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.

Public Service Announcement 16 of 2015: Person of Interest, How to Get Away With Murder

It’s been around 10 months (seriously) since season 2 of Person of Interest ended on UK tv, a year and a half (!) since season 3 began on US tv and six months since season 4 followed it. One might be forgiven then, for thinking channel Five had quietly ditched the Machine and moved on. Plenty of viewers will have, after all. But, for those of us in the UK who still care despite the channel’s best attempts to put us off, turns out Five is finally bringing us season 3 of Jonathan Nolan’s suits’n’ surveillance conspiracy drama, as of Monday (23 March) at 10pm.

I assume we’re supposed to be pleased.

Even unpopcult, however, which has been pretty committed to the show from the start, is far less excited at the prospect of its return than it would have been had the best part of a year and a big bunch of ENORMOUS spoilers not gone by in the meantime. Sigh.

Still, we’ve hung in with the Machine and its buddies this long so we’ll resume weekly reviews for now and see how we get on.

Also returning to our screens, albeit only 6 episodes behind the U.S. – see, Five? It’s not that hard – is How To Get Away With Murder, season 1 of which resumes on Universal at 10pm tomorrow (Sunday). The Shondaland house style and I do not play well together, and Jed has reviews coming out of his ears just now, so we won’t be covering it weekly at the moment. We might well check in with the, er, Murderers every now and again, however, assuming we can dig our way out from under the avalanche of other shows coming our way. On which note, check back here very soon for PSAs about, amongst other things, the return of Stalker, the final, final season of Mad Men and – *claps hands breathlessly* – season 5 of GAME. OF. THRONES.

How To Get Away With Murder s1 ep 9

As this episode was the midseason finale, and the one in which we finally get to find out what happened to Annalise’s husband Sam, it seems like a good time to check in with How To Get Away With Murder. It’s doing very nicely in the ratings in America, so a second season looks likely. On balance this is good news, I’d say, even if I still kind of feel that there’s a potentially terrific show presently hiding inside a good one.

For this run of nine episodes, as I suggested might be the case, the show has borrowed structurally from Damages: murders, multiple timelines including flash forwards, and a strong female lead. There’s also been a dash of Murder One – for some reason, a show which continues to be more or less overlooked in the history of the Golden Age of TV – in the way in which Annalise Keating dominates the show, turning her colleagues Frank and Bonnie, for instance, into little more than ciphers. Of course, this offers as yet untapped possibilities for the future, and if the show runs for a while I’d guess that we’ll learn more about them.

The first episode was somewhat Wes-centric, but we’ve found out more about the supporting cast in the ensuing weeks, particularly Wes’s fellow students. The wisdom of starting with Wes has become clear as the season has gone on: just about all of the other characters are unappealing to a greater or lesser degree, all the way down to murder suspect Rebecca, who for most of the run has been plumbing almost parodic levels of unlikeability to the point where it’s difficult to see why Wes would put everything on the line for her. Then again, he fancies her. Men will do quite a lot in those circumstances.

It has to be said that the quality of the episodes has been variable. I don’t think we’ve had a great one yet, and the show has a way to go before it can be described as compulsive or unmissable. Still, the storytelling has been smart; the Cases of the Week generally taut, if perforce no more than sketches; the sex has been surprisingly hot for a network show; and Viola Davis’s performance has been a barnstorming but vanity-free exercise in how to hold centre stage. The twist at the end of this episode was an absolute cracker as well, pretty much explaining the title in itself and coming close to justifying the whole show. Although I still have reservations I’ve always looked forward to watching How To Get Away With Murder, and I’ll certainly be back for the final six episodes in the season.

How To Get Away With Murder s1 ep 1

Professor Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) introduces her Criminal Law 100 class to a lecture theatre full of students: it should, she snaps, be called “How To Get Away With Murder”. Which is appropriate, as the episode started with a flashforward to four panicky student types apparently trying to decide how best to get away with a murder. Keating is also a defence attorney, and her students get to assist with her case preparation: they (all) sit in on a consultation with a woman accused of the attempted murder of her married lover, and the best of them will be selected to work at Keating’s law firm with her associates: bright, blonde Bonnie (Liza Weil), and ever-so-slightly-sleazy Frank (Charlie Weber).

Of the students, it’s probably Wes Gibbins (Alfred Enoch) who gets most screentime this week: he’s on the back foot from the start, in off the wait list, ill-prepared for class, and living in a skanky apartment with a noisy – yet mysterious and a little hot – neighbour. He looks like he’s going to be the decent one to be contrasted against his psychopathically ambitious classmates and his adulterous boss – Keating is married to a professor, and knocking off a cop – whose ethics are at best questionable. Which in turn means that, for now, he’s perhaps a little unexciting.

If I’m being honest, it took a while for the main plots to lock into place for me; there are (I think) three separate murder plots going on in this episode, and it probably wasn’t until the final five minutes that I worked out what was going on with them: there’s the flashforward murder (the victim of which we discover right at the end); the Case of the Week murder (which essentially, and gratifyingly, remains murky); and the missing sorority girl murder, which is taking place in the present-day timeline and is perhaps connected to the strange fingernail/bite marks in Wes’s apartment.

But that didn’t spoil my enjoyment. As it happens, the show reminded me at least as much of Damages – strong female lead played by a movie-star, criminal law, multiple timelines – as it did anything else from the Shondaland stable. But that’s not a bad thing, of course, and on the evidence of this pilot episode ‘How To Get Away With Murder’ looks as if it’s going to be more than preposterous and entertaining enough to keep me watching. Viola Davis’s performance, in particular, is excellent.