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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The White Queen ep 3

So The White Queen is still appalling, just in case anyone’s wondering.

Max Irons as Edward IV is still manfully trying to keep proceedings afloat with sheer force of swagger, bless him, but with a rebellion happening off-screen just about every 15 minutes and still no interesting or coherent portrayal of the reasons why – unless the entire Wars of the Roses can actually be boiled down to an outbreak of profound asshattery among the fifteenth-century English nobility – he’s fighting a losing battle. The “magic” stuff is idiotic – I appreciate that was a favoured rumour amongst her enemies at the time, but reducing Elizabeth Woodville to a Wicked Witch figure when we really should know better by now is a stupid, sexist cliche – and I hate everything about the ludicrous Margaret Beaufort love triangle (including Margaret Beaufort herself) so so much, I can’t even find the words. Which is probably a sign that I should stop looking for them. I may watch The White Queen again, I may not, but I think I’ve run out of things to say about it, so unpopcult will just bow and take its leave of Her Grace now.

The White Queen ep 1

Sigh.

In the first episode of this lavishly stupid new period drama, Lady Elizabeth – Woodville, widow and wearer of eye-poppingly pristine white nighties – of the Lancaster persuasion, seeks out the young York King, Edward IV, to try and get her dead husband’s lands back. She waits for His Handsomeness in a clearing in nearby woodland (fifteenth century woodland is obviously different from the modern kind; people may still hang about it, nowadays, but it’s not the reigning monarch they’re waiting for) and lo! King Too Cool to Rule appears, as if conjured up by the CW Smirking Bad Boys Unit, and he is captivated by… her hair? Face? Eye-poppingly pristine day-dress? (Fifteenth century washing powder must’ve been AMAZING.) I don’t know. It matters not: all that does matter is he burns for her, he longs for her, he…. you get the picture.

As does Lady E, since Too Cool is so into her that he ditches his entire army in favour of wandering around enemy countryside with her, unguarded, and manhandling her in her house full of Lancaster loyalists who hate his guts and want him dead. (Except Lady E’s mum, who’s totally down with the Crown, whoever happens to be wearing it right now.)

What’s this, though? An obstacle to their romance-at-speed-of-light? Oh dear! Lady E refuses to get busy with Too Cool in his woodland “office”, denting his confidence (for about a second) and they are momentarily estranged. Till Too Cool changes his mind and marries her in secret, so they can wax boring about how much they buuuuuuurn for each other and have an abruptly cut, dreamily-lit, super-dull love scene before he goes to war.

Victory is his, of course, but, in case we don’t already know from things like books or the internet or are unable to follow the extremely basic plot unfolding right here in front of us on this thing called the television, there is a problem: “The King has done what he should not. He has married from another house and a commoner at that.” Well! (For this uncanny insight, we can thank Lady E’s aforementioned mum, who is not only a “Seer” and a Witch but a sort of walking Wikipedia – Witchipedia? – whose entire function is to deliver lots of bland and obvious lines EXPLAINING the story to the audience because heaven forfend they should work it out for themselves.)

But Too Cool is undeterred by the prospect of war with France (he’s already at war with his cousins, right? The more the merrier.) or a feud with his mad mum and angry relatives, so before you can say “Surely the book’s not as bad as this?” Lady E is taking up her throne as Queen E, the next love scene is even more abruptly cut and the plan is as follows: “Now let us make a son to scotch the Lancastrian threat and start our dynasty.” Ah, the language of love….

*Rolls eyes.*

More pants than Plantagenet, this is nicely shot, pleasantly acted, total rubbish. Max Irons is a very handsome King, Rebecca Ferguson is a very beautiful Queen, and the costume department are very much enjoying themselves but the dialogue is asinine, the characters one-dimensional and the whole business a little embarrassing. If it were autumn, I’d ditch The White Queen pronto but, since it’s summer time and silly season, she gets another week or two to try and impress me for now.