Robin is a journalist with a long rap sheet of jobs in TV magazines, from Radio Times to the Daily Mirror's We Love Telly.
Sky Atlantic, starts Saturday, 18 February, 9pm
The pedigree of this HBO series is first class. It’s written by Deadwood creator David Milch, the opener’s directed by Michael Mann and the cast includes Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Farina, Nick Nolte and Michael Gambon.
It’s set in a world that horse-racing enthusiast Milch understands well, that of the trainers, jockeys, agents and ‘degenerate gamblers’ found trackside at beautiful Santa Anita Park in California. In the opener we meet Chester ‘Ace’ Bernstein as he leaves prison after a three-year stretch.
He is picked up by his bodyguard, Gus (Farina), who is fronting as the owner of a $2million thoroughbred secretly bought by Ace. Ace, imprisoned for being involved in several rackets, has to keep his distance from racing.
What unfolds – very slowly – is that Ace took the rap for a partner’s crime, and seems to be putting together some kind of revenge against those who betrayed him.
Be warned, this is not Midsomer Murders. It is sophisticated and slow, and the viewer needs to work at it, in the same way audiences had to attune to The Wire. Hoffman’s not even in the opener that much and it takes a while – probably two or three episodes – to get the hang of what is happening.
But it is deceptively slow, like an outsider coming up on the railings. It looks amazing, and the characters are not the gorgeous Hollywood types who inhabit your CSIs and Desperate Housewives, but grizzled, sometimes downbeat and very believable.
For my money, Luck is yet another HBO series that puts British television drama, and its obsession with costume dramas and police procedurals, to shame. For the patient punter, it’s definitely worth backing.
Channel 4, starts Sunday, 19 February, 9.30pm
It has its daft moments, but this contemporary thriller starring Damian Lewis and Claire Danes really gets its hooks into you.
Danes is the rather on-edge CIA officer Carrie Mathison. She becomes convinced that Sgt Nicholas Brody, a soldier thought killed in Iraq but who turns up after eight years as a terrorist prisoner, is not the hero he seems. She has information that an American soldier was ’turned’ as a prisoner – could it be that Brody is about to turn terrorist in the US?
Trouble is, Carrie’s recklessness means she is discredited and few at the CIA will listen to her call for Brody to be put under surveillance. Meanwhile, Brody is suffering from post-traumatic stress and has to rebuild his marriage and get to know his two children, who barely remember him.
The drama is packed with ambiguity and revelations. Claire Danes, who won the best actress Golden Globe for her performance, is tough but brittle as the loose cannon agent. Damian Lewis’s role is more gruelling as the marine who’s been physically and psychologically put through the wringer.
Homeland not only also won the Golden Globe for best series, it is said to be President Obama’s favourite show. But even without the White House seal of approval, this is a gripper.
Those Who Kill
ITV3, starts Thursday, 23 February, 10pm
ITV3 is following BBC4’s lead and joining the Scandi crime spree with this dark series about a special unit of Copenhagen’s police force that tracks down serial killers.
The stories are based on the novels of Elsebeth Egholm. In episode one we meet detective inspector Katrine Ries Jensen (Laura Bach), a young high-flier whose career is put on hold when she has to shoot a violent man while she is investigating the discovery of a woman’s body in the woods.
Being insubordinate, she goes against the orders of her boss, Bisgaard (The Killing’s Lars Mikkelsen), and gets back on the case. She enlists the help of forensic psychologist Thomas Schaeffer (Jakob Cedergren).
This again goes against the wishes of Bisgaard but bears fruit when the investigators quickly discover four more corpses in the woods.
While Jensen is not as intriguing or enigmatic as Sarah Lund in The Killing, she is still a strong character in what is a grisly and atmospheric drama.
BBC4, Saturdays 9pm
The Beeb has started showing a full 10-part series of this Sicily-set detective series based on Andrea Camilleri’s popular novels.
The series does a decent job of capturing the novels’ Sicilian ambience, along with Salvo Montalbano’s exasperation with idiot colleague Catarella and occasionally tricky relationship with Livia – to whom his loyalty is sometimes split in favour of a wonderful lone meal at Calogero’s.
Luca Zingaretti catches the wit and wiliness of Montalbano well, and the Sicilian setting (actually the town of Ragusa) looks like heaven during these winter months.
Kidnap and Ransom 2
ITV1, starts Thursday, 23 February, 9pm
Hostage negotiator Dominic King (Trevor Eve) looks as though he’s wrapped up another knife-edge exchange when the Mehta family is released in Srinagar, Kashmir, after he hands over a ransom.
That is until the trigger-happy cops show up and a shoot-outs erupts. The family’s son, Mehta, who they’d been visiting, is in turn kidnapped as gun-toting Anwar and Leela drag him onto a hijacked bus.
This second series is as slick and tension-packed as the first, which had big ratings for ITV1 of 6million. It’s another drama with a good team behind it, including writer Michael Crompton (Silent Witness) and creator Patrick Harbinson (24, Law & Order, ER).
It’s produced by Trevor Eve’s company Projector Pictures, and one thing it gets right is the amount of research that’s done into the type of people who become hostage negotiators in real life, ex-military people with broken marriages who can’t resist the adrenaline fix.
Eve is good as the frowning go-between, juggling his three mobiles and trying to stay one step ahead of the kidnappers – and the police – particularly when it turns out one of the hostages on the bus is more important than anyone realised at first. Fasten your seat belts…