The Blacklist a TV highlight

By Nick Grant

Five new series begin this week; not all are good.

Chris Lilley in Ja'ime Private Schoolgirl. Photo / Comedy Central
Chris Lilley in Ja'ime Private Schoolgirl. Photo / Comedy Central

Today I'd intended to preview five shows that kick off on Mediaworks' channels over the coming week: new New Zealand reality show The Great Food Race, US drama The Blacklist, and animation series Family Guy, American Dad, and Bob's Burgers.

However, due to some kind of technical hiccup, none was available for viewing before deadline time.

In the case of The Great Food Race that's a relief. Watching what sounds like the logical conclusion of reality television's ever diminishing returns was always going to be a duty call, at best.

Although someone clearly thought combining MasterChef with The Amazing Race was a recipe for television gold, I find the concept utterly unappetising and, as such, at 7pm tonight I'll be doing pretty much anything but tuning in.

The Blacklist (also tonight, 8.30pm, on TV3), however, is another matter entirely. Ever since he starred in 1989's Sex, Lies, and Videotape as a creepy/charming drifter with intimacy issues and VHS camcorder, I have found James Spader's work immensely entertaining, especially when it involves his specialty of portraying supercilious sociopaths somewhere on the continuum between smarmily suave and socially inept.

In The Blacklist, he plays a former US operative gone rogue who, after decades of avoiding capture, turns himself in with the offer of helping authorities bring down the world's worst criminals, on the proviso that a specific female FBI rookie act as his liaison.
So essentially the set-up is The Silence of the Lambs without the cannibalistic culinary preferences.

Depending on how much ham Spader brings to the party, this could either prove to be the pinnacle of such performances from him or the point where he simply starts parodying himself. The show is a big hit with viewers in the US, less so with reviewers, so we shall have to see.

I've also long enjoyed Seth MacFarlane's adult-ish animated series, even while acknowledging the limited nature of the often callous shock comedy they indulge in at the expense of narrative coherence (no better illustrated by the way Family Guy recently killed off a core character, only to swiftly reinstate them after fan protests).

Presumably predicated on the notion animated shows are like potato chips (once you've had one, you're sure to want a couple more) this Thursday, Four starts screening MacFarlane's Family Guy and American Dad back-to-back, at 7.30pm and 8pm respectively, which frankly seems a little early for these gratuitously rude series.

If you are easily offended you'll want to avoid both of them (and parents, they're really not appropriate for pre-teens).

Bob's Burgers at 8.30pm, however, is more generally palatable fare, and promises to be the best cartoon of the night.

It's about a family-run restaurant and earlier seasons have been reliably funny with the kind of heart conspicuously absent from the evening's earlier animation offerings.

Finally, I can recommend without reservation Ja'mie: Private School Girl - a show I've actually had the chance to watch - which heralds the return of one of the break-out characters from Aussie series Summer Heights, in which many of the characters were played by the very talented Chris Lilley.

In his latest series, Lilley solely devotes himself to Ja'mie King, possibly TV's most magnificently monstrous teenage girl, to frighteningly funny effect.

Ja'mie: Private School Girl begins tomorrow, 9.05pm, on Comedy Central.

- Herald on Sunday

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