Top TV shows on NOW TV and Sky Box Sets
Ivan Radford | On 02, Jan 2017
Looking for something to watch on those cold January nights? Sky has you covered, with a whole host of TV series old and new, all available through your set top box. The good news is that if you don’t have Sky, streaming service NOW TV gives you access to the same shows, all for £6.99 a month, with no contract. Either way, it’s an impressive library to choose from, not least because of Sky’s exclusive deal with HBO. We go through and pick out the best of the bunch, from UK drama to Italian crime thrillers, US documentaries and classic comedies.
From Billions to Band of Brothers and Spaced to Sex and the City, these are the to box sets available to binge watch on Sky and NOW TV:
Twin Peaks: Season 1 and 2
An idiosyncratic FBI Agent investigates the murder of a young woman in the small town of Twin Peaks. If that premise sounds familiar, wait until you see David Lynch and Mark Frost’s show in action. Things quickly go from weird to strange, from strange to odd, from odd to disconcerting and from disconcerting to fascinating. Kyle MacLachlan is our window into this world as the FBI’s Dale Cooper, who has a thing for pie and coffee (and dictating things to his secretary, Dianne, who may or may not exist). But as a parade of bizarre characters grace our screen, the story takes a back seat to atmosphere and style, resulting in something that’s inexplicable, scary and downright iconic. Sometimes, it’s even funny too. If you’ve never binge-watched this remarkably unusual programme, do so before it returns in 2017 for new episodes. If you’ve seen it already, you don’t need us to convince you to watch it again.
Fortitude: Season 1 and 2
Sky’s first major drama in its recent push for original programming, Fortitude’s bizarre blend of detective thriller and supernatural horror makes for a refreshing (if uneven) cocktail, as we see a gruesome murder committed in the tiny Arctic town. The icy location, with its frozen corpses and isolated community, adds to the eeriness, while The Killing’s Sofie Gråbøl, Richard Dormer and a scene-stealing Stanley Tucci led an impeccable cast. Season 2 is now available as a box set, with double the horror and even more star names waiting to be bumped off.
The Affair: Season 1 and 2
Showtime’s drama, which stars Dominic West and Ruth Wilson, follows Alison, a young woman waiting tables at a popular Hamptons diner, who begins an affair with West’s married husband. What follows is a conflicting series of flashbacks, as we follow the story of their infidelity from alternative perspectives. The result is a mesmerising study of memory, lies, control and story-telling. What makes Season 2 just as gripping is creators Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi’s decision to add two more POVs to the mix: Helen’s and Cole’s. That extension forces us to spread our sympathy further, adding more shades of grey to the emotional palette. As Season 3 continues at the start of 2016, we can’t wait for Season 4, where we get the perspective of the local bus driver. Or Season 5, where we find out what the postman makes of it all.
Penny Dreadful: Season 1 to 3
When was the last time a TV show surprised you? Penny Dreadful, starring Eva Green, Timothy Dalton and Timothy Dalton’s moustache, mashes up classic horror literature, such as Frankenstein and Dorian Grey, to produce a piece of pulp art that sounds trashy but rings with class. How close will it stick to the stories we all know? John Logan’s script weaves it all together with a taste for mortality – and adds a whole heap of freaky witchcraft in Season 2 (and Brian Cox in Season 3). The result would scare even the manliest of facial hair off, and never quite goes where you expect.
Deadwood: Season 1 to 3
Everyone talks about the golden age of TV, but way back in 2004, Deadwood was making its own golden age, before Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones came along and ruled the living room. The result is an under-seen western that doesn’t deserve to be overlooked, not least because of its cast (Timothy Olyphant and Ian “Lovejoy” McShane) and the fact that the show is being revived for a feature-length outing.
Sex and the City: Season 1 to 6
One of the most iconic TV shows celebrating women, men, friendship, love and wanton credit card abuse, since Sex and the City ceased its run on the small screen in the early noughties, the show has survived in the popular consciousness of Cosmopolitans and anyone who ever says “abso-f*ckin-lutely” – and, oh, some movies, which most of us try to forget about. Whether you’re the quip queen Carrie, the pastel princess Charlotte, the cynical suited Miranda or the brash and brilliant Samantha (and whichever one of them you loathe the most), the show’s four central friends still remain some of the most timeless female characters written for the screen. Never dipped your toe in? Now’s your chance. Read: 8 Reasons why we love Sex and the City.
Gomorrah: Season 1 and 2
Based on the book Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano, this Italian TV series is a gripping, gritty insight into the underworld of Naples. It follows fierce Neapolitan crime organisation the Camorra through the eyes of Ciro (Marco D’Amore), the obedient and self-confident right-hand man of the clan’s godfather, whose loyalty is tested to its limits. The drama is partly directed by acclaimed Italian writer and director Stefano Sollima (Romanzo Criminale, All Cops Are Bastards), who is also responsible for the overall art direction. The programme is shot on location in and around Naples, Barcelona, Milan and Ferrara – and that authenticity runs through the whole production, from locations and language to the realistic violence. A must-see for crime fans.
Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti. That’s all you need to know about Showtime’s superb thriller, which is set in the ego-driven world of New York high finance. Lewis plays billionaire hedge fund kingpin Bobby Axe Axelrod, alongside Giamatti who plays Chuck Rhoades, the tenacious U.S attorney who tries to take him down. The gripping drama sparks to life as the two actors go head-to-head, setting up a thrilling game of cat and mouse.
Alan Partridge’s Mid Morning Matters: Season 1 and 2
The UK’s most popular Norfolk radio DJ presents his daily morning show on North Norfolk Digital, the site of a recent hostage crisis, as chronicled by Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa. His show began life as a web series way back in 2010 on YouTube, before it was edited together to form a six-episode season for broadcast on Sky Atlantic in 2012. Now, after the Alpha Papa ordeal, Partridge has given us a second season too, once again written by Alpha Papa scribes Steve Coogan, Neil Gibbons and Rob Gibbons. The result is as funny as ever, with more ridiculous conversational topics than you can shake a stick at. Jurassic Park!
Black Books: Season 1 to 3
It’s been over 15 years since Black Books first aired on Channel 4, so you’d be forgiven for forgetting about it, or not even hearing about it in the first place. What you can’t be forgiven for, though, is not watching it. Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey and Tamsin Grieg deliver hilarious performances across all three seasons of Moran’s Bernard Black running the world’s least welcoming book shop. Surreal, silly, smart and stuffed with one-liners, this is one of the best sitcoms of the modern era.
Teachers: Season 1 to 4
The same can be said of Channel 4’s Teachers, which aired in 2001. Tim Loane’s drama, which follows a group of slacker secondary school teachers, starred Andrew Lincoln, a role that gave him his break way before he became Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead. He’s just as charismatic behind a classroom desk.
The Last Panthers
Sky’s latest original crime drama is a six-part pan-European production with CANAL+ in France, with a cast as epic as its ambition. Samantha Morton, Tahar Rahim and John Hurt star in the six-part thriller about a shadowy alliance of gangsters and banisters that rule the continent – kicking off with a daring diamond heist. As if that weren’t enough, the show’s opening credits feature a new song by David Bowie.
The West Wing: Season 1 to 7
Hate the world we live in today? Worried about Donald Trump becoming the next US President? Travel back to a happier time. A time when Aaron Sorkin was at the top of his game. When Martin Sheen was President. When politicians were could be trusted and fought for the greater good. Ok, we’ll admit that time never existed. Fortunately, The West Wing did. And it went on for seven seasons.
The Enfield Haunting
Not impressed by The Conjuring 2? Sky’s mini-series telling the same true story is wonderfully spooky stuff. The three-part drama is a dramatisation of the terrifying and bizarre events that took place at an ordinary house in Enfield during the autumn of 1977. Timothy Spall plays Maurice Grosse, a paranormal researcher who strikes up a connection with Janet (Eleanor Worthington-Cox), when he investigates the strange happenings at the Hodgson family home. Matthew Macfadyen plays Guy Lyon Playfair, Grosse’s sceptical co-investigator, while Juliet Stevenson plays his wife, who is struggling to come to terms with his all-encompassing obsession with the investigation.
Spaced: Season 1 and 2
Before they hopped to the big screen, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (along with directing pal Edgar Wright) made this sensational Channel 4 sitcom about 20-somethings in a flat. Surreal antics and pop culture references follow, as Pegg’s Tim hangs out with Daisy (the always-excellent Jessica Hynes) and the weird artist neighbour downstairs, Brian (the equally-always-amazing Mark Heap). If you like Shaun of the Dead but haven’t seen this, you’re doing something wrong.
There’s a lot to be said for a time limit. It can make anything exciting. Secret service operations. Bomb disposal. In a hospital’s major trauma centre, it’s the difference between life and death. Critical follows the “golden hour” of treatment for severe trauma patients; the first 60 minutes after they arrive in the building, when every second counts. Events occur in real-time, something demonstrated by a large red clock on the wall, which visibly ticks away the moments between vital decisions. The message is clear: we’re a long way from Casualty. Jed “Line of Duty” Mercurio makes sure we never leave the hospital, which makes things even more intense and claustrophobic. The result is a thrillingly fast-paced drama that has you hooked from start to finish.
“Everything I write has a precedent in truth.” That’s the opening rationale behind Sky Atlantic’s Fleming, a four-part biopic of Ian Fleming. The parallels between the writer of James Bond and his fictional creation are familiar to die-hard fans of the series – read: there weren’t that many – but John Brownlow and Don MacPherson’s script wastes no time in playing them up. We open with a dark-haired man swimming underwater, harpoon in hand. A woman in a skintight scuba suit turns to face him. He fires. A cloud of dark liquid puffs into the water, accompanied by a familiar burst of John Barry-esque brass. But this isn’t 007 doing his thing: this is Ian and his wife, Ann. It’s one of many playful touches, as Fleming layers up the dramatic irony to the point where the difference between character and creator is almost negligible. Dominic Cooper oozes charm in the lead. Yes, there’s precent in truth, but the fun is in the fantasy.
Broadchurch: Season 1
“I can’t be outside. I don’t want to be.” That’s DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) to DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant) in Broadchurch Season 1. The ITV drama follows their investigation into the death of a local boy – 11-year-old Danny Latimer – who is found lying on a beach. When forensics suggest strangulation rather than suicide, the familiar procedural plot begins to unravel. But Broadchurch is more than a compellingly plotted and densely layered crime thriller: it’s a study in grief that reverberates with humanity, even as it pulls it apart. A tragedy, the saying goes, can bring people together. This is a distressingly brilliant piece of television. Season 2 is also on Sky and NOW TV. We’d recommend skipping it.
24: Live Another Day
Season 9 of TV’s longest-running action series keeps its real-time shenanigans going for one more day, albeit for a shorter run of 12 episodes. Relocating to London, Live Another Day sees everyone’s favourite angry secret agent, Jack Bauer, hop around the UK capital, shooting terrorists on the Central Line and chasing through the East End. Kiefer Sutherland is joined by returning cast member Mary Lynn Rajskub as computer guru Chloe O’Brian, alongside Stephen Fry as the British Prime Minister and Game of Thrones’ Judy Davis as British terrorist Margot. The result isn’t particularly smart, but it’s a whole lot of fun, proving that there’s life in the real-time format yet.
Inside Amy Schumer: Season 1 to 4
There’s a reason why the uncompromising comedian has taken the world by storm. Find out with her witty sketch show Inside Amy Schumer, which showcases her fiercely feminist humour, satirising everything from the media’s portrayal of ideal bodies and gender stereotypes in showbiz to sex and relationships. Combined with witty pop culture nods, the result is sketches like her 12 Angry Men parody in the third season, as Jeff Goldblum, Paul Giamatti and others act out a black-and-white debate on whether Amy’s sexy enough to deserve her own show. Complete with dildos.
Emmy-winning Kate Winslet stars in Todd Haynes’ dazzling Depression-era drama, which follows single mother Mildred as she tries to support her family, after the collapse of her marriage.
The Young Pope
“Ever since I was little I’ve learnt to confound people’s ideas of what’s going on in my head”, confides Lenny Belardo (Jude Law) some way into the first episode of The Young Pope, before adding, “I’m also intransigent, irritable, vindictive – and I have a prodigious memory.”
All of which is to say that Lenny is a messy character – manipulative, Machiavellian, far from likeable, and studiously impenetrable – and these complexities make him a fascinating study for a 10-part TV series. Add to this that Lenny is also, as the title suggests, young, ‘telegenic’ Pope Pius XIII – the first American ever to fill the post, elected, despite all the question marks about his past and his politics, by a Conclave determined that his older, conservative mentor Cardinal Michael Spenser (James Cromwell) should be prevented from ascending to the Papacy – and you have the formula for an intimate yet dizzying examination of the point where an individual’s foible-stricken humanity, a religion’s Byzantine bureaucracy and the inscrutable ideals of divinity all come into stunning collision. Read our review of Paolo Sorrentino’s drama.
Band of Brothers
“Developed by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg on their back of their ground-breaking war movie, Saving Private Ryan (1998), Band of Brothers follows the soldiers of “Easy” Company, from parachute training in the US to deployment in Europe and long months of gruelling warfare, as they play their part pushing the German forces back across the continent. Based on Stephen E. Ambrose’s meticulously researched 1993 non-fiction book, Band of Brothers barely puts a foot wrong. As well as the justifiably lauded combat scenes, the show’s real triumph is in its characterisation of the troops; these boys are real, living breathing people and we go through Hell with them. There are numerous moments when even the hardest hearted viewer will be moved to tears, especially as each episode is topped and tailed by talking head interviews with the real-life soldiers.” Read our full review.
Nashville: Season 1 to 3
Callie Khouri’s TV series, which follows a range of country singers in Nashville, Tennessee, is a treat for folk fans, stuffed with guitars, gossip and people grappling with fame. On the downside, the musicians are all fictitious. On the plus side, one is played by the brilliant Hayden Panettiere. With characters who are far from country clichés, some cracking numbers, such as powerhouse hit Don’t Put Dirt On My Grave, and the Blue Bird Café, a real place where some real songwriters have performed, the result combines heart and heartfelt music to moving, absorbing effect. Read: 7 reasons why you should be watching Nashville.
“Can you believe that?” cries a waitress halfway through the opening episode of Supergirl. “A female hero. Someone for my daughter to look up to.” It’s hardly understated, but Supergirl’s USP can’t really be overstated: she joins Jessica Jones as the first female hero in the modern age of comic book films and TV. The hero in question? Kara Zor-El (Whiplash’s Melissa Benoist), who is sent to Earth hot on the heels of her younger cousin, Kal-El (Superman), to protect him. But after a bit of timey-wimey space stuff (involving “The Phantom Zone” and a jail full of mean alien prisoners – hello to the show’s monster-of-the-week premise), she arrives on the planet years later. He’s already become Superman, so she has to find her own path. Kara’s surrounded by other equally super women, from her adoptive sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) to her smart, ruthless boss, Cat (Calista Flockhart). Even her aunt, Astra, is the villain. The result is a show full of fantastic female role models (well, maybe not the aunt), underlining the show’s message of support and empowerment. If that all sounds a bit cotton candy, that’s because it is: Supergirl is the superhero world painted in bright, primary colours. But if you’re tired of DC’s dark, stormy films, Greg Berlanti’s upbeat series is the perfect antidote.
The League of Gentlemen: Season 1 and 2
“This is a local shop for local people; there’s nothing for you here!” That was the cry of Tubbs and Edward, the two gatekeepers for the small, northern town of Royston Vasey. Populated by strange, eccentric and creepy inhabitants, the dark comedy – somewhere between sitcom and sketch show – is as funny as it is unsettling. Created by Reese Shearsmith, Mark Gatiss and Steve Pemberton (plus the unseen Jeremy Dyson), this a hilariously disturbing TV classic, which pointed its three stars firmly in the direction of future success – they’ve all since gone on to become national treasures, with their own distinct career paths. If you’re a fan of Inside No. 9, watch this now. If you’ve already seen it, watch it again.