Seven small-screen reasons to welcome 2017
There are many things we could resolve to do this year – join a gym, fight fascism – but if the TV screen wins out instead, there are some promising shows to while away the hours
Lively crew: Dublin divorce lawyers, including Amy Huberman (right), in Striking Out
When four twentysomething friends in Brooklyn learn about the disappearance of a girl they only vaguely recall from college, they do what any concerned millennial would: they share their feelings on social media. In Search Party (streaming on channel4.com) – one of the most viciously perfect comedies of 2016, finally available through licit channels – the missing person is already trending: #iamchantal. From fleeting sight gags to entire subplots, the wickedest observation in this refreshingly pithy 10-part satire is in recognising just how far its characters will go to put some content in their lives, while listing between internships and roof parties. Thankfully, their adventures are as compelling as the group is adorable, led by earnest frowner Dory (Alia Shawkat), who will find the significance in anything, with her drippy boyfriend Drew (given the temperament and gait of an outsized muppet) and their two monstrously airheaded accomplices.
Originally titled Cheaters, a name that conjures romantic infidelity and a pervasive scepticism towards the legal profession, this long-awaited four-part drama was rechristened Striking Out (RTÉ One, Sundays), a signal of independent fresh starts. That will sound about right to those eager for Amy Huberman’s new vehicle, marking the actor and author’s return to television drama following a gamely comic contribution to Can’t Cope Won’t Cope in 2016 and seven years on from RTÉ’s medical drama The Clinic. Huberman plays Tara Rafferty, a solicitor in Dublin who learns on her hen night that her fiancé and law partner, Eric (Rory Keenan), has been carrying on with a colleague. Thus burned, she flees her personal and professional certainties, sets up a new practice with a lively crew who specialise in divorce law, and is forced to confront her own morals on a path she had never considered. You can read a review of the first episode here.
Following the vicious period-drama success of Peaky Blinders, Steven Knight’s new series, Taboo (BBC One, Saturday, January 7th, 9.15pm), comes bearing many approving seals. Conceived by its brutishly pretty star, Tom Hardy, and Hardy’s writer father, Chips, as well as by Knight, and counting Ridley Scott as an executive producer, the show is set in 1814 and follows the fortunes of Hardy’s ruthless adventurer and shipping empire heir James Delaney, presumed dead in Africa, who returns to London as a great inconvenience to the plans of his half-sister. The country is at war with France and America, but director Kristoffer Nyholm depicts a Victorian London more ravaged from within, home to ragged faces and unending squalor. Delaney’s biggest foe is the East India Shipping Company, which Knight pitches as “the equivalent of the CIA, the NSA [National Security Agency] and the biggest, baddest multinational corporation on earth”. Historians are already tutting.
David Lynch and Mark Frost’s original cult TV series Twin Peaks ran for just two series, at the beginning of the 1990s, when Special Agent Dale Cooper’s investigation into the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer took a backseat to the entrancing horrors of life in a bizarre rural America. Reigniting such a series may have seemed only a matter of time, but how much time is still anyone’s guess. Two years ago a new series, set 25 years later than the first, was slated to air in 2016, but it has now been bumped back to an unspecified point in the first half of 2017. Though much of its original cast is due to return – including Kyle MacLachlan and Sheryl Lee – the show almost lost Lynch over budget disagreements. Those issues were resolved, and the series is definitely happening this year, though no one is quite sure what form it will take: between nine and 18 episodes have been rumoured, and they may or may not be rationed out on a weekly basis. Keep Twin Peaks weird.
David Simon, the journalist turned TV writer and maestro behind The Wire, follows a stream of well-regarded dramas – including Treme and Show Me a Hero – with another collaboration with the author George Pelecanos. The place is New York’s Times Square in its squalid 1970s days, when the legalisation of pornography began the virulent spread of an industry. James Franco plays two roles, twin brothers Vincent and Frankie Martino, based on real characters involved with porn’s 42nd Street nexus who became a front for the Mob. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a sex worker with an eye on bigger opportunities, and the series maps the expanding effects of a grimy cultural revolution. “It is a story about market capitalism and the rise of a new industry,” Simon explained in April, “and what the world is like now when something not supposed to be sold openly suddenly becomes legitimate and legitimised.” It is also on HBO, one of the mainstream beneficiaries of such loosened codes. Don’t expect it to be coy.
American Gods, etc . . .
You’d be forgiven for thinking that television is now supersaturated with superhero franchises. But until Wonder Woman fronts her own current affairs programme and Thor tells you the weather, the takeover will not be complete. New to Marvel’s alliance with Netflix in 2017 will be a solo outing for that lugubrious munitions freak the Punisher, an introduction to Iron Fist (presumably punching above his weight), and The Defenders (a multi-pack of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and the aforementioned Iron Fist). Much more intriguing is Powerless (scheduled for February), set among the employees of an insurance agency dealing with the vast property destruction wreaked in the DC Universe. But the bigger buzz surrounds American Gods, adapted from Neil Gaiman’s novel, in which an ex-con is drawn into a showdown between gods old and new: Norse mythology v Commerce; Odin v Media; or, to put the conflict in more awesome terms, Ian McShane v Gillian Anderson.
Ireland has not enjoyed an unblemished image on British soap operas. Remember the deeply repugnant villain Trevor Jordache, buried forever under a Brookside patio? Or one fascinatingly misguided EastEnders adventure in an Ireland of generalised drunkenness, violence and thuggery during the late 1990s? Like the conditions that gave rise to them, these episodes may be firmly behind us, which is why there’s much hope for Redwater. A six-episode EastEnders spin-off centring on Kat and Alfie Moon (Jessie Wallace and Shane Richie), it is set in a fictitious harbour village, to which the couple journey in search of answers “to some very big questions”. Such are the threads of a long-running soap that these may involve Kat’s recent discovery that she has a son in Ireland, born without her knowing. (Just go with it.) But it won’t necessarily be soapy. While the director’s invocations of “Shakespearean drama” sound overheated, an insular village writhing with secrets ought to make for something intriguingly gothic. (And the BBC issued a strict edict against stereotypes.)