“Big Little Lies”, based on Liane Moriarty’s best-selling novel, produced by movie stars and starring a whole host of them was a big hit for HBO a couple of years ago, winning a whopping eight Emmys (in the limited series category), and deservedly so. I haven’t quite finished season 1 yet, but the cast, including Reese Witherspoon, and Emmy-winners Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Alexander Skarsgård are phenomenal, the story hugely compelling, the setting gorgeous and the whole thing a genuinely premium product. So, of course, we’re getting a second season. I don’t know if this is a good or a bad thing, story-wise – as I’ve said about a trillion times recently, sometimes one and done is enough – but since Moriarty and showrunner David E Kelley have returned to make sure it’s done right, and most of the cast is back – this time with added Meryl Streep! MERYL STREEP! – the odds are pretty decent. Add in the fact that, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera, this is a story about women working together, which came into being because women wanted it to, and I can get behind that. UK viewers can catch Ep 1 at 2AM on Monday (10th) morning on Sky Atlantic with the usual school night repeat at 9pm Monday night. If you missed season 1 and watch to see what all the fuss was about, it’s all available on Sky Go.
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.
Riggs isn’t sleeping. And when he finally manages to close his eyes, he’s haunted by gruesome nightmares about his father. He’s also convinced himself that he’s being followed around by a rather spooky raven. So he needs caffeine, and lots of it. (Or drugs, but Dr Cahill isn’t playing ball.) Fortunately, an early opportunity to raid – and destroy – an upmarket coffee machine presents itself when he and Murtaugh are investigating the death of Kyle Kennedy, a surfer, who seems to have fallen foul of the Shore Boys, a nasty beach gang who at first just looked like Mean Girls with surfboards.
And from here on, everything in this episode is an absolute delight. Whether it’s a caffeinated Riggs chasing a suspect on foot, to Murtaugh’s bewilderment (“Why are you running? We’ve got a car!”); Bowman being hailed by surfer dudes as “punched-out-a-shark-guy”; Murtaugh’s hijacking of a charity dinner for the wrongfully imprisoned with an unfortunate joke; or the very naughty visual gag which fuels Murtaugh’s suspicion that Trish is having an affair with guest star Scottie Pippen, the whole thing pops and crackles with humour and energy, balanced nicely by Riggs’s ongoing torment. (I’m also warming to Bowman, incidentally.)
The episode, incidentally, is written by Elizabeth Davis Beall, a Lethal Weapon exec producer and Castle alum. This seems to be her first credit as lead writer on this show. I hope she gets another soon.
It feels churlish to wonder if we really need a TV show in which Hugh Laurie plays a talented medic with a monosyllabic surname, but that’s what Hulu’s new drama Chance is giving us. Eldon Chance – do you see what they did there? – is a forensic neuropsychiatrist with a complicated private life and a Secret Pain or two, who gets entangled with a femme fatale patient (Gretchen Mol) and thus with her violent detective husband (Leo from Scandal). The first two episodes are directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Frank, Room) which, together with The Handmaid’s Tale, suggests that Hulu want to be seen as serious premium TV players. Although the critical response in America was mixed I have a strong feeling that this is actually pretty good, but I just don’t know if I have the time to watch it (tonight, Universal, 9pm).
Jane and Oliver Kind are basically stuck in a video game: locked in a single room, under video surveillance, in a remote cabin, till they work their way on to the next level (ie downstairs), get the word out to Team Tat, and try not to get some kidnapped kids killed, all while ideally not getting killed themselves.
Jane is pretty tremendous throughout, Oliver Kind not so much – any heroism on his part being more accidental than intended, although by the end he does seem to be picking up the hand-to-hand combat bug, if not necessarily the mad skillz. And I could have done without the words “Ponzi scheme” cropping up, but at least we don’t labour it. Too much.
Kurt, meanwhile, divides his time between fretting over how to rescue Jane, being ridiculously nice to the unspeakable Roman – FFS what is it with the writers and this character? He is uninteresting, unlikeable, and unbloodybearable. ENOUGH -and being exceptionally kind to Reade who, never mind quitting, asshat, should be fired a thousand times over and take his terrible stoyline with him.
Roman and Reade notwithstanding, however, the episode was entertaining enough, thanks to Jane and the kidnap story, the departure (please) of Oliver Kind, and the promise of a Jeller resurgence – I see it, I SQUEE it. Hurrah!
First on this week’s list is the acclaimed eight-part HBO drama The Night Of, based on the UK show Criminal Justice. British actor Riz Ahmed plays the lead role of Naz, who has a night of sexy and druggy action with a young woman, then – inevitably, this being TV – wakes up the next morning to find her stabbed to death, and is accused of her murder. Richard Price and Steven Zaillian are co-creators, writers, and exec producers. The American critics loved it (Sky Atlantic, Thursday 1 September, 9pm).
And from the other side of the world, Wolf Creek, a six-part remake of the horror film of the same name, is one of the first original programme offerings from Australian streaming company Stan – no, I can’t keep up either. An American tourist in the outback survives an attack during which other members of her family are killed, then tries to track the killer herself. I haven’t seen the original – and, apparently, thoroughly nasty – movie, but the TV show was reasonably well-received in Australia. Trailer here (Fox UK, tonight, 10pm).
Also starting: Amazon Prime’s The Collection, which they’re touting as their first ever original UK drama, even though it’s set in post-war Paris (episode 1 available from Friday 2 September); season 3 of NBC’s The Night Shift (Sony Entertainment Television, tonight, 10pm); season 2 of Netflix’s well-received Narcos (available from Friday 2 September); and the first and only season of Syfy’s already-cancelled Hunters, about a Philadelphia cop who tracks down aliens, or something. I have no intention of watching, but I quite like the fact that each episode has the title of an OMD song (Syfy UK, Wednesday 31 August, 9pm).
Forthcoming attraction: him out of Poldark, in Poldark. More on that soon.
‘The Ringer’ opens on an unusually domestic scene: Ben’s still there, in Alice’s bed, in the morning. She, of course, tells him that they can’t do this any more, a pill which is sugared considerably by the gorgeous dress she’s wearing. And the fact she doesn’t mean a word of it, which means that she isn’t wearing the dress for too much longer.
Anyway, she has a Case of the Week, but like last week’s it’s nothing special: the son of video games zillionaire Vincent Singh (Vik Sahay, Lester out of Chuck and, more specifically, Jeffster!) has run away from home because he doesn’t want to live with his father any more. Vincent got sole custody after divorcing from his bipolar wife Karen (Unpopcult favourite Annie Wersching), who he successfully portrayed as a danger to their son. It starts to look as if the boy was kidnapped, and it’s reasonably obvious who’s behind it; what’s less obvious is why Alice should pivot so smoothly to blackmailing her client.
The Con of the Week, though, is much more fun, and perhaps one of the best of the season. Rich young gambling addict Teddy Seavers is “a bit of an idiot”, according to Margot (Sonya Walger having her best episode so far), and a whale who needs to be landed. So she sets up a high-stakes game of poker with the intent of using Ben, Rhys, and the returning Reggie to take a chunk of Teddy’s spare change. What Margot and Ben don’t know, though, is that Rhys is now aware that Ben and Alice are still in contact, and has a much bigger agenda of his own to advance. The episode’s last twist is beautiful, and rounds off yet another smart, fast-moving episode.