Technically we’re all still meant to be staying inside if possible, even if human nature is gradually winning out. Don’t worry, though – there’s plenty of alarming television shows to make you not want to leave the house in September 2020.
1. Raised By Wolves | September 3
Ridley Scott – he of Blade Runner, Gladiator, and the first Alien film, which was nearly the best one – makes his television début with Raised By Wolves. It’s not about kids being raised by wolves, but instead kids being raised by androids, and what’s more, the kind of androids you got in Scott’s heyday, when they were represented by androgynous people in full-body jumpsuits and got hunted down by Harrison Ford.
It’s touching on one of sci-fi’s favourite questions – just how human can a human-like robot be? Though at the point they’re actually thinking of human children as their own children, you’d imagine that would be an end to it. Expect a return of Blade Runner’s Voight-Kampff test, or at the very least – hopefully – a monologue on par with Rutger Hauer’s ‘Tears in the rain’ speech.
Scott’s move from film to TV reflects the kinds of bigger budget and bigger explosions television has in truth had for a while, and the trailer’s a perfect example – a dizzying slideshow of people being shot, burned, and blown up, worthy of any of the later Die Hards. This likely isn’t a particularly good representation of what the show will actually be like, but does seem to cover an awful lot of ground. It’s one of those trailers that you worry should include a spoiler warning.
2. Away | September 4
Another sci-fi show with heavy themes of family? Sure, why not. To be fair, as the grand scale of sci-fi hardness goes, this is way over on the other end, more ‘not-too-distant future’ than ‘galactic federation and magic robots’.
Hillary Swank, crying over being millions of miles from her family in a role that has something of the Ellen MacArthur about it, leads an all-star team of multi-racial astronauts on the first mission to Mars. The biggest ask it’s making of its audience seems to be that the first people to go Marsside would ever return.
The word ‘timely’ gets thrown around a lot, particularly by press releases for shows which think they’re making more of a statement than they are – but only being able to see your loved ones through video conferencing will likely ring a few bells for contemporary audiences. If they do a weekly quiz in which they have to wrestle with Zoom’s time limit, it’ll be indistinguishable from reality.
3. The Third Day | September 14
So, we’re sick of the interminable video calls – wouldn’t it be nice to take a package holiday to a secluded, rural British island? Not if you’ve ever seen The Wicker Man, as Jude Law and Naomie Harris’s characters in The Third Day are at risk of finding out.
This is one of those stories of two halves, wherein Law and Harris end up visiting the island separately, and each have their own, presumably traumatic, experiences there. The islanders supposedly have lots of quaint traditional customs, something which doesn’t necessarily mean bootlegging, pagan religious movements, or even ritual sacrifice-by-fire, the trailer isn’t too clear.
4. Departure | September 17
While this isn’t a particularly ‘timely’ subject, that shouldn’t matter. The 2015 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 captured the popular imagination, not least because it’s the kind of Bermuda Triangle stuff we smugly assumed simply didn’t happen in our modern times of iPhones and Snapchats. Sure enough, a whole host of theories sprang up around it, ranging from the credible to the frothy-mouthed.
The advantage of fiction is that you can be sure of a halfway coherent narrative and a conclusion of some sort – so unlike the open-ended story of Flight 370, Departure’s lost plane really did go missing as the result of some sort of conspiracy. And one of the survivors ends up being rescued, which is rather like having the UFOs give someone back, especially if you believe some of the more outlandish theories.
Archie Panjabi and Christopher Plummer head up the team trying to track down the plane. The cast list also includes fun roles like ‘secret husband’ and ‘reformed former Israeli terrorist’.
5. Tehran | September 25
With the trailer almost entirely in Hebrew and Farsi, I must admit I found this promising mainly because of how much I enjoyed The Spy with Sacha Baron Cohen. Tehran has a very similar premise of an Israeli spy going undercover in a hostile nation, in this case Iran.
Creator and producer Dana Eden refutes any idea that this is some work of pro-Israeli propaganda – and if one wanted to criticise The Spy, with its surly, gung-ho Ba’athist villains, that would be how to do it. By contrast, Eden argues that Tehran was always meant as a morally grey affair, and crucially, that their protagonist, embedded in Iranian society for so long, finds herself with split loyalities, in the same way as mob flicks like Donnie Brasco had undercover officers becoming enamoured with their alternate identity.
As I said in my review of The Spy, the whole genre of undercover espionage thrillers is too often thought of as a preserve of the Cold War – which is a shame, because in storytelling terms it readily lends itself to having a constant tension at work. It seems that Middle Eastern-set projects are picking up that slack, although it would be a shame for any format that robust to get pigeonholed in those terms.
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