Public Service Announcement 42 of 2019: Bellevue, How To Get Away With Murder

Our Unpopcanada division is about to ramp up production, with the return of Private Eyes to British screens next week. Meantime, the whole of eight-part Canadian crime drama Bellevue is available on My5. Anna Paquin plays a detective investigating the disappearance of a trans teen, while dealing with what looks like lashings of Secret Pain: a father who committed suicide, and the reappearance of a mysterious person from her past. Reviews would suggest that it’s OK; the fact that it wasn’t renewed after this season, shown in 2017 in its home country, would suggest that it didn’t quite find an audience.

And I’m a couple of days late with the return of How To Get Away With Murder, largely because I don’t care any more. But it’s back for its fifth season at 9pm on Sky Witness on Wednesdays. I assume they’re still all unlikeable.

Scandal s7 ep 12; How To Get Away With Murder s4 ep 13

We’ve  moved on a few months and Olivia, now a guest lecturer at a university, scrawls “How To Survive A Scandal” on a blackboard. This is a nicely meta touch given that Annalise Keating is in the back of the lecture hall. Yes, we’re in the Shondaland universe, and it’s the Scandal/How To Get Away With Murder crossover episode(s).

Annalise wants Olivia’s help with a class action: she’s representing around 100 people in prison, all poor and mostly people of colour, who had to rely on overworked public defenders at their original trials. Annalise’s argument is that this equates to unequal treatment, and she wants the case fast-tracked to the Supreme Court. For which she needs some political nous of the sort that Olivia can provide. Olivia vacillates – largely because of Annalise’s reputation, which I must admit I’m not up-to-date on the details of, having missed the last couple of seasons of HTGAWM – but eventually agrees to take the case.

And that takes us into Scandal proper, with Olivia lining Fitz up to help, and Mellie, Jake, and QPA on the other side trying to stall the case, Mellie pretending it’s because she wants to hold it back until there’s a better chance of success, but really just wanting to deny Olivia a win. It’s tremendous fun, with the added thrill of seeing Kerry Washington and Viola Davis, two of the leading TV actors of their generation, going head-to-head, in particular in an incendiary scene which starts with Annalise (correctly) accusing Olivia of dishonesty, and leads to a full-fledged argument about the lived experience of African American women, which Mr White Privilege here certainly isn’t going to comment on. There’s even room for a nice little subplot, in which Michaela flirts with Marcus.

The case having been accepted onto the SCOTUS docket, it’s over to How To Get Away With Murder for the second half of the story. And while this was also good, it really just confirmed my decision that HTGAWM and I are better off apart: everyone in the show is still thoroughly unlikeable in a way which is quite distracting. In particular, Asher is still Asher, making Michaela’s decision to do it in a car with Marcus entirely defensible. A bit too much of the episode was, I thought, given over to Annalise having a crisis of confidence which we know she’s going to resolve in time to appear before the court, but that’s more than compensated for by casting the magnificent Sharon Lawrence as opposing counsel.

Public Service Announcement 5 of 2018: Lethal Weapon, Bull, How To Get Away With Murder, Outsiders, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction

Some big American network shows return in the UK this week. Top of the bill in this PSA is, of course, the terrific Lethal Weapon. I sat down to watch the first episode with, frankly, low expectations, and was blown away by just how good it was. And then it kept on being good, week after week. It’s capable of being moving, thrilling, charming, and funny, all in the same episode. It has a great ship, a lovely marriage, plenty of big, dumb action sequences, and a sense of humour about all of them. It has proper acting (most notably from Damon Wayans, Clayne Crawford, Kevin Rahm, and Keesha Sharp, although there isn’t a weak link in it). And in the engine room it has writers and director who know what the hell they’re doing. In short, it’s one of the best network shows available at the moment, and if you’re not watching you’re missing out. I might even review this time round (tonight, ITV, 9pm).

Then there’s Bull, which is a perfectly passable way to spend an hour: a proper ratings success, as these things go, and a show which feels as if it has quite a lot of potential being held in reserve. I like it (tonight, FOX UK, 10pm).

And… then there’s How to Get Away With Murder, which returned earlier this week for its fourth season, and which I gave up on during its second year when I realised that I didn’t know who any of the characters actually were. Having said that if the rumours of a Shondaland crossover are true, I am THERE for any scene in which Viola Davis and Kerry Washington face off (Tuesdays, Sky Living, 10pm).

A couple of other things. Both seasons of now-cancelled Appalachian family drama Outsiders have made their way to UK Netflix. Reviews for this show were mixed, but there are some trustworthy critics who really, really like it. I suspect it’s worth a look. Also on Netflix: David Letterman’s new talk show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, a six-part series in which Dave goes one-on-one with some seriously big names, He starts with Barack Obama, though, which is likely to provoke the most exquisitely painful nostalgia (both available now).

Public Service Announcement 27 of 2017: How To Get Away With Murder, Friends From College, In The Dark

Unpopcult might be about to go on its own summer hiatus – although it hasn’t quite happened yet – but the TV keeps on coming. First up is the third season of How To Get Away With Murder, which has finally made its way to the UK. It’s moved from Universal to Sky Living, but I won’t be moving with it; at some point during season 2 I realised that I was trying way too hard to care about any of the characters. It’s been renewed for a fourth season, though, so if it’s still your thing it’s worth keeping going (Thursday 13 July, 9pm, Sky Living).

Next, I have little idea of how the artistic side of the Netflix business model works. It seems to me, though, that from time to time it consists of throwing a load of money and a load of stars at an interesting writer-directer and hoping that magic will ensue. Step forward Friends From College, a comedy about a group of Harvard buddies reconnecting. It’s exec produced by Nicholas Stoller (The Five-Year Engagement, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Muppets) and Francesca Delbanco, his – sorry, I know this looks kind of sexist, but I’ve looked her up on IMDB and as far as I can see this is her first credit – wife. It stars, among others, Cobie Smulders, Annie Parisse, Keegan-Michael Key, Fred Savage, and Billy Eichner. And, after all that, the advance reviews suggest that it’s rubbish (Netflix, Friday 14 July).

Finally, a bit of British drama: In The Dark is a four-part adaptation of a Mark Billingham crime thriller. I’m a big fan of Billingham, and the book is excellent. As ever, though, it’s precisely because I like the source material that I won’t be watching: I know what DS Helen Weeks looks like, and it isn’t MyAnna Buring. I have a hunch, though, that this will actually be quite good (tonight, 9pm, BBC 1).

How To Get Away With Murder s2 ep 15

We’re reaching that time of the year when the shows that we write about on a weekly basis are winding down, so that gives me a chance to say a little about some of the things I watch regularly but don’t review. Starting with How To Get Away With Murder, and its somewhat disappointing second season.

On one level, I suppose you could argue that to populate a network drama with such a tremendously unlikeable set of characters – in particular, the rebarbative Frank – is moderately courageous, even if it left at least one viewer looking for someone to root for. Admittedly the last couple of episodes, probably the best of the season, addressed and mitigated Annalise’s monomania: it’s understandable why she might be so devoted to her career given the twin tragedies which befell her, and the scenes which dealt with the REDACTED of her REDACTED had genuine power. I won’t forget the photo taken in the hospital any time soon.

Against that, though, I thought the plotting to be messy. Moreover, there was something deliberately dishonest about the way in which we were taken back to key scenes and shown that crucial information had been withheld – the one where Philip assaulted Annalise being a good example of what I mean. Ah. We only saw half of it first time round. That’s not good storytelling; that’s cheating.

There was, of course, another murder at the end of this final episode, teeing up the third season. I’m not sure if I’ll bother next time round; I suspect there are better shows I could be watching.

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 53 of 2015: Scream Queens, How To Get Away With Murder, Catastrophe

Lots happening this week. Let’s start with the UK debut of Ryan Murphy’s latest show, comedy/drama/horror Scream Queens, starring Rachel Berry from Glee and Jeff Fordham from Nashville among others. The first season focusses on a series of murders at a college sorority. The intention seems to be that it will be an anthology in future seasons, although that presumes renewal, which for now is a long way from being certain. It doesn’t look like my kind of thing, and CJ says she would sooner jump out of a window than watch. So that’s a “no” from Unpopcult, then (tonight, E4, 10pm).

The second season of latest Shonda-hit How To Get Away With Murder looks like a safer bet. Like the first season, this one is planned to clock in at a tauter-than-normal 15 episodes, unusual for a network show, but if your lead actor is Viola Davis – now with an Emmy under her belt – you do the deal she wants. I was entertained if not wholly convinced by season 1, although I thought its second half generally stronger, and it’ll be interesting to see whether they can make the concept work again (Wednesday 26, Universal, 10pm).

And one of the most pleasant surprises of early 2015 is back this week as well: Catastrophe, which I was going to call a “British comedy”, although since its writers/creators/lead actors are Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, that probably wouldn’t be entirely accurate. The important thing, though, is that it manages to be simultaneously funny, romantic, and foul-mouthed, with Horgan and Delaney two of the most likeable and attractive screen presences around at the moment (Tuesday 27, Channel 4, 10pm).

Also starting: season 2 of The Affair (Wednesday, Sky Atlantic, 9pm); season 7 of The Vampire Diaries (Wednesday, ITV 2, 11pm); season 7 of The Middle (Tuesday, Comedy Central, 9pm).

As ever, we start to get busy at this time of year: we’ll have at least one more PSA this week, with The Blacklist, Supergirl, and Code Black all coming up very shortly. And before the end of the year UK viewers will be getting Elementary, The Bridge (Scand-iteration), London Spy, Blindspot, and Scandal, among others.