Public Service Announcement 11 of 2014: Nurse Jackie, Southland, House of Cards

There’s a lot of fuss made – even by us – when a British broadcaster manages to get its act together and show an American programme within a few days of its original broadcast. So it’s easy to forget that it remains the exception rather than the rule, even for the Sky channels, which generally have a better record than their free-to-air competitors.

Case in point: season 5 of hospital-based black comedy/drama Nurse Jackie finally reaches British screens this week, after several postponements, and around ten months behind American transmission. (Season 6, in fact, starts in the US in April.) Still, it’s good to have it back: I thought season 4 was somewhat better than season 3, so I’m looking forward to it. And as long as the sublime (and Emmy-winning) Merritt Wever remains a member of the cast, it’ll be worth watching for her alone. As before, weekly reviews (Sky Atlantic, Friday 14 February, 10pm).

The same day sees the start, finish, and everything in between of season 2 of the American version of House of Cards, which drops onto Netflix at 8.01am. This, I think, is Unpopcult’s first streaming PSA. We may look back on this as a historic moment.

The day before, UK viewers get the first episode of the fifth and final season of superior policier Southland. I gave up on it during season 2 but CJ, I believe, still regards it as one of the better shows on TV. I’m guessing it’s too late to drop in now, but for its select but devoted audience this will be good, if melancholy, news (Thursday 13 February, More4, 11pm).

Finally, there are lots of new shows starting tonight, and Unpopcult won’t be watching any of them. So it’s a thumbs down to season 2 of Beauty and the Beast (Watch, 8pm), semi-improvised cop show Suspects (Channel 5, 10pm), Fleming, with Dominic Cooper as the James Bond author (Sky Atlantic, 9pm), and season 2 of well-regarded police drama Line of Duty (BBC2, 9pm).

Public Service Announcement 52 of 2012: The Hour, Southland, The Killing (Forbrydelsen) III, The Big Bang Theory

Some very heavy hitters back on British TV this week.

The second season of BBC drama The Hour, that watchable but slightly strange 50s set drama about a TV newsroom, starts tonight. Although it undoubtedly had its merits season 1 never quite decided what it wanted to be, but on balance I’m pleased that everyone’s back to have another try. All concerned are talking season 2 up, so let’s hope that the occasionally clunky dialogue and plotting have settled down. In the event that they haven’t, of course, there’s plenty to look at as well: on top of the immaculately-observed period trappings, Ben Whishaw and Romola Garai return, as do Dominic West and Anna Chancellor (who was grievously under-used first time out). And Peter Capaldi joins the cast as the new Head of News, in what now looks like a timely nod to the BBC’s present troubles. Week-by-week reviews as soon as we can (tonight, BBC2, 9pm).

From America, Southland returns for its fourth season. Much to my shame I gave up on this show round about season 2, but CJ’s still a fan, as I’m sure I would be if I’d stuck around. Lucy Liu’s in for this season, which seemed like an odd casting decision but was, apparently, vindicated by some excellent work on her part. I doubt I’ll be going back – I never quite managed to work out who everyone was first time around – but it’s undoubtedly an excellent show, for those with more staying power than me (Thursday 15 November, More4, 10pm).

And from Denmark, it’s the third and, apparently, final outing for Sarah Lund, with the return of The Killing (Forbrydelsen) to British screens. We don’t need to say more about Unpopcult’s devotion to season 1; season 2, meantime, in common with others, I regarded as falling a little short of the standards of its predecessor. Which means that the Forbrydelsen team, perhaps, has something to prove. The advance word from Alison Graham of the Radio Times, who did so much to popularise season 1 in the UK, is that season 3 is “exhaustingly exciting”, which sounds like my sort of thing. Brix is back, and Lund’s sidekick the time will be played by Nikolaj Lie Kass, described by Sofie Grabøl herself as “the best actor of our generation in Denmark”. Yeah, well, whatevs: I’m sure he’s no Troels Hartmann.

The Killing is, of course, being shown in those effing double-bills again, but for once I’m not going there, except to recall that the BBC’s quoted justification for this idiocy is that “foreign dramas tend to have more episodes” and “the gripping nature of the storylines also lend themselves to playing more than one episode, with fans eager to find out how the plots will develop”, and to remind you that the latter excuse seems to carry with it an admission about home-grown drama. So block off two hours, folks, and settle in (Saturday 17 November, BBC 4, 9pm).

Meantime, on the comedy side, The Big Bang Theory is back for season 6. The last couple of seasons have shown signs of creative fatigue, not entirely alleviated by the way in which the writers have developed a female ensemble to match and, in some cases, surpass the men; it feels to me as if the writers are reaching for the easy gag rather than looking for the better one, and the character developments aren’t always helpful either.  For all that, though, it’s still arguably the best multi-camera sitcom on TV, with standout performances from Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, and Mayim Bialik (Thursday 15 November, E4, 8pm). And season 2 of 2 Broke Girls starts immediately afterwards.

Public Service Announcement 38 of 2011: The Vampire Diaries, Haven, Southland, Harry’s Law

Dudes.  It’s back.  Season 2 wasn’t perfect, but it’s The Vampire Diaries and I love it, so I’ll be right there watching season 3’s UK debut tonight (Tuesday) on ITV2 at 9pm.  With Stefan away being evil, and Elena and Damon back in Mystic Falls dealing with all sorts of guilt and regret and feelings, the writers have a chance to do some awesome things with the story.  Unfortunately, they also have a chance to do some terrible things with it: Jer’s dead ex-girlfriends and Bonnie are all back in Mystic Falls as well, so it really could go either way.

At exactly the same time, 9pm on Tuesday, over on Syfy UK, the much less popular but still worth-your-time Haven launches its second season with a big bumper double-bill.  It’s not a show we review, but it’s solid fantasy, the Audrey-Nathan-Duke axis is great and season 2 has clearly had a lot more time, effort and care put into it.  Give it a go.

And finally: it wouldn’t be a week of tv without another couple of procedurals to add to the pile.  Firstly, Southland, the gritty LA cop drama is back for its third season on Thursday (13th) at 9pm on More4.  Now I really like Southland, and I’ll be watching, but my dance card is just about full right now in terms of reviewing and I’m not sure there’s anything I can add to what Jed and I have already said about the show, so I probably won’t be writing about it any more.  Unless something I just have to talk about happens.  Comments on the show are welcome here, though, as ever.

On a markedly less exciting note, there’s also David (LA Law, Ally McBeal, The Practice etc) E. Kelley’s  latest, Harry’s Law, starring Kathy Bates and Nate Corddry, to consider.  It’s apparently about a group of misfit lawyers who start a firm together.  Whatevs.  It looks like a re-hash of all David E. Kelley’s other “offbeat” legal dramas and I’ve been there, done that, bought the Vonda Shephard album: fun at the time, but I’ve had enough of that type of thing, and I think Jed has too.  Anyway, it started last night on Universal but is repeated at 10pm on Friday (14th) so if you’ve seen it or plan to, and want to tell me I’m completely wrong about it (or I’m completely right – that works too ;-)), comment at will.

Southland s2 ep 6

Southland is never short of powerful moments – even last week’s rubbish episode had a few – and this season finale was no different. 

A little boy using dolls to help describe the massacre of his grandparents and then covering the granny doll’s face in red paint?  Ben’s face as he finds a baby, safe and sound, left behind while his mother was dragged off and attacked?  Chickie wrestling a suspect to the ground, and yelling “I’m the cop.  I’M THE COP,” hoping she’s proven she’s still worthy of being a “street cop” no matter what hypocrite John says?  All beautifully acted, resonant little moments which mark Southland out as being hard-hitting drama trying to do something worthy.  But while being hard-hitting and trying to do something worthy is all very well, it’s not quite enough on its own, and despite the fact that I’ve probably been the most enthusiastic of the Unpopculters in my reaction to this show, even I can see that Southland isn’t quite as good as it wants to be.  There’s something lacking.  Or maybe, actually, it’s not that there’s something lacking, it’s that there’s too much of it.  For a procedural drama to work, you need a small group of well-developed characters coupled with stories-of-the-week people can be interested in, and Southland seems to have misjudged the balance a little bit there, with too many characters and too much background clogging things up.

I did enjoy this episode, but did we really need Russ back for a final lap?  Nope.  He’s a nothing character, and even his shooting at the end of season 1 seems to have been designed to give Lydia more things to complain about and more screentime rather than actually flesh him out.  Did we need Sal’s appalling daughter or his dreadful mistress?  Nope.  I can’t imagine a time when I’d want to see or hear either of them again.  They only exist to give Sal the obligatory “troubled” personal life of the tv policeman.  Which would be fine, except none of it is at all different or entertaining or even interesting.  It just gets in the way of the better stories going on.

I thought the “Canyon Rapist” story this week was excellent, I liked Chickie realising that John needs help just as much as Dewey did, and I really like the series overall.  But I think maybe next season Southland needs to focus its energies a bit more.  Slightly fewer characters, slightly less time spent on stock tv cop “personal” problems and slightly less “hark at my awesomeness” lecturing from John and Lydia.  We might then have a great show instead of a pretty good one.

Southland s2 ep 5

Was anyone else bored out of their minds watching this? 

About 15 minutes in, I really wanted to switch it off, given the focus on the Trinny Day investigation which has been banging on for weeks now and which I’ve never really managed to follow.   Despite an arresting start to the episode, that story unfortunately managed to get even duller with the  addition of a turf war between Sal and Gil.  Oh, the excitement.  And it’s not like the sub-plot with the ridiculous Tammi helped any.  Every time we see her, she does something moronic and hey, surprise surprise, no change there this week. 

Poor Sammy’s heartbreaking attempt to keep a bright little kid away from the gang life was the only part of the episode that worked for me at all – it was sweet, sad and sincere.  Unlike his wretched wife.

Southland s2 ep 4

Episode 4 brought us Facial Hair Week in South Central, with Nate, Sammy and Lydia’s new “new partner” Ray (No, I have no idea what happened to Lydia’s last “new partner” Rene either – he was just there last week and now he’s not.  Odd.)  all sporting varying degrees of moustache.  No, this is not relevant to the plot but wondering if it was the result of some sort of cast bet did distract me slightly.  Which is probably a good thing, to be honest, as this episode thought it was a lot more profound and thought-provoking than it actually was. 

The two main storylines involved, on the one hand, Gangs and Homicide investigating the shooting of a once-promising university student, and, on the other, John and Ben (who could be father and son, they look and dress so alike now) taking a road trip to see Dewey in rehab and doing that road-trip-bonding thing all these shows get round to doing eventually. 

As far as the murder story goes, the football star angle has been done far more convincingly elsewhere, but with Lydia much less annoying and much more impressive than she has been in a while, and Nate and Sammy their usual good value, it was passable.  The Dewey story was far too familiar though – I’ve lost count of the number of addict-anonymous-type meetings and making amends-type scenes I’ve seen on tv in the past few years, and there was absolutely nothing special or different about this one, unless you count the added Dewey irritation factor.   Yes, John opening up to Ben later on was refreshingly quietly and believably done, and the acting across the board remained excellent, but this was still one of the weakest Southland episodes so far.

Southland s2 ep 3

Wow, John is patronising and smug.

He gives Lydia a run for her money in the self-righteous know-it-all stakes at the best of times, and this week he turns the full glare of his condescension onto poor, put-upon Chickie.  According to John – and contrary to what he told Ben a couple of weeks ago – the reason no one will ride with her is that she’s a duff cop.  And Dewey – drunken, appalling Dewey – has been carrying her for years.  Really?  I mean, really?

Anyway, fount-of-all-knowledge and Obi-Wan-of-the-shift John takes it upon himself to school Chickie, meaning that his Mini-Me Ben gets to ride alone for the first time.  ALONE.  Scary stuff for the new boy on the block, who then has to deal with a missing autistic child, a violent stalker, and a child forced by his father to mow the lawn in women’s underwear.  I said “scary stuff”, not “cheery stuff.”

Ben’s a really good guy (as all the ladies he encounters on his shift seem to notice) trying to work out how to deal with really bad things, so this week the two lessons he has to learn about being a cop is that they “can’t save everyone” and they “live in the grey.” These lessons are almost as grim as they sound, but again, this was another gripping episode.  Lydia’s dead skateboarder sub-plot was much more interesting than her “continuing to stalk Russ” or her “Baby Jimmy” ones, and if I’d been Chickie, I’d have been sorely tempted to punch John in the face, but still – as a whole, this was great tv.