release falls to Philip Nørgaard (Johannes Lassen), the man in charge of the Danish Counter-Terrorism Task Force. Philip was himself captured and tortured in an unspecified foreign country, and as a result is still suffering from PTSD. His “escape” from captivity is referred to in a way which renders it somewhat ambiguous: to start with I wondered whether this was going to be a sort of Hygge Homeland, with the implication that Philip might be on the side of the hijackers, but I don’t think the show’s going there. Philip also has a somewhat high-maintenance girlfriend, Louise (Sara Hjort Ditlevsen), who clearly thinks he should just get over his own kidnap already, draw a line, and move on. Louise is also part of his task force, mind you, so maintaining the separation of church and state isn’t going to be easy.

Thus far the show has been refreshingly free of the Scandidrama cliches: no tasteful knitwear, no snow, no forests, and (best of all) no imaginatively mutilated dead young women. However, having a plot arc featuring the media seems to be nøn-negøtiable. So we’re over to yet another TV studio where no-one is allowed to sit down, and introduced to Naja, an experienced broadcaster who is selected by the captors as their link to the outside world: as part of their media strategy, in fact, they offer her a Skype interview with one of the hostages.

So who are the hijackers? And what do they want? They make contact with Philip’s team and provide an answer to the second question: they want €4m. There’s some debate about whether this is high or low. Seems quite reasonable, to me, for 15 hostages, but of course we need to go through the usual We Don’t Pay Terrorists stuff. An answer to the first question, on the other hand, remains elusive until right at the end, when the show pulls off a quite terrific twist, suggesting that one of the hijackers might well be known to Philip: specifically, that he’s Ahmad, the man who held Philip in captivity.

In the second episode, Philip tries to convince the head of the Danish security service of this, but the latter isn’t having it: Ahmad was killed by an American drone, so you’re imagining it, and are you feeling OK, Philip? I’m willing to bet that Ahmad’s body was never recovered, and those of us who have ever seen TV before etc. etc. Philip also has a conversation with his father, a retired security operative himself, which subtly heightens the mystery around his “escape” from captivity: my guess at the moment is that someone paid a ransom for Philip in defiance of governmental policy.

Which is kind of where we are with the present-day hostages. Naja is fired by her employers for running the Skype hostage interview – I would have thought that the ratings alone would have guaranteed her a job for life, but apparently not – so she sets up a blog and starts crowdfunding the ransom, with the support of the families of the hostages. Philip can’t stop her, exactly, but he reasonably points out that she has no experience of negotiating with terrorists. Not that his own point man, Esben, is great at it either, mind you, so he pulls Esben back and gives the gig to Louise.

The terrorists then offer Naja another interview with a hostage, but Philip is on alert: he thinks that they might be using Naja to further their cause, possibly even livestream an execution, and he prepares to block the transmission if necessary. And it is necessary: the interview is with hostage Adel (the excellent Dar Salim, who was Amir in Borgen and Peter in The Bridge), who has been goading the terrorists, verbally and physically, since being taken captive. I’m not sure why he was chosen for the interview, but he declines to follow the script, and just as a gun is pointed at Adel Philip pulls the plug on the stream. A few minutes later the task force is told where to pick up Adel’s body. By this stage we’ve been given, through flashbacks, an idea of Adel’s personality and background, so this is an effective gambit on a number of levels: we’re being introduced to the hostages, which increases our investment in their fate; and the writers appreciate the need to raise the stakes by killing one or two people off. All in all, it’s a promising start.