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.

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And Then There Were None

imageI’d forgotten how much I love an old-fashioned, twisty, murder mystery.

I’m not talking about your wise-cracking, modern murder-of-the-week types, where some mismatched couple wrap things up in forty-two jolly minutes while wrestling with the combined weight of a series-long conspiracy arc and their overwhelming feelings for each other. That type of thing is fine too, but cheerful, comedy crime-solving is so ubiquitous now that familiarity has led to a degree of contempt as far as I’m concerned. No, I’m talking about a lavish, old-school adaptation of something dark and sumptuous, that leaves you with a little shiver at the end of each instalment, but keeps you coming back for the creepiness till it’s all over and you try and laugh it off but you’re secretly a little scared to turn the lights off and go to bed.

And the BBC’s latest, triumphant version of “And Then There Were None” – Agatha Christie’s seminal novel about ten strangers summoned to a mysterious island and bumped off one by one – hit every one of those marks right, as Philip Lombard would say, between the eyes.

Three, hour-long, lavish episodes, unspooling at an unhurried, luxuriant pace over three consecutive nights – ordinarily, I would hate that type of scheduling, but it’s the post-Christmas holidays, when everything has slowed to a crawl on the tv front, so three nights in a row with a glorious cast, gorgeous scenery and the classic whodunnit was a welcome distraction from the quizzes, clip shows and celebrity specials filling up the schedules till we go back to work.

Plus, Aidan Turner was in it, so I’d have watched it even if it were screened in June.

When I say “unhurried,” I do mean “unhurried,” mind you. Much as I enjoyed it, I did think the first episode was a little long on set-up and a little short on story, saving as it did the first two murders till the last ten minutes or so. I can imagine people with pressing things to do might’ve switched off, but, then again, spending that extra time with an astonishing array of actors including the sublime Charles Dance, the regal Miranda Richardson, the always-welcome Sam Neill, and the aforementioned, irresistible Aidan Turner wasn’t any sort of hardship. And if I found some of the characters (Mr and Mrs Rogers, I’m looking at you) a little panto, or (yes, you, Marston) a little annoying, that was all just part of the Haunted House atmosphere. After all – spoiler – it’s not like any of them hung around for too long…

By the second episode, things were roaring along, though, ratcheting up the tension and the suspense, and giving us an added treat in the form of the palpable, sizzling chemistry between the terrific Turner and marvellous Maeve Dermody; the “towel scene” which sent Twitter into a frenzy being an unexpected, but hardly unwelcome bonus for those of us still suffering Poldark withdrawal symptoms.

Yes, much of the plot – like so many films and stories cribbing from it – depended largely on the characters splitting up and waiting to see who dies next, when, in a post-Scream age, we all know the smart play would be to stay together in the one room with the Figurines and tell the killer to suck it. But where would the fun be in that?

“And Then There Were Nine” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Regardless, the third and final instalment topped it all off beautifully with the remaining guests succumbing not only to the killer, but to their own fears, desires (*fans self*), and increasing, entirely justified, paranoia. I’m not totally convinced the hints of the supernatural were necessary but screenwriter Sarah Phelps and the cast more than made them work, adding an extra layer of eerieness that will probably have a few people (ie me) scared to look in the bedroom mirror tonight. Foregoing the chintziness of most of the Miss Marple adaptations and the cheesiness of the recent Poirots, And Then There Were None was creepy, twisty, and as hot – I can’t have been the only person ardently shipping Vera and Lombard, even though I knew it was DOOMED – as it was cold. Just the thing for this time of year; I loved it.

Game of Thrones s3 ep 10

Deja vu, anyone?

Like all GOT season finales, “Mhysa” was more the start of the next chapter rather than the end of the current one. But it wasn’t just that which made me feel like we’d been here before with this episode: once again, the season ended with the Starks devastated after treachery and terrible loss, with the Lannisters on top (as much as anyone can be in this show) despite being responsible for it, and, with platinum blonde Daenerys being worshipped by a group of non-white people in a faraway desert land. Setting aside the slightly troubling racial undertones for now, have we really not moved on since the season 1 finale?

The answer is, of course, yes we have. The older Starks are gone but the younger ones are coming to the fore: Arya’s partnership with The Hound has turned out to be quite sweet in a gruesome, homicidal kind of way; Jon Snow has finally left the insufferable Wildlings (I still don’t understand the point of his undercover mission – he achieved nothing at all); Sansa has a protector in Tyrion; And Bran’s story has improved by about 700% thanks to his chance meeting with Sam. Sam, who, by the way, is now a bona fide season 3 hero as opposed to a season 1 sad case. I’m not sure when it happened but Sam is now ace. Yay!

So the Starks are down but still not out and with the heartening news that Blackfish is alive (woot!) and on the run and that killing a guest is never going to be something you get away with in this universe – laugh it up all you like just now, Walder, you’ll get yours – there’s some hope for them yet. (Till something even more horrific befalls them next season, no doubt. Sigh.)

As for the Lannisters, well, Joffrey’s unholy glee at killing Ned was surpassed by his unholy glee at news of Robb and Cat’s demise but while Cersei couldn’t stand up to him then, Tywin and Tyrion are awesome at standing up to him now. And as for Jaime? His quiet, humbled return to Kings’ Landing and his twin was executed just beautifully. He’s not the same man I loathed two seasons ago, but, much as I love him, a big happy, huggy reunion with his poisonous sister would have felt both wrong and unearned right now. I want Jaime happy but not with this woman, not with the people who murdered Robb and Ned, and not while the pain of the Red Wedding is still so fresh.

Daenerys’s story is the only one which I don’t have anything good to say about then. It not only feels static and repetitive, it is. However, there are plenty of other threads to make up for it. The Theon torture plot outstayed its welcome about two minutes after it started, so, if we have to have a Theon story at all, I’m delighted Yara is going off to find whatever’s left of her little brother and save us all from further horror. But it was the Stannis side of things which surprised me this week, thanks to Liam Cunningham’s wonderful Davos. The decency, humour and humanity of his rescue of Gendry and friendship with Shireen were a joy to watch, giving the dour Dragonstone side of things a much-needed boost and injecting some fresh life into the whole business.

I still can’t pretend this was a particularly showy or exciting finale, though. It wasn’t even my favourite out of the GOT finales. But, deja vu or not, there was plenty to enjoy and plenty to mull over till season 4. Overall, season 3 has navigated its sprawling cast and wide-ranging threads with remarkable skill and flair: there have been some slow episodes but, for the most part, it’s been a triumph with glorious performances from the likes of Charles Dance, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Michelle Fairley, Diana Rigg and Jack Gleeson among others. Few shows are made with this sort of power and passion, or can inspire it in the viewer but GOT is something very special, even on a less than stellar day. Winter may be coming but as long it brings season 4 with it, I’m ready and waiting.