The best of the TV week ahead with Paul Whitington
House of Cards returns to Netflix this week - season three was streamed in its entirety from yesterday.
House of Cards, Netflix, any time.
Kevin Spacey returns as the oily and odious Carolina congressman, Frank Underwood, who's now in the White House but finding the going tough.
To date, Frank has resorted to subterfuge, election-rigging, murder and quite possibly treason in his campaign to become the world's most powerful person, and in season two, he inveigled his way into the vice presidency, then blackmailed the president into resigning, leaving the way clear for himself.
But in season three it's a case of be careful what you wish for, as Frank and his equally chilling wife Claire (Robin Wright) find themselves surrounded by backstabbers and enemies. In America, they say that becoming president is the easy part, it's being president that's the killer: season three opens six months after Frank's crafty coup, and he's hardly flavour of the moment. Unemployment is soaring, his ambitious jobs bill is languishing in congress and his ratings are in the toilet. And to make matters worse, Underwood's international ambitions are being thwarted by the Russian president, a Putin-like trickster who's clearly out to cause trouble.
Critics of House of Cards have complained about its uneasy mix of Washington realities and wildly implausible, almost soap-like plot-lines. But no one can deny that it's hugely entertaining, a kind of heady cross between Macbeth, The West Wing and Dallas. And after his easy ride from political obscurity to the top job, old Frank is overdue a spot of adversity.
Misery in 18th-century Australia
Banished, Thursday, BBC2, 9pm
Jimmy McGovern is one of the greatest TV screenwriters of the last 30 years. His credits include Cracker, The Lakes and Hillsborough, and in this intriguing new seven-part historical drama he explores the grim reality of life for those unlucky enough to be transported to Australia. MyAnna Buring and Julian Rhind-Tutt play young lovers whose relationship is forbidden in a harsh New South Wales colony where rations are sparing and injustice and violence are rife.
Blood and snow
Fargo, Netflix, any time
I didn’t get to watch this FX crime series when it arrived on Channel 4 last year, but I must say, it’s a bit of a treat. Like the Coen brothers’ movie that inspired it, Fargo is an uneasy mix of humour and violence and stars the excellent Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard, a very unhappily married Minnesota salesman whose life is changed forever when he bumps into Malvo, a hitman and sociopath played with chilling flair by Billy Bob Thornton. Not for the squeamish, but beautifully made.
Oscar the grouch is back
The Odd Couple, CBS, 2015
Some of you may not remember the original Odd Couple, a glorious 1960s comic movie based on a Neil Simon play that was later turned into a long-running TV sitcom. This CBS remake is apparently pretty good, and offers Matthew Perry his best chance yet to do something meaningful post-Friends. He is Oscar Madison, a grouchy, unkempt sports writer who’s horrified when his fussy old friend Felix Unger moves in after his marriage breaks up. Could be worth watching out for.