Usually at the start of these I take the opportunity for a bit of nudge-nudge talk about how the weather’s awful and you may as well stay inside watching TV. This month, though, you have a legitimate reason not to leave the house, for your own sake, for your friends and family’s sakes. Every minute you spend slumped on the couch in front of a screen is another minute you’re not acting as a vector for a deadly disease – and that’s not just my view, but the view of most major governments. Stay safe out there, everyone.
1. Tales From The Loop | April 3
In a world where adapting TV shows from books is running into diminishing returns, new sources of raw material are needed – and in this case it’s paintings, specifically the sci-fi fantasy worlds of Simon Stålenhag. In a way this is better than reaching for a book or a comic, like so many works of TV and film do, since it’s a decision that encourages creativity in adaptation rather than hemming it in by requiring the show to be faithful to the original.
So, we’ve got a tiny, sleepy Swedish village that’s filled with all the out-there technology CGI can muster up, kind of like Black Mirror without a contractually obliged distressing twist. Instead, the underlying secret is a machine called The Loop, which per the press release will ‘unlock the mysteries of the universe and make the impossible possible’. Again, a decision that encourages creativity, although actually depicting the mysteries of the universe seems like a tall order. The two traditional choices, when relating the meaning of life, have been to cut to black (like The Simpsons) or go with the old reliables (like Monty Python) – but a non-comedy has a dangerous imperative to actually give it a serious go.
2. World On Fire | April 5
World War II was, by far, the most lethal war the world has ever seen. World On Fire is a World War II drama which stars Sean Bean. By all known logic this means he’ll suffer the equivalent of four or five different deaths – like being in a Kamikaze plane which plunges into the sea and is then hit by a full broadside from a submarine. And then he floats up to the surface, just about clinging to life, before being struck by lightning.
The Bean himself appears to be playing a gruff, older voice of wisdom, even if there’s surely a bullet with his name on it somewhere. Actually in the driving seat is Jonah Hauer-King, previously of other prestige period dramas like Howards End and Little Women, although more interestingly, his NCO is played by Blake Harrison, the bumbling gunman from A Very English Scandal but better known for being by far the most capable lead actor in smutty teen comedy The Inbetweeners – here well-deservedly getting to stretch himself out a bit.
Whereas the recent war epic 1917 took a very close-in, personal view of events, World On Fire takes a more macro approach, its settings skipping through a good chunk of the Northern hemisphere. It is a world war after all, even if it is set in 1939, the period politely known as ‘the phoney war’ because all the fighting was between non-English-speaking people.
3. Belgravia | April 12
Made by the same people behind Downton Abbey and aimed at much the same audience, Belgravia tells a Romeo-and-Juliet-style story about young lovers from two incredibly wealthy families – one old money, one new money (chalk and cheddar by the upper crust’s low standards).
Unlike Downton, Belgravia isn’t even pretending anyone’s tuning in because they’re interested in life below stairs. The main focus here is the everyday problems of the incomprehensibly well-heeled. A lot of TV which focuses on the very wealthy is billed as ‘aspirational’, as in ‘here’s all the nonsense you or I could get up to if we had the cash’. But this kind of thing is different, the turning point here is class and the idea behind it is ‘you and I could not possibly get up to this sort of thing, even if we had more money than God’ – hence the success of The Crown.
Another departure from its primordial ancestor is that this isn’t a sprawling, multi-season experience that ends in a film spinoff where the King comes to visit. Instead it’s a six-episode one-shot miniseries – a nice little self-contained slice of a simpler time when people rode horses, did opium, and could go outside.
4. Mrs. America | April 15
You still see plenty of ink splashed and voices raised over the interminable, endless gender debate – should men do this? Are women like that? What about everyone else? Go to any well-stocked online comment section and you’ll get enough of it for ten lifetimes. But most people, in the first world at any rate, will now be proceeding from a starting point that men and women should enjoy equal rights under the law.
So to see a show based on Phyllis Schlafly, a woman who campaigned against just that seems like a period piece further removed from the modern day than even Belgravia up above – and more than that, a great surprise coming from the entertainment industry, huge parts of which are engaged in an arms race to be woker than thou. The show will of course be showing both sides of the argument, but Schlafly is the main character – and would they hire Cate Blanchett to play a two-dimensional villain caricature? Well, possibly, but if they do she’d better be hamming it up as a truly insufferable bastard.
5. The Midnight Gospel | April 20
At the best of times, Adventure Time was only ever pretending to be a show for children, rather than 20-something cartoonheads who liked things getting mildly psychedelic. Now, its creator Pendleton Ward gets to rip the mask off with The Midnight Gospel, which embraces the same sort of wiggly, dreamy style of art and animation.
The other half of the project comes from comedian/podcaster Duncan Trussell. It’s billed as a loose, probably very loose, adaptation of his podcast – so yes, this has taken the dangerously indulgent step of having a podcaster as the protagonist. Rather than the usual burbling about recreational drugs and wild animals though, here their USP is that they interview beings from dying worlds. If it had been commissioned a little more recently I’d say it was too on-the-nose.
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