Public Service Announcement 14 of 2018: Timeless, The Crossing, The Americans, Madam Secretary, Silicon Valley, Deep State

Unpopcult is very excited by the news that ludicrous-but-fun time-travelling drama Timeless is returning to UK screens this week. There’s a lot to be said for Timeless: it has a highly likeable cast; its Cases of the Week are generally entertaining, even if the Big Conspiracy isn’t the most diverting; and, to its credit, it follows through on its casting of an African American (the excellent Malcolm Barrett) in one of the lead roles by exploring what it might mean for a black man to drop in on, say, America in 1954, when he needs treated for a gunshot wound but the hospitals are segregated. And the costumes are great.

But – let’s be honest – we’re excited because we’re shipping Lucy and Wyatt VERY HARD INDEED, and if Wyatt has finally managed to get his STUPID DEAD WIFE out of his system and realise WHAT’S RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM, we could be in for a treat. After its first season Timeless was cancelled and then un-cancelled, so we should probably appreciate it while we’ve got it (tonight, E4, 9pm).

ABC’s new Lost-wannabe thriller, The Crossing, started in the US yesterday, so it’s very much to Amazon Prime’s credit that it’s already available here. The premise is that a group of war-fleeing refugees turn up in America seeking asylum, claiming to be from 180 years in the future. Critical response has been lukewarm, and I don’t have access to Amazon Prime anyway, so if you try it let us know what it’s like.

On the subject of shows that I can’t legitimately watch, the sixth and final season of The Americans is starting tonight at 10pm. This annoys me because, despite regarding the show as a genuine best-thing-on-TV contender, the last couple of seasons were shown first on ITV Encore, a channel to which not everyone has access. And now it’s going out on ITV4, a more widely available channel, but I’ve lost touch with it so won’t be watching. (I think at least one of the past two seasons might have been repeated on ITV4, but I only know that because I stumbled across it halfway through.) Shame.

Also starting: the post-hiatus rest of season 4 of Madam Secretary (5 April, Sky Living, 9pm); season 5 of Silicon Valley (5 April, Sky Atlantic, 10.15pm); season 2 of Star (tonight, 5star, 10pm); and Fox UK’s new spy thriller Deep State, in which Mark Strong plays a retired hitman who has to deal with an MI6 cell gone rogue in the Middle East. Might be OK (5 April, Fox UK, 9pm).

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 18 of 2016: Locked Up, The Americans, Billions

Spanish prison drama Locked Up (Vis a Vis) is the latest show from Channel 4’s Walter Presents strand, and as it’s made it to the main terrestrial channel it’s one in which Walter and 4 have a fair amount of confidence. It’s set in a women’s prison; they all wear citrus-coloured uniforms (yellow this time); and we’re promised violence, sex, and dark humour. That having been said, we apparently need to be clear that it isn’t, if you will, Naranja is the New Negro. Might be worth a look, though (tonight, 10pm, Channel 4).

One of the current best-show-on-TV contenders, 1980s-set spy drama The Americans, starts its fourth season on UK television this week. Unfortunately, after a couple of seasons on the main ITV channel, it was shifted to Sky-only platform ITV Encore, and it’s still there (Thursday 19 May, 9pm).

And we should, albeit  belatedly, mention Billions, Showtime’s generally well-received financial drama, starring Damian Lewis. It’s showing on Thursdays, and I believe that the whole of the first season is now available through Sky. CJ reckons it’s TV for boys, and I don’t quite have the time, so Unpopcult’s sitting this one out (Sky Atlantic, 9pm).

The Americans s3 ep 1

The third season of this terrific show opens with the sort of tense, brilliantly executed set-piece we’ve seen it do before: in a bar, Elizabeth meets a contact who provides her with classified information but then regrets it, and brings the FBI onto the scene. Elizabeth walks off and changes her appearance so as not to be picked up, but is approached by Gaad and a colleague. She just about manages to kick their asses and escape, but it’s a close-run thing. Meantime Philip is still running Annalise, although she’s fallen in love with Yousaf, the ISI asset she’s supposed to be using as a source. I think by now we’ve seen enough TV and film spycraft to know that emotions shouldn’t get in the way, and so it proves. And in his downtime he’s going to EST with Stan, and keeping Martha happy with an assist from the Kama Sutra. I’m pretty sure that at the outset of the show we were given the impression that Martha was coy, perhaps a little mousey, but girlfriend knows what she likes and is making sure she gets it from Philip.

The bombshell which was dropped at the end of the last season – that the USSR wants to recruit Elizabeth and Philip’s daughter Paige as a next-gen spy – is still live. Philip is dead against, but when he and Elizabeth visit their old mentor (I think) Gabriel, Elizabeth is far more equivocal about it: she’s always been more ideologically driven than her husband, so is she just saying what she thinks the Centre wants to hear, or is she actually prepared to drag Paige into the life? We also find out that Nina has purportedly been convicted of treason back in the Soviet Union, but as Annet Mahendru is still – thank the Lord – in the credits, and as Nina’s always come across as the ultimate survivor, I suspect we’ll see her before long.

In truth, there isn’t a huge amount of action this week, and there’s quite a lot of setup – is Philip going to use his leverage over Yousaf? What’s the significance of the woman who’s on her way to Washington, and is newly-single Stan going to sleep with her? Presumably Gabriel’s going to be significant? – but that doesn’t matter, because The Americans knows what it’s doing, and what it’s doing is being one of the very best dramas on TV.

Public Service Announcement 38 of 2015: The Americans

A few weeks ago I lamented the fact that Cold War spy drama The Americans, which in my view is one of the very best things on TV, had been dropped by its UK broadcaster ITV. At that point, there was no word on whether it was going to be picked up by someone else. Well, it has now, although it’s not unequivocally good news: seasons 3 and 4 are going to be on ITV Encore, available only through various iterations of the Sky platform. It’s possible, I suppose, that this will drive millions of consumers towards Sky, and not towards torrents.

Anyway, the advance word on season 3 is that it’s at least as good as the first two. I think I’ve just about given up on trying to persuade the uncommitted to watch. Just in case there’s anyone out there thinking of giving it a go, though, this is an amazing show. But probably not one you can jump into at this stage – I’d recommend going back to the start (tonight, 10pm, ITV Encore).

Public Service Announcement 3 of 2015: Scandal; The Americans

When Sky Living bought the UK broadcast rights to Scandal I optimistically expressed the hope that it would mean we’d get to see new episodes a little closer to American transmission. It seems to be happening: season 3 finished in December, and around a month later we’re straight into season 4, which means that we’re now only a few episodes behind the US. Well played, Sky Living.

The third season, with its focus on the antics of black-ops specialists B-613, was a little below the standard of the astonishing season 2, although it should be acknowledged that some of the creative decisions were faits accomplis, as Kerry Washington’s pregnancy meant that her screen time had to be limited (and creatively filmed), and that the season itself had to be truncated. But season 4’s back with a full 22 episodes, full Kerry availability, and (on the basis of a spoiler-dodging trip round online reactions) full-on Scandalesque deliciousness. Week-by-week reviews of this one, as ever (tonight, 10pm, Sky Living).

The TV Lord giveth, though, and she taketh away: ITV has just announced that it won’t be showing season 3 of The Americans, which returns in a couple of weeks in the US. This is very disappointing, if hardly surprising. Much as I love that show – and I do; I think it’s one of the very best things on TV at the moment – I’ve always wondered what it was doing on the UK’s biggest commercial TV channel on a Saturday night, when it’s on cable in America. Even though I think that everyone should be watching The Americans, if I’m honest it’s niche viewing at best. Still, with so many outlets available for broadcast and streaming these days, here’s hoping that someone’s prepared to make it legitimately available in the UK.

Meantime, there are plenty of other shows starting in January and February – we’ll be previewing the return of Spiral (Engrenages) soon, and there’s much more to come, including UK debuts for Murder In The First and The Mysteries Of Laura.

The Americans s2 ep 12; s2 ep 13

For UK viewers, a double-bill to finish. I normally don’t like them, but I’m prepared to make an exception this time, because after episode 12, ‘Operation Chronicle’, there was nothing I wanted to do more than watch episode 13. There’s a major revelation – Jared knew all along about his parents – and a minor, though still significant one: Martha knows about “Clark’s” wig. She starts a conversation with him about starting a family, though, which like just about everything else she does seems to edge her a little bit closer to an untimely death.

For Stan, the episode is one in which his balls finally end up in the Rezidentura’s grasp, and he and they need to calculate just how hard they can be squeezed. To start with, he’s all about getting Nina out – and there’s a delicious scene in which he buys a car for her, with he and the car dealer exchanging loaded comments about how the car is for his “niece” – but then he finds out that Arkady knows about his relationship with Nina, and is prepared to ship her back to the USSR to be tried for treason unless he comes through with the goods about the Stealth programme – specifically, a computer program codenamed Echo. With the benefit of hindsight, the two seasons leading up to now have been a demonstration of how a good man (and he is, at heart) can slowly be compromised to the point where he might consider betraying his principles; the fact that it’s taken 25 episodes rather than one just makes it more convincing, and more agonising.

And for Philip and Elizabeth, trying to arrange the exfiltration of Jared is simply a stark reminder that at some point, maybe tomorrow, maybe in a year, they might lose their lives in the service of the cause, and someone will be doing the same for Paige and Henry; and, with Larrick in pursuit, that day could well be approaching. Which leads onto the season finale, ‘Echo’.

Wow. What an episode.

To be hyper-critical, I’m calling shenanigans just a little bit on the identity of Emmett and Leanne’s killer: it’s been staring us in the face all along, perhaps, but it’s sufficiently implausible, in my view, for that to be a reason why most of us wouldn’t have worked it out. That apart, though, this was more or less a faultless hour of television, replete with gut-clenching suspense; there’s a significant and harrowing death before the opening credits, and barely a wasted second thereafter. And the backstory behind the revelation about the murderer – the Centre has been looking to recruit the children of its illegals as a second generation of spies, this time with impeccable American backgrounds – is, in the context of The Americans, chillingly plausible. So when Claudia tells Philip and Elizabeth the Centre’s plans for Paige, it brings the issue which has hovered over this season into the sharpest of focus: which way are Philip and Elizabeth, faced with the choice between children and mission, going to go?

Stan, of course, has had a similar choice of his own to make – the country he loves, or the woman he loves. And here Arkady might just have overplayed his hand: as soon as he proffered relationship advice to Stan – “And don’t tell her ‘I love you’ so much. A Russian woman doesn’t like that. She won’t respect you” – I thought I saw something click behind Stan’s eyes: the Soviets know more than they should about the hookups with Nina, and that made his final decision almost inevitable. There is, however, no way we’ve seen the last of Nina; as I said earlier, she’s a survivor. She’ll be back. As will Martha, who has been teetering on the brink of expendability for a season or more now – there’s a throwaway detail in Stan’s brief dream sequence, though, which hints that his subconscious is suspicious of her, even if he isn’t quite aware of it yet, and suggests that even if she survives marriage to Clark, she might nonetheless be in danger.

It’s as good an episode of anything as I’ve seen all year, and it rounds off a second season during which The Americans has made the journey from “very good” to “great”. For some reason the show continues to be a tough sell to the uncommitted – I’ve just about given up recommending it – but it’s one of the very best things on TV. Particular credit, this time round, goes to the actors: Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell are great, of course, but Alison Wright, Noah Emmerich, and (even more so) Annet Mahendru really should be in the Emmy mix this year.

The Americans s2 ep 11

Perhaps not quite as propulsive as the last couple of episodes, this was nonetheless another compelling 50 minutes of TV. I think we’re now just about at the stage when we can recognise Stan as a tragic hero. On the one hand, he’s still pursuing Emmett and Leanne’s killer with rare diligence; meantime, though, he’s essentially giving up his marriage for love of Nina, not realising that she’s ruthlessly manipulating him: unless she gets information from him about the Stealth programme, she’s told, she’ll be sent back to the USSR to be tried for treason. And the question, now, is whether he’s just about vulnerable enough to go for it. It’s all anchored, of course, by the remarkable performances of Annet Mahendru and Noah Emmerich.

And while Philip’s dragging information about Stealth out of a dying scientist, played by our old friend Željko Ivanec, the most surprising storyline of the week belongs to Jared, Emmett and Leanne’s son, and Kate, the new handler. They’ve been meeting each other, with Kate not wearing a silly wig – or indeed any sort of disguise at all – but before Philip and Elizabeth can find out what’s going on Kate’s seized by Larrick, trussed up, and strangled, in an oddly intimate scene. Kate has, however, left behind a message suggesting that Jared is in danger. With two episodes to go, it looks as if he’s going to be playing a significant part in the resolution of the season, which we perhaps wouldn’t have expected from our first fleeting sight of him.

The Americans s2 ep 10

Philip and Elizabeth are asked to target Pakistani intelligence agent Yousaf, in America for a few days and thought to be ripe for turning. To start with, this means Elizabeth making herself known to Yousaf, with sex to follow in due course. But Philip doesn’t like that idea, and switches strategy, going instead with Annelise, who we saw fleetingly a few episodes ago. Annelise is able to seduce Yousaf but reacts badly afterwards, even as she finds out a crucial piece of information: which means that once again, like Masters of Sex, for instance, this episode of The Americans is both sexy and – perhaps on a more profound level – about sex, its power, its influence, and its consequences.

Everything else is still going on as well: Stan’s getting slowly closer to the truth about the murders; Larrick is starting to fight back; Paige’s Christianity is still causing problems for her parents. for reasons they can’t even begin to hint at. And there’s enough room for another meeting between Gaad and Arkady, this time outside Gaad’s house; it’s a fantastic scene yet again, as they observe professional courtesies, probe a little – Arkady tries to make Gaad feel guilt about the death of Vlad; Gaad counters with some fond remarks about Amador. It’s another very strong episode.

The Americans s2 ep 9

“Story by Oliver North”. Yes, that Oliver North. I have no idea how much he contributed, and frankly I’m a little squeamish that he got to do so at all, but this was another remarkable episode. It starts with what looks at first like a natural conclusion: Philip and Elizabeth blagging their way into the Contra training camp in order to photograph what’s going on. But it means yet more deaths at Philip’s hands – people inside the camp, as well as that poor truck driver we saw last week, who has died in between episodes as well. And that, combined with, one assumes, Philip’s wavering commitment to the cause, means that for just about the whole of the episode he’s a concentrated ball of fury. It’s Matthew Rhys’s Emmy submission episode, I think: whether blowing up in Paige’s face, inflicting yet more calculated cruelty on Martha, or hovering on the verge of bitch-slapping Paige’s pastor into the middle of next week, he’s astonishing from first to last. But there’s more: Stan stops thinking with his doodah for long enough to start to join the dots between the Stealth programme, the kidnapping of Baklanov, and the murder of Emmett and his family; Elizabeth starts to cultivate a new source; Gaad faces Arkady down, in what would have been the scene of the week in just about any other show on TV; and the hot vet from Nashville tells Stan that she’s going to have an affair. Dazzling.