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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Humans s1 ep 1

“They aren’t sentient. They don’t have any thought, emotion or awareness.”

Except, of course, some of them do.

Yes, Humans started off in pleasingly creepy fashion last night, making it clear that, in amongst the rows of semi-nude ready-to-be-programmed robots on the factory floor, there’s something different about Anita. But Joe (Mr Grove from Mr Selfridge!) isn’t to know that when he buys her to try and alleviate the family woes caused by wife Laura’s depression (?) and constant absences.

Youngest daughter Sophie loves the new addition to the family but Laura grows increasingly suspicious and jealous of their bond, while eldest daughter Matilda is sullen, rude and violent towards Anita and synths in general, and even more obnoxious than Older Girl on Nashville.

Matilda’s angst is only partly due to her family’s situation, though; a hefty portion of it also seems reflective of a wider societal anxiety and fear of being replaced by the synths, who are slowly taking over job after job, with no pay and no rights required, thereby freeing the biological humans up to… do what, exactly? “Become poets?”

Not everyone fears the synths though. George (William Hurt) has developed an entirely different, father-son relationship with his carer synth Odi, an “outdated, malfunctioning model” he can’t bear to recycle, while Jill’s flirtatious attitude towards her physical therapist synth is clearly giving her police officer husband pause for thought.

There’s plenty for the audience to think about too, with questions of exploitation (a quick but eloquent brothel scene is particularly unpleasant and effective), identity and what it means to be human, all swirling around. The intelligent script and direction draw effective parallels with slavery as well as attitudes to immigration, evoking uncomfortable aspects of both the past and the present that people might not necessarily like to think about. It’s a measure of the strength of this first episode that it forces the viewer to think of them anyway, even if, as I said in my PSA, a lot of this ground has been covered elsewhere.

The one aspect of the show that seems a little out of place with the rest at the moment, however, is the action-adventure/ synth resistance angle; lovelorn human outlaw Leo’s desperate quest to save Anita and the rest of the “special” synths is a bit too fraught and over-excited to fit in with the calm, creepy slow-burn of the rest of the story. Humans doesn’t need a big bad / conspiracy angle or an overly intense Romeo with all his emotions dialled up to eleven all the time – its strength comes from its thoughtful, thought-provoking, multi-layered world-building and Gemma Chan’s mesmerising central performance as Anita. I understand that an eight-part series is different from a two-hour movie and might require more than philosophical discussions to pad it out, but I hope the rest of the season doesn’t sacrifice the big questions for the big adventures, if you know what I mean. Either way though, I was intrigued enough by episode 1 to stick around for episode 2, so I guess I’ll find out soon enough.