As part of the Hot Press ‘Hot for 2017’ special, here’s our run-down of the best international drama to watch out for in the months to come.
What a wretched year 2016 was. Horror, madness, existential dread – and that was just the US Presidential election / morning after the Hot Press Christmas party. Still, there were glimmerings of positivity amid the looming apocalypse. For one thing, television has never been better. Game Of Thrones delivered its most stunning season yet, Westworld was an existential sci-fi western which posed genuinely provocative questions, and the Spielberg-ian Stranger Things swept us back to the carefree days of the Cold War and the Reagan White House.
Can 2017 trump such feats? The omens are, from a television perspective at least, unquestionably promising. All your favourites will be back (with the exception of Westworld, which returns in 2018). Plus, a parade of new shows promises welcome distraction from the clouds of impending doom rising above Washington DC, Brexit Britain, the Middle East etc etc (sorry… maybe we’re killing the mood).
Moreover the quality is for once spread evenly. In the 12 months just gone, streaming services unquestionably stole a jump on their rivals. Netflix’s $100 million dollar right royal soap The Crown was BBC costume drama on rocket-powered roller-blades, while Amazon’s The Grand Tour was essentially the old Top Gear with a Hollywood budget. How could the chasing pack possibly compete?
However, there are indications that the balance of power has shifted back a little. For sure, Netflix and Amazon have lots of intriguing new offerings en route. Yet so do the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky Atlantic, which continues to ratchet up its dramatic output.
From an Irish perspective, it’s disappointing that indigenous broadcasters are largely happy to fob us off with reheated reality shows, though TV3 is to be praised for the success, in Ireland and the UK, of its police procedural-kitchen sink hybrid Red Rock.
No, it isn’t to everyone’s taste – but at least they’re trying. But enough of our yakkin’... here’s our tip-sheet of can’t miss television for 2017.
A one-off pilot released in 2015 struck a chord and now Giovanni Ribisi returns in the lead role in this new crime drama from Amazon. He plays a con man who tries to pass himself off as his dead cell-mate – to said cell-mate’s family. They don’t quite believe the ruse but, as “Pete” soon discovers, he’s the least of their worries.
(Sky Atlantic, tbc)
Compulsive liar Daniel Glass (Harry Potter’s Rupert Grint) is at a dead end, with a failing relationship and a go-nowhere job. When he is diagnosed with cancer, his life changes – for the better. Everyone is suddenly nice to him and the dark clouds duly part. Being the slippery sort, when he finds out he was misdiagnosed, Daniel decides to maintain the fiction of his ill health, with consequences that, if initially hilarious, soon take a turn for the dire. With Don Johnson as Glass’s awful boss and Nick Frost as Dr Ian Glennis, “the most incompetent oncologist on Earth”.
(Channel 4, January 24)
Scandi-noir has been the hot trend in television for several years now. After feasting on the drama smorgasbord that was The Bridge/The Killing/Borgen etc, now comes a dark romp from Iceland. It’s a legal drama with a twist, as three phlegmatic lawyers undertake a series of cases that lead them into the underbelly of Icelandic society. A US remake is in the works, while in Ireland the urgent question is why we can’t make drama of this calibre. Iceland, after all, has a population only slightly larger than that of greater Cork (and they don’t even have Tanora to keep them company on the cold and lonely nights).
(Netflix, January 28)
This subversive black comedy explores the weirdness beneath the surface of an apparently wholesome American town. When a high school student is found dead, the facade of normality beings to crumble, unleashing dark forces.
(Sky Atlantic, tbc)
The triple-threat team of Neil Jordan, former U2 manager Paul McGuinness and writer John Banville assemble for a thriller set amongst the billionaire yachts and exclusive clubs of southern France. Julia Stiles plays the wife of a deceased Oligarch who delves into his murky dealings while, in flashback, Monica Bellucci is the dead tycoon’s first spouse. McGuinness came up with the idea, while Banville has written the first five episodes, with Jordan serving as show-runner and producer. “Georgina is the heroine of the piece,” says Stiles of her character. “The show takes you into the hidden world of the super-rich. It’s glamorous, it’s unpredictable. All is not what it seems.” Watch out, too, for a turn from Iwan Rheon, aka Game Of Thrones’ villain Ramsay Bolton, as a sleazy art dealer.
(Channel 4, tbc)
Wry comedy duo David Mitchell and Robert Webb reunite for a new Channel 4 sitcom by In The Loop / Veep writer Simon Blackwell. They play half brothers required to run a pub together due to a series of unlikely events. A one-off pilot broadcast last year was a hoot: fans of comedy that touches a nerve even as it prods the funny-bone are sure to enjoy the follow through series.
The Swastika flutters above London in the new BBC blockbuster adaptation of Len Deighton’s cult alternate history thriller. Blighty has lost the war and the Nazis now rule supreme. Sam Riley (Ian Curtis in the Joy Division biopic Control) is a police detective drawn into a conspiracy after a murder attracts the attention of senior members of the Reich government. Sherlock meets The Man in the High Castle… who could resist?
(Netflix, March 17)
Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Daredevil proved Netflix and Marvel were perfect collaborators. Now comes their fourth co-production, with Finn Jones as millionaire kung fu crime-fighter Danny Rand… aka Iron Fist. Later in 2017, meanwhile, all four Netflix superheroes will come together for the eight-part Defenders mini-series.
(Sky Atlantic, spring)
Tim Roth and Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks cross figurative swords in a thriller about an expat British cop (Roth) investigating a mysterious Canadian oil company and its enigmatic boss (Hendricks). A sleepy small town witnesses an upsurge of violence when oil is discovered – but is Hendricks’ Mrs Bradshaw marshalling the chaos or trying to keep it under control? Producers Kudos have a track record, having given us gripping dramas such as Broadchurch and Humans.
A storm-tossed adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel in which Norse gods continue their warring and scheming in present day America. Ian McShane plays “Wednesday” – aka Odin – while the series is overseen by Bryan Fuller, fresh from the remarkable Hannibal and the upcoming Star Trek reboot.
(Sky Atlantic, May)
Ongoing global events have conspired to make us feel as if we are collectively living through a David Lynch movie – so what better time for the wizard of weird to resurface with a reboot of his great ’90s masterpiece/folly? Kyle MacLachlan will return as Agent Cooper and Sherilyn Fenn features as unnerving femme fatale Audrey Horne. David Bowie was to reprise the FBI agent he played in the movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me until his death. “I want to embrace the unusualness of it, and I think it is quite possible we’re not going to do a traditional release pattern,” Showtime chief executive has David Nevins said (his network is putting out the series in the US). ”I can definitely see longer episodes or the question of how we release it linearly and for those who want to stream it.”
A super-hero fandango with a difference, this Marvel adaptation promises oodles of grit in place of the usual spandex and banter. Downton Abbey graduate Dan Stevens stars as David Haller, an X-Men-type mutant diagnosed in childhood with schizophrenia. This is a jumping off point for what is billed a bleak meditation on what it means to be different in a world that values, nay insists upon, orthodoxy. Marvel has a patchy record when it comes to television – its Netflix shows have been a blast but Agents of SHIELD on NBC has been spectacularly uneven. Fingers crossed Legion is more the former than the latter.
(Sky Atlantic, spring)
Idris Elba returns to the small screen for a ’70s-set drama about a revolutionary cell operating in London. He plays one half of a radicalised couple who embark on a campaign to eliminate a (true life) British special branch unit that kept tabs on Britain’s black population. The script is by John Ridley, writer of 12 Years A Slave and American Crime.
Electric Dreams: The Weird World of Philip K Dick
(Channel 4, spring)
Dismissed in his lifetime as a delusional weirdo, in death PKD has become the science fiction name to drop. The irony is that high profile adaptations of his work such as Blade Runner and The Man In The High Castle aren’t especially true to his druggy, slipstream sensibility. Now comes an entire season based on his writing, starring Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, with Battlestar Galactica show runner Ronald D Moore overseeing the production. “This is an electric dream come true,” explained Cranston. “We are so thrilled to be able to explore and expand upon the evergreen themes found in the incredible work of this literary master.”
Star Trek Discovery
After several noisy crass movie adaptations, Star Trek returns to the small screen with a show midwifed by Bryan Fuller (Hannibal). The Walking Dead’s Sonequa Martin-Green stars as USS Discovery second-in-command Rainsford. The idea is to portray the drama from the perspective of an officer down the chain of command rather than, as per Trek tradition, the captain themselves.
(Sky Atlantic, spring)
A new crime thriller from Wire creator David Simon. The setting is New York’s Times Square in the early ’70s, where the legalisation of pornography has unleashed a deluge of sleaze and petty crime. Subjects addressed include HIV, the crack epidemic and New York’s descent into poverty and infamy.
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