HBO’s sci-fi thriller Westworld will be on air this October (on Sky Atlantic in the UK) – and it looks a bit special. Inspired by the classic 1973 movie starring Yul Brynner, which was written and directed by Michael Crichton, this 10-parter has a terrific cast – Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton. You know the story – nutty scientist (Hopkins) sets up a theme park where all human desires can be indulged. Now check out the trailer…
Here’s a flavour of Netflix’s Narcos 2, coming on Friday, September 2. The Pablo Escobar story was chilling but utterly compelling first time round. This second blast of 10 episodes looks pretty high-octane too…
Between the autumn television slate and some promising titles around the corner in 2017, there’s a lot to be excited about for fans of crime and mystery television. Some of these shows are brand new and others are merely moving on to new seasons, but in considering both categories, here are five programmes that are already looking like a whole lot of fun.
Lethal Weapon (Fox)
Lethal Weapon has to be one of the more exciting new crime shows in at least a few years. Announced earlier this year, it’s set to debut this autumn for American audiences on Fox and on ITV in Britain and will presumably be available for streaming soon thereafter. The show us based on the 1987 film of the same name, which has an iconic place among American crime thrillers. That film, starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, ultimately spawned three sequels, each as exciting as the last. It also led to a 1992 NES video game, which you can actually still obtain from Game Fabrique, a site featuring several old titles available for download. That the game is still around is a testament to the fact that even the distinctly ’80s and ’90s feeling of these films hasn’t made them any less popular with action and crime fans.
The new show looks to be a fairly straightforward reboot. Clayne Crawford (24, Rogue) has been cast as Martin Riggs (Gibson’s character), with Damon Wayans (Major Payne, My Wife and Kids) playing Roger Murtaugh (Glover’s role). It ought to be a standard buddy-cop action show with elements of drama and comedy, and the key will be for Crawford and Wayans to develop something that at least remotely resembles the chemistry of Gibson and Glover. Interestingly enough, Glover said he’s skeptical of the project, or at least that he’d prefer people still remember his four films fondly. But the name Lethal Weapon still carries a great deal of weight, which should make this show one of the more watched debuts of the coming season.
In another move to reboot an American crime classic, albeit one that’s generally taken with a grain of salt, MacGyver will also return to television screens in the near future. Set to debut in late September, this show concerns a secret agent who uses scientific knowledge and off-the-charts resourcefulness to get out of sticky situations and, in all likelihood, save the world. If you’re not as familiar with the original series, which ran from 1985 to 1992 and starred Richard Dean Anderson in the titular role, you may well have come across the parody: Saturday Night Live and Will Forte’s “MacGruber. In this skit that ultimately became a film, the hero would frequently fall short of saving the world due to comical miscues.
The new drama will presumably be a little bit grittier, though as stated MacGyver isn’t necessarily meant to be taken seriously. Lucas Till (X-Men: Apocalypse) will star as a young Angus MacGyver, who essentially creates his own organisation within the United States government to fight crime with his own bizarre blend of skills.
Sherlock (BBC One)
What Sherlock has done for Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective series is remarkable. Released just months after the blockbuster film Sherlock Holmes and before Elementary in the US, it managed to become most people’s picture of the definitive modern Holmes. It also brought popularity back to the character and concept. One can argue that Elementary sprouted from this show, and we’ve also seen a greater prevalence of Holmes material, such as video games, since the 2010 debut. Frogwares has a well-known console series going, but the characters from these stories have also popped up in high-volume online gaming arenas. The choices for slot machine games at Betfair include numerous connections to pop culture and fiction, and a delightful Sherlock Holmes title is now among them. The game uses character images, detective equipment, and the setting of 221B Baker Street to make for a more interesting casino experience, with reel spins turning up all kinds of elements related to the stories.
Despite all this influence, Sherlock is actually a pretty abbreviated show. Presented in a way that each series consists of only a handful of (long) episodes, it plays out almost like a collection of short films. There have only been three series to date, as well as one Christmas mini-episode and a 2016 special that existed outside of the timeline of the regular show. And for that reason, fans simply can’t wait for more material. Series four will debut in 2017, with more wonderful action expected from Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.
HBO, 1999-2007 (six series)
‘What fucking kind of human being am I, if my own mother wants me dead?’ – Tony Soprano
James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano), Edie Falco (Carmela Soprano), Lorraine Bracco (Dr Melfi), Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti), Tony Sirico (Paulie Walnuts), Steven Van Zandt (Silvio Dante), Nancy Marchand (Livia Soprano), Peter Bogdanovich (Dr Kupferberg)
Identikit: A mobster in therapy balances problems at home with running a New Jersey crime empire.
CREATOR David Chase had worked in network TV for 20 years (Rockford Files, Northern Exposure and others) before pay channel HBO came along offering the freedom to make this bold and multilayered chunk of television brilliance. The Sopranos was the first of the non-network series to show that TV could be better than the movies given the artistic scope and freedom from network TV’s puritanism and advertiser-sanctioned wholesomeness. From its opening moments it was clear The Sopranos would break and toy with mobster-genre conventions. Tony Soprano – the late James Gandolfini was shrewdly and bravely cast – has a panic attack and secretly starts seeing a shrink, a chink of potentially lethal vulnerability in a mob boss, but one allowing viewers to watch him go on to balance his criminal empire with the demands of family life – troublesome kids, ballsy wife and psychotic mother. Brilliant writers (Terence Winter, Robin Green and others), directors (Tim Van Patten, John Patterson) and guest stars (Annabella Sciorra, Ben Kingsley, Annette Bening, Steve Buscemi, Lauren Bacall) came together to magic up a drama that was controversial, parodied, analysed by academics and given a glut of awards – including 21 Emmys and five Golden Globes. The Sopranos became the show everyone in the mainstream networks wanted to work on, but despite the great talents who came on board, the prime influence was always David Chase’s. Tony’s monstrous mother, being in therapy, the New Jersey setting – all reflected the showrunner’s own experience. The result was a series of extraordinary episodes, such as College (Tony is shown to be no hero when he brutally strangles a former wiseguy), Pine Barrens (Paulie Walnuts and Christopher lose a ‘dead’ Russian and get lost themselves in the snowy forest), and Whitecaps (Tony and Carmela’s toxic break-up). It had superb dialogue and direction, surreal dreams, great music, tears and black humour – but ultimately The Sopranos served up a radical new style of weekly TV drama. It also finished with a dazzling, ambiguous flourish, with Tony and his family in a diner after a mob war has just concluded, causing the death or injury of his top lieutenants. A man who’s been staring at Tony in the diner then goes to the Gents, and daughter Meadow Soprano enters the restaurant as the screen abruptly cuts to a long black silence – and an unknown fate for the Sopranos. The fate of TV was known, however. It could be more complex, audacious and involving than it had ever been.
Classic episode: Long Term Parking – Adriana, Chris’s wife, was developed throughout the series. However, when she was forced to become an FBI informant, Chris was tempted to run away with her, but finally decided to tell Tony about her new friends. This led to her heartrending demise at the hands of Paulie.
Music: Woke Up This Morning (Chosen One Mix) by Alabama 3
Watercooler fact: The Sopranos shared 27 actors with Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, including Lorraine Bracco (Tony’s shrink Jennifer Melfi in The Sopranos, and Karen Hill in Goodfellas), Frank Vincent (Phil Leotardo/Billy Batts), Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti/Spider), Tony Sirico (Paulie Walnuts Gaultieri/Tony Stacks), Suzanne Shepard (Mary DeAngelis/Karen’s mother).
While we’re waiting for new episodes of our favourite crime thrillers, there are some hidden gems playing on Sky Atlantic. Here are my favourite three series boasting risk-taking anti-heroes in high-pressure situations. What they lack in finesse, they make up for in adrenalin and escapism…
Ray Donovan (2013 to present)
This ongoing series has four seasons thus far for you to start watching, making for a few great weekends of binge viewing. Starring the excellent Liev Schreiber, the story follows a professional fixer who makes life better for the rich and famous. The ethos of his job is that if you have enough money, he can take care of it.
The twist comes when we find out that Donovan can get rid of all the problems of others, but none for himself. His family seem set on creating trouble for Donovan, but can he fix things? The acting, directing and writing on this show is exemplary, so you’re in for a treat if you dive into this one. If you enjoy forensic dramas like Code of a Killer, then you’ll enjoy this.
Sky Atlantic is currently showing repeats of Ray Donovan, and the series is available on NowTV.
Billions (2016 to present)
After just finishing a triumphant first series, the next season of Billions is already slated for a 2017 release. The series examines the life and culture of hedge-fund managers, which is exciting to say the least!
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This ultra glamorous series is an exciting foray into the changing world of hedge funds, and every second of the action is fantastic. It’s a really cerebral thriller, so you’ll need to be paying attention if you want to keep up. It’s also a star-studded affair, with actors like Damian Lewis, Maggie Siff and Paul Giamatti leading the action.
Sky Atlantic is currently showing repeats of Billions, and the series is also available on NowTV.
Banshee (2013 to present)
You’ve probably seen this TV show advertised on the likes of Now TV and other Sky channels. Sadly, the final series has just finished on Sky Atlantic, but it’s been a furious, violent and lurid roller-coaster ride of a show.
Antony Starr takes the title role and he plays an ex-criminal who’s chasing the ghosts of his past. This leads him to Banshee, Pennsylvania, and brings action the like of which the small Amish town has never seen. It has a true crime feel, as there is a bit of forensic investigation to watch out for.
The best part of this series has to be the writing, as it keeps the pace exciting at all times. And as for the action, it’s the most adrenaline-fuelled and bruising anywhere on TV.
See our Killer 50 tribute to Banshee. Watch out for repeats on Sky Atlantic.
‘Ayo, lesson here, Bey. You come at the king, you best not miss.’ – Omar
Dominic West, John Doman, Idris Elba, Frankie Faison, Larry Gilliard Jr, Wood Harris, Wendell Pierce, Sonja Sohn, Michael Kenneth Williams, Lance Reddick, Clarke Peters
Identikit: Despite internal divisions, the Baltimore police department elevates its battle against drug crime above street-dealer level by targeting the bosses of the Barksdale gang with the use of wire taps.
FIRST of all, there was the cast – no big name stars to buff and glam-up the characters. Then, there was the style – accurate, realistic, with many stories written by Ed Burn, former Baltimore homicide cop and teacher. Finally, there was the ambition of the series, led by showrunner David Simon but with a writing team including acclaimed crime fiction masters George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane and Richard Price. Over five series the drama focused on different levels of Baltimore society and the drugs food chain – the cops, the docks, politicians, schools, newspapers – in a powerful depiction of the never-ending, fractious and seemingly pointless struggle to contain the drugs epidemic. It was realistic (sometimes the street patois was so accurate as to be impenetrable, even to the characters!), and it gave us a gallery of unforgettable characters – Omar Little, Jimmy McNulty, Stringer Bell, Bubbles, Avon Barksdale, Kima, Bunk, Lester and more. It was never a ratings blockbuster (peaking at 4million in the US, against 26million for, gulp, CSI) and it took several episodes before most viewers could get into what was an epic TV experience. But once you did, The Wire was one of the most compelling and vivid dramas ever broadcast.
Music: Way Down in the Hole, performed by The Blind Boys of Alabama (series 1), Tom Waits (series 2), The Neville Brothers (series 3), DoMaJe (series 4), Steve Earle (series 5)
Classic episode: Old Cases (series 1) – Bunk and McNulty investigate an old crime scene. Using no dialogue in this scene other than the word ‘fuck’ repeatedly, we see the two old pros uncovering truths no one else had spotted.
Watercooler fact: The Wire featured in minor roles several real-life Baltimore figures. These included former Maryland Governor Robert L Ehrlich, former police chief and convicted felon Ed Norris, and Virginia Delegate Rob Bell. ‘Little Melvin’ Williams, a drug lord arrested in the 1980s, had a recurring role at the start of series 3, and longtime police officer Jay Landsman played Lieutenant Dennis Mello.
‘Oh, my gawd! Here it is Christmas Eve, and I’m gonna get shot in a moose suit.’ – Andy Renko
Daniel J Travanti, Veronica Hamel, Michael Conrad, Bruce Weitz, Joe Spano, Charles Haid, Michael Warren
Identikit: Chronicling lives of police officers at a station house in an unspecified US city, exploring their work at the front line of law enforcement and the subsequent conflicts with their private lives.
Creator Steven Bochco was king of the cop show during the 80s and 90s, and this series about the characters in a city police precinct was adored by a dedicated following. US magazine TV Guide once voted it best ever cop show, but today it looks a little polished and tame in comparison to more recent grit fests, such as The Shield or Southland. Unlike those recent cable network shows, which were free of network TV’s censorship and advertising demands, NBC’s Hill Street Blues was a little wholesome to contemporary eyes. But it was still a shift towards more realistic, multi-storylined drama, with handheld cameras, African-Americans among the main characters, slang dialogue, a backdrop of urban breakdown and social hardship, along with a attempt to show characters not always going by the book. Skilfully balancing human drama and a little humour, Hill Street Blues took us through a day at the station from roll-call to late-night sign-off, portraying the officers’ trauma and problems in dealing with prostitution, drug racketeers and killers. There was also a gallery of well-liked characters, from station Captain Frank Furillo and his legal adversary come romantic partner Joyce Davenport, to Detective Mike Belker (who bit those he arrested), SWAT squad Lieutenant Howard Hunter, toothpick-chewing Neal Washington and streetwise Sergeant Lucille Bates. It also gave us a great theme tune, the roll-call segment as an intro to each episode and many powerful stories. The series picked up eight Emmys in its first season (only surpassed by The West Wing), and American network TV wasn’t the same thereafter.
Classic episode: Grace Under Pressure (season 4) – Sergeant Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad) dies while making love to Grace Gardner (Barbara Babcock); Fay Furillo (Barbara Bosson) is arrested for prostitution by a rookie cop; and Sandy (Linda Hamilton), the girlfriend of Officer Coffey (Ed Marinaro), is raped.
Music: The series’ famous piano theme was written by Mike Post and was a hit on Billboard’s Hot 100.
Watercooler fact: Steve Bochco followed the huge success of Hill Street Blues by having a hand in creating LA Law, Hooperman, Doogie Howser, MD, NYPD Blue and Murder One – but also the misfiring Cop Rock, a police procedural that combined with Broadway singing and dancing. The series’ theme song, Under the Gun, was performed by Randy Newman and Mike Post was the show’s music supervisor, but the misguided venture was unanimously found guilty of being rubbish by a jury critics and became infamous as one of the mega-flops of the 1990s.
Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta hit the mean streets of New York as corrupt cops
★★★ Sky Living, starts Wednesday, 13 July, 9pm
SHADES OF BLUE wants to be a gritty cop show, but it comes out as grit-lite, a bit like a Glock handgun with the safety on.
Starring Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta, it’s made by NBC, one of America’s mainstream networks, rather than the pay channels that produce most of today’s cutting-edge dramas, such as AMC (Breaking Bad), Netflix (Orange Is the New Black) and HBO (The Wire).
So, while Lopez and Liotta play corrupt New York detectives, they’re kinda nice with it. Liotta’s character, Matt Wozniak, does deals with drug gangs, but it’s not just about getting rich for Woz. He also arranges it so that the drug barons keep the dealers away from parks and schools.
JLo, Drea de Matteo and Ray Liotta
And while Harlee Santos, JLo’s character, is also on the take, she needs the dough because she is putting her daughter through a fancy music school.
They are rogues rather than top-division baddies in the league of Walter White or Vic Mackey.
Still, Shades of Grey has its plus points. JLo is a decent actress, The Sopranos‘ Drea de Matteo is on hand as a streetwise detective, while Ray Liotta really gives the drama some power and menace. How strange that he made so few big movies and TV dramas after Goodfellas. [Read more…]