Public Service Announcement 21 of 2017: Orange Is The New Black, The Americans, Royal Pains, Orphan Black, The Loch

CJ will be along shortly to preview the start of Poldark’s third season. It’s a busy couple of days, in fact, for new and returning TV shows, and here are a few more.

Heavyweights Orange Is The New Black (Netflix, now) and The Americans (ITV Encore, Monday 12 June, 10pm), are both back for fifth seasons. Unfortunately I’ve somewhat lost touch with The Americans, as ITV Encore is one of these platform-specific channels I don’t have access to. Maybe one day I’ll catch up.

We used to be all over Orphan Black (Netflix, tomorrow), and now we… aren’t. No plans to change that, and in any event this is its final season. The charming, low-stakes Royal Pains (Universal, today, 5pm) is also entering its last run. I’m still watching, and I still haven’t met anyone else who does – although there are rumours out there that there may be two of us at least – so as ever I’m grateful to Universal for bringing the show back for me. Although not as grateful as I would be were they to get Private Eyes back on our screens stat. Make it so, Universal.

And in pointless new UK drama news: step forward The Loch (ITV, tomorrow, 9pm), in which an inexperienced detective investigates a murder in a close-knit loch-side community.

Public Service Announcement 28 of 2014: Royal Pains

This might be a pointless PSA, because I’m pretty sure that I’m the only person in the UK who actually watches American cable drama Royal Pains, viewing figures notwithstanding. Which is a shame, because its combination of likeable characters (now that Divya has been sorted out), Hamptons setting, moderately diverting plotting, and medical mysteries makes it the perfect summer evening after-work go-to. It could be argued that the show lost a little of its mojo when Jill Flint left, because she was both toothsome and a good foil for Mark Feuerstein’s concierge doctor Hank Lawson. But the show keeps rolling along nicely: this is season 5, and season 6 is about to get under way in the US. Somewhat bizarrely, episodes seem to be premiering at 5am, but let’s just pretend that the 8pm repeat is the actual broadcast time. I’ll be watching, and I still think it’s worth your time… hello? Anyone? Is this thing on? (Sunday 8 June, 8pm, Universal Channel.)

And if you missed season 1 of The Blacklist, Sky Living is repeating it from the start. Episode 1 is on at 11.05pm on Sunday; I think that’s a repeat of a repeat, if you see what I mean, but if you hunt around I’m sure you can find the regular weekly slot. Very highly recommended, if you like your American procedurals slick, implausible, and thrilling.

Public Service Announcement 25 of 2013: Royal Pains, Dexter

I think I’m the only person in the UK who watches Royal Pains; so thanks, Universal Channel, for bringing it back just for me. Season 4 of concierge doctor Hank’s adventures in the Hamptons starts this weekend; we’re still a season behind America, where this trivial but amiable show remains a decent-sized cable hit. I like it rather more than I thought I would, and it’s perfect summer viewing (Sunday 7 July, 8pm, Universal).

Bigger news the same evening, though, with the return of Dexter for its final season. We’ve spent the last few seasons falling anything up to a year behind American transmission; for this final season, though, Fox UK has done the decent thing and scheduled episodes to run no more than a week after US viewers get to see them. Which is, of course, something that Unpopcult has been banging on about for a long time now; so well done, Fox.

As for the show itself: season 7 represented an improvement on season 6 and its imaginary Big Bad, although it now seems unlikely that the show’s seasons 1 and 2 form will be repeated, and the decision to bring the show to an end after this year feels like the right one. Still, I have faith that with the finish line looming everyone will bring it, and given the proximity to US transmission we’re back with week-by-week reviews (Sunday 7 July, 9pm, Fox).

Public Service Announcement 24 of 2012: Royal Pains, Spiral (Engrenages), Borgen

One new season, two repeats. House-in-the-Hamptons medical dramedy Royal Pains is back for its third season this weekend. I ended season 2 liking this show rather more than I did at the start of it, and more than I thought I would: it still isn’t going to change your world, but it’s an immensely likeable show which slips down very easily. We’re some way behind America with Royal Pains – season four has just started there – and I don’t anticipate writing weekly reviews, but it’s worth an hour of your time (Sunday 10 June, Universal, 7pm).

BBC4 is using the summer to repeat two of its more successful non-Forbrydelsen foreign dramas. Tonight sees the start of a rerun of season 2 of French cops-and-prosecutors show Spiral (Engrenages). On top of being drop-dead-cool and satisfyingly violent it also, in the remarkable Fitoussi/Proust/Fleurot triumvirate, has three of the hottest actors on TV. 50% of Unpopcult has already reviewed this; the other 50% (me) hasn’t seen it, but will be taking this opportunity. In double-bills, of course (tonight, BBC4, 9pm).

And there’s another chance to see Danish political drama Borgen, starting this week. If you don’t like the sound of the subject matter, don’t be put off: Borgen is a terrific character drama which happens to use politics as its backdrop, but is about very much more than that, and is anchored by a complex and dazzling performance by Sidse Babett Knudsen as the leader of a minority party who suddenly finds herself in a position of power. I loved it when it was first shown, and I urge you to give it a go. Even better, the first episode at least is being shown on its own, raising the possibility that on this occasion at least the BBC might get away from these accursed double-bills (Wednesday 13 June, BBC4, 11pm).

Royal Pains s2 ep 4; s2 ep 5

I can’t put my finger on why, exactly, but I’m definitely enjoying this season of Royal Pains more than the last one. I mean, not much has changed – Dr Hank and idiot brother Evan are still wandering around the Hamptons saving people, with Cameron Scott as enigmatic aristo Boris supplying the only real hint of mystery and danger – and of the changes which have been made I can do without Henry Winkler as Hank’s errant father, frankly.

It might just be that renewal for a second season has given the show a little more confidence in its strengths; it feels more relaxed, yet tighter in both scripting and plotting. This two-parter saw Hank and Evan at Boris’s summer residence in Cuba, which meant cigars, a sexy bartender, a medical crisis or two, and a kidnapping. And, of course, the only Hispanic actor, it seems, on every casting director’s speed-dial – yes, Papi out of Ugly Betty – as a dissident writer. Meantime back home Divya’s a lot less irritating than she was in season 1,  there’s a new rival concierge doctor on the scene in the shape of Dr Peck (Anastasia Griffith from Damages), and Jill’s still just lovely.

What I’m trying to say, I think, is that if you bailed on Royal Pains early in season 1 it’s worth another go. Like I say, not much has changed, so it’s not as if you’ve missed any earth-shattering plot developments. (Although I’d still be much, much happier if someone bought the second season of White Collar, also a USA Network show, for UK transmission.)

Public Service Announcement 23 of 2011: Royal Pains

Hank Lawson, concierge doctor to the Hamptons rich, is back for another season of (I assume) mildly diverting light medical dramedy. As we’ve said on here before it’s a bit of a cross between House and Burn Notice without being as good as either, and it’s not in the same league as its USA Network stablemate White Collar (of which there is presently no sign on UK channels). A stiff wind might well blow Royal Pains away, but it’ll keep you going over the summer (Universal, 8pm, Sunday 19th).

Royal Pains s1 ep 12

Pleasant, modestly-diverting Royal Pains brought its first season to an end with this pleasant and modestly-diverting episode.  (Season 2 is under way in America.)  Patient of the Week – yes, the House influence became, if anything, more pronounced as the season ran – is the part-owner of an old mansion where Divya’s engagement party is due to take place.  Evan manages to lose all of HankMed’s money.  And Jill has to decide what to do with her husband, a decision which, frankly, she’s been making a bit of a meal of for a few episodes now.

In fairness this was comfortably one of the stronger episodes, although one was still left wondering, just a little, what the point of the whole thing was.  I didn’t ever get a feeling that the writers had sat down and thought too much about the trajectory of the season, although perhaps that added to the show’s freewheeling charm.  For instance – having built up the storyline about the mysterious medical condition of mysterious Boris (Cameron Scott – frequently the best thing in the show) in the penultimate episode, the writers contrived barely to mention it this time.  Traditionally the final episode of a season deals with things like that.

In its favour, though, what looked like being a long-running will-they-won’t-they? plotline was sorted out early on when Hank and Jill did it.  Even there, though, Jill’s thoroughly creepy husband wandered back in for an episode or two to complicate a relationship which didn’t really need complicating.  Anyway, this uncommonly early between-the-sheets action shifted the will-they? focus to the  Evan/Divya relationship, the main problem there being that Evan was too goofy, and Divya too prissy and joyless; I didn’t really warm to either of them.

So, yes, it was indeed Burn Notice crossbred with House, although not as good as either; and nowhere near as good as USA Network’s other low-key charmer White Collar.  I’ll quite happily watch the second season if anyone in the UK buys it, although if no-one does it won’t rock my world.

Royal Pains s1 ep 4; The Good Wife s1 ep 19

‘Royal Pains’ now seems to have settled down somewhere between ‘Burn Notice’ and ‘House’.  It’s pleasant enough, and Dr Hank’s potential squeeze Jill is pretty easy on the eye, so I’ll keep watching.  But there’s not much to write about, frankly, so unless something dramatic happens that’s all from ‘Royal Pains’ for now.

‘The Good Wife’, on the other hand, keeps forcing me to revise my opinion of it upwards.  When reviewing the first episode I damned it with faint praise as “well-made, fast-paced hokum”.  By episode 8 I was admitting to liking it a lot, but called it “high-production-value nonsense”.  I then went for “really… very good indeed” (episodes 9 and 10) and “always entertaining… remarkably consistent” (episode 17).

Actually, it’s better than all of those things.  It’s got a strong claim to being the best freshman drama this season, and the way in which it consistently confounds and exceeds expectations is both refreshing and quietly thrilling.  New characters have been absorbed into the show organically, existing ones have had their roles extended and deepened.

And at the centre of it all is the remarkable Julianna Margulies.  For all the awards buzz about her – and an Emmy nom at the very least now looks nailed-on – her acting itself rarely gets praised as much as it should, perhaps because she’s not a showy actor in the way that, say, Glenn Close is.  With Close you can see the technique; Margulies, on the other hand, quietly gets on with the business of inhabiting her character, and with every passing week as Alicia Florrick she’s getting better and better.

As is the show.  In episode 19, ‘Boom’, which will be shown this week in the UK on Channel 4 (having already been on More 4), SLG is acting for Charles Clay, the publisher of a newspaper which published a provocative cartoon (with strong allusions to the Kurt Westergaard case).  The newspaper’s premises were bombed and the managing editor of the newspaper was killed; his widow is suing the publisher.  Muslim extremists have claimed responsibility.  Unexpectedly but, I think, correctly, the show doesn’t spend too much time agonising about First Amendment rights but instead goes after the issues of most immediate relevance to SLG – who set the bomb off; why; did their client deliberately try to increase sales by inviting controversy; and, if so, is he liable for damages?  And Jonas Stern is back, acting for the widow.  Alicia, of course, can’t use what she knows about him.  Or can she?  But that’s barely the half of it: there’s intrigue at SLG as the decision on hiring and firing of new associates approaches; Alicia’s worked out why her disgraced husband is so keen to get to church and is pondering whether to get involved with Will, to the point where Peter has to – literally – decide whether to take a dramatic step.

As a drama of the procedural, workplace, domestic, legal, and political type ‘The Good Wife’ gets it right week after week, and with everyone in the cast at the top of their game it’s become unmissable.

Royal Pains s1 ep 2; s1 ep 3

It’s Dr Burn Notice, isn’t it?  From the expository opening voiceover to the general theme of helping people in distress whether they can afford it or not, it looks like the USA Network trying to extend a winning formula.

As far as I can tell the original order of transmission for these episodes was changed before they went out, which certainly makes sense when you consider that Hank and Jill went from nearly kissing at the end of episode 2 to barely knowing each other in episode 3.  It hardly matters, though; however you look at it the show remains long on charm and short on substance.  Episode 2 was about a retiring ballerina; episode 3 went all House-y on us as Hank tried to work out what was ailing a teenager would-be football star.

Mindful of how impressive ‘Burn Notice’ became I’m sticking with ‘Royal Pains’ for the moment, but I can’t imagine I’ll hang around for ever unless it ups its game a bit.

Royal Pains s1 ep 1

Dr Hank Lawson (Mark Feuerstein), top-dog New York ER doctor, makes a judgment call in the emergency room which unintentionally leads to the death of a rich hospital donor.  He loses his job, his status-conscious fiancee, and a considerable amount of his self-respect.  His brother Evan (Paulo Costanzo) blags the two of them into a party in the Hamptons hosted by impossibly wealthy European royal Boris (Cameron Scott) and, while there, Hank saves the life of a female party-goer.  Word gets out and despite his reluctance to get involved Hank finds himself being hired as a concierge doctor – apparently it’s a job – providing fast, discreet medical treatment to the wealthy.  I understand that Dr Hank will also be providing pro bono services to the less-well-off in future episodes, presumably with the intention of easing his conscience and getting into the good books – and pants – of hospital administrator Jill (Jill Flint, apparently something in ‘Gossip Girl’).

And that’s pretty much it.  There are two ways of looking at ‘Royal Pains’ if you ask me, but on looking at my early reviews of ‘Burn Notice’ – same network, same director for the pilot, same light-hearted demeanour – I see that I worried about the bland central character and the general inconsequentiality of the whole thing, and ‘Burn Notice’ quickly became one of my favourite shows.

So let’s go positive.  ‘Royal Pains’ has some very agreeable characters, even the standard issue dorky brother; it has an attractively relaxed air to it; and it has charm in spades, which goes a very long way with me.  It’s not going to rock your world, but I like it, and I think you will too.  This feature-length pilot is repeated on Saturday 15 May at 7pm on Hallmark.