The Bingeworthy Breakdown is an occasional look at new TV shows. An estimated 500 scripted seasons of TV will air in 2017, and to help you sort the wheat from the chaff, we’re going to look at the first episodes of the most notable of these to help you work out whether it’s worth tuning in every week for them, waiting to binge later, or using the time to finally catch up on “Bosch” or whatever else you’ve been waiting for. Today, we’re looking at Showtime’s new drama “Guerrilla.”
Thank god “Girls” is over.
Oh, god, you’re not one of those people, are you?
No, no, I loved the show. But in these peak TV days, it’s hard not to feel a sense of relief when a show wraps up and falls out of your rotation.
Well, you might have picked the wrong week to celebrate. Yesterday, the same day as the “Girls” finale aired, saw the return of one of the best dramas on TV, “The Leftovers,” and one of the best comedies in “Veep.” Another of the best dramas on TV, “Fargo,” starts again in the next few days, and another of the best comedies, “Silicon Valley,” kicks off next week. Plus AAA shows like “The Americans” and “Billions” are still going and better than ever.
I know, right? This is literally my job and I struggle to keep up.
So which one of those shows are we looking at today?
None of them. We’re looking at a new one that debuted last night.
I know, I know. But if you can find another hour to spare in the next few weeks, Showtime’s new show “Guerrilla” is more deserving of your time than most.
Oh, I’ve heard of that. It’s the new Idris Elba show, right?
Yes and no. The pleasingly omnipresent star of “The Wire,” “Luther” and “Finding Dory” is a producer on the show through his production company Green Door, and takes a supporting role, but it’s far from a one-man show.
But another case like “Taboo,” then, with a British A-list movie star teaming up a U.K. broadcaster and U.S. prestige cable drama network to make a passion project that would probably struggle to get made otherwise?
Murmur murmur murmur murmur murmur murmur **hacking cough**
Sorry, I was speaking “Taboo.” Uh, yeah, pretty much. It even comes from an A-list screenwriter: here, it’s John Ridley, the Oscar-winning writer of “12 Years A Slave” and well-reviewed U.S. drama “American Crime,” who wrote five of the six episodes, and directed half of them (Sam Miller, of “Luther,” did the other three). But the results here are much more satisfying on the whole.
Good to hear. So “Guerrilla,” then, it’s some kind of war story?
In a “war on the ruling class” kind of way, sure. It sheds some light on a little-examined part of history in telling the story of a group of underground cell of black radicals in 1970s Britain, inspired loosely by the activism of the British Black Panthers.
It is. The focus is mostly on Jas (Frieda Pinto) and Marcus (Babou Ceesay), a young couple in early 1970s London. They’re politically engaged, particularly Jas, whose father is in prison, and more so after the introduction of the racist Immigration Act Of 1971, but they’re probably protestors more than they are activists. But that changes when their organizer friend Julian (Nicholas Pinnock) is killed at a protest, a victim of targeted police brutality by racist Rhodesian cop Pence (Rory Kinnear), now in charge of the Metropolitan Police’s Black Power desk. The injustice of his murder convinces them to take the next step, and they take up arms in order to free their more radicalized friend Dhari (Nathaniel Martello-White) from prison, leading to the formation of a fledgling cell, one that brings them into the revolutionary circles of German communists, Québécois separatists and the like.
And how does Idris fit in?
He plays Kent, a politics-averse artist who used to date Jas, an increasingly public figure who’s reluctant to get involved himself, but still feels protective of his ex.
I figured that he’d be more of an older radical type.
Me too. It’s an atypically impotent, understated part for a big-name star in a self-generated project, a bold, egoless and generous move to give over the action to the others, and a reminder of what makes Elba such a force.
Any other characters I should know about?
Yeah, it’s a pretty deep bench. The notables would include Leroy (Brandon Scott), a legit Black Panther who fled the U.S. after killing a cop in the Detroit riots, Fallon (Denise Gough), Julian’s Irish girlfriend who’s put under pressure by the authorities when her brother (Patrick Gibson from “The OA“) is taken into custody, Kenya (Wunmi Mosaku), Pence’s black mistress, the mother of his child, and his occasional informant, and Cullen (Daniel Mays), Pence’s sly, ever-observant, seemingly more conscience-contemplating colleague.
So it all seems pretty topical for 2017 and the whiff of resistance and revolution in the air, Brexit again highlighting how racist the British people can be, and everything, right?
It does. Some of this is accidental, given that the show was greenlit and written before Trump and Brexit, but it certainly taps into something that’s been in the air for a while, while also evoking the spirit of that certain kind of May 68-evoking French cinema (Assayas’ “Carlos” seems like a big influence here). But it makes it seem more vital than most prestige dramas on at the minute.
That’s all well and good, but is it actually any good?
Yes, very much so, though it takes a little while to get going.