Berlin Station s1 ep 3

*SPOILERS*

Either the levels of concentration I’ve had to invest in this show so far have paid off and everything’s suddenly clicked into place in my brain, or this week’s episode of Berlin Station was much more straightforward.

Even the previouslies seem to hint at a change: they go on for ages, presumably with a view to making sure no viewer is left behind as we head into this brave new dawn. The opening scene being a dream sequence doesn’t detract from that either – Steven Frost, with an eye on Provence, sitting waiting as the drip drip drip coming down on him and his office became a flood. You don’t need to be Freud to understand that one.

Or indeed to understand the rest of the story. One, Frost and Dr Dubenko have a terrible secret. I barely have five seconds to wonder what it could be before this new clear version of the show (and Dr Dubenko) just tells me: “This is us going to jail for running fake agents and bilking Uncle Sam, for God’s sake.” Righto, thanks Dr D! Two, The Office of Security (Office of Jerks, I’ve written in my notes – they are EXCEPTIONALLY rude) from Langley descend upon Berlin Station, thanks to another leak from Herr Shaw, so Daniel’s patron Jemma Moore is unceremoniously out, the long-suffering Sandra takes the fall for Frost, and he might have a shot at Deputy Director. Okay-doke. Three, Michelle Forbes’s asset throws his lot in with losova, without realising Michelle’s watching him do it – smile, you’re on Candid Camera, dude. Got it! Four, Hector’s cracking up over Faisal, but still several steps ahead of Richard Armitage’s Daniel, who looks awesome when he pulls a snazzy spy move with a steak sandwich and throws away his Jemma-phone, only to spoil it all later by taking no care of his regular phone whatsoever. Dude. And five, in other Daniel-related news, New Asset in Witch’s Hat and German Ally McBeal are both defiantly, and kind of obnoxiously, fighting the Armitage charm (so far); Herr Miller’s cousin is rather too obviously succumbing to it (Girl. “With you, it’s like having a dad around again”? Coming on waaaay too strong there); and Frost wants to step right into Moore’s shoes.

See? Straightforward. Busy, but straightforward. And the final scene suggests that’s by design, as storm clouds gather, thunder rolls, and the rain begins to fall, drip drip drip, onto Frost’s head. Now when did we see that before? It’s not a particularly subtle callback to the first scene, and it’s an even less subtle metaphor for trouble ahead, but after a dense, sometimes opaque couple of opening episodes which asked a lot of the audience, I’m not complaining about this one doing the work for us. I enjoyed it.

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The Good Doctor s2 ep 4

It’s a bumper week of parents, children, and Secret Pain at St Bonaventure, and it kind of annoyed me. Patient of the Week #1 is Kitty, an 18-year-old free solo climber, who after her latest free solo climbing accident has a few fractured limbs. Two choices are before her: low-risk surgery which will restrict her movement, and high-risk surgery which might – might – allow her to keep climbing. Kitty opts for the latter, of course, which makes her the latest in a very, very long line of characters in medical dramas who want incredibly dangerous surgery in order to keep open the possibility of continuing to participate in a hobby. I mean, it might just be that I’ve never really been that invested in anything, but I’ll take the safe option and stay alive, thanks. At this point absurdity piles on absurdity, when Kitty’s parents have her declared medically incompetent – which she plainly isn’t, she’s just stupid – in order to override her wishes.

Patient #2, Mac, gets the best storyline of the week: he’s a young boy with a learning disability (fragile X syndrome), he’s in hospital having injured himself, and his single mother, Nicole, doesn’t want to admit that she can’t cope with him any more. It’s an incredibly difficult situation, and one in which a couple of doctors have a personal interest: Shaun has a degree of insight, of course, and a flashback or two to a foster mother of his own; Melendez’s sister lives in an assisted care facility. Eventually she makes the only choice she can, but it’s harrowing.

Meantime Glassman is still having hallucinatory visions of his dead daughter, Maddie, who seems pretty insufferable if I’m being honest. But we do, at least, discover the source of Glassman’s SP: he locked her out of the house when she was high, and she died. And Shaun is trying to work out how to apologise to Lea, who is still pissed at his behaviour towards her. Eventually they make up, but Shaun has a surprise: he’s rented an apartment for the two of them to live in. Well. 

Berlin Station s1 ep 2

*SPOILERS*

I meant to say something last week about the dingy, seedy look of the Berlin of Berlin Station, but I was busy being dazzled by the crisp, modern office wear, so I thought the contrast with the location (as shot – I mean, I’ve never been to the real Berlin, it might rival the Apple Pencil for crisp modernity for all I know) would keep till this week instead. This week, however, just about everyone on the show leans into the dingy, seedy theme.

Maybe they decided to go a different way after ep 1 and have the characters look as well as feel world-weary and generally a bit dirtied by life. Maybe the budget wouldn’t stretch to more than one nice suit each. Or maybe last week’s outfits had to go back to the hire shop. Whatever the reason, suddenly everyone, with the exception of Michelle Forbes, looks a lot less sharp and fresh, and a lot more 1970s. I mean, Dr Dubenko even wears a polo neck in lieu of a shirt and tie at one point. Dude, come on. And Hector, who had enough to worry about last week what with his treason and his having sex with his asset in front of full-length windows (way to keep it on the DL, guys), now has Claudia’s mother and the imminent death of Faisal on his conscience as well. So he abandons suits entirely and spends the whole episode looking like he needs a shower. Oh, Hector. You can’t wash away guilt.

Even Michelle seems a little less put-together than usual. She wears a nice black v-neck top/suit combo on day 1 while she’s jockeying for Steven’s job, changes to a lovely slash-neck top (sans jacket) on day 2 of said jockeying, but then somehow ends up back in day 1’s outfit when her boyfriend/husband/possible spy(?) is trying to get secrets out of her. Continuity error? Or perhaps she spilled her coffee. It probably doesn’t matter but it’s probably not a great sign that, in a week where the main female character went undercover, openly went after her boss’s job and started her own op against this dude Iosova that they’re all so excited about, I was so easily distracted by her clothes.

At least Richard Armitage’s Daniel, out on his own secret mission, manages to keep the rest of the team and the cesspit dragging them down at arms length. He’s busy trying to warn Claudia’s friend Ingrid that Creepy Cheekbones might be after her, but all it gets him is a bad-tempered lecture. Shame. It’s not all bad news for Herr Miller, though. In another change from last week, someone is following him, rather than the other way round, but Danny boy is onto him – in fairness, the guy could not have been more conspicuous if he was wearing a cowbell – of course, and is having none of it. Our hero has a cousin (love interest?) and her annoying, floppy-haired son (kidnap/threat fodder for later?) to hang out with and Cowbell is not invited. So Dan the man cuts him out of the picture, sets up a meet with German intelligence’s principal Ally McBeal lookalike, and sets her onto Creepy Cheekbones for good measure. Job done.

The best scene of the week is the last one, though: Hector, literally shouting his guilt from a rooftop; Daniel, wrapped up in his own Secret Pain, but beginning to connect the dots; and me, wondering why the eff there is no wall or at least some sort of barrier to stop people falling to their deaths. (COULD THIS BE IMPORTANT LATER? Hm.) But here I go getting distracted again. It’s easily done since, changes in aesthetics aside, this is another slow-paced, fairly dense episode requiring quite a lot of patience and not offering a massive amount in return, as yet. I was intrigued last week but I’m getting a little antsy now: two eps in, the old-school spycraft (the cobbler!) is fun, and the cast is tremendous, but the story is missing a spark. Unless it finds it soon, it’s going to be a very long season.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend s4 ep 3

Rebecca has decided that it’s time to go back to work, but isn’t entirely sure that she wants to be a lawyer any more. This point is rammed home by Jim – formerly an attorney with Rebecca’s firm, but now happily running a pretzel stand in the foyer – who performs a terrific New Jack Swing pastiche entitled ‘Don’t Be A Lawyer’ in which the title is rhymed with, among other things, “guaranteed soul destroyer”. Unpopcult is 100% made of lawyers, incidentally, and appalled by this. (On the other hand, there are indeed “so many other professions that don’t turn you into Jeff Sessions”.)

One of the very best things about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has always been that, whatever else is happening in Rebecca’s life, she’s never anything other than great at her job. And even after all that she’s been through, that continues to be the case: one of the firm’s most important and difficult clients is in the office, somewhat dissatisfied with the way in which her case is being handled, and Rebecca knocks it out of the park. But she still isn’t happy, and to start with she joins Jim’s pretzel business, then takes it over herself.

And… apart from Heather and Hector getting married, Josh dipping his toes back in the dating pond, and some excellent “narc” puns – my favourite was Narc-er Posey, but YMMV – that’s kind of it. It’s worth noting that, as might be expected from such a female-centric show, there’s plenty of stealth role-reversal. It’s Rebecca, rather than Nathan, who crushes the meeting with the difficult client; it’s Hector, rather than Heather, who wants the traditional wedding; and it’s Josh who frets about being seen as a sexual object. All of which helps to give a charming and lightweight episode something of a point. Not too much of one, though.

Public Service Announcement 42 of 2018: The Little Drummer Girl, Condor, Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj

Hot on the heels of Berlin Station last week, spy season continues apace with new adaptations of a couple of old-school spy novels tonight and tomorrow.

After the success of The Night Manager a couple of years ago, the BBC has gone back to the John le Carré well with a shiny new six-part adaptation of The Little Drummer Girl. Featuring, amongst others, internationally-famous people Alexander Skarsgård, Michael Shannon, and Charles Dance, and the soon-to-be-famous Florence Pugh, and directed by internationally-renowned movie director Park Chan-Wook; someone has quite clearly spent a lot of money on this with a view to international markets. US viewers will get to see it in November, but UK viewers can start tonight (Sunday) at 9pm on BBC1, if so inclined. A lot of people will be watching, but I checked out after one episode of Night Manager and I don’t like Drummer Girl’s plot, so I’m unlikely to be one of them.

Tomorrow at 9 PM meanwhile, the Universal channel rolls out Condor, based on the novel Six Days of the Condor and previous version Three Days of the Condor, but now dispensing with the numbers entirely. Max Irons – pulling a double-shift, since he pops up in Drummer Girl as well – is the lead, and again the cast includes the internationally-famous (and Oscar-winning) William Hurt and Mira Sorvino, as well as Henry from Ringer. There are ten episodes in this first season and a second has already been commissioned, which puts me off somewhat, since this looks very much like the kind of story that should be wrapped up in a two-hour movie (as indeed it previously was), or, if you really want to stretch it out a little, a six-hour mini-series. It also kicks off with a double bill, for goodness sake, and you know how we feel about them round here. So I’ve set my Sky+ to record but whether I get around to the actual business of watching is another matter. We‘ll see.

If you’re looking for something completely different however – although the title is still very much on-brand for the spy theme – Hasan Minhaj’s weekly comedy show, Patriot Act, during which Netflix tells me he will “explore the modern cultural and political landscape with depth and sincerity” starts today on the streaming service. Daily Show graduate Minhaj’s stand-up special “Homecoming King” is already there too, and it’s terrific, but as the first weekly US comedy show hosted by an Indian-American, Patriot Act is both a big deal and a little ray of hope in an increasingly terrifying landscape. As we’ve said before, representation matters. And Minhaj is hilarious, smart and utterly fearless, so give him a go.

The Good Doctor s2 ep 3

Glassman’s surgery was successful, so Shaun is more or less skipping with happiness. Which is just as well, because he and Morgan are going straight into a 36-hour shift in the ER, nominally supervised by Lim. “I have a ton of personal crap I gotta take care of today”, Lim makes clear. “So… I’m on call but don’t call me unless you absolutely need to. But you’d better not need to”.

Which means that Shaun and Morgan need to deal, on their own, with an unfortunate young man who has a bad case of priapism. “You don’t want necrosis to set in!” Shaun cheerfully exclaims. They also handle a boy with a lightbulb in his mouth. Yes, it went in, so in theory it should come out. In theory.

Back in the surgical unit, meantime, Dr Melendez is operating on a woman with endometriosis, in which he is assisted by Claire and Alex. But this goes wrong in every which way. On the table, the poor woman is in all sorts of bother. And beside the table, Melendez, Claire, and Nurse Flores stop just short of punching each other out: Claire is still bruised from an earlier encounter with Andrews, at which he brutally shut down her suggestion that 36-hour shifts weren’t going to yield optimal working conditions for doctors. So she’s very much ready to react when she feels slighted by Melendez on the basis of her gender. And this is all in the context of her being told, very recently, to be more assertive. Flores disagrees with Melendez’s behaviour so volubly that he tells her to scrub out because of her behaviour, and she flat out refuses to do so.

It would be easy to say that this episode’s treatment of some very important issues about women in the workplace was reductive. And it’s not for Mr Guy here to say it wasn’t. But… I thought it illustrated both macro- and micro-aggressions of the sexist kind swiftly and compellingly, in the necessarily restricted setting of a 45-minute procedural drama. Even the resolution to this – in which the three protagonists tell Andrews that everything’s OK – is attractively ambiguous.

Anyway. Lim’s personal crap? Oh yes. She’s representing herself in traffic court, pissing off the judge to the point where she’s found in contempt and is sent to the cells. Then on her release she beds the prosecutor. Dr Lim, I may be in love with you. And Shaun is still trying to find a way of dealing with his feelings for, and about, Lea. It;’s worth noting that Morgan seems to have shifted from straightforwardly obnoxious to snarky-with-a-point, which is better.

This, in short, was fabulously entertaining, moving, and thought-provoking. On any view, it was a very good episode of TV. I’d be inclined to call it outstanding.

Berlin Station s1 ep 1

*SPOILERS*

After this first episode of Berlin Station, I feel like the two main things you need for good spycraft are a nice hoodie (muted colours, no logos to draw the attention please, we’re not amateurs) and a pair of comfortable shoes. After all, most of your time will be spent following people, with a carefully casual look on your face belied by the watchful look in your eyes.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that a whole lot of this series-opener involves Richard Armitage walking round tailing people in highly serious and choreographed fashion. In fact, we first meet his Daniel Miller (quiet, handsome, Secret Pain – you know the drill) in a lift, looking wary and just about to embark on another choreographed walk. Start as you mean to go on, I suppose. Although this particular one is different for a number of reasons, the main one being that half the cast is involved, and it’s more a ballet than a solo dance. And he gets shot at the end of it. NOOOOOOO!

Because the show can’t just kill off its lead and end before it begins, though, we then jump back two months to find out our man’s a smart, sensitive but slightly maverick (natürlich) CIA operative who’s transferred from Panama to the titular Berlin Station to find and stop “Thomas Shaw”, Herr Shaw being the CIA’s own personal version of Wikileaks. Berlin Station itself is run by very professional, very experienced intelligence people, all of whom you will recognise from Other Things. (Dr Dubenko! That guy from Four Weddings! etc) and all of whom are wearing very well-cut suits. Michelle Forbes’s Valerie, in particular, sports the kind of understated, beautifully-tailored office look I have been aiming for my entire working life without even coming close, WHAT IS YOUR SECRET, MICHELLE? HELP ME.

Immaculately dressed and highly-skilled though the Berlin team are, though, since Herr Shaw could derail the entire enterprise and start World War III any minute, they’re all a bit tense. Daniel is obviously on it – secretly – but he’d better be schnell about it because Shaw’s stepped up the pace and every leak means another spy or asset being plucked off the streets/out of their shiny offices at Deutsche Bank, the only questions being which spy/asset and whether the Americans get there in time to do the plucking first.

It’s all very high-stakes but also realistically downbeat, unglamorous and measured in pace. (I mean, as far as I know. I’ve never actually worked in the field of international intelligence.) All of which means it’s not an easy watch: there’s a great deal of information to absorb and plenty of characters to place in this first instalment, so, after a long day at work, I don’t think I fully grasped who everyone was or why they were important. At one point, for instance, Michelle said “Let’s get Gerald to a safe house!” and it took me several minutes and quite a few scenes to work out a) why? and b) who on earth is Gerald?

But I liked the cast and the story so far more than enough to keep watching and concentrating anyway, although I did wonder if the random topless women in the various club/party scenes were there to hang onto viewers who might not have wanted to put the work in otherwise. No doubt the writers would tell you the aim was to show the seediness of the Berlin spy nightlife, but it really wasn’t necessary and trying to redress the balance by sticking in a similarly gratuitous shot of Richard Armitage naked didn’t change that, appreciated though it may have been by certain corners of the internet.

Nudity or not, though, Berlin Station hasn’t quite knocked my socks off yet. On the strength of this first outing, however, it seems like a solid, thoughtful and grown-up spy drama with something a bit different from your usual running and shooting. And I don’t mean just the walking. I’m intrigued. And I’m on board.