While a lot of recent television news has been to the effect of this show or that show has been delayed, or may, tentatively, start filming again in a few months, the actual slate of television content hasn’t dried up yet. From the outside it seems like they’ve been saving things for a rainy day – that is to say, they were better-prepared for a pandemic than a number of first-world governments.
1. Stateless | July 8
A fairly bleak, serious drama based on real events, Stateless has four strangers’ lives intersecting at the grim crossroads that is the Australian immigration system. This is a well-trod subject both in fiction and reality, so the unique selling point here is the fairly farcical twist of it being a white woman who’s wound up in a refugee camp.
Despite it being Yvonne Strahovski (she of The Handmaid’s Tale) in this lead role, this doesn’t seem like one of those productions that’s trying so hard to be woke it accidentally goes full circle and becomes incredibly racist. Getting equal billing is Australian actor Fayssal Bazzi as a more typical sort of refugee, the father of an Afghani family fleeing the Taliban.
Lending a bit of international star quality, the cast also includes co-creator Cate Blanchett and Dominic West as a pair of fairly sinister dance instructors. Even if they’re not part of the main four, the show will likely be squeezing out as much of them as it can.
2. P-Valley | July 12
Making interesting television isn’t simply a matter of picking and choosing a list of buzzwords that haven’t been done before. Nonetheless, you really can’t deny that a show about the sex industry in the Mississippi Delta with a primarily black and female cast absolutely has not been done before.
P-Valley is an adaptation of Katori Hall’s stage play Pussy Valley (with an ever-so-slightly cleaned-up title), set in and around a strip club – and around is the key word here. There’s plenty of noiry crime dramas that use strip clubs as backdrops, not to mention using the strippers themselves as backdrops, but nowhere near as many exploring what it is to actually work in one.
3. Brave New World | July 15
In many ways this is George Orwell’s 1984 for slightly older boys and girls. It depicts an unlikely, far-off future where the population is kept pacified not by force, but by a near-constant stream of media distractions pouring out of every telescreen on the block, combined with drug use that’s normalised to the point of being mandatory. Thank God that could never happen in real life.
This is part of the first run of programmings coming from Comcast’s new streaming service, Peacock. I’d talk about this further, but I’m getting the uncanny feeling that somewhere, Mustapha Mond and John the Savage are laughing at me.
Speaking of John the Savage, it appears from the trailer that this version is placing him front and centre as viewpoint character. As an outsider, he’s certainly the obvious choice for an audience surrogate. But let’s be quite serious – no modern audience is going to be baffled by the idea of a dystopia. Just in recent years, we’ve had The Hunger Games, The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Man In The High Castle. Even those who never saw any of those picked up enough by osmosis not to need much hand-holding. It begs the question of whether Brave New World is one of those works that’s been surpassed by its own imitators, like Nine Inch Nails’ original version of ‘Hurt’.
4. The Capture | July 15
One of those up-to-the-minute thrillers seemingly set mainly in glass office blocks and lightless situation rooms, The Capture’s emphasis on CCTV and fabricated video footage is edging in the direction of Black Mirror – which is still a good thing.
The core concept is this: a war hero is accused of a crime he may or may not have committed and goes on the run. Do we want him to escape? Do we want the police characters we’re also following to catch him? The best sorts of drama can juggle both. The bigger question is, of course, was the CCTV footage doctored, and is there some bigger baddie out there who they can all team up against in the third act – the answer to both presumably being yes.
But with this sort of thing, it’s the journey, not the destination. The appeal lies in puzzling through the clues along with the people on screen, and seeing if you can guess who the final bastard is. And while the trailer doesn’t look overwhelmingly action-y, this is the kind of subject matter that lends itself quite naturally to Breaking Bad-style moments of exquisite tension.
5. In My Skin | July 30
A show which follows a 16-year-old girl trying to live a normal life while concealing her horrible family situation – her dad drinks too much and her mum has bipolar disorder. It is, of course, a comedy.
Far be it from me to say that actual trauma is much better comic material than a wealthy, conventionally attractive cheerleader deciding whether she should date Brad, Chad, Thad or Gilead, but the history of the genre speaks for itself. Most everyone has troubles of their own, and can identify with other troubled people a lot better than they can with the charmed-life denizens of a certain kind of glossy sitcom.
In My Skin has already quietly picked up several awards after the original UK broadcast – admittedly only in its native Wales, the loose equivalent of winning the Delaware Oscars, but still. The valleys can have troubled youth too.
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