It’s officially Spooktober, official month of Spookyween, the Spookiest time of the whole Spooky year – ok, they’ve gone. The pumpkin marketing board have insisted I use the word ‘spooky’ at least once in every clause, otherwise they’ll harm my family. Every day I wake up and the fields of orange creep nearer to my window.
Here are the biggest new TV shows of October 2020.
1. Cobra | October 4
You know the general sort of way this year’s been? The pandemic, the fires, the protests? Well, wouldn’t it be apt if the lights all went off as well? This is the scenario posited by Cobra, with the country’s political leaders holed up in a small, airless room while things outside all go to pot.
Cobra first aired in the UK back in January, but its approach of throwing something bleak at the wall now seems oddly prescient. You have to wonder, though, will it now be running headlong into an audience suffering from crisis fatigue, or will people find an odd sort of catharsis in seeing a different crisis played out?
Perhaps it’s not so bleak as it might seem. Contra reality, Cobra has Robert Carlyle – a generally engaging, likable figure – in the role of Prime Minister. And despite the scenes of general panic and chaos in the trailer, there’s also time for some jumpy kissing scenes, in what could well be a dangerously tacked-on romantic subplot.
2. The Haunting Of Bly Manor | October 9
The Haunting Of Bly Manor isn’t technically the same show as the lauded The Haunting Of Hill House, but nonetheless it’s a second season in all but name. There’s another house, another hapless family, and god knows probably another dark secret that still haunts them all.
There’s probably a fair argument to be made for splitting the horror genre into those works which have jumpscares, and those which don’t. The problem with the jumpscare is that it makes horror too easy – if you have a scary face jump at the camera and make a lot of noise, you could turn The Teletubbies into something quite alarming. But therein lies the difference. Without a trick like that, you have to rely on things like atmosphere and tension, both of which The Haunting Of Hill House had in spades.
Of course, what most fans will be looking forward to is the return of the background ghosts – they don’t really do anything scary, just hang out in the backs of shots, slightly out of focus – the Where’s Waldo? of the horror genre. For every one you spot, take a shot of your favourite clear liquor.
3. Helstrom | October 16
Off the back of the various Hauntings Of, it does seem like the horror genre’s more effectively incorporating family drama nowadays – rather than the old approach of bloody-mindedly sticking them both in the same work no matter how crappy or trite it turned out.
Here, the family drama in question is something like The Exorcist in reverse – where it is the mother who’s possessed by demons. It’s not strictly a straight horror, though, as it’s another Marvel property, so there’s a contractual obligation to include a certain amount of superpowers, action sequences, and hurling people through plate-glass windows.
Superhero properties, too, seem to be working with families or family-like groupings more, e.g. The Umbrella Academy – which, like this, involves a non-present father figure who casts an incredibly long shadow. This one might be the same constant source of neuroses, or otherwise could end up an evil and charismatic final boss.
4. The Queen’s Gambit | October 23
Love it or hate it, chess isn’t immediately one for the large or small screen. It’s got all the fun of sitting still and being quiet, no argument there, but for relatable drama you’re going to have to bring in the people behind the pieces. Even then there’s a mighty big step between being a chess grandmaster and being a rockstar, no matter how many paparazzi scenes the show puts in.
What can perhaps save that dynamic here is the idea that Anya Taylor-Joy’s chess prodigy is being driven cuckoo by the press attention and the pressures of the sport – an improvement on the usual story of the celebrity protagonist simply taking too much coke. The trailer suggests her character’s family has a history of madness, but that presumably pales into insignificance next to the way people react to – gasp – a woman playing chess.
The real challenge, of course, will be to make the game of chess thrilling and dramatic. Having the players lose it a bit and start thinking the pieces are real may not be the most tasteful way to do that (or, indeed, really fit the tone of the show), but it’s either that or an incredibly intense inner monologue running through the whole thing.
5. The Undoing | October 25
Nicole Kidman finds herself mixed up in a horrible murder investigation, Donald Sutherland hangs about being distinguished and knowing, and Hugh Grant continues his game attempt to only be a lovable cad while in front of the cameras.
It’s hard to glean much from the trailer, which favours the style of incredibly short shots of people running about and shouting – actions which could be anything from The West Wing to Nightmare On Elm Street. The few coherent bits of dialogue point to the somewhat Wild-Westian aspects of being incredibly rich, so presumably that murder is the start of the uncovered misdeeds, not the end.
Even if it is just the one murder, though, for the same reasons it’s unlikely to be the standard procedural. The powerful can throw all kinds of spanners in the works of an investigation – not limited, of course, to mysterious and unlikely-seeming suicides.
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