Public Service Announcement 36 of 2017: Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams

Not, as far as I can tell, anything to do with one of my favourite songs of all time, new anthology drama series Electric Dreams is instead based on various self-contained short stories by seminal sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick and looks like the most ambitious thing channel 4 has done in a long time.

A (very expensive-looking) collaboration with Amazon Prime and Sony Pictures, the series involves a vast, impressive array of talent both behind the camera and in front of it, with writers like Battlestar Galactica’s Ron D Moore and Life on Mars’ Matthew Graham, big-time directors like Tom Harper and Jeffrey Reiner, and a cast of recognisable faces including Bryan Cranston, Liam Cunningham, Anna Paquin, Steve Buscemi and Timothy Spall, amongst others, popping in for various turns. In short, for sci-fi fans – including me – this is Big. News. Unfortunately, channel 4 seems to be adopting the US network model of mid-season hiatus by only showing the first six episodes this year (Sundays, 9pm) and saving the last four for 2018, but hey ho. The first instalment “The Hood Maker” starring Richard “Robb Stark” Madden and Holliday “also appearing in Strike over on BBC1 at exactly the same time” Grainger kicks off tonight (Sunday) at 9pm, so I’ll review this one and see how we go from there.

Public Service Announcement 36 of 2013: Bates Motel, Covert Affairs, Peaky Blinders

We’ll be getting busy again shortly, as UK autumn TV schedules align themselves more and more closely with the American ones. This is, of course, a good thing.

But it means that a quick decision will need to be made about Bates Motel, a ten-episode present-day prequel to the events of Psycho, which would have gained attention simply for being What Carlton Cuse Did After Lost. (Cuse exec produces.) ┬áIt’s supposed to be pretty good, though, and on the back of decent ratings it’s been renewed for a second season. I haven’t seen a frame of it, but I’m willing to bet that it might well be worth watching for the terrific Vera Farmiga in an Emmy-nominated role as Norman Bates’s mother, demonstrating yet again that one of the benefits of the present Golden Age of TV is that it provides proper roles for women over the age of 35. Freddie Highmore is Norman, and our old friends Nestor Carbonell and Jere Burns guest star, with Vaughn off of Alias lined up for season 2. You know, this might be OK (Thursday 12 September, 9pm, Universal).

The night before, Covert Affairs returns for its fourth season. After two seasons of Alias-lite amiable fluff, the show went up a level in its third year, particularly in the arc which had Richard Coyle as the mysterious Simon Fischer. We ended season 3 with the much-awaited Annie/Auggie hookup, although sometimes with long-term ships we need to be careful what we wish for. Hill Harper from CSI: NY is on board this time round, and there was more than enough in season 3 to suggest that the writers have a grasp of how to develop a show year-on-year. I’m an unashamed fan of Covert Affairs, and I’ll be watching (Wednesday 11 September, 9pm, Really).

Over on the British side of things, we should probably have mentioned The Guilty before now (Thursdays, ITV), the first episode of which has already aired: a not-called-Broadchurch UK drama about a murdered child and a family with secrets, starring one of our better female actors (Tamsin Greig this time). I’m sure it’s great, but I’ll probably never know.

Moving away from the dead children and fractured communities for a moment, Peaky Blinders at least sounds a bit more original: a post-First World War drama about Birmingham gangsters, with Cillian Murphy as a gang leader and Sam Neill as a cop. Advance word is good, but advance word tends to be optimistic for British drama. (And it has a silly name.) It’s on at the same time as Scandal, Bates Motel, and The Guilty, so even with a DVR involved it might be time to hunt around the schedules for repeats and +1s if you’re following them all (Thursday 12 September, 9pm, BBC2).

And from roughly the same period in history, The Wipers Times is a one-off drama about a newspaper printed by soldiers in the Ypres trenches in 1916. Co-written by Private Eye’s Ian Hislop and his usual collaborator Nick Newman, it has a fascinating story to tell and a good cast (Ben Chaplin, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Michael Palin) to tell it (Wednesday 11 September, 9pm, BBC2).