Nashville s5 ep 11

After her performance at the CMTs, everyone wants a piece of Maddie. Scarlett – very much mother hen to the Jaymes/Claybourne family unit this week, which will become particularly significant by the end of the episode – keeps the entire entertainment industry at bay, reasoning that Maddie needs to be protected. Well, says Juliette, Maddie’s having a “moment”, so I assume her manager is handling this wave of interest? Blank looks all round. In that case, she continues, Imma take Maddie to New York City. But relax, everyone; I’ll take care of her as if she were my own. Which should be the very opposite of reassuring for anyone who remembers how she handled Cadence. But no-one – least of all Deacon – feels like arguing, so off they go.

Deacon himself, meantime, is deploying those big puppydog eyes of his, and looking through old Rayna material: a DVD from the 90s, her diaries, that fly-on-the-wall documentary from earlier in the season. But that isn’t going to run a business, and Zach is getting twitchy: Highway 65 is in the red as a result of its acquisition of W******’ D*****’; its best asset is the unfinished Rayna/Deacon album; so when can it be released? When it’s ready, says Deacon, which will be never. This isn’t good. Bucky is aware that if Zach pulls his money out Highway 65 is dead – which might be no bad thing for the show, incidentally – so something needs to be done. But as everyone argues about the best way of strong-arming Deacon, Avery overhears and steps in: “This man just lost the love of his life… we need to be there for him, not ask things of him”. Which is also a fair point.

Back in New York City, Maddie appears on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah then, with increasing confidence, on Harry Connick, Jr.,’s daytime show. But she mis-speaks, says something which could be interpreted as meaning that the death of her mother was to be welcomed, pulls out of further promotional duties, and heads back home. Juliette is “disappointed” in her “lack of professionalism” – don’t ever forget to do your homework, Cadence – but wants to manage Maddie anyway. Which means another step forward in the show’s change of generation, with Juli as the wise older head mentoring Maddie. I wonder whether this is wise, for Nashville and for Maddie.

Not that it matters too much for now, because Rayna, frankly, is appearing as much in the show as she ever did when alive. And a settlement is brokered between Zach and Deacon when the Nashville extended family piles in to provide guest vocals on the unfinished album, although this still feels to me like little more than a pause before Zach asserts full control of the estate of Rayna, H65, W’D’, The Girls, and everything else he can get his hands on.

We finish with Gunnar and Scarlett about to head out on tour, but not before Scarlett reveals that she’s pregnant and doesn’t know who the father is. It’s not a bad episode, but I still feel as if the show is reluctant to cut the cord attaching it to Rayna. Sooner or later it’s going to have to do so, though, and it might happen in the next episode, which in America was screened after a midseason hiatus. In the UK, though, we’re just going straight on without a break.

Poldark s3 ep 5


Intrigue at home and abroad this week, as Caroline pins her hopes for Doctor Dwight’s rescue on a French fleet she has somehow acquired (at least she seems to think so); Ross launches his own alternative rescue mission – a.k.a. Five Men and a Boat; and George takes the opportunity to indulge in a spot of anti-Poldark sabotage, because if Ross is doing something Ross-ish, the Warleggan Weasel just cannot leave it be.

If George is at his most George-like wafting around the ballrooms of the aristocracy with a sour face and an obsession with bouncy curls, though, he’s not the only one very much in tune with his inner self this week. Demelza is at her most steadfast and supportive. Ross is at his most brave, reckless and loyal. Caroline is at her most optimistic and naive. And Morwenna and Drake are at their most sweet and put-upon. All of which makes for a thoroughly entertaining episode, alternating between the excitement of Le Prison Break, the unshakeable (and entirely correct) feeling that somebody’s not going to make it back across the channel, and the irresistible urge to punch stupid, mean George in his stupid, mean face.

This latter pleasure is sadly not afforded to us but, unusually for once, it’s George’s scheme to climb another step up the social ladder which fails, while Ross’s completely demented plan works, to some extent, at least. On one view, Le Prison Break is a notable success, thanks to the broken-hearted Drake and the very pleasant Lt Armitage but, on another, it’s an awful tragedy, obvious as it is from the second poor, brave Captain Henshaw declares that “mining’s a risk, loving’s a risk, living’s a risk”, that he won’t be doing any of the three for much longer. Sob. Captain Henshaw is just the kind of steadfast, decent, down-to-earth character, a big, melodramatic romance like this show needs. And he was NICE, dammit. Why did he have to die? His funeral and all the singing is lovely, but it’s not like that makes up for it. Especially if Doctor Dwight is destroyed by whatever awful combination of survivor’s guilt and PTSD he’s about to put himself, Caroline and the audience through. Sigh. Still, at least we finally have Doctor Dwight back. And Lt Armitage by way of a bonus. And George looks like a total prat. Every cloud…..

Public Service Announcement 27 of 2017: How To Get Away With Murder, Friends From College, In The Dark

Unpopcult might be about to go on its own summer hiatus – although it hasn’t quite happened yet – but the TV keeps on coming. First up is the third season of How To Get Away With Murder, which has finally made its way to the UK. It’s moved from Universal to Sky Living, but I won’t be moving with it; at some point during season 2 I realised that I was trying way too hard to care about any of the characters. It’s been renewed for a fourth season, though, so if it’s still your thing it’s worth keeping going (Thursday 13 July, 9pm, Sky Living).

Next, I have little idea of how the artistic side of the Netflix business model works. It seems to me, though, that from time to time it consists of throwing a load of money and a load of stars at an interesting writer-directer and hoping that magic will ensue. Step forward Friends From College, a comedy about a group of Harvard buddies reconnecting. It’s exec produced by Nicholas Stoller (The Five-Year Engagement, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Muppets) and Francesca Delbanco, his – sorry, I know this looks kind of sexist, but I’ve looked her up on IMDB and as far as I can see this is her first credit – wife. It stars, among others, Cobie Smulders, Annie Parisse, Keegan-Michael Key, Fred Savage, and Billy Eichner. And, after all that, the advance reviews suggest that it’s rubbish (Netflix, Friday 14 July).

Finally, a bit of British drama: In The Dark is a four-part adaptation of a Mark Billingham crime thriller. I’m a big fan of Billingham, and the book is excellent. As ever, though, it’s precisely because I like the source material that I won’t be watching: I know what DS Helen Weeks looks like, and it isn’t MyAnna Buring. I have a hunch, though, that this will actually be quite good (tonight, 9pm, BBC 1).

The Blacklist s4 ep 21; s4 ep 22

End-of-season spoilers

In the first part of this season-ending double-bill, Red’s empire is crumbling: Mr. Kaplan is emptying his accounts, meaning that he can’t pay anyone, and his reputation is draining away with his money. Which poses an interesting question: what is Red Reddington if not a wealthy international mega-criminal; and, specifically, what use is he to the Task Force in that eventuality? Not much use at all, is the conclusion. Particularly with Detective Julian Gale getting in the way. So as far as Liz is concerned it’s all hands on deck to find Mr. Kaplan, notwithstanding that Red arranged for Liz to be abducted and kidnapped by the Debt Collector in order that she could be used as Kaplan-bait. There’s almost a shrug of the shoulders as they rationalise this. It’s Red. He does shit like that, the old rogue.

Mr. Kaplan’s next move is to hire Mario Dixon, top thief, to steal the signed copy of Red’s immunity deal from a storage facility. (A terrific sequence, this one, moving quickly from the removal of an eyeball to a motorcycle escaping from the rear of a van.) But Red is on top of this: he captures Mario, who in keeping with his status as a mercenary quickly offers to give Mr. Kaplan up. Once he does, of course, Red kills him, in keeping with his status as a sociopathic criminal, then drops in on Liz’s grandfather Dom (played by Brian Dennehy, and last seen in season 3) in order to pick something up.

And, when Red and Mr. Kaplan finally meet, in a theatre, the “something” is revealed to be Red’s last and best offer: a private island where she can live out her days, wealthy and safe. She declines, but before negotiations or shooting can commence Agent Gale and the FBI come bursting in, and Red gets away. Mr. Kaplan, however, offers to testify against Red in return for immunity.

It’s an excellent episode. But the next one is better. A grand jury – which has already heard from Aram, who did his very best not to dob Red and the Task Force in – takes like five seconds to confirm that Mr. Kaplan has the goods on Red, and offers her immunity. She asks for 24 hours to put her affairs in order; this means a trip to a place called Tansi Farms where she digs up a suitcase and puts it in a locker at a bus station.

Meantime, Red is sitting in a downmarket hotel destroying evidence of multiple IDs, and Harold Cooper is wondering – not for the first time, surely – why the hell Red walked into their lives in the first place, particularly as it looks as if Liz, and the rest of them, are going to jail as a result. So he roots around in an evidence vault, dugs out a bloodstained shirt worn by Red years ago, and sends off for DNA testing to find out once and for all if Red is Liz’s father.

We’ll get to that. Red, meantime, is still hard at work: he tracks down one Harry Prescott, a superstar fixer, and through Prescott finds the body of Reven Wright, which has a bullet in it from Laurel Hitchin’s gun. Using that as leverage, Hitchin is persuaded to shut down the grand jury, much to Aram’s relief, as he’s been stuck in the cells for refusing to testify against the Task Force.

But Liz doesn’t know that Red’s plan has worked, and she’s set up a meeting with Mr. Kaplan. Red and the Task Force are tracking Liz, but Red’s men get there first, leading to Mr. Kaplan shooting – and killing? – Red’s lieutenant Baz (played by the magnificently-named Bazzel Baz).

Mr. Kaplan gets away from that one, but the Task Force pins her down on a bridge, and Red confronts her. She once again refuses any sort of peace deal, and tells Red that if she dies her associate will tell Liz about the secret of Tansi Farms. Red still won’t shoot her, so Mr. Kaplan dives off the bridge, as we knew she would. We see her floating face-down in the water, but is she dead? As this show brought Liz back from actual death, I’m not convinced.

And then all sorts of things happen. Ressler goes to confront Hitchin and, somewhat randomly, kills her by accident. Then calls Prescott to do the cleaning. I wonder if he’ll be a regular next season? Aram discovers that girlfriend Janet ratted him out to the grand jury, heads to Task Force HQ, and makes out with Samar. The DNA test confirms, inevitably, that Red is Liz’s dad, news which Liz treats with a certain degree of equanimity: she heads over to Red’s hotel for a shouting match, but ends up acknowledging that she is her father’s daughter – “Guess what”, she tells Red, “I am like you” – and hugging him. (This scene is, perhaps, Megan Boone’s finest piece of acting on this show.)

But we’re still not done. Red confirms to Dembe that Liz thinks Red’s-your-daddy was the big secret, and not the really big secret: the suitcase, Tansi Farms. Dembe observes that he doesn’t think Liz will ever be ready to find out what Red did to Katarina, and Red makes it clear that they need to find the suitcase. However, someone’s already there… and it’s Tom, who opens the suitcase to reveal human bones, then calls someone: “Mr. Kaplan’s instructions were very specific. I’m on my way”.

Which ends season 4. It got a little bogged down in the middle, but the post-hiatus run of episodes was, in my view, as strong as anything we’ve seen from this show since the first season. Moreover, with Red on the ropes, Liz now confirmed as family, Tom floating somewhere between all of them, and a mysterious suitcase full of bones out there, the prospects for season 5 look good. For example: would Liz assist in reviving Red’s criminal organisation? Or would the Task Force, now seemingly insulated from criticism, on the basis that they get more from a powerful Red than a diminished one?

Free Rein

The older, sadder and more worried about the state of humanity I get, the more open I become to the safest type of tv. I may be mesmerised by The Handmaid’s Tale and counting the days till the return of Game of Thrones (7 to go!) but, at the other end of the spectrum, I also have a mortifying weakness for Movies 24/Hallmark romances (Summer Villa, you guys. Just try it), an odd but irresistible love for The Good Witch and, as I’ve learned over the past few days, a mild but genuine interest in Netflix’s new kids tv show Free Rein.

A twee, well-meaning, super-cliched but perfectly pleasant tween drama about an American teenage girl who spends an idyllic summer in the English countryside discovering a natural talent for riding, making new friends at the stables, and bonding with a horse no one but her can control – this is the kind of thing I was too cool for when I was 12, but now I’m all: “Oh, another 25 minute-episode of low-stakes shenanigans about family secrets, mean girl riders, and outwitting horse thieves? Don’t mind if I do!” Which is not to say I’d be signing up for a second season – it’s very much the modern version of those pony stories that horse-minded little girls used to read decades ago, and I am actually a full-blown adult who has never had any interest in horses at all – but I just finished episode five of ten and, dammit, I want to know who the horse thieves are, and why Zoe’s mum won’t let her ride, and whether Zoe herself will follow tv tradition and pick angry, moody Pin over smiley, handsome Marcus. Adult or not, I guess some things never change.

Lethal Weapon s1 ep 18

Season finale; it’s a stormer. After last week’s bombshell – yet also entirely unsurprising – revelation that the drugs cartel was involved in Miranda’s death, Riggs might be expected to go full-on apeshit this week. In fact, the extent to which he exercises just a little bit of self-control – while still doing things which should see him, at the very least, expelled from the LAPD and imprisoned for a long time – is a straw to be clutched at if you wanted to argue for his personal growth over the course of the first season.

It isn’t really much of a straw, though. Riggs asks for permission to “question” Gabriel and is refused. As the next time we see Gabriel he’s being transported in a nominally secure vehicle, we kind of know that he’s going to be extracted by someone, and he is. (First rule of TV procedurals – don’t transport your prisoner. Never works out well.) I thought it might be the cartel who had grabbed Gabriel, leading to lots of Riggsian angst about how he got away, but Riggs has taken care of that possibility by snatching Gabriel himself and chaining him up in his trailer.

When the news of Gabriel’s abduction gets out, Avery and Murtaugh debate who it might have been, although Murtaugh almost instantly – albeit privately – suspects that Riggs was behind it, even if he doesn’t want to believe it. He then provides an inadvertent assist (which at first I thought was deliberate) when he reveals that he’s had to cancel a father-son bonding trip with RJ, meaning that a cabin will be empty, and thus steering Riggs towards the perfect kill room. Sure enough, Riggs takes Gabriel to the cabin, tortures him a little (although not very much) and Gabriel admits giving the order to have Miranda eliminated.

Before Riggs can do too much about it, though, Murtaugh turns up, having tracked Riggs to the cabin. And while they’re debating what to do, Gabriel breaks free. (Second rule of TV procedurals – don’t leave your prisoner unattended. Never works out well.) But Murtaugh finds him and shoots him in the chest, leading to Gabriel falling over a precipice. “Nobody can survive that”, Murtaugh assures Riggs, although with half an episode to go we know better. (Third rule of TV procedurals – they’re never dead unless you see the body, and sometimes not even then. Don’t assume they’re dead. Never works out well.)

So, while we wait for Gabriel to re-emerge, there are a few items of business to be taken care of. Murtaugh covers for Riggs on the whole abduction/torture thing, then requests a new partner from Avery. And, using blueberry pancakes as a plot device, Riggs works out that Gideon lied about giving the order to kill Miranda, then deduces that his former father-in-law, LA City Attorney Ronnie Delgado, is working with the cartel. (I always wondered if he was a wrong ‘un.) So when Gabriel reappears – having been tipped off by Delgado – it’s to capture Murtaugh, then Riggs, and tie them up next to each other, in order to torture Murtaugh with those defib paddles normally seen on medical shows. But they both break free, and Riggs kills Gabriel. Probably. Still no body.

The coda to the episode, and indeed to the season, shifts between Murtaugh successfully making it to his son’s graduation, not deterred by recently having received several hundred volts through his pacemaker, and Riggs heading off to Mexico to confront Tito Flores, head of the cartel, and positively relishing the fact that it’s a suicide mission. Murtaugh, of course, goes after him.

It’s a tremendous episode – all that’s missing is Agent Palmer, meaning that Riggs’s STUPID DEAD WIFE is, once again, getting in the way of a PERFECTLY GOOD SHIP – and a fitting end to the first season of the most surprising new show of the year. I really didn’t expect Lethal Weapon to be any good, never mind this good. But it’s delivered on every level: well scripted, acted, and directed; snappy dialogue; great big dumb action scenes; genuine emotion. A triumph.

Nashville s5 ep 10

Previously on Nashville: Rayna died. So… where now? Well, the funeral to start with, and even Mayor Teddy gets three days of “bereavement leave” to come along. Actually, I didn’t realise at this point how much of a part he’d be playing in the episode. But I’m getting ahead of things a bit.

Everyone is devastated, of course, although even within that there’s room for a range of reactions: I was particularly moved, for some reason, by Bucky sobbing. On the other hand, Zach (still pursuing Will in his downtime) manages some remarkably tone-deaf interventions; Clay significantly underperforms in his role as Boyfriend Of The Elder Daughter Of The Deceased before pulling things round; and Juliette sees the opportunity for a little career resurrection by insisting that she, and only she, is the right person to sing a tribute to Rayna at the CMT Awards.

Deacon, meantime, is a black hole of grief. Everyone goes quiet when he enters the room at the memorial service: partly out of sympathy and, one suspects, partly out of genuine amazement that Rayna died and Deacon didn’t cause it. He admits to Maddie that he doesn’t know who he is without Rayna. “You’re my dad”, replies Maddie, one of the better lines this week.

But also, as it turns out, a contentious one. Rayna died without making any testamentary arrangements for guardianship of The Girls or stewardship of Highway 65, now incorporating W******’ D*****’. Mayor Teddy and Tandy pounce: wouldn’t it be sensible for Mayor T to be guardian of Maddie and Daphne, and for Tandy to keep an eye on the business? And you have to admit that they’ve kind of got a bit of a point: Tandy tells Deacon that he couldn’t run H65 on his very best day; and Mayor T is, in fact, still the legal father of Maddie and Daphne, and the fact that he’s going to be in jail for the next three months is little more than an inconvenient detail. “I was there for (Maddie) for 17 years”, Teddy bellows at Deacon. “And on top of that I was never declared a threat to my daughter in a court of law!” Uh-huh. Deacon manages not to hit him, just about. And Maddie is hypocritical enough to complain that Teddy shouldn’t be making reference to her evidence in court: “None of that was even true! You can’t hold that against him!” (Fact check: it was true.)

As I’ve said before, it really isn’t much of a choice for The Girls. But Daphne is agonising about it, noting that one of her fathers is probably gonna hate her if she has to pick a side. This sways Deacon, who tells Teddy, just before the Rayna tribute at the CMTs, that he can be the guardian, although Teddy will later concede that it should be Deacon, because he’s a great father, and not because Teddy’s going to be, y’know, LOCKED UP IN JAIL.

Oh yeah, the tribute. Juliette decides belatedly that it isn’t her place to do it, and that it should be Maddie. (Sidebar: this new, improved, slightly less selfish Juliette is more likeable, but isn’t really making the best use of the range Hayden Panettiere has previously demonstrated in the role.) So Maddie has a stab at singing some Rayna song or other, but understandably falters, because, frankly, it’s kind of barbaric to be pushing a teenage girl – a teenage girl – out in front of a live audience a couple of days after the unexpected death of her mother. But then Daphne, showing a certain steely resolve, takes over. (As I said last week, Maisy Stella is for the watching, and I mean that in a good way.) And Deacon joins in. It’s undeniably moving, provides this wet blanket of an episode with a high point, and puts off for another week at least the question of where the show goes from here.