Between the release of Avengers: Endgame, and the ongoing saga of the final season of Game of Thrones, you could be forgiven for avoiding any object connected to the internet, absolutely certain that someone whose parents didn’t love them is copy-pasting spoilers for both in the comment section of some terrible media aggregator. So why not watch some TV instead?
1. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 6 | May 10
With Avengers: Endgame finally released in late April of this year, bringing the franchise’s seven-year film arc to a close, or at least a natural resting point, there’s barely a week’s refractory period before their smaller-screened chums get wheeled out again. I confess a certain admiration of anyone who can possibly keep up with all this becaped nonsense, with the sheer volume of material putting it easily at the same sort of time commitment as a full-time job – and full-time jobs typically don’t require moving between different channels and mediums.
Anyway, this new season sees the S.H.I.E.L.D. gang trying to move on from the death of Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) in the previous season under the leadership of a new character (also played by Gregg) as well as dealing with the latest world-ending threat, only days after their fellow franchisees dealt with Thanos. This season also sees Deke Shaw (Jeff Ward) promoted from recurring character to main cast member.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has already been confirmed for a future seventh season, since, with the demise of Inhumans last year, it now represents Marvel’s only televisual output on ABC. Not their only TV show, since they’ve still got Runaways, Cloak & Dagger, and Legion going elsewhere – just their only one on ABC. This kind of enforced coverage, it seems, is what turns out to really matter when you control a franchise that makes more money than God.
2. Catch-22 | May 17
Set during World War II, but bearing all the distinct scars of the 1950s and the early days of the Cold War, Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 is a perfect illustration of the old maxim – not that war is hell, but that hell is hell and war is war, and of the two war is a lot worse. The title has entered into a vernacular as an expression meaning a no-win situation, although as the book had it, it described a thornier basilisk than that. The original Catch-22 was a regulation whereby a pilot who wanted to fly (incredibly dangerous) bombing raids must be insane, and so didn’t have to, whereas a pilot who didn’t want to fly the raids was clearly sane, and so they did have to.
This six-part adaptation is produced by and stars George Clooney, who previously appeared in The Men Who Stare At Goats, another exemplary satire of the military’s worst excesses. Clooney will star alongside Christopher Abbott (Girls) as the perpetually put-upon Captain Yossarian, Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) as the deranged armchair general Colonel Cathcart, and Hugh Laurie as the mysterious and charismatic Major de Coverley.
3. Archer: 1999 | May 29
Hey, whatever happened to Archer, anyway? Well, I’ve written about just that before, when the ninth series, Danger Island, came out – the crux is that between the writing and the voice acting, creator Adam Reed is sick of it, and his contract only runs until this series, after which he’s taking the money and running. Reed’s disinterest has been there for those willing to see it – the format of both Danger Island and the upcoming 1999 are a kind of ‘greatest hits’ for the show, leaning very heavily on multipart episodes from the show’s salad days (‘Heart of Archness’ and ‘Space Race’ respectively).
So yes, this outing will see the spy gang – if they can still be called spies – stuck on an Alien-inspired space station. It’s okay though, because this is all still in Archer’s imagination, playing out while he’s in a coma after nearly drowning back in season seven. Danger Island was a love letter to adventure serials, specifically Tales of the Golden Monkey, so despite all the references to Alien in the promotional materials, it’s likely 1999 will end up having more of a Buck Rogers air to it.
From what we know, the writing team do seem to have learned from some of the mistakes of Danger Island. Archer and Lana will be at odds from the get-go, rather than barely sharing a single scene – their bickering and angry sexual tension was, if not what drove the show, then at least an important fuel source. Without that, the narrative felt, at best, disjointed, so it’ll be a welcome return – although I must add the caveat that I said something similar about Mallory and Archer returning to their dysfunctional mother-son relation going into Danger Island.
4. Deadwood | May 31
It’s been thirteen years since HBO cancelled Deadwood – now, at long last, they’re trying to wrap it all up in one feature-length finale. Even in this age of TV studios actually listening to audience feedback, it still feels odd that this would actually happen, that they’d return to the well instead of actually moving on. The last comparable situation was Fox turning out Serenity to placate those who were upset Firefly was cancelled, and that was only because of the very real risk of some poor geek turning up to their headquarters in a suicide vest.
Admittedly, sci-fi attracts a more psychotically dedicated class of fan than the Western, although for all intents and purposes Firefly was both. Nonetheless, last year saw both the release of the anthology film The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (a product of West-heads Joel and Ethan Coen), the second season of robot-cowboy drama Westworld, and the eagerly awaited Red Dead Redemption 2. Hardly enough to call it a summer of high noons, but still pointing to a distinct appetite for tales of frontier towns, six-shooters, and those saloon doors that keep swinging dramatically well after you’re through.
Red Dead is probably the most apt comparison here, as, like Deadwood, it’s a paean to a dying Wild West – slowly shrivelling up under the constant, relentless onslaught of modernity. As Deadwood wore on, this obviously came more and more to the fore as it moved from settlement to town proper. In this one-off conclusion, that process finally comes to a head as South Dakota is admitted into the union and becomes a state, with all the trouble that usually causes.
5. Good Omens | May 31
Despite a shaky second season, the TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is one of the main things keeping Amazon Prime (who have the international distribution rights) afloat. The thing is, though, it’s just an adaptation, they paid Gaiman for the rights and went off on their own, if they decided to scrap it all and make it a light musical comedy set on an ocean liner there wasn’t much he could have done. Good Omens is Gaiman’s baby, he’s been heavily involved in the production, and for those who aren’t familiar with the man’s work this is A Good Thing.
The book version was, of course, just as much the brainchild of the late Sir Terry Pratchett as it was Gaiman’s. Again, A Good Thing – Discworld was declining a bit towards the end, but not a tenth as much as you might have expected when the author’s brain’s being eaten away by Alzheimer’s. Two beloved authors of their stature teaming up was a once-in-a-lifetime event – sadly, quite literally – with Pratchett noting that they ‘did it for fun and wouldn’t do it again for a big clock’.
What American Gods did for, ahem, American Gods (as well as the old Norse and Celtic pantheons), Good Omens does for the Judeo-Christian tradition. You’ve got the secret son of Satan being raised in a cosy English middle-class family. You’ve got the angel who guarded the gates of Eden (Michael Sheen) and the snake who tempted Eve (David Tennant), who get along terribly well. And you’ve got four terrifying figures representing all the ills of the world who ride out to herald the end of days. This is theology without the boring bits.