Hand of God, Amazon Prime, launches in London

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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’.

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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.

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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…

Major new crime dramas for autumn

The Last Panthers, Hand of God, Narcos, Lucky Man, The Five

THE SETTING at the exclusive top-floor club of London’s Gherkin was swanky enough to impress to the shady ‘banksters’ featured in Sky Atlantic‘s ambitious new Euro-thriller The Last Panthers.IMG_0844

The channel had taken over the glass eyrie with its mesmerising views of the capital, pictured right, to treat journalists from Britain and France to a glimpse of the work in progress. TV critics from The Times, The Guardian and Heat, along with CrimeTimePreview, mingled with Sky’s MD of Content Gary Davey before viewing selected scenes from the multi-lingual crime drama, starring Samantha Morton, Tahar Rahim and John Hurt.

The dinner event and wonderful location were a sign that Sky Atlantic has high hopes for this sophisticated series. It’s a partnership production between Sky Atlantic, Canal + and Sky Deutschland and is filmed in London, Marseille, Belgrade and Montenegro.

The story is based on an idea by French journalist Jerome Pierrat, an expert on Europe-wide crime. It is inspired by the Pink Panthers, Interpol’s name for a real gang of Serbs and Montenegrins, several of them former soldiers, who performed audacious jewel heists, targeting several countries.IMG_0841

The drama begins with a tense jewel robbery, but the story also shifts the narrative back to 1995 and traces the roots of the gang. It looks like a big, sweeping thriller. Samantha Morton glams down for the role of the loss adjustor sent to Balkans, while John Hurt is the seasoned honcho who’s her boss. In English, French and Serbian, The Last Panthers looks to have a lot more going on in it than your average episode of Lewis.

It’s scheduled for November…

Moving on, just take a look at this new series coming from Amazon Prime on 4 September. Hand of God! starring Golden Globe winner Ron Perlman, fresh from Sons of Anarchy, looks just a little unhinged. He’s playing a bent judge in a bind who seems to think he’s  been chosen by God himself to seek vengeance. It’s certainly off-kilter enough to be worth a gander.

Netflix also has a major new crime drama streaming soon. Narcos is a big show telling the story of US and Colombian efforts during the 1980s to take on the mega-powerful Medellin drug cartel. The trailer makes what is a complex and bloody story look like a rollicking good action series, but trailers can be misleading. It will be interesting to see if Netflix can do this huge story justice.

Finally, Sky1 also has two intriguing series looming. Lucky Man stars James Nesbitt in a high-concept series created by comic-book legend Stan Lee (co-creator of Spider-Man, the Hulk etc). Nesbitt plays a cop from London’s Murder Squad who is given an ancient bracelet that gives him the ability to control luck. This has an attractive cast, including Eve Best, Sienna Guillory and Darren Boyd, and what could be a fascinating premise.

Co-creator Neil Biswas says: ‘Is the bracelet really bringing him luck, or is it just another manifestation of the gambling addiction that has always plagued him?’

There is also a lot of buzz around The Five, bestselling thriller author Harlan Coben‘s first original story for TV. Created by Coben, writer of novels such as Tell No One and Gone for Good, and scripted by Bafta-winner Danny Brocklehurst, this 10-parter follows a group of friends haunted by a terrible incident in their childhood. It stars Tom Cullen, O-T Fagbenle, Lee Ingleby and Geraldine James.

Fargo 2 trailers, with Patrick Wilson, Ted Danson, Kirsten Dunst

QUITE like these trailers for Fargo series 2, coming in September to FX. Kirsten Dunst and Ted Danson turn up this time, now that Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton have been dispatched. They’ve got a nicely black edge to them, in keeping with this TV descendant of the Coen brothers’ classic off-beat thriller movie. Patrick Wilson, Kirsten Dunst and Ted Danson join the crew. See what you think…

Twin Peaks — Killer 50 No 28

It's all about the mystery of Laura Palmer's death – and a lot more

It’s all about the mystery of Laura Palmer’s death – and a lot more


1990-91, ABC

‘I’ll be seeing you in my dreams.’ – Bobby Briggs

‘Not if I see you first.’ – Norma Jennings

Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Ontkean, Madchen Amick, Dana Ashbrook, Richard Beymer, Lara Flynn Boyle, Sherilyn Fenn, Piper Laurie, Sheryl Lee, Joan Chen, Russ Tamblyn

Identikit: FBI agent Dale Cooper investigates the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer in the town of Twin Peaks.

logosWE’RE MOVING slowly down the unoccupied corridor of a high school, a disembodied voice is making a solemn, momentous announcement over the PA system – it is the voice of the principal. A huddle of girls listens in dread. We cut to the face of a young man, James Hurley, frozen, staring, like a photo. The voice is announcing the death of 17-year-old pupil Laura Palmer, and this off-kilter sequence from the pilot episode immediately sets the indelible tone for Twin Peaks. The discovery of Laura’s body allows creators Mark Frost and David Lynch to lift the stones in a logging town near the Canadian border and expose all kinds of unsettling desires and actions beneath the veneer of normality. Frost, with his experience writing for Hill Street Blues, perhaps offered the narrative ballast for the artistic vision of Lynch, whose intangible, fascinating films Eraserhead and Blue Velvet had been weird but commercially successful. Theirs was a series – almost unbelievably, it was commissioned by mainstream broadcaster ABC – that upset the conventions of primetime, with its dark characters, disorientating dream sequences and at times logic-defying plot.
twinpeaks1

Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn) and Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan)

Ostensibly it’s a mystery in which FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) arrives in town to investigate Laura’s killing, along with the rape of Ronette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine), but the show was far more radical than any primetime drama. We soon realise we’re watching a stilted, soapy drama that is strangely haunting. Why does the hospital psychiatrist have a hula girl on his tie? Why has Big Ed’s wife got one eye? Who is the Log Lady? The overacting, the twists, the heavy mood music (synthesiser, finger-clicking and brushes, by Angelo Badalamenti), the visual riffs (trees, coffee, owls, cherry pie, ducks, water) all combine to create a tantalising, edgy mood. The series is indeed dream-like, and like a dream it is disconcerting, baffling, but easily recalled afterwards. Season one was a success, while season two disappeared up its own supernatural weirdness and shed viewers, leading to the show’s hasty cancellation. Which upset many fans, and led to Twin Peaks finding its way onto many lists of ‘Shows that were canned prematurely’.
But, while many TV series in the UK and US are so ordinary and flat that they are forgotten in a week, the tone of Twin Peaks, which suggested new possibilities in terms of visual storytelling with a little bit of poetry, would live on in series such as The X-Files and Lost, and particularly The Sopranos (David Chase included significant dream sequences in his series, and called it ‘Twin Peaks in the New Jersey Meadowlands’) and Breaking Bad (Albuquerque is a superbly bland and moody dreamscape, and the show had several surreal visual motifs). If Twin Peaks woke up to a hangover of ratings droop in season two after Laura’s killer was revealed, the show by then had still subverted the rules of TV drama and fired the imagination of future showrunners.

Classic episode: The feature-length pilot is a beautiful image of a lost America. Though set in 1989, it feels like a vision of the 1950s, with lonesome highways running through forests east of Seattle, leather-jacketed biker gangs, roadside diners, check shirts and jeans – the sheriff’s even called Harry Truman. Few TV series have ever had this visual panache.

Theme music: Falling, by Angelo Badalamenti

Watercooler fact: Owing to the tight budget, local girl Sheryl Lee was hired to play the corpse of Laura Palmer. However, while filming scenes of Laura in a home video, David Lynch was struck by her ability in front of camera, and Sheryl became a semi-regular cast member, playing Laura in flashbacks and recurring character Maddy Ferguson. She’s hardly been off the TV since, appearing in LA Doctors, One Tree Hill, Dirty Sexy Money and most recently Perception.

Second water cooler fact: David Lynch and Mark Frost are revisiting Twin Peaks for a third series in 2016. It’s being made by Showtime, and after contractual wrangles, has now been expanded from nine to 18 episodes. Most intriguingly, in series one Agent Cooper had a dream/premonition in which murder victim Laura Palmer told him, ‘I’ll see you in 25 years…’ Well, next year the 25 years is up. Oo-er.

Odyssey, BBC2, Anna Friel

Tight spot – Anna Friel in Odyssey

Tight spot – Anna Friel in Odyssey


US soldier Anna Friel goes on the run when she learns explosive secrets in this sprawling, convoluted thriller

★★★ BBC2, Sunday, 28 June, 9.15pm

NEXT TO SERIAL KILLERS, perhaps the biggest scare figures in modern thrillers must be corporations. In fact, the 2003 documentary The Corporation made a good case for modern corporations having all the traits of a psycho – being cruel, ruthless and without feelings.

This new American 13-part thriller, made by NBC, has its own ominous psycho-corp called SOC, which our heroine, US Army sergeant Odelle Ballard, discovers is secretly funding terrorists.

Desert storm brewing –Sgt Ballard makes a shocking discovery

Desert storm brewing – Sgt Ballard makes a shocking discovery

Played by British actress Anna Friel – in a fresh attempt to break into US television following the demise of Pushing Daisies – Ballard is the heart of a complicated story. We first see her during a raid in Mali in which an Osama Bin Laden-type leader is killed, and she stumbles on a computer showing that the US company has been sending millions to terrorists.

Odyssey v Homeland

The plot thickens when privately contracted military group OSELA turns up and betrays Ballard and her team. She is reported dead but has escaped with her damaging evidence against SOC. She hides amid Tuareg desert nomads, hunted by OSELA.

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