While it’s said that April is the cruellest month, this September’s crop of television shows isn’t without its meaner side. With at least two tragicomedies, depending on how you’re counting, and one outright tragedy, you can really tell the nights are rolling in sooner these days.
October, of course, makes everything spooky and ooky into a fun thing. But September is one of those cusp times when nothing quite seems right. To this day, people still fire up the internet to tell Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong when September ends – a joke which turns unforgivably sour when you consider that ‘wake me up when September ends’ was, originally, Armstrong’s response to the death of his father.
So, on that cheery note – here’s what September has to offer.
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia | September 5 (FXX)
On the 22nd of August it was announced that The Big Bang Theory – that Chuck Lorre production which was somehow even more lowest-common-denominator than Two And A Half Men – would be throwing in the towel after twelve seasons. On the 5th of September, the acclaimed comedy It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia returns for its thirteenth with no sign of fatigue.
This, on its own, is a milestone. Even pop-culture giant The Simpsons couldn’t go ten seasons without noticeably losing steam, yet even It’s Always Sunny’s worst critics must admit the worst it’s ever done is the occasional wobble. But how to describe the beast itself? The closest analogy, really, is Samuel Beckett’s legendary play Waiting For Godot, or possibly Godot’s bastard child, the Rik Mayall/Ade Edmondson comedy Bottom – it’s not about anything in particular, it’s just some people bumbling through life. And like those two works, people absolutely love it.
While there’s nothing wrong per se with the first season of It’s Always Sunny, the consensus is that it only started firing on all cylinders when Danny DeVito joined the cast in season 2. The end of the twelfth season saw Dennis (Glenn Howerton) walking dramatically out of the bar, and ever since, the rest of the cast have been carefully reticent to reveal if and how much Howerton will be involved with this new season. Nonetheless it’d be a shock if, at this stage, Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day weren’t able to write around that.
The Deuce | September 9 (HBO)
Over the course of the summer, HBO quietly retired its stock of, ahem, ‘rhythm’ movies from streaming and syndication. No longer will HBO’s viewers be able to enjoy such classic titles as Lord of the G-Strings and The Godfather’s Parts II. They will, however, get a glimpse into the sordid, smutty history of Times Square in the second season of David Simon and George Pelecanos’s The Deuce.
Pornography is a big fish in the world of entertainment, yet it’s never subject to as much analysis or reflection as you’d expect from a billion-dollar industry – which is, perhaps, an intrinsic risk with a genre whose viewers lose all interest after about twenty minutes. The Deuce, then, is a well-overdue look behind the cameras at how the industry actually operated – it’s fictionalised, but like Simon and Pelecanos’s previous work The Wire it draws heavily on true stories, and, in their words, ‘all of it could have happened’.
The Deuce has box office draws like Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Franco (doubling up, as he’s playing twin brothers) among its numbers, but especial praise goes to Gbenga Akinnagbe’s conflicted pimp Larry Brown. Akinnagbe plays intimidating black men incredibly well but also clearly has the acting chops to do more – and, being a veteran of The Wire, nobody would know this better than Simon and Pelecanos.
Kidding | September 9 (Showtime)
Rubber-faced funnyman and noted anti-vaxxer Jim Carrey returns to the small screen as children’s entertainer Mr. Pickles, a kind of even more beloved Mr. Rogers. Everything is sunny in the neighbourhood until unexpected tragedy strikes – and the man who’s given guidance and life advice to generations of young children must try and do the same for himself. This presumably meets with mixed successes, as it’s being billed as the kind of hard-edged comedy where it only hurts when you laugh.
While Carrey made his bones doing zany, kid-friendly stuff like Ace Venture and Dumb and Dumber, his acting career hit a new height when, with The Truman Show, he moved into more serious works – so a project that blends the two seems like an intuitive move for him. Plus, the show’s directed by Michel Gondry, who Carrey worked with before in the critically acclaimed Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind.
Carrey isn’t the only big name on show here, though – it also has Judy Greer, aka Cheryl ‘Cherlene’ Tunt of Archer and Kitty Schmidt of Arrested Development, with any luck playing someone equally high-strung.
Bojack Horseman | September 14 (Netflix)
A wiser man than me once put society’s great divide in the 2010s down to – not black or white, not left or right, but whether you like the happy cartoon horse show, or the sad cartoon horse show. In those terms it sounds infantile, but it comes back to the same sort of Yin-Yang, Apollonian-Dionysian divides society’s been grappling with since we came down from the trees.
(The happy cartoon horse show was of course My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.)
Unkind people might accuse old Bojack of being first-world problems incarnate, of being yet another show proudly displaying the everyday struggles of the unimaginably wealthy. But with the sheer depth and poignancy of the struggles at play here, you’d never mistake it for a Kardashian-branded product. Money helps, but it’s no surefire cure for the blues – as Robin Williams’s suicide finally confirmed for all those people who think depressives just need to cheer up.
Just as Rick and Morty found itself having to pull back from outright nihilism at the last moment, the previous series ended on a rare bright spot for Bojack – with the revelation that Hollyhock isn’t his biological daughter, but rather his bastard half-sister (though still about the only non-traumatic family relationship he had). And, with Princess Carolyn having forged his signature on a contract, he’s back at work doing a new TV show rather than wallowing in the pool slowly drinking himself to death.
King Lear | September 27 (Amazon)
I’m not above using my position to try and ram high culture down people’s throats – or, indeed, deferring to my inescapably snobby nature. I saw King Lear once with Sir Derek Jacobi as the lead, but if you wanted a definitive version and needed some steely-haired acting titan to fill Lear’s boots, you would reach for Sir Anthony Hannibal-the-Cannibal Hopkins. This is exactly what Amazon are doing this September, and probably what you would too if you had as much money as them to chuck around.
Lear is the classic tale of a powerful ruler who allows himself to be blinded by idle flattery, and has everything go terribly wrong for him. One hesitates to make yet another trite, mocking reference to a certain American President, but if he will be so brazen about following along with the last person to pay him a nice compliment then that’s really on him – Lear, I mean. While Hoppy’s obviously the main event, it’s also got Emma Thompson, Emily Watson, and Florence Pugh as Lear’s daughters.
Rather than being a straight period piece, as most of Shakespeare’s work has become over the past half-millennium, this adaptation takes place in an alternate-universe iteration of London, which has become a militarised, MegaCity One-style nightmare – you know, not like the real London at all. This is fairly common with adaptations of Shakespeare, with one particularly good example being the little-known TV series Macbeth On The Estate, which kept the dialogue antiquated but placed the action in the slums of contemporary Glasgow.