Top TV box sets to binge watch at home
Staff Reporter | On 22, Mar 2020Reading time: 38 mins
Weekends. Bank Holidays. Half-terms. Christmas. Coronavirus self-isolation. Whatever the reason for you being indoors, TV shows are one of the best cures for having time to fill. From comedy to mystery, sci-fi to crime thrillers, British to French programmes and fantasy to historical dramas, here are the top TV box sets to binge watch the hours away instead of venturing outside.
Whether you use Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Sky, NOW TV, All 4 or BBC iPlayer, there’s something here for you:
This haunting, gripping retelling of the 1986 disaster is not only a sweat-inducing thriller but also a timely story of power, corruption and truth. Jared Harris delivers a career-best turn as a scientist juggling duty and morals. The only thing scarier than seeing these heroes trying to stop this manmade disaster from spiralling out of control is seeing them go unrecognised by history that would rather cover them up.
Mae Martin plays a version of herself in this side-splitting comedy about a stand-up comic struggling with both personal intimacy and substance abuse. Balancing a script stuffed with razor-sharp one-liners with a heartfelt exploration of addiction, this is a moving, funny tale of honesty, communication and love. Blink and you’ll have devoured the whole thing in one sitting.
This Country: Season 1 to 3
BBC Three’s hilariously daft and quietly sweet mockumentary – about Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe (stars and writers Charlie Cooper and Daisy May Cooper) – is charming slice of rural life that balances laughs and sweet sentiment with low-key genius.
Based on The Marshall Project and ProPublica Pulitzer Prize-winning article, this powerful, gripping drama follows a teen (Kaitlyn Dever) who reports and eventually recants her reported rape, while two female detectives, states away, investigate evidence that could reveal the truth
Parks and Recreation
This flawless sitcom stars Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope, whose leadership of the Parks and Recreation department in Pawnee, Indiana is as earnest as it is incompetent. She and her trusty group of office mates are followed around by a documentary crew, offering a quirky look into their everyday lives. When that ensemble includes Aziz Ansari, Aubrey Plaza and a pre-Marvel Chris Pratt – not to mention Rob Lowe and a scene-stealing Nick Offerman as man’s man Ron Swanson – the result is one of the funniest workplace comedies ever made.
When They See Us
Ava DuVernay’s enraging, powerful, deeply human retelling of The Central Park Five case is essential viewing.
Dark, violent, and endlessly witty, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s addictively unpredictable thriller about an agent (Sandra Oh) tasked with tracking down an assassin (Jodie Comer) is a funny, female-led treat.
Dan and Eugene Levy’s sitcom follows a wealthy family who go bankrupt and whole up in the motel of the only remaining asset they have: an ugly small town named Schitt’s Creek. It sounds like a feast of unlikeable characters, but, like a sitcom cousin to Succession or Billions, this brilliant show teases out their flaws and insecurities until you’re rooting for an oddly sweet group of idiots who learn, grow and progress with every season. An unexpected delight.
Derry Girls: Season 1 and 2
“Protestants hate ABBA!” Every now and then, a TV show comes along with a voice that feels utterly unique. Derry Girls is one of them. From Northern Irish writer Lisa McGee, the Channel 4 sitcom has a neat premise: it charts the coming of age of a group of schoolgirls in Londonderry during The Troubles in the early 1990s. Laugh-out-loud funny and wonderfully heartfelt, you’ll want to be friends with these Derry Girls immediately.
The Good Place: Season 1 to 4
One of the best TV shows of recent years, this fantasy series follows an ordinary woman who is wrongly sent to a pleasant afterlife and must hide in plain sight from its creator, who is unaware of his mistake, as she navigates her surroundings. Kristen Bell stars as Eleanor, who dies and finds herself accidentally in The Good Place, where she absolutely doesn’t belong. She is joined by Ted Danson, who plays Michael, the architect in charge of her neighbourhood. Funny, surprising, profound and moving.
Ryan Murphy is one of the best things about modern TV. If you’ve ever doubted that, just look at his latest creation, which is vibrant, gripping, emotional and sassy all at the same time. What makes Murphy’s work often so compelling is the way he so deliberately shines his spotlight not on himself but on other people, from Feud’s plumbing of the depths of the sexist engine powering Hollywood to America Crime Story’s hugely detailed character-driven portraits of real life. Groundbreaking in its largely transgender cast, Pose is bursting at the seams with lives and stories just waiting to be told, diving into the underground world of 1980s ball culture, where all those unwelcome in mainstream society, all those who can’t convert the American Dream into an American Reality, find acceptance, respect, support and one heck of a good night, as they strut their fashion sense and realness for everyone else to appreciate. Black transgender woman Blanca Rodriguez (Mj Rodriguez) works at a nail salon by day and serves as a member of the House of Abundance by night, and she’s our window into this world, as she takes in Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain), a young dancer, and pushes him to audition for the local school. The resulting scene is just one in an endless pile of standout moments, as Swain veritably explodes off the screen with passion, conviction and physical agility. Its a breathtaking climax to a dizzying first episode – and sends you pirouetting into the box set released all-at-once on BBC iPlayer. Strike a pose, then get ready to hold it for eight hours.
Spooks: Season 1 to 10
M:I-5. Not 9 to 5. Even the slogan for the BBC espionage series feels quaintly dated, but for all its love of numerical keypad phones and laptops as cutting-edge gizmos, this spy thriller is still grippingly modern, as it never relied on technology to make its programme relevant: the series’ real secret weapon was its focus on character, which was driven by increasingly far-fetched plots. With a cast including David Oyelowo, Richard Armitage, Matthew Macfadyen and Nicola Walker, that means you have a show that’s as hugely entertaining as ever.
Inside No. 9: Season 1 to 5
Nothing says winter like a spooky horror story, and who better to inject chills directly into your spine than Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton? The pair are kings of creepy, a status that has been reinforced over multiple seasons of their superb series Inside No. 9. Alongside Black Mirror, the show has inspired the return of anthology programmes to our screens, serving up a collection of short tales, which range from funny to frightening. These impeccably crafted one-act plays are thrillingly varied, increasingly imaginative and consistently excellent; previous chapters (each one set in a different nine-themed location) have included silent comedy, Shakespearean farce and even 70s-style retro scares, complete with old-fashioned video cameras.
From the creator of Last Chance U, Cheer is a six-episode series about competitive college cheerleaders. It follows the cheerleaders of Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas. Led by Monica Aldama, the troupe has won 14 National Championships since 2000. But with the same focus on the human drama behind the competition that defined Last Chance U, this becomes a gruelling study of the toll that determination to succeed takes on these young adults. Universally gripping telly, even for non-sports fans.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
With one of the most recognisable creative voices around, Amy Sherman-Palladino’s defiantly witty, wittily defiant new project, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, was one of the most successful Amazon Pilots ever, almost immediately receiving a two-season order from Amazon Studios. Starring Rachel Brosnahan (House of Cards) as a dedicated, happy Jewish housewife in 1950s New York, the show charts her strict family life, her role as a woman, and her newfound fascination with stand-up comedy – and the conflict this causes. Sherman-Palladino’s trademark charm and attitude are everywhere you look. Packed with female empowerment, moments of real emotion, and more quips than anyone can keep up with in one viewing, Mrs. Maisel is far more than a placeholder for that Gilmore Girls-shaped void in your life. Read our full review
Each episode of this intelligently funny series is a perfectly formed musical in its own right. Read our full review
“Girls today can be anything… CEO, Olympic gold medallist, even a Supreme Court Justice.” Those are the first words we hear in Good Girls, spoken by a lead character’s daughter in a school presentation. The sentiment may be true, but it doesn’t apply to the lives of the three women at the centre of the show, all struggling to make ends meet, while depending on an unreliable husband or a dead-end job. Faced with these urgent financial problems and no quick solutions, the three women come up with a drastic plan and decide to rob the grocery store where Annie works. Things spiral out of control, giving Christina Hendricks, Mae Whitman and Reno Wilson a chance to shine. With a charismatic cast and plenty of twists and turns, this is an easy, breezy watch. Read our review
Ricky Gervais’ bittersweet comedy about sadness is a movingly honest piece of television.
Fleabag: Season 1 and 2
Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s six-part comedy, which started its life as a play at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival, already has people asking whether she’s Britain’s answer to Lena Dunham. It’s easy to see why – this shares with Girls a willingness to explore the darker aspects of what it is to navigate life as a single female in the city. The characters portrayed share, too, a willingness to (ahem) experiment, and a certain type of knowing narcissism, mixed with self-loathing.
Waller-Bridge stars as the character known only as Fleabag, newly single since her boyfriend dumped her for masturbating to a speech on democracy by Barak Obama. By day, Fleabag struggles to run a cafe on her own, gets thrown out of meetings with her bank manager for accidentally flashing him, and picks up men on the bus; by night, she attends lectures with her sister, where they embarrass themselves by being bad feminists, goes on dates with men with bad teeth, overshares in taxis, and turns up at her father’s house unannounced. All this is done with self-aware, fourth-wall-busting, straight-to-camera asides, and genuinely laugh-out-loud funny moments. Words: Helen Archer
Call My Agent!
This French comedy about a talent agency is uproariously funny, thanks to its amusing array of characters, sharply written dialogue and rapid pacing. Celebrity cameos by everyone from Juliette Binoche to Isabelle Huppert are a bonus. Read our full review
Lost in Space
Netflix’s ambitious reboot of the sci-fi series about a family lost in space is big, ambitious and decidedly cinematic, from the shiny, sleek interiors of the practical sets to the CGI effects that send the Robinsons racing past alien planets – and, in the thrilling opening sequence, hurtling into them. A large part of the show’s success stems from that very real sense of risk, casting the series as a sci-fi tale of survival in the vein of The Martian, rather than a old-school sitcom, a la Fuller House. Directors Alice Troughton (Doctor Who) and Deborah Chow (Jessica Jones) fuel the whole production with a burning sense of adventure, capturing the beauty of the Robinsons’ home and the warmth of a family drama, as well as its spookier side. The result is enormously fun sci-fi offers that rare thing on TV: a genuine family blockbuster.
“I think I might be a superhero.” That’s Tim Renkow in Jerk, BBC Three’s hysterical new sitcom. The show follows Tim (Renkow), a young man with cerebral palsy trying to get through life in a world where everyone treats him differently. He knows they all judge him based on his appearance, and he also knows that they judge him incorrectly – because underneath it all, he’s a total dick. And so he goes through the day-to-day routines of jobs and friendships making everyone uncomfortable – and he does so entirely on purpose. “I think I might be a superhero,” he declares. Then adds: “My super power is I can’t be sacked.” Unique, sweet and gleefully dark, this is one of BBC Three’s best comedy commissions to date. Available until: May 2020
“I’ve just gone to see me dad.” Those are the last words recorded by Jody, in a video to her mum, Claire (Suranne Jones). So when she disappears, her dad, Nelly (Lennie James), is naturally the first suspect. Estranged from the 13-year-old girl, he’s a loser, a barfly, the kind of man everyone on his South London housing estate knows. He’s also been receiving messages from her, and got a phone call from her just before she went missing. But Nelly, while far from the best guy in the world, is innocent – and so he sets off on his own investigation to find the person who’s abducted, or possibly even killed, his daughter.
It’s a premise that might sound familiar, but Save Me proves wonderfully unique at every turn. A large part of that comes down to the script, which is written by James himself. After impressing repeatedly with his sincere turn as Morgan in The Walking Dead, he brings that same authenticity to his screenplay, which twists and turns with the best detective dramas, but never lets plot get in the way of character.
Dark, trippy and existential, Russian Doll is a lot more than just Groundhog Day with hipsters. Read our full review
The Good Fight: Season 1 and 2
“The only constant we have is the law,” says Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo) in the of The Good Wife’s first season. It’s exactly the kind of declaration you expect to hear in a slick legal drama, and The Good Fight doesn’t shy away from ticking all the boxes of the genre. But it ticks them with such style, confidence and class that it’s impossible not to be hooked.
The show, of course, is a spin-off from The Good Wife, ordered by CBS to launch its subscription streaming service, CBS All Access. But it’s testament to how good the writing by creators Robert and Michelle King is that The Good Fight never feels like a sidekick or a companion piece, but a courtroom heavyweight in its own right – while it’s designed to woo fans of the original, you can tune into this without having seen any of The Good Wife and still be utterly gripped.
From the creator of Misfits, this dark comedy is reassuringly zany, fast-paced and gruesome. Any show that opens with a woman screaming and tied up, only to discover it’s her friend who’s doing it, because they think she’s possessed, is a sure-fire winner. That breakneck warped humour doesn’t let up, as we watch Raquel (Susan Wokoma) attempt to conduct an exorcism based on what she’s reading off the internet on her phone. But there’s a unique streak to this Buffy-esque affair – Raquel’s friend, Amy (Cara Theobold), thinks her ability to “see” demons is less a gift and more a symptom of mental illness. It doesn’t help that Raquel is so blunt that she comes across as crazy herself. The result are two fun, fleshed-out characters, who just happen to be killing evil spirits in their spare time, an inconvenience that makes their lives as young adults even more complicated.
Jim Carrey is heartbreakingly good in this moving, hilarious, surprising journey of one kids’ TV presenter’s painful self-discovery. Read our full review
Sunderland ‘Til I Die
Football, they say, is game of two halves. In the case of Sunderland Association Football Club, it’s a game of two halves, hundreds of disappointments, several managers, multiple fights for survival and a handful of stunning goals. For a town that loves its local team like no other, it’s the very stuff of life. For everyone else, it makes for sublime television. This beautifully edited series captures the gripping despair and heart-wrenching hope of being a sports fan, and that human angle makes for something hugely entertaining, whether you’re a football lover or not.
The End of the F***ing World
“‘I’m James, I’m 17 and I’m pretty sure I’m a psychopath.’ Channel 4/Netflix co-production The End of the F***ing World, based on an award-winning graphic novel, sees two angst-ridden teenagers run away from home and embark on a road trip, with the morbid twist that one teen is thinking of murdering the other… This darkly funny coming-of-age comedy is quite unlike anything else.” (Read our full review)
The Haunting of Hill House
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.” That’s the first line of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. First published in 1959, it has gone on to inspire two films and a play. Here, it’s resurrected once again as a TV series, which reimagines the story as a 10-part drama. The tale may have changed, but director Mike Flanagan returns to Jackson’s opening sentiment and proves it over and over again. The series charts the lineage of the Crain family, starting with father and mother Hugh and Olivia (Henry Thomas and Carla Gugino). After moving into Hill House to renovate the old mansion and sell it on, things go very wrong, and Olivia ends up dead one dark night, as Hugh and their five children flee the estate in a panic. The series follows them as adults, jumping between their dysfunctional lives in the present and the origins of their problems several decades past. Each character gets an episode devoted to their experiences, and Flanagan uses that age-old device to weave a freshly compelling, complex tapestry of trauma and the mechanisms humans have devised to cope with it. The result is as much family drama as it is horror story, and it’s all the better for it; like the best entries in the genre, it’s as moving as it is purely terrifying.
The royal family, but not as we know them, Netflix out-BBCs the BBC with its sumptuous period drama, which follows the young Elizabeth II as she takes to the throne and finds herself having to navigate her political relationship with Winston Churchill and her personal loyalty to her husband, Prince Philip. An endlessly expressive Claire Foy chirrups with the best of them, while Matt Smith brings scene-stealing depth to a part who could have easily been a caricature – work that’s continued by Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies in Season 3. Gorgeous stuff.
A hilarious, heartfelt study of love, commitment and change, Forever is a quietly profound triumph, with an irresistible, unique hook that sees the lives of married couple June (Maya Rudolph) and Oscar (Fred Armisen) turned upside down.
It feels like only next week that time-travelling series Travelers premiered on Netflix UK. A Canadian sci-fi with Will and Grace’s Eric McCormack in the lead, it impresses from the off with its blend of quick pacing, trashy familiarity and talk of a dystopian future. While its opening episodes are slick enough to intrigue, the maiden run ultimately ropes you in through creator Brad Wright’s sheer commitment to his concept. That concept is simple: a group of time-travelling agents are sent back to the present day from the future to save humanity from destruction. But rather than time-hop themselves, they are transported into host bodies, inheriting lives, relationships, illnesses and other problems. Quantum Leap with guns? Travelers doubles down on that idea – and then some. It might have been cancelled after three seasons, but it’s still wprth a binge.
“I’d rather be a murderess than a murderer, if those are the only choices.”
That’s Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon) at the start of Alias Grace, Netflix’s new adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel. Based on the actual 1843 murder of Thomas Kinnear (a lascivious Paul Gross) and his housekeeper, Nancy (Anna Paquin), the book explores the double homicide from Grace’s perspective, as she relates the events to a doctor, Simon (Edward Holcroft). From the opening scenes, Grace is keenly aware of the impact of one word over another, picking and choosing her speech as she goes. The killings were notorious at the time, sparking debate about Grace’s complicity, morality and identity – and Alias Grace is a dizzying, gripping act of a woman reclaiming her story to her own ends. (Read our full review)
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. With 2017’s dazzling The Return also available to binge-watch, it’s worth going back to the beginning before you sample David Lynch’s masterful revival. Seen it already? You don’t need us to convince you to watch it again.
Over five seasons, Charlie Brooker’s Twilight Zone for the Twitter age has tackled everything from political engagement to relationships and all the pixels in between with a harsh, satirical hand. The Entire History of You, the climax of Season 1’s anthology, was promptly optioned by Robert Downey Jr. for a feature film adaptation, while none other than Jon Hamm starred in 2014’s seasonal special. That response only emphasises how much Black Mirror has tapped into a nerve in society, combining our feverish love of new technology with our most neurotic digital fears; a topicality delivered with detached cynicism that, even in its weaker instalments, feels bleakly relevant – or, in the case of the interactive special, mind-bendingly chilling. Read our review of Season 4.
She’s Gotta Have It
“It’s not often that a director gets to remake their own film, and even less common that they get to experiment with a different medium. With Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It, Spike Lee makes a welcome foray into television fiction, directing a 10-episode remake of his debut feature. He’s found himself a powerhouse lead in DeWanda Wise and she proves herself beyond a shadow of a doubt. “Who is she?” demands Jamie’s (quasi-ex) wife. Why, she’s Nola Darling, and she’s stolen all of our hearts. Netflix’s filmmaker freedom has never felt quite so good. Lyrical, perfectly performed and bitingly relevant, Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It series is all Spike Lee and it’s glorious.” (Read our full review.)
“There ain’t nothing as scary as a man with a gun,” reflects Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell) in Godless, Netflix’s new Western series. It’s a prescient line in a show that flirts with a bold revision of the genre, with the action taking place in a town run entirely by women. But Scott Frank’s Netflix Western sticks to the tried and tested classics – and that approach pays off in dividends, as Jack O’Connell and Jeff Daniels deliver magnetic performances as two men destined to collide, set against a community of satisfyingly rounded female characters. The result is a potent mix of genre tradition and progressive writing that makes a pertinent point about the futility of men with guns, while giving their toys to the women too. It’s a testament to just how successful the end result is that it can be taken seriously in the wake of HBO’s Westworld, let alone still feel fresh in classic trimmings and trappings that have long since become old hat. Accomplished, confident and sumptuous storytelling, fans of Westerns have just had their prayers answered. Read our full review
Star Trek: Discovery
“Set phasers for goosebumps. Star Trek: Discovery’s cold open sees would-be Klingon prophet T’Kuvma (Chris Obi) give a chilling declaration – in subtitled Klingon for extra Trekkie titillation – to his followers. His intention, evoking ancient Klingon messiah-god Khaless, is to unite the 24 warring Klingon houses and declare war on the ever-encroaching Federation. His battle-cry, “Remain Klingon”, some have noted is similar to a certain president’s insular cry of America First… From there we travel to a distant desert world, where our lead, Michael Burnham (The Walking Dead’s excellent Sonequa Martin-Green; she’ll be a shoo-in come awards season), and Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) do what all Star Trek crews do in pre-credit sequences: nonchalantly save an alien civilisation from extinction in a manner that is both exciting yet pleasingly swift. Dialogue is snappy, the production values first-rate, and the cast all pitch-perfect. Better yet, the quality doesn’t waver – this is TV Trek that’s every bit as good as (and maybe better than) JJ Abram’s feature film reboot.” (Read our full reviews)
“A maverick doctor and a disturbed civil servant walk into an underground station. It sounds like the start of a bad joke, or a terrible TV show, but it’s the unlikely basis of TV show Valkyrie. And, sure enough, Walter Presents’ latest foreign-language drama, acquired fresh from Norway, is like nothing you’ve ever seen. That’s not to say that it merely shuns the Nordic Noir expectations that many now have from the region’s TV: convention-bucking Scandi shows snapped up by Walter Presents, such as Hellfjord or Young and Promising, have their influences and roots traceable back to Norway’s dark sense of humour or the welcome rise of young women creators, such as Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Lena Dunham. Valkyrien, on the other hand, doesn’t really seem to have come from anywhere: it’s a programme that feels thrillingly new with every twist and turn.” (Read our full review – or, if you have Sky or NOW TV, check out the equally gripping UK remake, Temple, starring Mark Strong.)
The show is adapted from the book Mind Hunter: Inside The FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by The Road’s screenwriter, Joe Penhall, and, working with Exec Producers Fincher and Charlize Theron, Penhall has produced something gripping and unique: a crime thriller with barely any crime in it. We open with a messy hostage situation, which sees FBI Agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) try to talk down a man with a shotgun, but after a burst of bloody violence, the show consists almost entirely of very long discussions in closed rooms.
A little more conversation and a little less action might sound dull, but Mindhunter’s success lies in how compelling, complex and creepy those conversations are: it’s a show that has total confidence in the power of speech, knowing that if the characters, topic and words are just right, you can gladly watch two talking heads for hours on end. (Read our full review)
Last Chance U
Netflix’s documentary series takes us behind-the-scenes at East Mississippi Community College, where one of the most successful teams in the USA’s Junior College league makes and breaks the future of young athletes. The good news is that Last Chance U isn’t about football. It’s about the people who play it, and the stakes that are on the pitch: The Lions are a mixed bunch of misfits, from college dropouts to poverty-stricken locals, who all have one thing in common: football is their ticket out of town. Many of them black, many of them without a back-up plan, they pin their hopes on the sport, whether that’s the long-term dream of making it to the NFL or the more immediate challenge of just getting a college scholarship. Every match, every rivalry for every spot on the team, every disciplinary or pitch riot (in an ominous sign of what’s to come, things get violent in the very first episode) – whatever happens matters to them all. Sporting dramas about underdogs are two a penny, but you’ve never seen a sports story so raw or devastating. Read our full review
The Americans: Season 1 to 6
“Dollars to doughnuts, The Americans is almost certainly the best US TV show you’re not currently watching. While it has yet to garner the same kind of awards recognition as classic prestige shows such as The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and Mad Men, it is unquestionably worthy of a place at their side, thanks to its stunning lead performances and its compelling mix of gripping Cold War spy thriller and powerful family drama.” Read our full review
Hap and Leonard: Season 1 to 3
Hap and Leonard is one of the saddest TV shows around. That may not sound like a recommendation, but that’s precisely why SundanceTV’s adaptation of Joe Lansdale’s novels is so brilliant. The show wallows in melancholy the way a steak and kidney pudding soaks in gravy, surrounded by vegetables – it’s hearty, warming, and just the thing to enjoy on a chilly spring evening. The show follows the two titular friends (James Purefoy and Michael Kenneth Williams), a devoted duo who stick together through thick and thin – or, to be more specific, through scantily clad killers, submerged cases of money and one heck of a femme fatale (Christina Hendricks). Season 1 is an absorbing study of nostalgia and faded dreams, laced with comic violence, while Season 2 steps into political territory for a blistering tale of prejudice, corruption and cover-ups. At its heart, though, Hap and Leonard remains firmly a tale of friends – and their chemistry, devotion and tragic shared history is enough to make you stick with them through thick and thin. The result is laugh-out, downbeat TV. It’s distilled sadness – and you’ll be grinning at it every second.
Locked Up: Season 1 to 3
Say the words “female prison drama” to someone and they’ll immediately think of Orange Is the New Black. Locked Up (or Vis a Vis, as it’s known in its home country of Spain) appears, on the surface, to be a similar beast. It’s even available in the UK on a streaming service: All 4’s Walter Presents. But Locked Up has a colour all of its own. More thriller than comedy, the series follows Macarena Ferreira (Maggie Civantos), who is screwed over by her lover and boss, leaving her struggling to adjust to being behind bars – and directly in conflict with prison kingpin Zulema, who has her eyes on a stash of cash buried by a dead inmate. It’s grittier than Orange, more visceral, more sexual (the Spanish title, Vis a Vis, is a nod to conjugal visits) and it doesn’t let up. Read our full review
Walter Presents (All 4)
The Expanse: Season 1 to 4
“‘In the 23rd Century, humans have colonised the solar system. The U.N. controls Earth. Mars is an independent military power. The inner planets depend on the resources of the Asteroid Belt. Belters live and work in space. In the Belt, air and water are more precious than gold. For decades, tensions have been rising. Earth, Mars and The Belt are now on the brink of war. All it will take is a single spark.’ So reads the pre-credit crawl of The Expanse, deftly laying out the show’s basic ground rules, before flinging the viewer head-first into its world(s). Agents unknown are trying to turn the Cold War between earth and Mars hot, and the key to who they are and what their game-changing plan is seems to be rich-girl-turned-revolutionary Julie Mao – now missing. Tasked with tracking her down is grizzled detective Joe Miller (Thomas Jane), who works for corporate law enforcement on dwarf planet Ceres. His investigation is expertly structured, with each episode ending on a stonking cliffhanger that’ll have you clicking onto the next instalment.” (Read our full review.)
Zoo: Season 1
Let’s be clear about this. By conventional standards, Zoo is not what you would call a great show. Hell, we’re not even sure it qualifies as a good show. But is it an entertaining show? Will you find yourself binge-watching the entire thing, despite yourself? Oh, yes. Yes, indeed. The set-up is simple: a mysterious pandemic is causing animals to mount what appear to be co-ordinated attacks against humans and it’s up to a team of five heroes (including a journalist, a vetinary pathologist, a French intelligence agent and two animal experts, all played by familiar TV faces) to figure out what’s going on and prevent the oncoming animal apocalypse. If you’re not hooked by the pilot episode, where cats conduct secret meetings in trees, then at least give it until the second episode, where dogs form assassination squads and lure men to their deaths in dark alleyways. Glorious TV trash of the highest order. Words: Matthew Turner
Rick and Morty
Wubba lubba dub dub! Season 3 may not be here yet, but that just means more time to watch (or re-watch) Adult Swim’s Rick & Morty on Netflix. Dan Harmon – him again – and Justin Roiland’s warped creation follows an alcoholic genius scientist called Rick Sanchez, who rocks up on his daughter Beth’s doorstep and takes his grandson, Morty Smith, on adventures to different planets and dimensions via portals and his flying car-cum-spaceship. With Harmon’s usual mix of humour and heart, endlessly quotable lines, colourful characters and creative movie spoofs? This is one of the finest animated sitcoms on television at the moment, and a must for fans of Futurama, Adventure Time and Doctor Who.” Read our full review.
Halt and Catch Fire
AMC’s period drama about a computer company attempting to reverse engineer an IBM PC to create their own rival machine is a visually sumptuous, well-acted drama that grips thanks to its efficient cast – Scoot McNairy and Lee Pace – and precisely calibrated characters. Season 1 focuses on Gordon and Joe, but the show really comes to life in Season 2, when it shifts to the two female leads: rebellious coder Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) and Gordon’s wife, Donna (Kerry Bishé), who proves a smarter and better engineer than him time and time again. The result is a programme led by complex, nuanced female characters. With Apple looming in the background, and Cameron effectively founding her own Internet start-up, the result becomes an exploration of the relationship between humans and technology, and the way that we use computers to communicate, as well as create. The third season leaves you with that rare treat: a show that keeps on getting better with every episode, a trend that continues all the way to the bittersweet conclusion of Season 4.
People Just Do Nothing
One of the best homegrown British comedies of recent years, this BBC Three series follows the vaguely inept owners of pirate station Kurupt FM. (They’re very big in the Brentford area.) Co-created by and starring Allan Mustafa as MC Grindah and co-starring Hugo Chegwin as DJ Beats, what started as a YouTube series has been nurtured by the Beeb into a comedy staple. There’s a hint of Alan Partridge to the mockumentary – “How far does Kurupt reach?” asks our filmmakers on a balcony overlooking a council estate. “As far as the eye can see,” comes the proud reply. “But not that bit on the left.” – but the setting, characters and knowingly bad music has its own rhythm, which the cast stick to with engaging chemistry. Scenes where we catch Beats out of his hat and in a business suit for a job interview bring a surprising sympathy to his useless existence – and even more sympathy for his girlfriend, Roche, who has to endure the worst birthday party for their daughter ever recorded on screen. Asim Chaudhry as their friend, who runs a string of incompetent and illegal businesses, is always a treat. (Watch out for his “Polish Vodka”, which isn’t from Poland, but is made with window cleaner.)
The Man in the High Castle
If Transparent put Amazon’s original shows on the map, The Man in the High Castle carves out a whole country for the streaming site, which more than rivals Netflix with its ambitious, addictive story-telling. The show, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, shows us what it would be like if the Axis Powers won World War II, with Japan ruling the Pacific half of the US and the Reich ruling the Atlantic. Produced by Ridley Scott and created by The X-Files’ Frank Spotnitz, the world-building is astonishingly effective, providing spades of exposition without characters saying a word. The cast, meanwhile, are engagingly enigmatic, as resistance fighters attempt to smuggle banned newsreels across the border – and Rufus Sewell’s SS officer, John Smith, hunts them down. Able to make us feel sympathy with either side, this is a provocative and daring study of indoctrination, propaganda and national identity that only gets more intricate and interesting in its second season. What would the world be like if the Nazis ruled America? The show’s brilliance isn’t that it asks the question, but that it provides such a chillingly convincing answer. Read our reviews of Season 1 and 2 – and our interview with Rufus Sewell here.
Billy Bob Thornton is on blistering form in Amazon’s compelling legal drama, created by Ally McBeal and Boston Legal’s David E. Kelley. Within the show’s opening few episodes, everything is laid out as expected: there’s the suspicious death of an average, blue collar worker (who works for a military defence contractor), the gigantic company trying to cover it up and the plucky young innocent keen to out the truth. Who’s she gonna call? Why, Billy McBride, of course, the once-great lawyer who has since descended into an alcoholic, anti-social disgrace to the profession. Can the underdog take on the system and win? The plot is conventional, but this is more character-driven than narrative-driven. Indeed, watching Thornton in action in court is reason to tune in itself, but Kelley’s tightly scripted ensemble drama, which ensures every rule-breaking cheat brings brutal consequences to Billy and his equally developed supporting cast, is full of gripping exchanges, nasty double-crosses and corporate deceit.