5 TV shows you should be watching in July

Mike McCahill

From entertainment heavyweights to thoughtful travelogues, here's the very best of what’s on the small screen this month.

Better Call Saul: Season 3 

A recurring image from this engrossing Breaking Bad prequel’s third run is that of men patiently stripping insulation, tape or wire from their walls. Inch by inch: that’s how Better Call Saul operates, each slowburn instalment edging us closer to the moment where hack lawyer Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) will scatter his remaining scruples and assume his outlaw Saul Goodman persona.

Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s peerlessly performed study of moral compromise here describes a tipping point in the agonised struggle between Jimmy and enfeebled older brother Chuck (Michael McKean): nothing will be the same henceforth.

What is it? One of recent TV’s more distinctive and inventive spinoffs.

Why should I watch it? If you loved Breaking Bad, but felt it traded depth for momentum.

Where did we leave it? With Chuck springing the professional trap he’d set for his brother.

Best episode? Given its legal backdrop, Saul has been sparing with actual courtroom activity; fifth episode “Chicanery”, however, sees Jimmy and Chuck finally squaring off before a competency hearing.

Best character? Though technically a supporting player, Jonathan Banks’s fixer Mike has come to set the show’s very particular tone: watchful, wry, but ruthless when required.

Watch on: Netflix 

 

 

Fargo: Season 3 

After two seasons in which showrunner Noah Hawley expanded the Coen brothers’ off-kilter “true crime” universe in unexpected and rewarding directions (Martin Freeman as a stone-cold killer! UFOs!), this third run suffers from early wobbles, not least the accents Ewan McGregor assumes as twin Minnesotans—one rich, one poor—caught in an especially petty rivalry.

Yet Hawley’s leftfield wordplay and yarn-spinning and his gift for generating wickedly written and played character parts soon steadies matters: the foibles of these shambling, blundering mortals prove every bit as darkly entertaining as in previous instalments.

What is it? Darkly comic pulp fiction, only tangentially related to the movie.

Why should I watch it? Because Hawley and team may have a tighter grip on the plot then the Coens do.

Where did we leave it? Each series is a standalone, unfolding a new story within the same warped universe—so don’t be afraid to jump in.

Best episode? Episode Three clears welcome screen time for Carrie Coon as the cop investigating this fraternal fallout—another warm creation in the lineage of Frances McDormand’s Marge.

Best character? David Thewlis provides jolts of rude energy as Mr. Varga, an all-devouring vulgarian representing the worst excesses of corporate greed.

Watch on: C4; All4

 

  

Frankie Boyle’s New World Order 

What to do with an abrasive talent like Frankie Boyle? After the storm around one of his more off-colour Mock the Week jokes, the BBC confined the performer’s unsparing wit to sporadic iPlayer exclusives. There, at least, his producers and directors hit upon a solution: team Boyle with on-point female comics (Sara Pascoe, Katherine Ryan) who mollify his rougher edges, and pull him back from the nihilist brink.

New world order, indeed: this tart, provocative run of post-election specials sees Boyle restored to prime-time, as scabrous as ever, yet with his instincts newly sharpened. Politicians beware…

What is it? One of our most uncompromising comics dips a toe back into the terrestrial schedules, and promptly gives the Establishment a shoeing.

Why should I watch it? If you feel Have I Got News for You has become a touch cosy.

Best episode? It’s a tentative, four-show series—you can sense how nervous the suits have become around Boyle—but the rolling-guest format both dilutes and focuses the host’s (usually righteous) anger, and allows for unusual shifts in tone: Episode Three developed into an unexpectedly sober discussion of the failures of the authorities around the Grenfell Tower tragedy.  

Watch on: BBC2; BBC iPlayer

 

 

Ryan Gander: The Idea of Japan 

Genuinely informative arts programming remains an endangered species, but BBC4, at least, keeps fighting the good fight. Here, in a one-off doc originally screened as part of the channel’s Japan season, Ryan Gander—one of our most playful and likable conceptual artists—travels East to interpret the flashing neon signs and other wonders on display in Tokyo and beyond.

Samurais, geishas, yakuza: in this engaging, thoughtful travelogue, Gander peers beyond those naggingly stereotypical images we in the West have come to associate with the country and—in his own idiosyncratic yet accessible manner—starts to examine their true meaning.

What is it? A spherical-headed Northerner who once cited semi-forgotten kids’ cartoon The Croods in a notable work of contemporary art, fronts an hour-long special on the codes and customs of our Oriental cousins. Consider it the thinking person’s An Idiot Abroad.

Why should I watch it? Because it’s unusual to see a travelogue that matches its eye-catching widescreen images with such a sustained consideration of ideas—but then Gander’s as clear and reliable a thinker as he is a communicator. And he has a great line on Godzilla here.

Watch on: BBC iPlayer, until July 13

 

    

You’re the Worst: Season 2 

The “grotcom”—a two-fingered retort to the aspirational sitcom, showcasing reprobates who couldn’t be any less like Ross and Rachel—is a relatively recent development on US TV. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia—set around a dead-end bar—has become the brand leader, but it faces competition from this waspish LA-set series, charting the mucky courtship of self-involved English writer Jimmy (Chris Geere) and heavy-drinking music-biz wildcat Gretchen (Aya Cash).

Season Two, banished to 5Star’s Sunday night witching hour, takes one major risk in dramatising why Gretchen boozes: amazingly, we might yet care about these trash-talking screw-ups.

What is it? A twisted, yet oddly truthful, modern romance from Weeds scribe Stephen Falk.

Why should I watch it? Because it travels far beyond the normal boundaries of taste and decency—while remaining cringingly funny.

Where did we leave it? With our lovers hesitantly committing to being exclusive. Now what?

Best episode? Episode Seven, “There Is Not Currently a Problem”, sees Falk using Jimmy’s obsessive mouse hunt to expose his characters’ wounded psychology.

Best character? Least toxic may be more appropriate—but amid an admirably non-vain ensemble, the helium-voiced, cartoon-curvy Kether Donohue, as Gretchen’s superficial BFF Lindsay, is a star-in-waiting.  

Watch on: 5Star; My5

 

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