Public Service Announcement 48 of 2017: Howards End; Grey’s Anatomy; The Sinner

In yet another example of just how big a deal TV is these days, the BBC tonight kicks off its four-part adaptation of E.M. Forster’s Howards End, with a screenplay by Kenneth Lonergan. That’s Academy Award-winning Kenneth Lonergan. Hayley Attwell, Tracey Ullman, Matthew Macfadyen, and Julia Ormond are among the cast. I loved the book and the Merchant/Ivory film adaptation. I don’t think, though, I’m quite going to have the time for this (tonight, BBC 1, 9pm).

And a couple we missed: old warhorse Grey’s Anatomy, back for its fourteenth season (Wednesdays, 9pm, Sky Living); and The Sinner, from the USA Network, starring Jessica Biel and Bill Pullman, in which Biel plays a woman who murders someone in public but has no idea why she did so. It’s supposed to be very good (all episodes on Netflix).

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Designated Survivor s2 ep 6

*SPOILERS*

Let’s just skip past the fact that The West Wing previously invented an awfully similar-sounding country beginning with Ku, and get to this week’s main points, because a) there are a lot of them and b) OMG WTF Emily and Seth?!

Dealing with a) first, then, the political crisis of the week has a US navy ship colliding with a sanitation barge and getting stuck just off the coast of “rogue state Kunami” which cannot believe its luck, although it turns out luck may not have had all that much to do with it since the ship was sort-of-spying and the collision was not-exactly-an-accident. Relations between the US and Kunami are already murky, so the usual “send Aaron to try and talk the Ambassador down and, when that doesn’t cut it, bring out the Bauer Glower” two-step doesn’t work. As nobody really wants to try and write a war with a fictional state of indeterminate geographical location, though, a deal is reached whereby the American sailors can be rescued but they have to leave the ship behind. All of this would be fine, but it’s elevated beyond that by some genuinely sweet, moving scenes between PJB and the young sailor who has to take charge of the ship and eventually makes what seems to both POTUS and me to be a noble but tragically unnecessary sacrifice. Poor Captain Griffin. We barely knew ye.

Back on dry land, meanwhile, Agent Q and Mr MI6 have had to press pause on all snogging and all talking about snogging, because not only have they not solved the murder of Charlotte Thorn, but they now need to solve the kidnapping of Charlotte Thorn’s aide. Yes, while they’re busy getting nowhere with Smug Mrs Arms Dealer and her even Smugger Lawyer, the somewhat improbably named and even more improbably self-possessed Peyton Lane is snatched off the street. Happily, however, the kidnappers have reckoned without her counter-kidnapping skills and she’s able to lead Q and co right to her. Hurrah for Peyton Lane! And what do you know? Smug Mrs Arms Dealer doesn’t know anything about the Charlotte Thorn murder after all, but that’s ok, because Cornelius Moss has suddenly re-appeared with a big neon sign over his head saying “Way too invested in this storyline to be up to any good” and lo! Somebody’s got some ‘splainin’ to do.

Somebody’s not the only one. With the offscreen Reed Diamond steadfastly refusing to talk to the White House about the FMILOTUS investigation because that would be profoundly inappropriate (FFS do these people not know anything?), Kendra goes back to FMILOTUS to get her to sign some sort of “I swear I don’t know anything about anything, I promise, honest, trufax” declaration. No-brainer, right? Nuh-uh. At first, FMILOTUS tries to deflect a bit with the frankly astonishing suggestion that her precious time is somehow being wasted with the investigation of her own admitted felony corruption. (“This notion I have to keep addressing it and re-addressing it” – lady, you’ve done everything but address it, wind your neck in and be grateful you’re not in jail. Yet.) But Kendra isn’t fooled any more than we are; she immediately works out FMILOTUS is not telling the truth. And lo again! Here’s another big neon sign, only this one says “met the Eric dude again, once, six months ago, by ‘chance’ and ‘forgot’ about it? If you believe that, I have a timeshare on Venus to sell you, weather’s lovely this time of year.”

FMILOTUS isn’t the only shifty parent pottering round 1600 Penn this week, however. Since it’s “making up some new things about Emily” week, we learn that her dad walked out on her and her mum decades ago, and he’s not really changed all that much. Daddy Issues being a fundamental element of every US tv drama ever made, I suppose it was naive of me to expect Designated Survivor to ignore them, but there we go. In other Emily news, she has apparently given up both coffee and speaking to Aaron at all – they share a number of scenes together, and even sit next to each other, but somehow seem only to speak to other people, with the writing continuing to freeze Adan Canto’s Aaron out in the most blatant and bizarre way. What on earth is going on?

The weirdness of the whole business is encapsulated in the penultimate scene of the episode when Aaron sticks his head through Emily’s office door and, for a moment, I’m BEYOND excited – finally! They’re going to TALK. He’ll notice she’s upset. He’ll come in. He’ll comfort her. And it will be ON. Oh, YES.

At least, that’s what would have happened last season. And actually, that is what happens. Except not with Aaron. Oh, NO. Aaron manages one syllable (not even a whole word!) – “Em” – and a salute before he takes his head back out of the door and disappears. A salute! Even Johnny-Come-Lately Lyor brings his whole body into the room, and a bottle of that Kombucha stuff as a peace offering. Before clearing out to let Seth come in, notice Emily’s upset, comfort her and… Yup. So, last week when I said Lyor’s got Aaron’s season one getting-to-know-PJB storyline now? Looks like Seth’s got Aaron’s season one getting-to-kiss-Emily one. Albeit without any of the careful build-up, sparky chemistry or clarity as to WHAT THE BLAZES IS HAPPENING. Was that prosaic lip-lock the start or the middle of the Semily relationship? Can Aaron be pushed any further to the side without actually falling off the edge of the show? FFS. What a waste of a good character, and a ship that had heaps of chemistry and plenty of places to go, if only it hadn’t been so inexplicably, deliberately scuttled.

The Good Doctor s1 ep 2

It continues to be difficult to know what to make of The Good Doctor. On one hand, I’m entirely prepared to accept that Freddie Highmore’s performance as Dr Shaun Murphy is excellent, and that the programme’s portrayal of someone with autism is, if not entirely novel, nonetheless both radical and welcome.

On the other, though, it’s in the service of a show which, thus far, is relying very heavily on a sort of greatest hits of the genre; Now That’s What I Call A Medical Drama, if you will. So this week we were treated to the following: residents (Browne and Kalu) taking the credit for someone else’s (Shaun, inevitably) brilliant idea; a young doctor ordering unnecessary tests, being told not to, and consequently putting a patient’s life in danger; another young doctor promising a patient “You’re not gonna die!”, at which point you can start the countdown to a Major Crisis; a patient falling ill outside the hospital but there’s No Time To Call An Ambulance; and so on.

Meantime the Good Doctor’s USP himself, Shaun, is strolling the halls blurting out things like “It’s definitely malignant!” to terrified patients, and having to be coached on what sarcasm is, which (a) is a skill he’s gonna need to acquire in order to be able to follow the dialogue in any medical drama with a brilliant but arrogant hotshot doctor, which is all of them; but (b) something he must, presumably, have encountered at some point in his journey to adulthood, perhaps during his training?

Once again, though, I did quite enjoy it. And, damn it, any show which concludes with the peerless Beach House on the soundtrack knows how to push my buttons.

Public Service Announcement 47 of 2017: Alias Grace, Blindspot, The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds, The Vietnam War

Since real life means I won’t get near my tv this week, it’s raining things I want to watch. First up and now streaming on Netflix UK is Alias Grace, based on from Margaret Atwood’s novel about real-life maid Grace Marks, convicted of two murders in Canada in 1843 and sentenced to life imprisonment as a result. Adapted by Sarah Polley, with a cast including Sarah Gadon, Anna Paquin and Zachary Levi, and coming hot on the heels of the astonishing Handmaid’s Tale, this looks pretty special in its own right. If I ever get time to watch it, I’ll report back forthwith.

If you need cheering up after Alias Grace, meantime, you could do far worse than dip into the return of Channel 4’s documentary series The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds (Tuesday, 8pm), which is the type of thing I wouldn’t normally bother with, but I caught a couple of episodes by chance last year and it is just adorable.

Also on the documentary front, albeit featuring considerably fewer dimples and nap breaks, BBC4 is repeating Ken Burns’s ten-part The Vietnam War around 11.30 on Saturday nights. (I’ve given up trying to understand scheduling practices.) Episode 1 was on this weekend, but you can catch up on iplayer if you’re so minded. I have to confess that 17 hours of war documentary is probably not something I’m going to be able to make time for, but word – from Jed, in particular – is that it’s excellent so if you can fit it in, it sounds like it’s more than worth the investment.

The big news as far as unpopcult is concerned though, is the return of our beloved, demented Blindspot. Season 3 kicks off tonight (Monday) at 10pm on Sky Living and the even bigger news is that Ennis Esmer’s magnificent RICH DOTCOM – RICH DOTCOM! – is joining the cast on a recurring basis. We’ve been promised he’ll appear in at least ten episodes; Jed and I have been so excited since we heard, we’ve been close to combusting. RICH DOTCOM, you guys! I’ll be doing weekly – very possibly slightly hysterical – reviews as usual, and let me just say this now: if PAT DOTCOM were to happen, it would make my year.

Private Eyes s2 ep 9

K-pop spoilers

Shade and Angie are hired by a distraught client to investigate the disappearance of her son Pete, an army cadet who has gone AWOL from his training camp. Using Becca’s morning show as a pretext to get onto the base – an item about keeping fit the army way, or something – Shade drops and gives them thirty, while Angie discovers that Pete and two of his friends went missing for two hours during a training exercise. The friends are saying nothing. But data from their GPS trackers point to the three of them having been in a nearby forest at the crucial time.

Which means that Angie and Shade are going into the woods. Together. In the middle of the Canadian winter. Well, any of us could write what happened next. And, in fact, I did; I texted CJ to say “I’m thinking no mobile signal, having to huddle together for warmth…”. OK, as it turned out I got the second bit wrong. But the rest of it falls into place: they make their way to the location, and find an abandoned van with cash which looks as if it came from a bank robbery. But then Shade injures himself, meaning that they’re stuck for the night, and Angie reports that she can’t get a signal.

Huddle time, then…? Not quite. Not yet. But, winding back a bit: relationship drams update. Shade hasn’t yet introduced Mel to Jules, causing the former a certain amount of internal bleeding, it would seem. On the other hand: they’ve been only dating for two months, and as I’ve been off the market for decades I have no idea what’s normal these days. But… it doesn’t seem that long to me. Meantime, Angie is ducking and diving, trying to avoid Dr Ken, his weird pass-ag retention and “hiding” of a souvenir from his first attempt to put a ring on it, and his possible marriage proposal. So they have a bit to talk about, do Shade and Angie. And as they talk, listening to some light jazz on Shade’s phone, they look at each other, start to lean in… then the music changes from jazz to K-pop and the Moment is lost.

The case is solved – and it’s one of the show’s better plots, in fairness – but we need closure on the Shared Moment, don’t we? So… Angie, with the air of a woman who’s made a decision, drives over to Shade’s house, but on looking in the window sees that Mel has now been permitted to occupy the same spaces as Jules. Happy smiles from the Shade family. And a rueful smile from Angie, if not from me. I realise that just about all of these will-they-won’t-they plots depend on the inability of attractive, articulate, and (more or less) eligible grown-ups to use their damn words, but STILL.

Which is where we need to leave the Eyes for now, because it now goes into a mid-season “hiatus” which is going to last for months: the rest of season 2 will be shown next year, and the show has been renewed for a third season which presumably won’t be shown until… 2019? Not gonna pretend to understand this. Private Eyes remains, though, a welcome little outpost of sweetness and warmth and… niceness, in a world which seems to be increasingly drained of all three, which is why we’ll be back for more just as soon as they’re ready to give it to us.

Designated Survivor s2 ep 5

*SPOILERS*

We’ve seen a lot of rules and ethical principles flouted in the real world, recently, so perhaps Designated Survivor is just taking its lead from that, but the First Lady, acting on behalf of the First-Mother-in-Law, instructing the White House Counsel, to resist a subpoena issued by the FBI, relating to corruption uncovered by the President’s special White House FBI agent…. Really?

Not only does that seem like a gordian conflict of interest to me, but it’s also an unholy mess. And an unholy, off-brand mess to boot, since, as we’re reminded this week, PJB’s USP is that he’s honest and decent and open, but his staff working to help his wife and the felonious FMILOTUS frustrate a federal subpoena in an investigation of potential government corruption doesn’t seem too honest and decent and open to me, and when it comes out, as it definitely will, it’s not going to be a good look for anyone. Except possibly Reed Diamond who will at least be able to shrug and say “Hey, I tried.”

While the propriety and advisability of the First Family and the WH staff entangling themselves in said unholy, off-brand mess may be dubious, however, the purpose is clear. This is another chance for FLOTUS to indulge in her favourite sport: making a nuisance of herself in the name of “protecting my family.” Yes, buoyed by the success (in that nobody told her to get knotted) of her appalling attitude to Agent Q last week, Mrs Bauer turns on Kendra Daynes this time around, jumping in to act as second chair – because the FMILOTUS court team needed to get even more incestuous – and almost derailing the entire train in the process. Good work, FLOTUS. Better work Kendra, though, for telling her where to go.

Blurring of lines and job descriptions is something of a theme in all the storylines this week, though. I mean, I don’t know, maybe the Director of the FBI arguing his subpoena case himself in court is normal if he’s a lawyer too, but does he not have other people to do that? No? Well, what about the multi-millionaire arms dealer from England who, despite apparently having a hugely successful business and lots of people working for him, gets his hands dirty by moving all his illegal arms himself? Does he not have other people to do that? And even if his wife is the evil brains behind the operation, is she really going to carry out her hits on British MPs by herself as well? Do none of these folk understand the concept of DELEGATION?

Maybe they should ask the aristocrats at the Designated Survivor British Embassy, where nobody is allowed to work unless they sound like the Seventh Earl of Superposh, just passing through on his way back to Downton Abbey, about it. Although the Brits seem to be short-staffed as well, given that, instead of the squad of officers you would expect to investigate the murder of a British MP in Washington, they send just the one guy. And what do you know? That one guy is Mr MI6, back again to work with the similarly short-staffed FBI and their one go-to-gal Agent Q. Chuck and I thought/hoped we’d seen the back of him, but apparently we were wrong. Chuck and I also had other (admittedly divergent) hopes for Agent Q’s love life, mind you, and we were both wrong about them too. I guess this means my Qiamond dream is finally dead. Sob!

As, it would seem, is my dream of Aaron and Emily. Sigh. This week’s White House political pratfall/ test of the President’s moral fibre involves PJB saying something very stupid, refusing to defend himself – not wanting to lie and not wanting to sling mud is fine, but why does it take the entire episode for him to agree just to explain himself? – and then finally turning it around with one of his usual stirring speeches. *shrugs* It’s fine, I guess. Kiefer Sutherland is always good value in these scenes and, in this episode, just for a change, he gets to solve things peaceably and without breaking out the usual Bauer Glower. Fair enough.

Back on the subject of blurred job descriptions and staffing shortages though, Emily getting Seth to take a policy meeting “because we’re short-handed” made me laugh because, as I keep saying, Team PJB is now absolutely teeming with superfluous players. But then – did I imagine this? – Emily telling Seth to “come by any time, I’ll leave a saucer of milk out” startled the smile right off my face. Wh..what? I know it’s in the context of a Halloween chat, and there have been hints of a possible Seth and Emily situation for a couple of weeks now, but… does that count as a come-on? Are we at that stage already? Poor, poor Aaron. Emily has forgotten he exists entirely. And so, it would seem, have the scriptwriters, since not only has he nothing to do this week, but Lyor has essentially taken his job, most of his screentime and even his season 1 storyline (of initial despair at PJB’s refusal to do anything nasty, turning gradually into ride-or-die membership of the man’s fanclub).

Sigh. I know this post is one long nit-pick, I’m in a mood and the episode probably isn’t that bad for what it is. But I just can’t get on board with the show’s new direction. All I want is for them to bring back the Emily/Aaron/Seth dynamic, give Q something involving big explosions to investigate and give the show back its season 1 vibe. Please?

Public Service Announcement 46 of 2017: Jim Clark: The Quiet Champion; 66 Days

Two documentaries. On Thursday at 8pm, BBC 4 is repeating its 2009 documentary Jim Clark: The Quiet Champion, about the enigmatic sheep farmer from the Scottish Borders who also happened to be one of the most talented racing drivers of all time. It’s a remarkable story told in an impressively straightforward, almost old-fashioned, manner.

And tonight at 9pm the same channel has 66 Days, about another enigma: Bobby Sands, who led the 1981 hunger strike by Republican inmates in Northern Ireland’s Maze Prison. This I haven’t seen yet, but it received excellent reviews last year when it was given a limited theatrical release.