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John Boland’s week in TV: Rhea Seehorn is beating heart of unbeatable Better Call Saul


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Heading for the darkside: Rhea Seehorn and Bob Odenkirk in  Better Call Saul

Heading for the darkside: Rhea Seehorn and Bob Odenkirk in Better Call Saul

Heading for the darkside: Rhea Seehorn and Bob Odenkirk in Better Call Saul

When the first season of Better Call Saul (Netflix) made its debut in 2015, I'd never heard of Rhea Seehorn and neither had most other people. But as Jimmy McGill's girlfriend and fellow lawyer Kim Wexler, she became the drama's beating heart and now registers as one of the finest acting presences on television.

Life, though, is not being kind to her character, who spent the first four seasons of this show trying to reconcile her love for the feckless Jimmy with her ingrained wish to do the right thing, both ethically and morally, in her dealings with others - not least with Jimmy himself, whose actions always tested her sense of propriety.

And so she was in an unhappy place throughout this week's opening episodes of the fifth season, only too aware of the change in Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) who, at the close of season four, had gone from being the dodgy but loveable man she thought she knew to one succumbing to his dark side - rebranding himself as Saul Goodman and seemingly set on the ruthless path that would make him such an unsettling figure in Breaking Bad.

All of Kim's concerns about this disturbing new Jimmy were captured in Seehorn's nuanced, subtle but very affecting playing, and you had the terrible sense of someone being dragged down against her will to accommodate the demands of her still beguiling lover.

Will she escape his emotional clutches or will she suffer some dreadful outcome? They're the questions being asked by apprehensive viewers who recall that Kim's character never featured in Breaking Bad. Well, given that a sixth and final season has yet to come, presumably she'll be around a while longer.

As will frightening drug baron Gus Fring and lugubrious assassin Mike, both of whom become key figures in Breaking Bad. And creator Vince Gilligan continues to excel with a drama that's even more quirky and arresting than the original landmark drama from which it came.

Indeed, it makes all the other dramas on offer this week seem positively pedestrian, though Last Tango in Halifax (BBC1) made a welcome return. This Sally Wainwright soap opera about two widowed people finding late-life love and marriage was always commendable for its sharp script, and it is still sparky in its take on humdrum lives.

And it's greatly enhanced by the playing of Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid as the elderly couple, and by Sarah Lancashire and Nicola Walker as their middle-aged daughters. But when is Sally Wainwright going to give us a third season of Happy Valley, that outstanding crime drama starring Lancashire as a beleaguered North of England policewoman?

In the meantime, there's a second season of Blood (Virgin One). The first season had the distinction, for an Irish-made drama, of being not bad at all - a slow-burning but atmospheric story, created and written by Sophie Petzal, in which troubled daughter Cat (Carolina Main) suspected her doctor father Jim (Adrian Dunbar) of killing her mother.

To be honest, I can't recall quite how it ended, but now, with Petzal again the scriptwriter, Jim is back in his rural homeland after a year away and his other daughter, Fiona, is acting strangely. Jim also has to contend with locals who remain suspicious of him. Meanwhile, drug-dealing thugs seem set on creating violent mayhem.

In this week's opening episode there was no sign of estranged daughter Cat, which was a pity, but Dunbar was again a commanding presence as the concerned but somewhat furtive Jim, while Gráinne Keenan was persuasively unsettled as the troubled Fiona. I'll stick with it.

The series is not to be confused with Flesh and Blood (Virgin One), which ran over four successive nights this week on ITV but is being rationed out over four weeks for Irish consumption.

This involves the meeting up of recently widowed Vivien (Francesca Annis) and retired surgeon Mark, played in familiar hangdog fashion by Stephen Rea. But her three adult children, all of them with baggage of their own, doubt his earnestly expressed courting of their mother. There's also a nosey neighbour, played by Imelda Staunton, who may not be as harmless as everyone thinks.

Or you could try The Twilight Zone (SyFy), which is a rebooting of some episodes originally made famous in the late 1950s and early 1960s by Rod Serling. The rebooting has been done by Jordan Peele, who's currently a critics' darling for his unsettling comedy horrors, Get Out and Us, and he also narrates the stories.

The only one I've so far seen is 'Nightmare at 30,000 Feet', in which an airline passenger listens to a podcast about an air disaster that seems to be describing the flight he's currently taking. Not bad but in no way distinguished and not as frightening as the much leaner Serling original.

Meanwhile, you could get your fill of "design legend" architect Hugh Wallace on RTÉ1 this week. There he was hosting The Great House Revival and there he was again on the new series of Home of the Year, delivering his bumptious verdicts. Before you know it, RTÉ will have him presenting the Nine O'Clock news.

In this week's Home of the Year (RTE1), he said "Wow!" to a period house in Dublin. He also thought it "fabulous" and "wonderful", with a colour scheme that "takes your breath away". Interior designer Deirdre Whelan, for her part, deemed it both "amazing" and "fantastic".

Down in Co Meath, Hugh was of the opinion that three barns joined together were not only "a beautiful architectural statement" but "just wonderful", too. Whatever you say, Hugh.

Indo Review