Spring has well and truly sprung, the weather’s getting tolerable again, and people are going outside more – which is a shame, because if they’d had any sense they’d be inside, with the curtains firmly shut to keep the light off the screen. The golden age of television is by no means over, and here’s what May has waiting for us:
Archer: Danger Island
Strap yourself in for a ride on the highway to the danger zone – FX’s spy comedy Archer is finally returning for its ninth season. This is cheating slightly since the first episode aired at the end of April, but it’s been a long time coming, and what’s a few days between pals?
Calling it a ‘spy’ comedy is perhaps inaccurate – Archer still has all his James Bond-ish swagger, but since season 5 the show’s been chopping and changing the central formula with each new season so as to keep things fresh (and everyone reading this can think of at least one animated show that’s failed to do so). Last season’s extended coma-fantasy ultimately turned out to be a tribute to the deceased George Coe’s character Woodhouse, who was in many ways the MVP.
Having tried their hands at cocaine distribution, contracting for the CIA (but I repeat myself), private investigation, and ‘40s noir, this time around the subtitle is ‘Danger Island’ – with the trailer making liberal use of the various tropes of old adventure serials. For the closest analogy, think Indiana Jones, or rather everything Spielberg and Lucas stole from other works to create it. Per creator Adam Reed, this is still taking place in Archer’s coma – which provides greater flexibility in terms of setting, but they never had much trouble on that front anyway, given the never-specified timeframe. However, Reed has also said that this season will see the return of Archer and Mallory’s wonderfully dysfunctional mother-son relationship, citing its omission from Dreamland as a misstep.
The Scandi-noir genre has carved out its own niche in recent television history with shows such as The Killing and The Bridge – the latter was adapted in the UK, US, and Russia, with the titular bridge between Denmark and Sweden being replaced by the Channel Tunnel, the Bridge of the Americas, and the Narva railway bridge respectively. Now, after confining itself largely to really, really grim police procedurals, Scandi-noir branches out into post-apocalyptic survival with Netflix’s The Rain.
When some sort of king-hell water-borne virus wipes out most of the population (leading, per the trailer, to lots of juicy scenes of panic and chaos), a brother and sister are squirrelled away in a hermetically sealed bunker by their father, who goes out to look for help. Some five years later, they figure he’s not coming back, go out to get the measure of the situation, and are almost immediately jumped by a ragtag bunch of marauders. The Rain promises group dynamics reminiscent of The 100 and an after-the-end setting like 28 Days Later in the unforgiving Nordic climate, and premieres May 4th.
On May 13th PBS begin broadcasting their adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic coming-of-age American Civil War novel. Helming the project is Heidi Thomas, creator of Call The Midwife and as such no stranger to putting the authentic touches on historical drama – although this time she’ll be having to fare without the BBC’s fearsome bank of period costumes.
Being a big-time adaptation of a well-known story (this is the sixth time the novel’s been adapted for television), it can boast a fairly all-star cast, with Angela Lansbury appearing as Aunt March, Emily Watson as Marmee March, and Michael ‘Dumbledore’ Gambon as Mr. Laurence. It’ll also be introducing Maya Hawke as Jo March, one of the central four little women – Hawke is the daughter of established stars Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, and is to appear in the much-awaited season 3 of Stranger Things in 2019.
Israeli drama Fauda (lit. ‘Chaos’ in Arabic) returns to Netflix for its second series on May 24th. A cat-and-mouse thriller with heavy political elements, Fauda is approximately as action-packed and gratuitously violent as living in the West Bank actually is.
While the first season was a fictionalised story drawing on creators Lior Raz and Avi Issacharoff’s experiences in the Israeli Defence Forces, the second season is supposedly going to be based directly upon real-life events. And given that the first season was filmed on location during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, one would imagine they’re not playing around when they say that.
Despite the premise – Israeli special forces tough-boy is dragged reluctantly out of retirement to go after some particularly bad dudes – sounding eerily like 24 with no moral restraints, the show provides a fairly nuanced take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The dialogue is a mishmash of Hebrew and Arabic, reflecting how it takes place in a land very much at war with itself, and crucially, the Hamas characters aren’t one-dimensional villains – an aspect the critics weren’t slow to pick up on, lauding the show for that element. The first season made sufficient waves internationally that the show had a third season confirmed last year, before the second was even broadcast in Israel.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Tina Fey’s kooky comedy’s fourth season starts on May 30th – and even if the fish-out-of-water setup’s wearing thin by now, given that Kimmy’s been out of the doomsday bunker and living in the real world for a good three years now, the strength of the writing and ensemble cast more than make up for it. Ellie Kemper is particularly strong in the lead role, bringing to it a joie de vivre that never seems unrealistic – she’s basically got the kind of charm that everyone seems to have wrongly seen in Zooey Deschanel.
Unusually, the fourth season is planned to be split in two parts, with the first six episodes to be aired from May 30th onward, and the second half of the season to be aired sometime later this year – which a cynic might put down to only shows released before May 31st being eligible for Emmy consideration.
The only onion in this particular ointment is that the show has recurring problems with its depiction of race, going back to Kimmy’s boss, Jacqueline, who it transpires is Native American by birth and only passes for white. Which would have been fine had Jacqueline been played by a Native American actress, rather than the Polish Jane Krakowski. It’s a small thing, but that’s just the problem – it’s so small it would have been almost too easy to deal with in the first place.