Public Service Announcement 60 of 2019: Spiral (Engrenages)

Bonjour mes amis, and bienvenu to saison sept of Spiral, aka Engrenages, which returns to BBC4 tonight (Saturday) at 9pm in – of course – the channel’s favourite/ unpopcult’s nemesis, the double bill format. You know how we feel about them. Anyway, saison six ended on a less than heureux note with Roban sick, suspended and possibly suicidal; Laure having a mental health crisis about her baby; and Joséphine being arrested for attempted meurtre. And Pierre, the handsomest man on television, still very dead. Dieu. Anyway, saison sept shows no signs of getting any cheerier, but that’s hardly off-brand for this show, even if, much as I love it, Spiral and I are both getting a little long in the tooth to be continually wading through misery. I ended up liking saison six much more than I thought I would though, and the cast is still tremendous, so let’s see where this one takes us.

Public Service Announcement 55 of 2019 – Darkness: Those Who Kill (Den som dræber – Fanget af mørket)

What did BBC Four do before Scandi-noir? Anyway, its insatiable appetite for the inventive murders of young Scandinavian women is fed tonight at 9pm with the first two parts of Danish drama Darkness: Those Who Kill (Den som dræber – Fanget af mørket). There’s a missing woman, a possible connection to a murder 10 years previously, and a determined detective (Kenneth M Christensen). You know the drill. As far as I can tell it’s quite good.

Incidentally, if the name rings a bell it’s because there was a first season of Those Who Kill a few years ago, but apparently it’s an entirely different cast this time round.


Public Service Announcement 44 of 2018: The Sinner

Broadcasters, production companies, and streaming outlets are all trying to maximise their returns on the remarkable amounts of money they’re sinking into making TV. So it will, I suspect, become increasingly common for shows to turn up on more than one platform.

Thus crime/mystery anthology drama The Sinner started off on the USA Network in America, jumped to Netflix there and in the UK, and as of tonight is being shown by BBC Four. This first season stars Jessica Biel as a woman who, in an apparently unprovoked and motiveless attack, stabs and kills a young man. It was sufficiently well received for Biel to net an Emmy nomination, and for the show itself to be renewed for a second season – already available on Netflix – with a substantially different case. I suspect it’s too late for us to review it week-by-week, but I’m planning to watch, even though BBC Four is sticking doggedly to its stupid-double-bills policy (tonight, 9pm).

And coming soon to UK screens: Madam Secretary, Bull, and perennial Unpopcult favourite Hawaii Five-0. More about them and other shows in due course.

Public Service Announcement 12 of 2018: Nashville, Below The Surface

Nashville is returning to UK screens for its sixth and last season. I thought season 5, its first post-network effort, a little up-and-down: understandably, perhaps, the show seemed directionless in the immediate post-Connie Britton period, and Hayden Panettiere wasn’t given nearly enough to do. (Connie fans – and who isn’t one? – might like to note that her new show 9-1-1 now has a UK broadcaster.) But it was an excellent year for Chip Esten, and for Maisy and Lennon Stella. Anyway this is all irrelevant, because I stopped pretending years ago that I was anything other than hopelessly in love with this show. And even though I’m now the only person left on the good ship Gunnlett, if that isn’t endgame a little part of me will die. Weekly reviews to come (Friday 9 March, 10pm, Sky Living).

I’m also going to review the first two episodes, at least, of the next inhabitant of BBC4’s Subtitles-on-Saturday slot: Below The Surface (Gidseltagningen), a Danish drama in which 15 people are taken hostage on board an underground train in Copenhagen. It’s exec produced by, among others, Adam Price (Borgen) and Søren Sveistrup (The Killing/Forbrydelsen). It’s been a while since Unpopcult took on some Scandi-drama, and I quite like the premise, so I’m going to give it a go, even if, inevitably, it’s in BBC4’s favoured stupid double-bills (Saturday 10 March, BBC4, 9 and 10pm).

Also starting: season 2 of Jessica Jones (Netflix, now); season 5 of Brooklyn Nine-Nine (tonight, E4, 9pm); season 8 of Still Game (tonight, BBC 1, 9.30pm).

Justified s5 eps 8 & 9

Having already started to show this season of Justified nearly two years late, Spike has now cottoned onto Five’s other favourite trick and suddenly begun screening it in double bills. Hm. Presumably the idea is to batter through the rest of the season before Christmas but you know how we feel about double bills round here so FFS WOULD EVERYBODY STOP WITH THEM.

Sigh. Anyway, whatever the justification or lack thereof for burning off episodes like there’s no 2016, it turns out these two eps go pretty well as a thematic pair thanks to the common thread of Raylan (on a vacation that turns into a busman’s holiday because you can take Raylan out of Harlan but you can’t take Harlan out of Raylan) spending time with younger and older versions of himself.

Ep 8 has Wendy Crowe cajoling our reluctant hero – with hollow promises of info on her brothers – into rescuing young Kendall from the clutches of his deadbeat dad and the big man chasing his deadbeat dad round the country. It’s not a storyline I would have chosen and I think the truth about Kendall’s parentage is a bit cliched, but on the whole I actually really enjoyed that sub-plot; Timothy Olyphant’s weary exasperation is a joy to behold and Raylan recognising his own troubled youth in Kendall gives the hitherto uninspiring youngest Crowe some welcome depth.

Ep 9 meanwhile has Raylan heading down to Memphis on the hunt for Hot Rod Dunham and teaming up with maverick DEA agent Miller (a guest turn from Eric Roberts) who is basically himself in 15 years time.

Through both eps, the Boyd Crowder/ Crowe family/ drug smuggling business trundles on – that part of ep 8 is exciting, that part of ep 9 confusing since I didn’t entirely understand all the double-crossing going on. And meanwhile, back in Kentucky State Pen, the Prisoner Cell Block Ava saga began to really bore me, which is unfortunate, because, as I’ve said before, it’s taking up a lot of screen time which could be far more entertainingly utilised. By putting Rachel and Tim in them, for instance.

A mixed bag for this first double bill, then, but overall, ep 8 is great, and ep 9 has plenty of great moments, the best of which being the scene where Raylan and Miller interrupt Boyd, the Crowes, Wynn Duffy and Hot Rod’s ex-henchmen mid-standoff. “I would call this a United Nations of assholes,” says Miller. “Well, that’s funny,” says Boyd, “because we were just discussing ratifying some shit.” HEE.

Public Service Announcement 25 of 2015: 1864, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Castle

I’m not a fan of costume drama; at least, not if it’s set any earlier than the 1950s, so on one hand I’m probably not the target audience for BBC4’s new Scandi-import 1864. On the other hand, though, it’s made by DR, the Danish national broadcaster that gave us Forbrydelsen, Borgen, and The Bridge, and it stars just about everyone: Sidse Babett Knudsen (Birgitte in Borgen); Pilou Asbæk (Kasper in Borgen); Nicolas Bro (Buch in season 2 of Forbrydelsen); Søren Malling (Jan in Forbrydelsen and Torben in Borgen); Lars Mikkelson (the peerless Troels Hartmann in Forbrydelsen); and our very own Barbara Flynn. Plus millions of others.

It’s broadly about the Second Schleswig War between Denmark and Prussia, apparently an event of considerable significance to Danes. In fact, 1864 seems to have provided some controversy in Denmark, where it was shown last year, with critics on the right wing accusing DR of a revisionist and inaccurate retelling of the story. I realise that in saying this I’m opening myself up to – no doubt justified – accusations of philistinism, but I’m afraid that a hot take on a 150-year-old Danish/Prussian war isn’t my thing, and even if it were the BBC is showing it in those stupid double-bills (BBC4, Saturdays, 9pm, and on the iPlayer).

And not to be outdone, the BBC itself is showing its adaptation of the critically-acclaimed alternate-history 19th-century-set novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, with the always-watchable Eddie Marsan on board as Norrell. Our friend at @ShowStartUK drew our attention to the undoubtedly impressive trailer, but once again this doesn’t look like something for me (BBC 1, tonight, 9pm)

Castle, on the other hand, very much is my sort of thing; it’s hardly rewriting the rulebook for TV crime procedurals, but it’s amiable good fun, and it’s long been one of my favourite go-to shows when I don’t want to work too hard for an hour of TV enjoyment. I mean that very much as a compliment, incidentally. The UK is finally getting to see season 7 this week – with a further season renewal now confirmed – so it’s back to the day of the wedding and Castle’s disappearance. Cold feet? Probably not (Alibi, Wednesday 20 May, 9pm).