Pick of the Week: Fargo
9.30pm, Wednesday May 7
Movie-derived murder tale
It might look like another arthouse talent shifting to television - Joel and Ethan Coen as executive producers on the new 10-part adaptation of their Oscar-winning 1996 classic, Fargo.
But the Coens have had little input beyond reading the opening episode script. "They're not very involved on a practical level," says Noah Hawley, showrunner on the TV adaptation.
"They said, 'Look, this is not our medium. We don't know or understand television, go and make your show'."
Their absence was a creative blessing for Hawley, he says, because, "as you know, when you're watching a Coen brothers movie, there's really a singular vision and I told the network at one point, 'You can't make a Coen brothers movie by committee'."
The 1996 film told of a debt-ridden Minnesota car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), who hires a pair of criminals (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife. The film won a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award for the brothers and a Best Actress Oscar for Frances McDormand as Margie, the pregnant police chief investigating what quickly becomes a spate of local homicides. However, when MGM had finished combing their back catalogue in search of properties to turn into TV shows, US broadcaster FX told Hawley to ditch Margie.
"They realised that that performance was so iconic that there was no way they were going to top it," he says.
Also, while Jerry has become a brow-beaten insurance salesman called Lester Nygaard (played by Martin Freeman), there is now only one criminal gate-crashing Lester's timidly blameless life - an enigmatic hitman played by Billy Bob Thornton.
"There is a really interesting element to Fargo and a lot of the Coen brothers movies, which is: what happens when a civilised man meets a very uncivilised man?" says Hawley. Meanwhile, the story of a milquetoast getting in touch with his dark side brings to mind Breaking Bad, an association strengthened by the appearance of Bob Odenkirk, Walter White's sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman.
Is Nygaard about to embark on a similar journey to White?
"Yes, there is a hint of that - of the man who very quickly ends up doing things he never thought in a million years he would do," says Freeman.
Reality pick: My Kitchen Rules
Monday, 8pm, Tuesday and Wednesday, 7.30pm
Most serious dinner parties
Just as The Great Food Race finishes and MasterChef is wrapping up, My Kitchen Rules is coming back to fill that reality cooking show void in your life - three nights a week. It's the same formula as last time, as each team of two invite the other 11 teams, plus judges Pete Evans and Manu Feildel into their homes, and work themselves into a lather trying to cook a five-star three-course meal, as well as playing super hosts. Then everyone gets to tell them what they thought before they take a turn. Of course, what happens after that is anyone's guess - there will likely be a few extra challenges, like cooking on a boat, or for some fancy guests, before we all find out who gets to take home the title and the prizes. Could it be surfer dads Paul and Blair, or married cheesemakers Annie and Jason? Will new couple Andrew and Emelia survive the high running emotions? And will close friends Chloe and Kelly still want to go travelling together once the series is through?
Music pick: Nashville
Rhinestones and guitars
It may be two years old now, but Nashville remains one of the more interesting propositions for a new drama we've had for a while. Set in the city of the same name, its key plotline initially revolves around a battle of the divas - country legend Rayna James (played by Connie Britton) has been one of the industry's top female vocalists for two decades but is struggling to keep the numbers up in the new music business paradigm, and Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) is a cheeky, sparkly young thing on the way to the top, who sees Rayna as past her prime. But these women are more than they seem of course, and the show is equally concerned with their family lives, lovers past and present, the politics of Nashville, and the fickle nature of fame, no matter what age you are. Rayna's relationships with her father, her husband, and band leader Deacon are more than complex, while Juliette has her own mother troubles to deal with, and of course they're not the only songbirds in the show - the series has made stars of Clare Bowen and Sam Palladio too.
Drama pick: Grey's Anatomy
Doctors of distraction
This Monday marks something of a milestone for Grey's Anatomy as it enters its 10th season. Of course, as is custom, several lives hang in the balance in episode one, as all the staff at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital attempt to overcome the chaos in the aftermath of the major storm that shut off power at the end of season nine. The ER is overrun with patients suffering from various storm-related trauma, but the staff don't realise Richard is still lying unconscious in the basement after being electrocuted while trying to fix the generators. Bailey sends Shane to find him, but Shane passes the task over to Heather when he sees it as an opportunity to steal her surgery with Derek. It's not until Heather doesn't return either that questions are raised. Meredith remains sidelined after the dramatic birth of her son but is faced with some tough decisions about Richard, and Cristina and Owen continue to clash while Arizona continues to beg forgiveness from Callie.
Finale pick: Masterchef NZ
It takes two to cordon bleu
It's been the battle of the duos this season, and after mother and daughter pair Nikki and Jordan were eliminated on Monday having found the devilishly difficult challenge involving a pair of fine dining beef dishes just a little too tricky, it's down to Arrowtown friends Jaimie Stodler and Bec Stanley and Maketu sisters Karena and Kasey Bird. Of course, to take home the $100,000-worth of prizes, they still have a bit of work to do. In the two-hour finale, the pairs will face three challenges in an effort to impress the judges Josh Emett, Simon Gault, Ray McVinnie and Australian guest judge Matt Moran.
Spirited off to Queenstown, their first challenge involves heading to the opening of judge Josh Emett's new restaurant, Madame Woo, only to discover they'll be doing the cooking. Then it's Moran's turn to apply the pressure, giving the duos just two hours to cook two of his signature dishes. And then bucking tradition, the final challenge is not the super-hard, precarious dessert we've come to expect.