Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
It’s the best thing on TV right now, and if you only watch one thing each week it should be this. The Daily Show’s former correspondent gets half an hour on HBO and lays into everything from the news that week. It is, however, more insightful and revealing than pretty much anything on the actual news, and funnier than any current comedy. If you want a taster of what he’s about then go to YouTube and search for “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Prison” for a segment that should be picking up awards by this time next year.
This 10-part series tells the story of the Manhattan Project and the secret scientific taskforce assembled in the 1940s to create the first atomic bomb. It’s from the WGN channel and is only their second scripted series (after the hit-and-miss Salem) but it could do for them what Mad Men did for the AMC channel. The period setting is done really well, it’s visually brilliant (having been filmed at an old New Mexico US Army hospital) and it captures the paranoia of that era, at times feeling more like an espionage thriller. From what we’ve seen so far, this is an enjoyable tale of the secrecy and brilliance of people on the verge of creating the most devastating weapon the world has ever seen.
From Gideon Raff, the creator of Homeland, and developed by the main show-runner on 24, this FX Channel series is set in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Abbudin. A brother, exiled in Los Angeles, returns home for the first time in 20 years for a wedding and becomes embroiled in the politics of his family, who rule the country. References to real-world leaders (at one point the ruler is watching the death of Colonel Gaddafi, fearing he may be next) add weight and, despite being a bit hokey at times, there’s enough about despotic leaders who rule rebelling populations to make this entertaining, contemporary and worth a watch.
Created by Mickey Fisher and executive produced by Steven Spielberg, the summer series is set in the near-ish future and follows an astronaut (Halle Berry) who returns to Earth after a 13-month-long solo space-station mission to discover that she’s mysteriously become pregnant. Meanwhile, her scientist husband has just created the prototype lifelike android called a “Humanich”. It’s a little weird and trippy in places and you have to be prepared to go with it during occasional flights of fancy, but like all good sci-fi it raises interesting questions and passes comment on the present while setting up a strange possible future for where mankind is headed.
…And out on DVD this month
The 10-part TV adaptation is every bit as good as the classic Coen Brothers film that spawned it. Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman and Martin Freeman are all outstanding, and the supporting cast (including Oliver Platt, Keith Carradine, Colin Hanks and Bob Odenkirk) ensure high quality in every scene. Thornton’s speech to Hanks’ policeman in the first episode is as chilling as it is brilliant and set up the snowbound noir-ish murder story perfectly in what is one of the best-written mini-series of the last five years. Fargo season one is out on the 22nd.