Top Box Sets and TV shows on NOW TV and Sky
Ivan Radford | On 15, Sep 2019Reading time: 15 mins
Looking for something to watch on a lazy weekend? Sky has you covered, with a whole host of TV series old and new, all available through your set top box.
Don’t have Sky? Streaming service NOW TV gives you access to most of the same shows, all for £7.99 a month, with no contract. (Note: The price goes up to £8.99 a month from 9th October.) We go through and pick out the best of the bunch, from UK drama to Italian crime thrillers and US comedies. Click here to find out more or sign up
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From Deadwood to Twin Peaks, these are the top box sets available to binge watch on Sky and NOW TV:
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This brilliantly grim series chronicles the real-life events of one of the most well-known disasters in history, which is also one of the least discussed; most people don’t know the details of what happened. This six-part thriller clinically hones in on one key fact: nobody there knew what happened either. Written by Craig Mazin, the show thrusts us into a chaotic nightmare where the ground is shifting beneath everyone’s feet, in all senses of the word; while scientists try to diagnose what went wrong and how to fix it, politicians make the contaminated water even muddier than it already is, coming up with false truths, alternative facts and half lies to insist everything is ok. Superbly acted by Mad Men’s Jared Harris and Wild Rose’s Jessie Buckley, this leaves your hands so clammy with dread you can’t grip anything.
A superb turn by Zendaya leads an excellent teen ensemble in HBO’s bracingly modern and wonderfully stylish high school drama, which sees students navigate love and friendships in a world of drugs, sex, trauma and social media. Grange Hill has got nothing on this.
Mark Strong is a magnetic lead presence in this thrilling remake of Norwegian series Valkyrien. He plays Daniel, a surgeon who sets up an underground clinic beneath the titular Tube station to try and save his wife from an incurable condition – a clinic that is set up with doomsday prepper Lee (Daniel Mays). But as criminals use their service and their secret threatens to come to the surface, tensions keep rising and the stakes get higher and higher. The plot is as ridiculous as it gets, but the pacing is superbly quick and Strong and Mays ground everything with sincere, convincing performances, supported by Game of Thrones’ Carice van Houten as a former colleague faced with moral boundaries she had never considered crossing. Electric stuff.
The Loudest Voice
Russell Crowe is unrecognisable in Showtime’s drama about the Fox News founder Roger Ailes and how he changed the media world forever. A vital, timely insight into the way events are now report, it sees Ailes hit upon a bleak truth: that news doesn’t need to appeal to everyone, just a core demographic, and that opinions are more popular than facts. It may fail to scratch the surface of Roger’s own motivations, but this is a slickly made drama with strong performances that remains provocatively pertinent.
Fresh from stealing scenes in Preacher, Joe Gilgun shines in this comedy about Vinnie and his group of working class mates in the North of England, which manages to be simultaneously hilarious and surprisingly compassionate towards a group of people underrepresented on screens.
CBS’ Sherlock series isn’t the BBC series, but that’s the point: this contemporary US update, starring Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes and Lucy Liu as Watson, is a winning take Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels in its own right, thanks to its novel approach and excellent lead duo.
Available until 9th November 2019.
In his first serialised role for two decades, Jim Carrey stars as a beloved children’s presenter struggling to cope with the real world. Poignant drama from director Michel Gondry, this is heartbreaking and amusing – often at the same time.
Get Shorty: Season 1 and 2
Chris O’Dowd stars in a reimagined adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s bestselling novel as Miles Daly – a mob enforcer who’s looking for a new life in Hollywood. Funny, gripping, well acted and stylish, this thrilling crime comedy-drama has the potential to be the next Breaking Bad.
Julia Davis’ exquisitely horrible comedy follows Sally (Catherine Shepherd), who falls into an unexpected affair with Emma (Davis), an actress and singer. And a poet. And also an author. Oh, and a songwriter. The result is howlingly funny – and seriously depraved.
The Handmaid’s Tale
“This may not seem ordinary to you now. But it will. After time, this will become ordinary.” It’s hard to believe the words of Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), as she introduces new recruits to Gilead, the dystopian world that has taken over modern America in The Handmaid’s Tale, a series that’s as chilling as it is filled with fiery rage. This is a skin-crawling immersion into a reality that is depressingly, disturbingly ordinary. The normality of it almost begins to sink in – and yet can’t, mustn’t and won’t. By the end of the suffocating first hour, even remembering one’s name feels like a rousing act of defiance. Getting through the full box set is a tough task, but one that’s essential. Season 1 and 2 are both available.
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). Before the movie reunites the whole gang on 1st June, catch up from the beginning see what everyone foolishly wasn’t talking about.
Witty, wealthy, and carrying a litany of issues. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Patrick Melrose in this sumptuous, darkly hilarious adaptation of Edward St Aubyn’s acclaimed novels.
Billions: Season 1 to 4
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. With Season 4 now airing weekly on Wednesdays, don’t miss your chance to catch up with Season 1 to 3.
“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.
“History is just one thing after another,” Alan Bennett once wrote. He could well have been talking about Britannia, Sky’s lavish new epic that has about as much to do with history as Breaking Bad does with CBeebies. Set in 43AD, it takes us back to a time when men were men, women were women, giant squids were giant squids and druids were possessing people and chatting to their disembodied heads. The History Channel, this ain’t. Our guide to this strange, sceptred isle is General Aulus (David Morrissey), an armed leader determined to invade and conquer Britain, 100 years after Julius Caesar rocked up on our shores, saw what the locals looked like and promptly ran away again. It doesn’t take long to see why: Britannia imagines the UK as a weird, remote realm, one where nonsense reigns, people believe in age-old traditions and war is just waiting to erupt. It could almost be a glimpse of the country after Brexit.
Within an hour, we’ve seen Aulus bully his troops, shout about going to toilet and chickens without heads and seen one of his troops fall foul of dark magic – the trippy opening credits, accompanied by 60s pop track Hurdy Gurdy Man, is only the start of it. The script, meanwhile, trades convincing speech for modern, sweary outbursts at every opportunity – and, after an hour of sipping this insane cocktail, you won’t want it any other way. A swords-and-sandals adventure sporting a hoodie and sneakers, Britannia is gory, scary, and immensely fun. It’s one thing after another. You’ll devour the whole lot.
Gomorrah: Season 1 to 4
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.
The Trip to Spain
Reuniting Coogan and Rob Brydon for yet another culinary tour of foreign climes, The Trip to Spain sees the pair embark on a trek across, well, Spain, sampling restaurants, writing and waxing lyrical about every topic under the sun – as long as that topic involves Michael Caine. They’re like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, and, just like Quixote, they undertake a third quest across 1,000 miles of Spanish terrain. Repeating itself over and over, this is an endless cycle of shallow, strangely philosophical nonsense that gets more delectable with every course.
The Sopranos: Season 1 to 6
Every episode of the multi-award-winning mob drama – named the best-written television show in history by the Writers Guild of America – returns to Sky Box Sets. Over the course of six seasons, James Gandolfini and a superb ensemble cast, including Edie Falco, Lorraine Bracco and Michael Imperioli, deal with myriad personal and professional problems, from power struggles and affairs, to violence and the threat of exposure and betrayal. Hailed as a masterpiece by critics, The Sopranos is one not to miss.
Available until 25th December 2019
The Strain: Season 1 to 4
Guillermo del Toro’s sci-fi horror is based on the best-selling vampire novel trilogy co-written by the Pan’s Labyrinth director and author Chuck Hogan. The series, set in New York, opens with a feature-length episode and follows the lethal outbreak of a virus linked to an ancient undead force. House of Cards’ Corey Stoll is on charismatic form as Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, the head of the Center for Disease Control Canary, who finds himself investigating the mysterious disease, with David Bradley stealing scenes as the wizened old man who has seen this danger before. Trashy, stylish fun.
The Affair: Season 1 to 4
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. We can’t wait for Season 5, where we get the perspective of the local bus driver. Or Season 6, where we find out what the postman makes of it all. (Season 5 is available on-demand until 5th December 2019.)
Available until 27th December 2019
Twin Peaks: Season 1 and 2 (and The Return)
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 – and then catch up on the 2017 revival. If you’ve seen it already, you don’t need us to convince you to watch it again.
Available until 31st December 2019
Based in 1970s London, the group of activists go head-to-head with a racist police force who are dedicated to crushing them. Idris Elba plays Kent, a second generation Brit dedicated to achieving equality for black people in Britain through peaceful and intellectual methods, who finds himself at odds with Frieda Pinto and Babou Ceesay as a young couple who become increasingly active, as the political becomes personal. Examining the nature of a relationship under pressure, it poses the question: what if the original Black Power movement in London had used violence?
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.
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.
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.
Available until 13th November 2019
Nashville: Season 1 to 5
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.