Reviewed: Doctor Thorne (Sunday, UTV Ireland); House of Cards (Netflix); DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (Thursday, Sky 1); Thirteen (Sunday, BBC Two)
I'm not a fan of period drama. Many times I've sat down and tried to watch the latest from the Beeb or ITV (the UK channels that do such things much better than everyone else) and found that my better half was better off watching solo. Ripper Street? Now that I like, but it is an exception.
The trailer for Doctor Thorne (Sunday, UTV Ireland) had me curious about the latest series from Julian Fellowes, the writer behind Downton Abbey. Then when I had a glimpse at the cast list I was thinking: this could be a cracker.
Well, while my expectations weren't fully satisfied, last Sunday's opener certainly set things up just nicely. As well as benefiting from the pen of Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, who adapted the tale from a novel by Anthony Trollope, Doctor Thorne is also produced by the Weinsteins, which means that a) a few quid's gone into the production and b) that few quid must earn a few more or several someones are in serious trouble. I think the money's safe.
The settings alone won me over, from the village to the seemingly endless pile that is Greshamsbury Park, the home of the snooty Gresham family, who perform form a central role in this tale. But not as central as Tom Hollander's Dr Thomas Thorne, and his young niece, Mary (Stefanie Martini), whose father died before she was born, as a result of a punch in the opening scene from a local drunk, played by Ian McShane, who was upset that his sister had been defiled by Thorne. You can kind of guess the rest.
The story's set 20 years after that pivotal event, and the lack of hard cash among the Greshams doesn't prevent snobby matriarch Lady Arabella (played by the marvellous Rebecca Front) from looking down her nose at Mary.
Augusta Graham's about to marry the unappealing Mr Moffat for familial financial reasons, but Lady Arabella also wants son Frank to marry well, but unfortunately he has an eye for Mary.
In a further development, we meet McShane's drunken bowsie, who happens to be Roger Stratcherd, a man whose life was transformed after his release from prison. Now wealthy, he's loaned to the cash-poor Greshams and has them in a bit of a bind.
It's all very English and frightfully snobby: in other words, a Sunday night delight. It's not a patch on the current opposition, BBC One's superb The Night Manager, but for fans of period drama, it looks pitch perfect.
House of Cards (Netflix) is back for a fourth season, and while I've only had time to watch the opening episode, it would appear that Beau Willimon's adaptation of the BBC political drama is back on form after a pretty lame third run.
For starters, anti-hero Frank Underwood is looking less than unflappable and quite vulnerable, which is great news for fans who like to see Kevin Spacey act above second gear. Underwood's looking for the Democratic nomination to extend his stint in the White House, but his missus Claire has gone AWOL, both literally and emotionally.
Robin Wright, meanwhile, looks like she's about to show the why and how her character Claire is the real force behind the Underwoods' rise to power. Meanwhile, the arrival of Ellen Burstyn as Elizabeth Hale, Claire's mother, is an interesting addition. It's always women behind the power who make things interesting. House of Cards is definitely back on form.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (Thursday, Sky 1) may have some viewers reaching for the remote, but as a lifelong comics' fan I sat down with a large pot of coffee and even more anticipation. I loved it, but there's no denying it's a risky concoction that may fail to reach beyond a comic book hardcore.
Basically, what we have here is a loose assembly of superheroes, reluctant heroes and bad guys formed to take on Vandal Savage, an immortal and utterly evil individual who, by 2166, has taken over the world.
In order to defeat Vandal Savage, time master Rip Hunter (a bearded Arthur Darvill, aka Rory from Doctor Who and the priest in Broadchurch) travels back to the present day to enlist a motley crew including Hawkgirl and Hawkman, the two-in-one hero Firestorm, as well as Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell's Flash villains Captain Cold and Heat Wave.
In the opening episode, the new group travel back to 1975 to unearth some vital information on Vandal Savage. The Hawk couple end up learning a lot about their own back story, which includes the truth behind Vandal Savage's immortality.
As stated previously, this show almost defies non-comic book fans to engage. I loved it!
The variety of TV shows on offer these days is further exemplified by the arrival of Thirteen (Sunday, BBC Two), the fourth of a very disparate bunch of new or returning shows reviewed this week. This psychological drama, produced by the now online-only BBC III, was given a 'proper' television broadcast on the Beeb's second channel.
Opening with a clearly confused woman leaving a house and eventually reaching a telephone box where she rings the police, the back story of Ivy Moxam, who was abducted at the age of 13 and held in a cellar for the next 13 years of her life (hence the title).
Unfortunately, the pace of the first episode is a little pedestrian, but Jodie Comer performs well in the lead role, in a drama that's clearly influenced by the Scan-dram flood of recent years. Gloomy, brooding, it could do with a little more happening now and again other than people talking in rooms.
Definitely promising, I'd recommend a look-see at next Sunday's second episode. It'll be easy to catch-up on the events so far, as the end of the first episode suddenly caught fire with the revelation that Ivy's abductor has taken another girl hostage. Action!