Friday, 13 September 2013

Autumn/Winter 2013: What to Watch

Friday, 13 September 2013

The start of the 2013/14 TV season is almost upon us, with UK and US channels ready to launch a slew of new shows together with their returning favourites. It promises to be a busy few months for telly addicts, but what will I be watching from now until Christmas? In chronological order, let's take a look...

Sleepy Hollow
(Fox, 15 Sep | Universal Channel, TBA)
I ripped into the above trailer for this supernatural drama over the summer, but maybe I was too harsh? The idea of the fictional Ichabod Crane arriving in modern-day Sleepy Hollow to stop the Headless Horseman (also the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse), and presumably many other supernatural beasties every week, just reeks of the ridiculous. But the early buzz has been unexpectedly favourable, so I'm willing to give this one a chance. Well-executed pulp nonsense has its pleasures.

Orphan Black
(BBC3, 20 Sep)
Certain quarters of the internet went crazy for BBC America's sci-fi clone drama Orphan Black over the summer, and there was even a campaign promoting Tatiana Maslany for an Emmy nomination. That didn't happen, but she's definitely a real find. Imagine if Dollhouse had been made with her as the lead. I watched the first four episodes of Orphan Black when it aired in the US, and to be honest I didn't feel compelled to watch more. However, my Twitter feed was full of praise for the episodes I missed, so maybe I bailed too early. I will give it another go when it reaches these shores on BBC Three...

Downton Abbey
(ITV, 22 Sep TBC | PBS, 2014)
The world's favourite period drama's back for more whitewashing of Edwardian history when the British lower classes definitely weren't exploited and overworked to keep the landed gentry in the lifestyle they're accustomed to. Series 3 was an improvement over the messy second, but this fourth outing has to cope with the departure of Dan Stevens—who played one half of Downton's key romantic couple and heir of the titular country household. On the plus side, there are some roles for black actors at last. But is there enough creative juice left in Julian Fellowes' world-conquering hit, or is the show about to start a downward slide?

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D
(ABC, 24 Sep | Channel 4, 27 Sep)
Having conquered the global box-office since 2008's Iron Man, peaking with the $1bn Hulk-smash hit of The Avengers, Marvel turn their attention to the small-screen. On paper, watching the weekly adventures of S.H.I.E.L.D whenever they're not embroiled in the affairs of Tony Stark and Captain America doesn't fill me with hope, but this does come from Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel) and many of his creative team that gave us the sorely underrated Dollhouse. If anyone can spin a dumb idea into TV gold, it's Whedon. I'm also delighted Channel 4 are airing this a mere three days after ABC, which is unheard of for a terrestrial UK broadcaster. It's another sign execs are realising the best way to end piracy is to release content around the world almost simultaneously. I know there are marketing reasons this isn't always ideal from foreign perspectives, but it should become more of a standard model.

The Wrong Mans
(BBC2/Hulu, 24 Sep)
Comedy-drama about two council office workers (James Corden, Matthew Baynton) who find themselves embroiled in a dangerous conspiracy after a case of mistaken identity. Co-stars Emilia Fox, Dougray Scott, Dawn French, Rebecca Front, Sarah Solemani, Benedict Wong and Rufus Jones. That's an impressive array of British comedy talent, so I'm hoping the unremarkable-sounding concept will thrives on how it goes about telling this type of story. Also interesting to note it's a co-production with Hulu in the US, who will simulcast the episodes.

The IT Crowd: 'The Internet is Coming'
(Channel 4, 27 Sep)
Graham Linehan's surreal 'geek-com' returns for a final hurrah, there years after series 4 ended. Chris O'Dowd, Richard Ayoade, Katherine Parkinson and Matt Berry are all back for this 40-minute wrap-up, so I'm sure fans will be excited to see the basement-dwelling IT nerds back in action. I've never been completely sold on The IT Crowd's quality, but the UK TV comedy landscape has been poorer without it.

(BBC1, 28 Sep TBC)
Do you miss your Saturday night fix of family-friendly fantasy whenever Doctor Who's off-air? Chances are you'll be glad to see Atlantis, from the minds that brought you Merlin. Updates of classic myths and legends don't always work (*ahem* Sinbad), but I have hope in Atlantis because creator Howard Overman also made Misfits. This won't be anywhere near as unique and beautifully vulgar as Overman's hit superhero drama, but having written many of Merlin's better episodes I'm at least hopeful for that standard being reached.

Masters of Sex
(Showtime, 29 Sep | Channel 4, Oct TBA)
One of the most eagerly anticipated new cable drama this year is Showtime's Masters of Sex, settling into departed Dexter's Sunday timeslot. Martin Sheen and Lizzy Caplan as 1960s sex researchers? I have no idea how this will work as an ongoing series, but that's part of the appeal at the moment. I thought exactly the same thing about "1960s advertising executives", and look how Mad Men turned out...

(Showtime, 29 Sep | Channel 4, 6 Oct)
It's still collecting masses of awards, but most people agree Homeland's second season wasn't a patch on the first. Can the writers regain the popular acclaim with what they've coined Homeland 2.0? There's certainly potential in the idea of turncoat US Marine Sgt Nicholas Brody now being the world's most-wanted terrorist, having being framed for the terrorist attack on the CIA... but let's see how it plays out.

Hello Ladies
(HBO, 29 Sep | Sky Atlantic, TBA)
Stephen Merchant's been in the shadow of Ricky Gervais for years since they co-wrote The Office and Extras (not literally, he's 6"7'), but now he has his own HBO comedy loosely based on his stand-up about being a geeky bachelor hitting 40. Merchant's been stealing scenes in small film roles roles just lately (Hall Pass, I Give It a Year), so I hope this represents a breakthrough in front of the camera.

Eastbound & Down
(HBO, 29 Sep | Fox UK, 3 Oct)
A real love-or-hate comedy, which was bizarrely renewed for a fourth and final season despite how the third ended everything perfectly. Danny McBride returns as bigmouth Kenny fuckin' Powers, turning the air blue in his selfish quest to reclaim his former glory on the baseball field. You either buy into the Kenny's egotistical oafishness as hilariously risqué comedy, or you don't, but I'm in the latter camp.

(The CW, 9 Oct | Sky1, 21 Oct TBC)
The surprisingly good superhero drama returns for a second year; aiming to be bigger, bolder and braver than before. The scope is expected to deepen with the new year's 'City of Heroes' tagline (stealing the "escalation" idea from The Dark Knight?), and, buoyed by the success of its freshman year, I'm interested to see where the writers go with it. My only concern is that Arrow's island-set flashbacks (the best use of that storytelling device since Lost) will become ridiculously stretched out as time passes. Oh, and The Flash will be appearing at some point, before potentially becoming the star of his own Arrow-style series...

American Horror Story: Coven
(FX, 9 Oct | Fox UK, 29 Oct)
I had issues with the first season's haunted house milieu, but last season's asylum-set story was a much stronger and weirder concoction. It tailed off terribly in the limp finale, but for the most part American Horror Story: Asylum won me over because I'd dropped my expectations. Season 3 will once again tell a completely new story, this time involving witchcraft, with many of the show's actors back playing different roles. If nothing else, I appreciate how the show's format means it can lure people back, even after a worthless season you may have stopped watching halfway through.

(E4, Oct TBA | Hulu, TBA)
It's had more changes to its line-up than the Sugababes, but superhero drama Misfits is finally bowing out after five years. The Skins-meets-Heroes concept has been nothing if not durable despite the show's low budget, but its ability to shock has steadily diminished and it never really managed to widen its scope successfully beyond the council estate the delinquents hang out. Maybe that long-rumoured US remake will finally take-off now the original is about to be grounded?

(NBC, 25 Oct | Sky Living, Oct TBA)
A twist on Bram Stoker's iconic novel, with Dracula re-imagined as an American inventor hoping to enlighten London society during the Victorian era. Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays the hunky vampire, but the trailer looks a little too hammy for my taste. If it wasn't for the excellent cast (Arrow's Jessica De Gouw, Merlin's Katie McGrath, Atonement's Nonso Anozie, Downfall's Thomas Kretchmann, Ballykissangel's Victoria Smurfit), I'm not sure even a slither of optimism would exist inside me.

The Tunnel
(Sky Atlantic, Oct TBA)
Following the US remake of Scandinavian hit The Bridge, here comes the Anglo-Franco version. A key difference here is that the opening borderline murder takes place in the Channel Tunnel, necessitating a dual investigation by British and French detectives. If you've seen the original or the American remake, chances are you'll be several steps ahead of the storyline. Sacrebleu!

The Walking Dead
(AMC, 13 Oct | Fox UK, 18 Oct)
It's the biggest cable drama hit ever; a fact that doesn't quite match the actual quality of the show beyond its technical prowess. I enjoyed the majority of the third season (which made lots of improvements in the storytelling), but most of the regulars are still tedious to watch, and it seems this season isn't going to shake things up very much. They're still hanging around the prison? I wish this show was more of a road trip.

Almost Human
(Fox, 4 Nov)
JJ Abrams produces another high-concept, big-budget TV drama; this one created by J.H Wyman (Fringe) is about a robot-hating cop (Dredd's Karl Urban) partnered with an android (The Good Wife's Michael Ealy) in the near-future. It's quite a straightforward idea, and I question how much mileage is left in the 'are robots alive?' questioning in sci-fi circles, but I have to give this show a chance because of the talent assembled. It's odd co-showrunner Naren Shankar has already quit, citing those infamous "creative differences", but hopefully the majority of Almost Human's audience will prefer whatever Wyman's approach is.

Peep Show
(Channel 4, Nov TBA)
Speaking as a huge fan of this comedy in its prime (series 2-5), I'm beginning to wish they'd bring Peep Show to an end. The dialogue's still surprisingly sharp, but the characters are swimming in circles—despite a few life-changing events like Mark becoming a father. I know that's kind of the point when it comes to this show's tragic subtext, which helps matter, but only to a point. There comes a time when watching two losers exhausts itself, even with the show's USP of portraying everything through two character's eyes. How many times will Jez start a short-lived relationship with a girl who's clearly too attractive to be dating him?

Doctor Who: 'The Day of The Doctor'
(BBC1/BBC America, 23 Nov)
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the world's longest-running sci-fi series, the BBC have commissioned a feature-length 3D special called "The Day of The Doctor". Matt Smith will be joined in the TARDIS by his predecessor David Tennant, with guest-star John Hurt as a mysterious 'dark version' of The Doctor we've never met before. Even if you're not a huge fan of Steven Moffat's convoluted era (which sometimes operates more from the head than the heart), this still promises to be enormous fun and a highlight of the year. Rumours suggest it put a cap on the modern era, by answering questions about the Time War that occurred off-screen between the 1996 Paul McGann TV Movie and Christopher Eccleston's 2005 relaunch.

(Lifetime, TBA)
This award-winning legal drama had a troubled lifespan in the US, where it was axed by FX and revived by DirecTV for its two final seasons. In the UK, the BBC abruptly stopped airing it after season 3, so it's a blessed relief Lifetime have bought the UK rights and will be airing the fourth season later this year. Fans of the thorny relationship between Glenn Close and Rose Byrne's characters will be rejoicing.

You get less Doctor Who each year these days (Peter Capaldi won't begin his time-travelling until autumn 2014 apparently), so the BBC are having to plug the gaps with both Atlantis and this remake of the Alexandre Dumas novel. I don't have much time for the whole musketeers thing, who are characters that never appealed to me, but maybe this BBC series will convert me. At least it won't be as appalling as Paul W.S. Anderson's steam-punk movie version, and the aforementioned Capaldi appears as villainous Cardinal Richelieu.

It's been a painful two-year wait for this third series, but Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman will finally return for another trio of feature-length adventures as Sherlock and Watson. Savour these episodes, because my guess is two-year gaps will become the norm now Cumberbatch is a hot property in Hollywood.