Tuesday 6 June 2023

Screen: June TV Roundup

This is the time of year when we vote in TV awards, and I'm still making my own shortlists before submitting my nominations for the Dorian Awards. This has meant catching up with various shows, and there will be more to watch once the nominations are announced. But I always enjoy watching an episode or two between movies. And the past two months have featured several terrific new shows, a lot of returning series and three high-profile final seasons...

A L L   T H I N G S   M U S T   E N D

Ted Lasso: series 3 
This season of the almost painfully loveable show feels rather darker and more intense than usual, sending Ted and his cohorts on a rollercoaster journey. Few shows have stronger story arcs for each of their central characters, and several of these episodes are simply sublime (the Amsterdam one is a masterpiece). While some side roles feel a bit cursory, at least they allow the scripts to touch on big themes without too much preaching. And the way Jason Sudeikis, Hannah Waddingham, Brett Goldstein and the whole ensemble brought their characters full-circle was lovely to watch. (Apple)

series 4  
Jesse Armstrong's riotously hard-edged series reaches its operatic climax with the long-promised death of imperious patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox), which escalates the scramble for, yes, succession. These episodes have densely entangled grief with desperate power-grabbing on so many levels that it's almost overwhelming to watch. Kieran Culkin, Sarah Snook and Matthew Macfadyen are the most powerful players of this season, with staggeringly layered characters who are painful to watch as they squirm. But it's also impossible to look away. The interrelationships are brilliantly played. (HBO)

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel: series 5
More rapid-fire than ever, this furiously busy comedy feels more focussed in on Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) for this final season, thankfully leaving plotlines for the side characters to gurgle in the margins. And Midge is funnier than ever. Along with the revelatory flash-forwards, this season has a remarkable sense of momentum, catching the passage of time in scenes that sometimes get a bit too goofy. Each character takes his or her own journey along the way, with particularly lovely textures between Midge and Susie (Alex Borstein), a relationship that becomes the core through-line for the entire series. (Amazon)

T H E Y ’ R E   B A C K

Dave: series 3 
Somehow still under the radar, this show gets deeper and more powerful with each season, intelligently exploring meaning in life through the lens of offbeat musician Dave Burd. These shows hinge on his search for true love, and the scripts tackle enormous issues with insight, creating an unflinching discussion that grapples with everything from sex to religion. Burd's performance feels effortless, but is packed with nuance. There's a delightful range of A-list guest stars riffing on their own experiences with celebrity. And Burd's witty songs become more knowingly pointed with each episode. (FX)

Schmigadoon: series 2
To energise to their childless marriage, Josh and Melissa (Keegan-Michael Key and Cecily Strong) try to return to the magical musical land, but instead end up in Schmicago, which draws inspiration from gloomier 1960s and 1970s musicals. The returning cast includes Kristen Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, Ariana DeBose and Aaron Tveit in new roles, plus the fabulous Titus Burgess as the narrator. While the producers seriously miss a trick by using a Patti LuPone impersonator instead of the real thing, these six episodes again feature wonderful pastiche Broadway numbers and a thin but likeable storyline. (Apple)

Shadow and Bone: series 2
The fantasy premise put me off initially, but friends encouraged me to catch up for the second season, and I'm glad I did. Less dense than Game of Thrones but equally well-realised, this show is populated by sparky rogue characters who are easy to identify with. They're also played with humour and quirky energy by a largely unknown cast. The plotlines are the usual mix of action chaos, sinister machinations and romantic yearning, but they're also surprisingly complex for a show like this. And the production design is also first-rate, with above-average effects. Looking forward to more. (Netflix)

S O M E T H I N G   N E W

Jury Duty
This exhilaratingly clever reality series is a jaw-dropping experiment on human nature, as one normal guy (Ronald Gladden) is surrounded by actors in a fake courtroom trial, constantly pushed into moral dilemmas to see if he will emerge as a hero. It's a stroke of genius to have James Marsden play a riotously heightened version of himself. The cast and crew are terrific at improvising around Gladden, the only person who doesn't know that there's a script. Rather a lot of footage has been edited into eight brisk, entertaining episodes. And what it reveals makes it a must-see. (Prime)

Queen Charlotte:
A Bridgerton Story
Shamelessly entertaining, this lavishly produced spin-off takes real elements from the life of Charlotte and George III and adds plenty of fiction. The cast is excellent at bridging the gap between the two, cleverly blending present-day sensibilities in a 18th century setting, plus flash-forwards to Bridgerton's Lady Whistledown era. Most intriguing is how Shonda Rhimes weaves a gentle exploration of mental illness into the plot, taking a new look at King George's legendary "madness". This adds some proper emotional resonance, as well as some challenging themes amid the watchable romance. (Netflix)

While mixing in some thinly veiled fiction, Pete Davidson dramatises his own life in this sometimes astonishingly honest comedy-drama. With Edie Falco as his mother and Joe Pesci as his grandfather, plus a continual parade of A-list costars, everything here feels exaggerated for comical but pointed effect. But there's also the sense that some things have been toned down, perhaps for legal reasons. It's a superbly assembled show, eager to unsettle the audience in all kinds of provocative ways. And Davidson's performance is almost startlingly raw, offering an unusually clear-eyed view of celebrity. (Peacock)

White House Plumbers 
Based on the astonishing true story behind the Watergate break-in, pretty much everything in this series feels stranger than fiction. Events are recounted with a freewheeling slapstick sensibility, as swaggering ex-CIA operative Howard Hunt (Woody Harrelson) teams up with trigger-happy ex-FBI nutcase Gordon Liddy (Justin Theroux) to orchestrate a series of "dirty tricks" to guarantee Richard Nixon's re-election in 1972. The things they do are shocking, revealing deep-seated bigotries and a callous disregard for democracy. Playing this for laughs sometimes feels horrific, but it's hugely entertaining. (HBO)

Mrs Davis 
A bonkers premise and wildly ridiculous visual panache keeps this action-comedy enjoyably unpredictable. It centres around nun Simone (Betty Gilpin), who is avoiding contact with Mrs Davis, the pervasive artificial intelligence that has achieved world peace. And now Mrs Davis wants Simone to take her down by, well, finding and destroying the Holy Grail. It's utterly nuts, but has an eerie resonance in the characters' quirky spiritual yearnings. Performances from the entire ensemble are terrific, including Jake McDorman, Elizabeth Marvel, Ben Chaplin and the great Margot Martindale. (Peacock)

The Big Door Prize 
For some reason, the title of this comedy-drama never reveals itself. This is a warmly engaging comedy about a small town populated by eccentrics who are thrown off balance by an arcade game that presents you with your true life purpose. The solid ensemble cast, led by Chris O'Dowd, creates charmingly offbeat characters who are amusingly entangled with each other. And the way everyone begins to change is fascinating, because the machine's pronouncements are cleverly enigmatic. But the show builds the mystery without answering anything in 10 episodes, leaving it hanging for a potential season 2. (Apple)

Clearly designed to launch a franchise, this globe-hopping adventure is mindless fun that patches together spy movie elements with little connective logic. Richard Madden, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Stanley Tucci and Lesley Manville are on peak form in a tale of amnesia, double-crossing, world-domination, and so forth. It's flatly ridiculous but plays out with a straight face, so you either have to give up or go with it. International locations add textures, and seductive actors make it worth the ride, most notably Tucci and Manville in rare intense roles, plus the dashing Madden auditioning for Bond. (Amazon)

GUILTY PLEASURES: Queer Eye, Britain's Got Talent, Selling Sunset, RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars, I Kissed a Boy.

NOW WATCHING: Fubar, The Other Two (3), I Think You Should Leave (3), Never Have I Ever (4).

COMING SOON: The Crowded Room, Based on a True Story, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (2), And Just Like That (2), The Bear (2), Black Mirror (6).

Previous roundup: APRIL 2023 >

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