Hand of God, Amazon Prime, launches in London


Marc Forster, Ron Perlman, Dana Delaney and Alona Tal at the London launch of Hand of God 

LONDON WAS the setting for the launch of Amazon Prime’s new original series Hand of God last night. The venue, suitably enough for a drama about a judge who fancies himself as the Lord’s instrument of vengeance, was in a deconsecrated church on Euston Road.

The stars –Ron Perlman, Dana Delaney and Alona Tal – glammed up for the occasion (well, the ladies did), and they were joined by the director Marc Forster, who’s known for World War Z and Quantum of Solace, along with writer/creator Ben Watkins, whose credits include Burn Notice.

The trailer above makes the show look a little off-kilter, and the screened episode lived up to its potent promise. The tale follows a corrupt judge, Pernell Harris, played by Perlman, whose son tries to shoot himself to death following the rape of his wife. The son, PJ, ends up on a life support machine and Pernell’s life spirals into a strange path of visions and his belief in messages from his son, whom he believes can be resurrected – despite medical opinion – if Pernell carries out God’s work.

Ron Perlman and Dana Delaney in Hand of God

Ron Perlman and Dana Delaney in Hand of God

It’s a story that might upset some religious viewpoints, but Hand of God is a serious attempt to probe questions of belief and convictions. Ben Watkins spoke after the screening about what inspired him to write it: ‘I’ve always been fascinated by zealotry and fanaticism. Through history there have been people who became fanatics, and there is a certain power that comes with that.’

Ron Perlman said his stint in the recently finished Sons of Anarchy made him realise how ‘charged’ cable television had become in recent years, allowing networks such as FX in the States to produce shows that were a ‘little bit dangerous, controversial’.

Dana Delaney, star of ABC’s mainstream crime show Body of Proof, also welcomed the gear change of subscription TV’s output. ‘It’s exciting,’ she said. ‘You can swear, smoke pot, get naked – all the things actors like to do. But it all comes down to the storytelling.’

Which brought the panel to Perlman’s eye-popping scene in the pilot when he dances naked in a fountain speaking in tongues. ‘My shaking was not controlled,’ he said. ‘It was a reaction to hypothermia.’

Hand of God starts streaming on Amazon Prime on Friday, 4 September.

Backstrom, Fox UK, with Rainn Wilson

BACKSTROM: Created and executive-produced by Hart Detective EVERETT BACKSTROM (three-time Emmy Award nominee Rainn Wilson), an unhealthy, offensive, irascible albeit brilliant; detective who is brought back from exile to run the Portland Police Bureau Special Crimes Unit (S.C.U.). ;2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Frank Ockenfels/FOX

Detective Everett Backstrom (Rainn Wilson)

Despite many promising ingredients – including Rainn Wilson – this cop series never quite makes a good enough case for itself

★★ Fox UK, starts Wednesday, 2 September, 9pm

FANS OF the US version of The Office will be interested to see that show’s creepy weirdo Dwight Schrute – aka actor Rainn Wilson – turning up here as the lead in a new cop series.

BACKSTROM: Beatrice Rosen as Nadia Paquet. . ?2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Brendan Meadows/FOX

Beatrice Rosen as Nadia Paquet

Sadly, despite his presence and a good-looking premise – Wilson plays irascible, self-destructive Portland detective Everett Backstrom – the comedy-drama got a big raspberry from critics when it went out in the States earlier this year and was cancelled after one series.

This is despite a good performance by Wilson as the slob-cop, and that it was developed by Bones creator Hart Hanson from a series of Swedish novels by Leif G W Persson.

We meet Backstrom as he returns from a five-year banishment in the traffic division, his punishment for offensive behaviour. In his first case back with the Special Crimes Unit he is investigating the apparent suicide of a college student, the son of a senator.

We’ve seen many detectives with bad attitudes down the years, and it is an annoying feature of Backstrom that he has that uncanny intuition that so many of these mavericks are given. However, the 13-part series does, like so many top US series, have a good family of characters to sustain it.

Sadly, it creaks badly in trying to bridge the drama and comedy moments. Even Fox UK’s website discreetly passes over bigging it up. It never convinced audiences or critics and we’ll just have to wait and see what Rainn Wilson does next.

Narcos on Netflix, with Wagner Moura

Wagner Moura as Pablo Escobar in the Netflix Original Series NARCOS. Photo credit: Daniel Daza/Netflix

Wagner Moura as Pablo Escobar in the Netflix’s Narcos

Ambitious new series about the rise of notorious ‘narco-terrorist’ Pablo Escobar

Netflix, starts Friday, 28 August

TRUTH IS NOT only stranger than fiction but more terrifying. Pablo Escobar, subject of Netflix’s new 10-part biopic, was a gang boss who made Tony Soprano and Don Corleone look like shoplifters.

Luis Guzmán stars in NARCOS.

Big shot – actor Luis Guzmán

The infamous Colombian drug lord is reputed to have been the richest criminal in history, worth an estimated $3bn by the early 1990s. At the height of his power, his Medellin drug cartel was shipping 15 tons of cocaine into the US every day and he was thought to be controlling three-quarters of the American coke trade.
He murdered with impunity, blew up a passenger plane killing 110 people (presidential candidate Cesar Gaviria Trujillo was his target, though he escaped death), bombed the capital Bogota, tortured and murdered lawyers, journalists and government ministers, corrupted or killed anyone in authority. Colombia became the world’s murder capital , with 25,100 violent deaths in 1991, a total boosted by the killing of 600 police officers by Escobar’s cop-bonus incentivised hitmen.

‘Robin Hood of Medellin’

How to encapsulate this grotesque era in a TV drama? Series co-creator Eric Newman is adamant it will not celebrate the man some incongruously called the ‘Robin Hood of Medellin’.


Stephanie Sigman as Valeria

Former drugs enforcement agent Steve Murphy worked as a consultant on Narcos with his DEA partner Javier Peña. He says he and his colleagues saw Escobar as the ‘first narco-terrorist’. He views the Netflix series as an opportunity to spell out the dangers of rampant transnational organised crime.
Newman and producer Jose Padilha worked with Murphy and Peña on the drama’s authenticity. The cast is largely from Latin America and the dialogue is 60 percent in English, 40 percent Spanish with subtitles. Escobar is played by Brazilian star Wagner Moura, who appeared in Elysium with Matt Damon.

[Read more…]

The Trials of Jimmy Rose, ITV, Ray Winstone, Amanda Redman

Trials of Jimmy Rose episode 1 ITV

New start – Ray Winstone as Jimmy Rose

Ray Winstone plays a hardman with a difference in this well-acted family drama

★★★½ ITV, starts Sunday, 30 August, 9pm

IN THE ROLE that made him a star, as young offender Carlin in 1979’s Scum, Ray Winstone rose to the top of a brutal prison system to emerge as the Daddy. It’s ironic that now in middle age he’s back playing a thug, but this time he’s the Grandaddy, and a bit of a has-been.

Which makes for a good role for Winstone. The actor is apparently wary of gangster roles, aware that his hardman actor image might be seen as an easy option, but he was won over by Jimmy Rose because the story is about family and making a new start. While he’s never going to win us over with his Richard III or playing lord la-di-da, when he’s in the zone – Nil by Mouth, Sexy Beast – he is bloody good screen company.

These days he shifts between TV and movies, from The Departed to Great Expectations, Moonfleet to the upcoming remake of Point Break. It’s good to see him back on the box now, with the opening episode of ITV’s three-parter setting up an intriguing story for his lead character.

Ray Winstone sings Sinatra

We meet Jimmy Rose as he emerges from a 12-year stretch inside. The opening moments, with Winstone singing his own tribute to Frank Sinatra’s That’s Life for the soundtrack, is upbeat.

ITV STUDIOS PRESENTS The Trials Of Jimmy Rose EPISODE 1 Pictured : RAY WINSTONE as Jimmy Rose and AMANDA REDMAN as Jackie Rose. Photographer: BEN BLACKALL. This image is the copyright of ITV and must be credited. The images are for one use only and to be used in relation to The Trials Of Jimmy Rose, any further usage could incur a fee.

Jimmy and Jackie (Ray Winstone and Amanda Redman)

The twist comes as soon as he gets home, with the welcoming party falling flat. His granddaughter Ellie is not around, his son Joe doesn’t want to see him and his wife Jackie has no time for him. Amanda Redman, looking like a proper actress again after sleepwalking through New Tricks for the last couple of seasons, plays Jackie. She and Winstone are old friends from the time they co-starred in Sexy Beast (2000) and she complements him well as the woman with whom he has seen better days. [Read more…]

The Americans 3, ITV Encore, Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell

From Fox  The Americans: SR3 on ITV Encore  Pictured: Elizabeth Jennings [Keri Russell] and Philip Jennings [Mathew Rhys].

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are back in The Americans

IT WENT out in the States back in the spring and finally The Americans series 3 arrives in the UK. ITV have switched it to its subscription channel ITV Encore, from Wednesday 19 August 10pm. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a substandard series shoved into the backwater equivalent of 5USA. ITV has high hopes for Encore and Americans 3 was a critical hit in the US. If you haven’t seen this unheralded classic thriller, we’re back in Reagan-era 1980s USA with two implanted Soviet super-spies, Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell). The pressure on them mounts this time as their bosses want them to turn one of their all-American children, teenager Paige (Holly Taylor), into a spy, too. It’s a superbly made hour of tension and well worth getting into. UK viewers will start to hear more and more about ITV Encore in coming months, as the network will be debuting a string of high-profile dramas here, including The Frankenstein  Chronicles with Sean Bean and its crime drama with a supernatural twist, Midwinter of the Spirit, with Anna Maxwell Martin. So comrades, settle back for some pretty hearty dramas on the new network this autumn and winter…

River, BBC1, Stellan Skarsgard, Nicola Walker


Captivating new crime drama in which the victims having starring roles

★★★★ BBC1, day, date to be announced

CASTING Stellan Skarsgärd as a British detective was a bold but canny move by the makers of this intriguing thriller. If you want a performer who can play a troubled soul, then who better than a man from the land of long winter days and Ingmar Bergman, a director whose fave themes were death, bleakness and insanity?

Death is also the theme of River and Skarsgard also a Swede, familiar from movie hits such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Mamma Mia! He is terrific in this unusual series as Detective Inspector John River, a cranky cop traumatised by the shooting of his partner.

What starts off as a police procedural abruptly swerves into unusual territory when we realise River is no ordinary cop. The reason he is grumpy – and brilliant – is that he is haunted by the dead.

Eddie Marsan as a Victorian killer

If that sounds a bit Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), don’t be put off. This series, written by Emmy award-winner Abi Morgan (The Hour, The Iron Lady), is far more emotionally affecting.

The people who invade River’s mind are the murder victims of his cases, in addition – bizarrely – to a serial killer from annals of Victorian crime called the Lambeth Poisoner. Eddie Marsan is suitably disturbing in this role.

River is seen talking to himself – actually to the dead – and is viewed as a bit of a nut by most officers around the police station. He hangs onto his job because of his 80 percent clear-up rate.

Nicola Walker is River’s ex-partner

While the story is good at exploring grief and loss, it is buoyed up by some beautifully funny moments. Nicola Walker (Last Tango in Halifax) is wonderful as River’s ex-partner, Stevie, all fast food and disco songs. And Adeel Akhtar – unforgettable in C4’s Utopia – turns up as another put-upon character, Ira, who is assigned to be River’s new partner.

Chalk and cheese doesn’t begin to cover it, and their scenes together veer between very funny and quite moving.

With so many fine performers and such an emotionally nuanced story, River is a notch above so many mainstream crime series out there.

New Tricks final series, BBC1

Programme Name: New Tricks - TX: n/a - Episode: New Tricks Series 12 - generics (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Danny Griffin (NICHOLAS LYNDHURST), DCI Sasha Miller (TAMZIN OUTHWAITE), Ted Case (LARRY LAMB), Steve McAndrew (DENIS LAWSON) - (C) Headstrong Pictures - Photographer: Amanda Searle

Final four – Danny Griffin (Nicholas Lyndhurst), DCI Sasha Miller (Tamzin Outhwaite), Ted Case (Larry Lamb), Steve McAndrew (Denis Lawson)

The cold case oldsters of UCOS return for the last 10 episodes of the popular light-hearted crime drama

★★★ BBC1, starts Tuesday, 4 August, 9pm

AND NOW, the end is near, as the New Tricks crew faces the final curtain. Of course, the crew isn’t what it used to be following the recent spiky departures of hugely popular cast members James Bolam, Amanda Redman and Alun Armstrong.

New Tricks series 12 Gerry

Skeletons come back to haunt Gerry

Dennis Waterman is still there living up to his character’s nickname of Gerry ‘Last Man’ Standing, but even he will be bailing out after the first two episodes of this final series. Larry Lamb, familiar to viewers from EastEnders and Gavin & Stacey, will replace him as the 12th series runs its course.

It may be a little unfair on the newcomers to the show – Denis Lawson,Tamzin Outhwaite and Nicholas Lyndhurst – but it was always going to be a tall order to step in and replicate the chemistry of the original four, who were major audience favourites from earlier classics such as Minder and Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?

New Tricks has been huge for BBC1

But even before their exodus began with James Bolam’s departure in 2011, New Tricks was really past its prime. Bolam called it stale, Amanda Redman said it was bland and Alun Armstrong didn’t like that his character had ‘got saner’.

Still, it’s been a storming success for Auntie. It started in 2003 with the motley crew of retired detectives coming together to probe cold case files under the beady eye of Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman (Redman).

It often crushed other shows scheduled against it, with series 8 frequently coming close to hitting 10million viewers. Even Dennis Waterman’s jaunty theme It’s Alright couldn’t dent its success. [Read more…]

Ripper Street 3, Matthew Macfadyen, Jerome Flynn

Whitechapel series 3

East Enders – Jackson, Long Susan, Reid and Drake

The crime-fighters of Victorian Whitechapel return with a new spectacular series

★★★ BBC1, Friday, 31 July, 9pm

STAR TREK and Cagney and Lacey were both among those shows axed by TV honchos only to be resurrected after fan pressure. Both vindicated their reprieves and went on to huge success.

Ripper Street 3, Capt Jackson

Gung-ho Jackson to the rescue

Ripper Street is unlikely to enjoy such admired longevity. It’s lurid and as believable as a graphic novel. with its theme-park depiction of Jack the Ripper’s London.

But back it is, so a hardcore of devotees will be delighted that their favourite is the first UK show to be revived by a streaming service, in this case Amazon Prime Video (which originally showed the series to its UK subscribers last autumn). In addition, Amazon Prime has already ordered series four and five for future production and seem to have pumped more money into this fairly lavish eight-part instalment.

Train disaster for Reid to investigate

The opener, Whitechapel Terminus, features a spectacular head-on train smash, with the carriages and mutilated

Ripper Street series 3 in production

Behind the scenes of Ripper Street

bodies raining down on Leman Street. This all picks up four years after the previous series, which finished with Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) and the American surgeon Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) at loggerheads and Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn) broken in grief.

Here they are pulled back together in the search for the “general” behind the rail calamity. Robbery was the motive and before the episode’s end, Reid already has his suspicions about who may have been behind it. [Read more…]