Including Ratched and The Third Day
From origin stories to miscarriages of justice, here are new shows for your small screens
The Third Day ★★★★☆
If you didn't know what a causeway was before watching The Third Day, by the end you'll be well aware of its effectiveness in a paranoid conspiracy thriller. Across the separate but interconnected sections of this sprawling seven-part drama, Sam (Jude Law) and Helen (Naomie Harris) both drive from the Essex mainland out to the very creepy Osea Island. As a stifling sense of danger mounts, they are given plenty warning that the causeway will soon close, providing them with a chance to return to safety. But what with this being a paranoid conspiracy thriller, no one is ever going to take that opportunity, so the sinister atmosphere of the island (full of weird symbols and animal corpses and scary sounds) starts to clings to their bones and chills the audience as we try to work out exactly what is going on.
At this point, a spot of admin is required: The Third Day has three episodes entitled 'Summer' (starring Law in possibly the best performance of his career), a one-off live theatrical event 'Autumn' (to be aired on Sky Arts on 3 October), and finally 'Winter', another trio of episodes in which Helen and her two daughters head for a birthday break to the island that none of them are likely to forget. Osea's permanent residents include Paddy Considine and Emily Watson as the Martins (he's compliant, she's foul-mouthed), a wedded pair who attempt (usually without success) to assert a reassuring calm upon visitors to the island.
It should be most reviewers' duty to reveal as little plot as possible ahead of screening, but there's nothing to be lost by reporting that a strong Wicker Man/Race With The Devil vibe emanates from the screen as the festivalling island takes a demonic hold of both Sam and Helen's belief in reality. Not since the doors were bolted shut at the Red Wedding are viewers likely to have felt such terrible foreboding as the island starts closing in on these trapped souls.
Created by Dennis 'Utopia' Kelly and Punchdrunk's artistic director Felix Barrett, The Third Day is yet another example that Sky (and especially its Atlantic wing) is truly ahead of the small-screen game with drama, emotion and originality.
Sky Atlantic, starts Tuesday 15 September, 9pm. All episodes of 'Summer' available on NOW TV, Tuesday 15 September.
In adapting his own 2014 novel Us, David Nicholls returns once again to that formative era of higher education and the post-grad period of finding yourself, through the sad story of the Petersen family. Douglas (Tom Hollander) and Connie (Saskia Reeves) are about to be hit by empty-nest syndrome as their son Albie (Tom Taylor) prepares to leave for college. Matters are made even worse for Douglas when Connie expresses her intention to leave him. Still, one final family summer holiday, with the trio travelling across Europe, might bring them all together or split them forever apart.
As we track their misadventures on the continent, the drama flits back and forth with Douglas (an overly organised biochemist) and Connie (a flighty artistic type) meeting as early twentysomethings before becoming the archetypal odd couple and starting a family. There are various walls of sadness separating the three main characters, which the writing elegantly brings out through phrases and behaviour echoed from Douglas and Connie's period of courtship.
Albie's negative attitudes towards having to share space on the planet with his pesky parents (especially Douglas who tries his best but rarely hides some disappointment over his son's choices) does wear a bit thin with Taylor veering from exasperation to irritation and fury with pretty much the same blank expression, while Sofie Gråbøl (The Killing's Sarah Lund) makes a welcome return to screens as a solo traveller. Thankfully pitched at a tidy four episodes, Us has a warm affability thanks to its leads and some indisputably spot-on music choices to remind us when emotional bits are on the way as it inches towards an epiphany of sorts.
BBC One, starts Sunday 20 September, 9pm.
Horror is not the easiest genre for TV to tackle. But after the success of his American Horror Story anthology series, Ryan Murphy is having another stab at it with Ratched. This origin story of the nasty nurse in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest plays with our sympathies towards Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson in fine simmering form) as she veers from sadistic (revelling in a botched lobotomy) to empathic (halting one particularly cruel 'treatment' in which another nurse attempts to 'cure' a patient's sexuality with the aid of an increasingly hot bath) while she seeks to gain influence at the lavish Lucia psychiatric facility in California in order to solve a highly personal dilemma.
Inserting some germs of humanity into Ratched delivers a confusion in the watcher as we try to second-guess how she became the callous monster who later ruled Salem State Hospital on a diet of shock therapy and public humiliation. Alongside Paulson, Judy Davis excels as the equally mean Nurse Bucket who later lets slip her own inherent decency, while Sharon Stone sizzles as a mother seeking bloody revenge for the mutilation of her son by Lucia's pioneering surgeon Dr Hanover (Jon Jon Briones). Kudos also to Sophie Okonedo as a disturbed patient with multi-personality disorder and Vincent D'Onofrio as a conniving state governor who manipulates Lucia for his own political gain.
You may have to adjust the contrast on your screen as the bold primary colours threaten to overwhelm rather than compliment the action, while the score literally plunders from previous gothic nightmares of Vertigo and Cape Fear. Frequently shocking and occasionally impressive, Ratched is ultimately a confused hotch-potch of styles, influences and motivations which distract rather than enthral.
Netflix, Friday 18 September.
The Forgotten West Memphis Three ★★☆☆☆
Former firefighter Bob Ruff has forged a reputation for his dogged pursuit of truth and justice through his cold-case podcasts. Overturning wrongful convictions has been his game, but in the case of The Forgotten West Memphis Three, a trio imprisoned for the brutal murders in 1993 of three eight-year-old boys were released after almost 20 years inside (one of whom spent that time on death row). His task here is to solve the crime with the help of various experts (including a scientist fully versed in the violent tendencies of turtles) in order to get justice for the continually suffering families and to fully clear the names of those convicted: suspicion will still be cast over them until the day that the real killer (or killers) is revealed.
Despite an admirably rigorous and often pulse-racing investigation across this two-parter, Ruff's exploration is stymied by the country district attorney refusing to return any of his calls. It's not quite the dramatic climax that anyone connected with this two-part, three-hour documentary would have wished for, but Ruff and his production team attempt to make this finale as exciting as a courtroom showdown. It's impossible to escape the feeling that a non-negotiable deadline was imposed on Ruff to reach the bottom of this mystery, and having failed in that mission, the best was made of a disappointing denouement. While you can't fault Ruff for his determination, The Forgotten West Memphis Three two-parter is the dictionary definition of a damp squib.
Sky Crime, starts Sunday 20 September, 9pm.
The Singapore Grip ★★☆☆☆
Unless you're a right-wing academic or particularly blinkered Brexiteer, it's a self-evident truth that some pretty horrendous things happened in the name of the British Empire. Slavery, exploitation, discrimination, atrocities bordering on genocide, that kind of thing. ITV's latest cosy Sunday evening dramatic fare, The Singapore Grip, adapted from the 1978 JG Farrell novel, is an attempt at cutting satire on colonialism, but on the evidence of the two episodes available for review, lands few blows and instead offers its own version of lazy stereotyping.
Set in 1942, this six-parter focuses on the English families who lorded it over Singapore, just before the Japanese stormed in to take control in a chapter of wartime history which continues to shame and embarrass Britain. David Morrissey plays Blackett, a raffish and amoral businessman whose rubber business booms when his more egalitarian partner Webb (Charles Dance) passes away (his deathbed uttering of 'rising sun' is hardly the stuff of 'Rosebud'-esque mystery). Blackett's wife is a one-dimensional moaning machine which gives the excellent Jane Horrocks little to work with, while their offspring are uniformly ghastly.
The one prominent Asian character on show, Elizabeth Tan's Vera Chiang, is introduced to us on each occasion with a score infused by 'exotic' eastern ambience. As appalling as that is, it does afford us a break from a dominant big-band soundtrack which brings to mind, whether accidental or not, a jovial Jeeves and Wooster farce.
There is some vague idealism expressed in Webb's son Matthew (Luke Treadaway), but he spends much of the time attempting to get people to tell him what exactly a Singapore grip is. The fact that they keep putting him off the scent is the programme's idea of a hilarious running joke. Relentlessly poor and not especially gripping, this has the feel of a series that will be abandoned in swathes with each passing Sunday.
ITV, Sundays, 9pm.