Every Friday, TMINE lets you know when the latest TV shows from around the world will air in the UK
A great big splurge of acquisitions this week, with Sky Witness picking up ABC (US)’s The Rookie, Universal picking up CBC (Canada)’s The Coroner, and Fox UK picking up TBS (US)’s People of Earth. Only the last of those came with a premiere date, which you’ll learn in just a mo.
Otherwise, a bumper crop of premiere dates for you this week for previous week’s acquisitions.
As life slows down on a hot summer’s day in 1988, an armed bank robbery goes awry. While fleeing from the police, the two gangsters take an entire busload hostage. The ensuing manhunt, however, turns into a disaster. The police make fools of themselves with their amateurish operations and, above all, are obstructed by the nation’s media who swoop down on the events in their rat race for the juiciest pictures and live interviews with the kidnappers. As Rösner, the driving force of the duo, orchestrates their 54 hours of fame in cold blood, his accomplice Degowski derives sinister pleasure from manipulating the media. But Degowski is also unpredictable and violent. When he loses his nerve and kills a teenage passenger in the bus, the two men choose two young women as their hostages while leaping into another getaway vehicle. Thus begins an odyssey that goes completely out of control…
Slightly touristy, slightly ridiculous adaptation of Olen Steinhauer’s novel that sees American spy Richard Armitage (ho, ho) travelling to German to use his superior German skills (ho, ho) to sniff out a mole at the US embassy. Is it his American mentor Rhys Ifans (ho, ho), maybe?
It’s pure bobbins that’s somehow made it through to three seasons, thanks to the gloss of its European setting and starry cast. I wouldn’t advise watching.
Former Daily Show correspondent Wyatt Cenac is a cynical magazine journalist, sent to cover an “alien abductees survivors group” where he soon begins to realise that those vivid hallucinations of talking deer might be a sign that he, too, has been abducted. So he decides to stay in town and see if he can work out what’s really happening and whether an alien invasion is really underway.
The show is a 50/50 split between two strands. The first strand is the desperately unfunny goings on at the support group, which reminds you of Go Onbut with Cenac’s deadpan instead of the jokes and Matthew Perry’s sardonic quips.
The second is with the aliens themselves – for they are real – where the show is actually a properly funny workplace comedy. Yes, that’s right – a workplace comedy. I mean have you ever considered how much effort goes into faking those cover-ups?
Unfortunately, the aliens begin to occur less and less as the season goes on, so the jokes become fewer and fewer. So I gave up.
Six-part Danish drama about communities, loyalty and betrayal among war veterans, bikers and police officers, intertwined with a love story between war veteran CC (Dar Salim) and police officer Louise (Danica Curcic).
CC is back home in Denmark after active service in several war zones, and is haunted by his last mission which went horribly wrong when his best friend, Peter, was killed in action. CC is plagued by guilt and can’t find a place for himself in a society that prefers to forget about the war. To ease his conscience, he helps Peter’s widow, police investigator Louise, who has a particular interest in gang crime and, in particular, rocker king Tom (Lars Ranthe).
Eight-hour miniseries sequel to Wolfgang Petersen’s Oscar-nominated 1981 anti-war classic movie of the same name. With the Allies having cracked the German military’s Enigma code and being able to track the movement of its submarine fleets, serving on a German U-boat has become little more than a suicide mission. The new series follows the crew of an ill-fated submarine that launches on its inaugural mission from Nazi-occupied France, as well as the stories of the family and friends they leave behind and that of French resistance fighters taking on the Nazi regime from the inside.
Science-fiction and espionage seem at first glance to be a perfect combination. Think of how many successful spy shows and movies over the years have also been science-fiction greats: Total Recall, The Champions, Alias, Airwolf and more. Indeed, there’s even a name for the genre: spy-fi.
Look a little harder, though, and you’ll notice that the greater the emphasis on the science-fiction, the worse the show is. The more SF a James Bond movie contains, the worse it gets (invisible cars, anyone?). That’s because – to generalise broadly – the spy genre is fundamentally about people, whereas science-fiction is more about ideas. Those spy-fi classics? They were the ones that remembered to concentrate on both the people and the ideas.
Now we have Counterpart, a show that does its best to give us both big ideas and little people, while also invoking the magic blessing for any spy show: a Berlin location and obvious Cold War parallels. JK Simmons (Law & Order, Whiplash, The Closer, Oz) plays a very little person at a UN spy agency based in Berlin. For 29 years, he’s worked uncomplainingly in the ‘Interface’ department, where he goes up every morning in the same suit to read out sentences to another man from ‘the Other Side’ in a small room, before returning to his desk. His requests for promotion go unheard and he can’t even get an interview.
Meanwhile, his wife Olivia Williams (Dollhouse) is in hospital after being run over six weeks previously, and her brother Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica, Perception) is trying to get her returned to the UK and her ‘true family’. Simmons is passively nice and unable to say or do much in response to all these injustices.
Then one day, he’s dragged by boss Harry Lloyd (Robin Hood, Game of Thrones) to meet chief of security Ulrich Thomsen (Banshee). A top spy from the Other Side wants to defect. The Cold War that’s been going on is thawing and assassin Sara Serraiocco has come over to start killing people on this side – including Simmons’ wife.
Thing is, the Other Side is a parallel universe with which Simmons’ universe has been in contact with for decades but which has diverged over time, and the would-be defector is… JK Simmons.
Now the two Simmons, spy and Mitty, must work together to stop the assassin and whatever’s caused this thaw in the Cold War, while simultaneously looking at each other to see how their lives turned out so differently.
Regrets, I’ve had a few
Although similarities with Fringe are obvious, this is far more a well worn story of male wish fulfilment: the little man, over the hill, wishing for a more exciting life than he ever had, suddenly getting a chance to lead that life. It was the substance of many of the early Man from UNCLEepisodes and it’s the essence of Total Recall.
Here, the difference is that firstly, Simmons is a much better, more plausible little man/spy than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Secondly, while there is action and excitement to be had, the show works far better as an examination of roads not taken, what choices you can make in your life that will take it in completely different directions and how much of who you are as a person is caused by external rather than internal factors. Great efforts are made against the overly-stylised sci-fi background to make Simmons and all the other characters seem like real people, albeit with variable success. It’s certainly helped by the supporting cast, with a range of Brits giving great, understated performances, particularly Lloyd, but Thomsen is as good as always and there are also some fine German actors in minor roles, too. More good actors are on the way, too, with the near ubiquitous Richard Schiff and Stephen Rea set to do a turn soon, too.
It works less well as a spy show than you might hope, though, and that’s because of the sci-fi throwing everything out of whack. The Interface department looks cool, for example, but seems ludicrous – why are they doing this? What possible reason could they have for it? Whatever it is, it’ll be nonsense when revealed, I bet you. There’s also far less of Berlin to be seen than you might hope and while the show avoids the tourism of Berlin Station, there’s the obligatory ‘exotic’ club scene.
All the same, Counterpart offers more or less the best of both genres. It’s not exactly Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; neither is it Blade Runner. But as a moderately entertaining piece of metaphysical musing – with guns, parallel universes and a surprisingly kick-ass JK Simmons – Counterpart has a lot to offer.