Critic's Pick

TV picks: Insatiable 'Golan,' NZ mysteries, 'Halt and Catch Fire'

"Golan the Insatiable" (Fox, Sundays). Though it has produced a couple of my least favorite things on television, I give much respect to Fox's continuing, mostly rewarding investment in animation, an endeavor in which it is alone among broadcast networks. (If you had built your empire on the back of "The Simpsons," you might feel warm toward the form, too.) This week brings the prime-time bow of Josh Miller's "Golan the Insatiable," first seen in 2013 in six 11-minute episodes, as part of Fox's now-shuttered Saturday late-night, Adult Swim-modeled cartoon initiative, Animation Domination High-Def, or ADHD. (You see what they did there.) The original, in which an ordinary Minnesota family has a bloodthirsty supernatural creature living among them plays a little like a demonic "Alf"; the redeveloped, rebooted, recast second season, whose six additional episodes run at full sitcom length, preserves the look and tone and even some jokes from the original, but fills out the story and enriches the character relationships. It is at once more violent and more poignant. (Golan's terrifying "Everyone deserves love!" is the series in a three-word screamed nutshell.)

Aubrey Plaza, in the role she was born to play after April Ludgate, is Dylan, a 9-year-old Wednesday Addams type, lacking the supportive context of an Addams Family. (She is basically April as a second-grader.) Rob Riggle, stepping in for creator Miller, makes Golan more of a six-pack guy, drawing perhaps on his years in the Marine Corps for Golan's louder imprecations. Here is how they meet, upon Dylan summoning him with words from a mysterious magical tome: "I am Golan the Insatiable, God Lord Terrible Gkruool, crusher of will, impregnator of the impregnable." "I am Dylan, holder of soccer participation trophy, master of the Italian accent, Googler of 'What is sex?'" An affectionate, antagonistic friendship develops around shared insecurities and interests: "Golan, together we're going to fulfill my school counselor's prophecy and unleash a bloody reign of terror on this town." Funny stuff, undoubtedly not funny to everyone.

"The Brokenwood Mysteries" (Acorn TV); "Harry" (Acorn TV, starts Monday). Mystery tourism, courtesy the Anglophile streaming service Acorn TV, which has extended its interests to the far reaches of the Commonwealth. Here are two police procedurals from New Zealand, not the country of Hobbit holes and Neil Finn merely; both series are appealing, and both will seem familiar in their shape and exotic in their details. (British mysteries no longer qualify as exotic; indeed, we know that territory well enough here to regard it as quaint.) Both also benefit from what to the American ear -- to my susceptible American ear, anyway -- are the characters' highly adorable accents, which squeezes short i's into long e's and short e's into short i's ("I deedn't come here to play gissing games, ditictive"). No wonder Hobbits like to live there. (Jane Campion's TV movie mystery "Top of the Lake" was also set there, and I may have made similar remarks in its regard.)

Starring Neill Rea as Detective Senior Sgt. Mike Shepherd, a city mouse who goes to the country on a case and stays, "Brokenwood" has a little bit of the flavor of "Midsomer Murders" (another Acorn favorite). Like that incredibly long-running British series, its investigations involve a colorful variety of smallish, busy communities; social classes; professional pursuits; and social classes. There are likewise a similar abundance of suspects and a comic lift in the storytelling, with each episode a complete case presented at (short-ish) feature length. Shepherd is serially divorced and Columbo-unkempt; he talks to corpses, without expecting an actual answer, and is fond of down-under country & western ("They're the best three-minute crime stories ever sung"), which he listens to on cassette in his 1971 Holden Kingswood, which is a name I could have invented, but didn't. Classically, he has a straighter second, played by Fern Sutherland, who complements, conflicts with and doesn't quite complete him; there is indulgence from his side and suspicion from hers. You get the picture.

"Harry," with Samoan New Zealand actor Oscar Kightley, is the darker series, and a serial whose intricacies will play out over six episodes. Kightley, better known for comedy (locally known, that is), is the eponymous Harry, a police detective returning to the force after his wife's suicide, which has left him more bottled up than he must have been already and his wounded teenage daughter ripe for bad decisions.

It's a different world, criminally speaking -- if I'm reading the reports right, in Auckland, the nation's largest city, home to almost a third of its population, there were six murders and one attempted murder in 2014. On the one hand, there are fewer guns around than in an American procedural, and on the other, it doesn't take a "glamorous" victim to make a killing banner-headline news. (Like "Broadchurch," which has just sprung to mind, it is attractively provincial. This dialogue sounds too polite to ever appear in an American cop show: Harry, to a woman whose son is a murder suspect: "As soon as I hear from you, I will come and pick him up and then some police will come and search your house." "Why do the police need to come to my house for?" "I'm sorry. That's just what we have to do." But it might just be the accents.)  Sam Neill, a man of many nationalities onscreen but a New Zealander by roots and upbringing, portrays Harry's sympathetic immediate superior. (There is a superior superior to play the traditional voice of foolish, pompous, meddling authority. As there must be.)

"Halt and Catch Fire" (AMC, Sundays). Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers' "Halt and Catch Fire" returns for a second season this week, in the spot where "Mad Men" used to live. I am not suggesting that it will replace that late series in your heart or water cooler conversations -- do you even have a water cooler? -- but there are enough similarities (almost) to suggest that the surviving series might have been intended to do something of the sort. It's another show about business set in a fashion-forward past -- in this case, '80s tech, Texas-style -- with a genius man of mystery at its center. Yet, on its own merits, it's worthy of your attention. I haven't had a chance to watch any of the new episodes, which I've been assured are even better than last season's by people paid to give such assurances, but I'm a fan of the last batch. Those gathered a lot of steam by season's end, as the period trappings grew transparent and the true passions of the characters grew apparent. It got pretty damn exciting, actually. Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, Mackenzie Davis, Kerry Bishé and Toby Huss are your much more than capable stars.

Robert Lloyd tweets by touch @LATimesLloyd

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
75°