Between Netflix, Amazon Prime, Idris Elba-approved box sets over on Sky and whatever else you find time for on terrestrial, TV has never been more of a trusted ally in the continued fight against boredom and – quite frankly – we’re bloody spoiled by it.
1. TV has embraced absolute evil
The world as we know it is doomed. Corrupt. Violent. Horrible. Nowhere is this more obvious than in TV. It’s in Mr Robot’s bleak landscape, where cyber-vigilantes fight a societal force colloquially known as Evil Corp (hint: they’re not very nice). It’s in Lucifer, whose premise hinges on the idea that the bored-as-hell Lord Of Hell abdicates his throne to join the LAPD and run a nightclub in his spare time. The results are comedic. Damien, on the other hand, is far darker. Spun-off from The Omen, the titular harbinger is trying to live a relatively normal life as a photographer when his innate malignance bubbles in the guise of PTSD.
Then there’s abstract evil, like the twisted, faceless monstrosity in Stranger Things, otherworldly and supernatural. On The Walking Dead, despite the slack-jawed zombies, it’s the humans who have twisted into something unrecognisable; resorting to the likes of murder, cannibalism, and torture to survive.
There’s a reason evil is so compelling: it’s a fragmented mirror into how much worse we could have it. It’s why The Man in the High Castle makes for such captivating viewing; the Amazon series imagines a world where the Axis powers (specifically Germany and Japan) crushed the Americans in the war. This 1962 is both familiar and not; on one hand, VW trucks crawl through the streets. On the other, a huge swastika hangs in Times Square.
The BBC’s SS-GB takes a similar premise, positing the cruel world we’d live in had we lost the Battle Of Britain. Is there any room for good, wholesomeness in TV these days? Not really. Even The Great British Bake Off feels more urgent when something beautiful gets chucked in the bin. Welcome to the world of inherent evil.
2. Hip hop is soundtracking the best shows this autumn
At this point in time there are three very specific and equally awful musical sub-genres that have a stranglehold on your TV speakers.
The first: bozo-brained faux alt ‘rawk’ of the Nickelbackiest kind. This dreck regularly soundtracks crap badassery on cheap genre shows: vampire antihero rides off on a Harley, smirking coolguy strides away from exploding truck without looking back, and so on.
The second: grunting, bluesy, snoringly ‘authentic’ dad-rock that reeks of stonewashed denim and lip-bitey mid-song nods between guitarists and drummers. This stuff is the default soundtrack for any show with a heavy 49-year-old-dude vibe: Treme, Vinyl, Season 2 of True Detective, anything by Aaron Sorkin.
The third: tacky EDM; the type that gets frat-boy pecs jigglin’. From Ballers to Orphan Black, Skrillex-esque sIcK Ba$$linEs are now the go-to musical backdrop for depictions of wanton hedonism, while Breaking Bad’s sole misfire was that scene in which Walt and Walt Jr revved sports cars to Knife Party’s brostep anthem Bonfire. Cringe.
Throw ya hands in tha air, then, for a triptych of new shows that promises to give the small screen a much-needed sonic shake-up. Hip-hop is finally getting its due.
Arriving this week on FX, Atlanta is a “semi-autobiographical comedy series” created by and starring Donald Glover, and set in and around Atlanta's vibrant hip-hop scene. As Glover has a successful real-life rap career as Childish Gambino, you can expect gossipy authenticity and music you’d actually listen to outside of the context of the show.
Then there’s The Get Down, which continues Netflix’s unstoppable run of buzz-generating shows. Produced by Baz Luhrmann, he applies his shiny and lavish touch to late-Seventies ‘Noo Yawk’ in a semi-fictionalised account of how hip-hop first sprung into life amid the poverty, rubble and despair. The first six episodes dropped mid-August, with six more on the way before the end of the year. So expect more block parties, subway graffiti, fly fashion and old-skool rhymes that end with “a-huh hah!”
Described by executive producer Cheo Hodari Coker as “a fusion of dark drama, hip-hop and classic superhero action”, Luke Cage is the third of Netflix’s five interconnected Marvel series. While there’ll be no rapping protagonists, golden-age hip-hop is the driving aesthetic influence: each episode is named after a Gang Starr track, while the series’ nails-hard trailer is soundtracked by Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s ‘95 banger Shimmy Shimmy Ya. It arrives 30 September.
Three new shows, then, and three chances to finally expand TV’s sonic palette beyond grungy c*ck-rock, stone-washed-denim blues and robot-burp EDM. Thank Biggie for that.
3. Emily Browning is going to be huge
So get excited ahead of her appearance in American Gods in January.
4. You can binge-watch some brilliant books
If these shows become massive, you’ll want to be up on the source material...
What’s it about? Lots of gods and mythological creatures are living on Earth together for some reason. Supernatural hijinks ensue.
Chance of TV version being a hit: There’s some pretty big-name stars involved, and it’s being adapted from the cult-ish Neil Gaiman book.
Book bonus: Neil Gaiman is considered one of those ‘unfilmable’ novelists. So however faithful the TV show ends up being, there’s bound to be a lot of uncanny, magical moments that end up not making it to the screen. And you can be the guy in the pub reeling off said moments to the annoyance and indifference of your friends.
MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE
What’s it about? An alternate reality in which the ‘bad guys’ won the Second World War.
Chance of TV version being a hit: The first series was a huge success for Amazon Prime when it launched the show last year. All signs indicate that, with its dark political tone, this is definitely going to be, at the very least, ‘zeitgeist-y’.
Book bonus: Despite being very short, its original form is wildly different from the TV adaptation. Several key characters have been combined or written out, storylines avoided and plot details changed. So yeah, plenty of reasons to pick up the novel.
I LOVE DICK
What’s it about? A funny account of a woman obsessed with a guy called Dick. Titter.
Chance of TV version being a hit: This could be the next Girls. Remember Girls? Remember how you refused to watch it because it was called Girls, but then it turned out that everyone had an opinion on it and by the time you decided that you would give it a whirl, it was far, far too late. Just like that.
Book bonus: Look – the real question is whether you’re man enough to be seen on the tube reading a book with ‘I Love Dick’ written on the front. If you can get over that, then you’ll be that guy who’s read a socially significant 20-year-old cult classic.
5. Scandi drama isn’t going anywhere
So we ranked the current crop of nordic noir from great to not-so-great...
The Killing (Danish)
This dark masterpiece is 65 per cent organic wool jumper, 35 per cent death. A suitable ratio for a Scandi show.
The Bridge (Danish)
Unsettling from the off, this is full of scowling dreamboats and is mercilessly unafraid to kill off characters.
A lack of corpses, but Sidse Babett Knudsen, the star of this sharp drama, makes Borgen addictive nonetheless.
Classic Nordic noir: showdowns in train yards, troubled pasts, bloodied flashbacks, lakes. Great stuff.
Jordskott (just say it) delves deep into Norse mythology. Case in point: the antagonist is an evil forest.
The Legacy (Danish)
This drama about a will causing a power struggle is worth your time, and a fine example of Danes Doing TV Annoyingly Well.
So twisty you might get a pain in your neck. Martin Beck – Sweden’s grizzly answer to Poirot – deals with stuff like a woman being buried alive.
6. Ed Harris is your new favourite villain
So we rang the Westworld actor up for a chat...
Ed Harris is a man who needs silence to think. We know this, because at the other end of our line to Los Angeles, where he’s just been recalling his politicised college years – “I dunno, you start smoking a bit of marijuana, and you begin to look at the world a little differently” – has gone very quiet. Worryingly quiet. Behavioural experts say that four seconds of silence is enough to make a conversation feel awkward. This feels like four months. And we’re starting to panic.
All of a sudden:“Colin Farrell! That was him,” he barks, circling back on an answer for his favourite TV shows that had escaped him earlier. “That was the guy. We were shooting The Way Back, must’ve been around seven years ago, and we’d gone to this Bulgarian sauna together. Sat there, sweating it out. The conversation got on to TV. That’s where he did it. That’s where he turned me on to Father Ted.”
British slapstick comedy, albeit it excellent British slapstick comedy that, Ed says, now punctuates his collection of favourite DVDs, hadn’t featured in our list of things we’ll assume Ed Harris enjoys. But then again, we also thought he’d be the sort of guy to do business in a huge envy-inducing wood-panelled office (“Oh boy, you should see it, it’s small and cluttered, but at least I know where everything is,” he says), and that he unwinds after a day on set with a scotch supped from crystal-cut glass (“Not so much, I’m not really up on my whisky”). Turns out, Ed Harris is not a man you should try and second-guess.
It’s this, his on and off-screen masculine mysticism, a rare trait possessed by your Clint Eastwoods and your Paul Newmans, that’s led him to earn the label of ‘The Thinking Woman’s Sex Symbol.’ A raise of an eyebrow or a crack of a wry smile, combined with his authoritative well-aged cragginess, is enough to captivate viewers, and in most cases, terrify them. It’s also a label that Ed, now 65, couldn’t care less about.
“That was some years ago,” he says. “I’m not sure I still qualify. Y’know, whatever man. I dunno what to say to that. I like to think all women think, for one thing…”
Whether he likes it or not, this is Ed’s USP. It helped make A History of Violence’s dead-eyed Carl Fogarty so threateningly calm, and his God-like Christof in The Truman Show so calmly threatening. It’s also why one Stanley Kubrick phoned him personally with an offer to fulfill one of Hollywood’s ultimate badasses, Full Metal Jacket’s Sergeant Hartman – a role, he says, he doesn’t regret turning down, but that you can’t help but imagine being an opportunity missed.
All the more reason, then, to watch HBO’s upcoming TV series Westworld. Based on the 1973 film of the same name, and the book that it was based on, it’s a western-sci-fi coupling in which humans can escape to an artificial intelligence-inhabited alternate universe to indulge in sex, murder and anything else they desire. Harris’ character, ‘The Man In Black’, is exactly how you want him – restrained, unsettling, intense and hella cool.
“There’s a twinkle in his eye because he knows what’s up and they don’t,” Harris says. “He enjoys that part of it. Part of what disturbs him after all those years of going there, he’s kinda wishing that there was something at stake for him. That these people were capable of fighting back a little more than they do. I guess we’ll see what happens.”
Ed Harris there. Still giving nothing away.
7. And now for everything else
The Night Of is your new murder mystery obsession
Featuring Riz Ahmed, as a Pakistani-American student thrust into the bleak criminal justice system after he wakes up next to a brutally murdered woman.
There’s legitimately a show called Ultimate Beastmaster
Think Gladiators meets Ninja Warrior. It’s coming to Netflix, it's led by Sylvester Stallone (pictured) and features swole dudes falling on their faces.
Halt And Catch Fire is the nerdiest drama of the year
It’s about sabotage and corporate espionage in the niche world of computer processing, and it’s way more addictive than it sounds.
Stallone is finally playing a mob boss in Omerta
The final installment in Mario Puzo’s Mafia trilogy.