Public Service Announcement 34 of 2019: Designated Survivor

My problems with the second season of Designated Survivor were many and well-documented on these pages, so when Fox decided to cancel it, it felt like something of a mercy killing. Season one was great, silly fun but the show ran out of road when the original conspiracy ended, and season two turned out to be a season too many – the show didn’t seem to know what to do with the better characters and relationships it had, so it added a bunch of new, terrible ones and some incredibly annoying, stupid storylines, and, to put it politely, drove me nuts.

Because nothing is ever truly dead on TV these days though, Netflix  decided to resurrect the Bauer Administration and pad the cast out even more. So the show which probably shouldn’t have had a second season (much as I wanted one at the time) and already has too many characters, is now getting a third season and even more of them. Oh, God. On the plus side, though, the new season is only ten episodes – maybe a shorter, tighter season will work better? Maybe. We’ll see. I’ve criticised Designated Survivor a lot, but I really loved the first season and no one will be happier than me if the show gets its mojo back. (And if Emily and Aaron get together properly. PLEASE.) Anyway, since all ten episodes are going to drop at once tomorrow (7 June), I won’t be doing week by week reviews, but I’ll review the first one at least. Please let it be good.


Public Service Announcement 33 of 2019: The Blacklist, Private Eyes

Quite a few Unpopcult-friendly shows starting over the next few days, leading up to the remarkable prospect, next week, of The West Wing’s Sam Seaborn on ITV as a cop in Lincolnshire.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Blacklist is returning for its sixth season tomorrow night, and it has to be said that it’s maintained a remarkably high standard over the years, given that its original premise could easily have burned itself out. (And it’s already been renewed for a seventh season.) The writers, of course, Went There at the end of season 5, confirming a long-held fan theory in the process, and I’m tremendously excited about how they’re going to get themselves out of that particular corner. Weekly reviews to come (Wednesday 5 June, 9pm, Sky One).

And, while we wait for the third season of delightful Canadian nonsense Private Eyes, it’s worth quickly mentioning that the first season is now getting a run on 5 USA, also on Wednesdays at 9, starting tomorrow. We love this show. We ship the leads. And Ennis Esmer is in it. If you’re tempted to give it a go, our reviews of the first two episodes are here. (And most of the other episodes are here.)

Hawaii Five-0 s9 ep 22

Another slightly odd one, with members of the ensemble cast given quite a lot of prominence. I’m guessing that Alex and Scott were having some downtime. Noelani gets the A-plot this week. Her mentor, Dr Chu, has been kidnapped, and is being required to carry out heart surgery on a baddie. Noelani’s role is to procure a heart valve from the morgue, then assist with the surgery. Unfortunately the valve she obtains is no good. Not a problem, says Baddie #1, shooting Baddie #2: “there’s your fresh valve”. The resourceful Noelani manages to disarm her captors and makes a run for it, only to discover that Dr Chu is… well, let’s just say that her position is more nuanced than it originally appeared to be.

Meantime, Adam is visited by a woman in a wedding dress. It’s his old friend Tamiko, whose fiancé appears to have left her at the altar. The matter is somewhat complicated by the fact that the missing man was an undercover FBI agent, who was investigating Tamiko’s father’s “business”: that being, of course, Yakuza business. Well, this sort of thing is meat and drink to Adam, of course, given what I suppose I must still call his “past”. But Mr Yakuza isn’t fooled: “One day”, he tells Adam, “you will accept who you are”. Adam doesn’t demur. Will the writers go there in season 10? I hope they do.

Public Service Announcement 33 of 2019: Deadwood, Always Be My Maybe, Blindspot

We’ve been a little quiet round here recently, but that’s not to say there’s nothing on. The days of tv slowing down for summer are long gone – the next couple of weeks alone will bring new Designated Survivor, new Killing Eve, new Handmaid’s Tale and new Big Little Lies amongst LOADS of others, with the (not entirely concrete, date-wise) promise of new Private Eyes and new Poldark also hovering somewhere over the horizon. We’ll be back to talk about all of them and more nearer their air dates but, meantime, a quick heads-up for some of this weekend’s tv fare.

First up is the return of hard-hitting period Western drama Deadwood, one of those serious auteur shows which critics and its fans love in a really devoted way but is very clearly not my type of thing. The show was cancelled somewhat unceremoniously in 2006 after three seasons, and there’s been vague talk of a movie to finish it off properly for years. Finally, it’s all come together – creator David Milch and the beloved cast including Ian “Lovejoy” McShane and unpopcult favourite Timothy Olyphant are back tonight (Saturday) on Sky Atlantic at 9pm with a fitting send-off for the show, if delighted critical reaction is to be believed. I’m quite pleased it’s all worked out, to be honest: I can be quite confident that something’s not for me while also wishing it well. If you’re a Deadwood fan, enjoy, and I genuinely am happy for you.

Way, way, way at the other end of the spectrum, meanwhile, is Netflix’s latest romcom Always Be My Maybe (streaming now) which not only has the benefits of a cast including caustic comedienne Ali Wong and movie legend Keanu Reeves (playing against type as the romantic competition rather than the hero), but will also remind everyone of this joyous piece of pop perfection. If that’s not enough to tempt you, I don’t know what is.

And finally for today, with the number of “breaks” it’s had recently I feel like I’ve PSA’d Blindspot almost as regularly as I’ve watched it, but here we are. Season 4 resumes again on Monday night at 10pm on Sky Witness. Since this is episode 20 of 22 and the season finale has now aired in the US, I’m hoping we’ll get a clear run to the finish line this time, but who knows?

The Good Fight s3 ep 9

No Kurt this week, so instead we get a two-for-one in the form of Blum and Maia teaming up to start a new firm. (This is a terrible deal, I want my money back and more Kurt pronto.) While the two worst characters in the show mess around annoying me, upsetting Marissa (who could maybe do with a bit of refresher training on confidentiality) and dragging down the episode, though, Reddick Boseman take no prisoners and go full throttle at the ADCB hearing to try and get Blum disbarred, to which I say THANK YOU and FINALLY, except not quite yet because my EPG says he’s back next week nonetheless. Argh.

All is not lost for the ep, though. Against the background of everyone waiting for the Mueller report, the Resistance story is the usual “the Book Club propose something dreadful, Diane worries they’re going too far” but instead of the equally usual “but Diane eventually decides the ends justify the means and goes along with it” ending, this time Diane realises they really have gone too far and it’s too late for her to entangle herself from them. Given that the next ep is the finale, it feels like this is going to be the second season in a row of TGF to end with Diane in real danger of going to prison. As the first season ended with Maia in real danger of going to prison, there’s definitely a theme.

Anyway, Christine Baranski is as wonderful as ever so the Book Club story is fine, but I can take or leave it as a story arc now, so if anyone who can make it happen is listening, can we move on for season four, please? The real gold this week is instead in the no-stone-left-unturned investigation Chumhum insists is carried out at the firm, which unfolds in so many terrific, clever, wildly uncomfortable, funny, sad, prescient and provocative ways I can’t even tell you. You can keep your Blums and your offices in the Loop; I could happily have watched a full hour of the turmoil caused by “Brenda” poking about and come back for more.

Madam Secretary s5 ep 20

When this episode was being made, it looked quite possible that it would have to function as a series, as well as season, finale. (Mad Sec has, of course, since been renewed for a sixth and final ten-episode season.) With that in mind, the writers clearly decided to leave everything on the field.

We’re at the final stage of nailing down the treaty on climate change migration: Russia and China are holdouts, but brought back into line quickly enough. Elizabeth then officially tenders her resignation, but stays in post long enough to go before the Foreign Relations Committee and bitch-slap Senator Luke Wheeler out of Nashville, then twist the arm of another Senator into supporting the treaty. With that, POTUS has the numbers in the Senate as well; the deal is done.

And that. it appears, is pretty much Mad Sec’s job done as well, and all that’s left is for her formally to announce her candidature for the White House. In anticipation Mike B has Daisy and Blake vetting Elizabeth’s kids: Blake is a bit rough on Stevie, and takes her out for a drink to apologise. They’re getting on well, and then they’re standing outside the bar, perhaps a little closer together than necessary, and all of a sudden you know where this is going… and they TOTALLY KISS. This possibility hadn’t even been on my radar until this episode, and now I am HERE for it. (They wind back to “platonic” later. Hmph.)

But there’s one final foreign policy crisis to be handled, and it’s a big one: so big, in fact, that it… kind of gets underplayed a little? Anyway, the UN Security Council, including Ambassador Peter Harriman, is meeting in Geneva. But a white nationalist terrorist group murders the entire Security Council with sarin. The entire Security Council. I mean, that’s not the sort of thing you can just… move on from? Anyway, this starts to scare off some treaty signatories, with a view to their own domestic politics; particularly when Luke Wheeler basically says that the terrorists have a point and that he’ll cancel the treaty if elected.

Cometh the hour, though: Russian Foreign Secretary Avdonin clearly wants to do business with Elizabeth rather than Luke, and tips her off that the Wheeler campaign has been bought. One very quick investigation later there’s a money trail from Russian oligarchs to a Wheeler Super PAC; and, unlike in real life, evidence of Russian support for a campaign is enough to knock the candidate out. Elizabeth then tries to walk back her resignation – the country needs her, etc. – but POTUS tells her to get out there and secure their legacy. Which she does: or, at least, she declares, and presumably we’ll get to see the outcome in the final season.

It’s an excellent end to another good season; perhaps it sagged a little in the second half of the run, but Madam Secretary continues to be a reliable source of grown-up pleasure: a thoughtful, intelligent, well-acted drama. The writers maybe wore their hearts on their sleeves more explicitly this time round, but these are not normal times, so I’ll forgive them that one.

Public Service Announcement 32 of 2019: Game of Thrones: The Last Watch, Riviera

We’re completists on unpopcult, as you know, but I’m slightly apprehensive about the prospect of watching a two hour-ish documentary on the making of the final season of Game of Thrones. I mean, I’d love some gossipy backstage chat and seeing Jon Snow or whoever having a laugh with Sansa and the Night King by the coffee cart while Brienne and Varys shoot the breeze by the water cooler (NB – I don’t know if any of this happens) but will seeing just how much CGI went into the massive battle scenes or exactly how to build your dragon spoil the tv magic? I once had to visit a chicken product factory years ago (it was a work thing) and it did not improve my chicken-eating experiences, if you know what I mean.

Having said that, the production of epic-scale fantasy television is (probably) not the same as the production of frozen chicken nuggets. I’ve written a lot about the acting and writing on GOT but haven’t spent anywhere near as much time on the direction, cinematography, sets, costume work and the like that made it the astonishing spectacle it was, so finding out more about all of that is no bad thing. And the trailer looks like it might make me cry. If you want to check it out then, Game of Thrones: The Last Watch is on Sky Atlantic tonight/Monday morning at 2AM with the now-standard prime time repeat at 9PM tomorrow (Monday) night.

If you’d like a more 21st-century but only slightly less fantastical (to me, anyway – the trailers alone suggest a lifestyle nobody I will ever know actually lives) drama meanwhile, you might want to tune into Sky Atlantic a little earlier tonight for Season 2 of Riviera: there’s an encore showing of the opening double bill at 9pm, if you didn’t already catch it in its Thursday night slot. Both seasons in their entirety are also currently on Sky GO, so plenty of chances to catch up with the über-glossy adventures of Julia Stiles and other extremely rich people up to extremely suspicious things in the extremely beautiful Riviera, now with added Juliet Stevenson, Will Arnett and – hurrah! – unpopcult favourite Gregory Fitoussi as Julia’s new boyfriend. I say again: Gregory Fitoussi as Julia’s new boyfriend! I didn’t watch season 1 (and I don’t think I can face starting now), but if I had, I’d be very excited right about now.