The Best TV Shows To Binge-Watch This Year
Messrs Peter Mullan and Logan Marshall-Green in Quarry. Photograph by Home Box Office Inc
Five of the most compulsive shows for 2017.
January might be about new beginnings. But it’s also about hunkering down and cosying up. It’s a month for gently restorative indoor pursuits, for ignoring the weather and losing yourself in sprawling small-screen pleasures. Happily, on that score, there’s never been more choice. The competition raging at the heart of the TV streaming revolution means that from baroque fantasy to gritty realism, all tastes are catered for. So do your worst, January. Be as chilly and uninviting as you like. Some of us won’t be leaving the couch.
A Series Of Unfortunate Events (Netflix)
Mr Louis Hynes, Ms Malina Weissman and Mr Neil Patrick Harris in A Series Of Unfortunate Events. Photograph by Mr Joe Lederer/Netflix
The episodic nature of Mr Daniel Handler’s original book series meant this much-loved children’s classic was always likely to be a better fit for TV than film. And so it proves. This lavish rendering is beautifully realised and tonally perfect. Furthermore, while the target audience was originally teenagers, the story of the comically unfortunate Baudelaire children contains wise and occasionally moving meditations on loss, loyalty and mortality that make this an entirely guilt-free adult pleasure, too. Mr Neil Patrick Harris animates the fiendish Count Olaf with furious glee, while the Baudelaires (Ms Malina Weissman, Mr Louis Hynes and Mr Presley Smith) are cute, vulnerable, resourceful and always the right side of twee.
Mr Logan Marshall-Green in Quarry. Photograph by Home Box Office Inc
As Mr Matthew McConaughey’s damaged detective Rust Cohle proved in the first season of True Detective, it’s amazing what horror can lurk behind a straggly moustache and mullet combo and a pair of dead eyes. Mr Logan Marshall-Green pulls off a similar trick here in his portrayal of Vietnam veteran Mac Conway, who returns from the war traumatised, unemployable and accused of a role in an unspeakable atrocity. Before long, he’s drifting into the dangerous orbit of The Broker (played by the reliably fearsome Mr Peter Mullan), an underworld fixer on the lookout for troubled souls whose combat experience and moral confusion can be put to murderous use. Bleak and compelling.
The OA (Netflix)
Ms Brit Marling in The OA. Photograph by Ms JoJo Whilden/Netflix
An enigmatic, troubled girl with a clinical-sounding name and a traumatic past arrives in a small American town. She hints at having experienced parallel dimensions, and soon the town’s misfits begin to rally around her. Shades of Stranger Things are impossible to ignore in The OA. But this is a darker, odder and less self-conscious affair than Netflix’s 2016 smash and, while the climax has divided fans and critics, once The OA gets its claws into you, it will prove every bit as compulsive. The show is the brainchild of Ms Brit Marling (who also stars) and director Mr Zal Batmanglij. Together, they’ve conjured up something moody, mysterious and unique.
Sneaky Pete (Amazon Prime)
Mr Giovanni Ribisi in Sneaky Pete. Photograph courtesy of Amazon Prime
Mr Giovanni Ribisi has one of those faces. Recognisable, but the context doesn’t always spring immediately to mind. So he’s a perfect fit for the lead role in this new drama. As the brainchild of Mr Bryan Cranston, Mr David Shore (House) and Justified creator Mr Graham Yost, Sneaky Pete has considerable pedigree. And there’s a debt to Breaking Bad’s pitch-black humour in the show’s tone. Mr Ribisi is Marius, a released convict with a problem involving limited cash flow and a soured relationship with a New York mobster (Mr Cranston, enjoying himself tremendously). Luckily, Marius is an accomplished con man, whose cellmate – the titular Pete – was the estranged son of a wealthy family in rural Connecticut. Why not simply take a new name and join a new family? Soon flaws in this plan begin to multiply, and very entertainingly, too.
The Passenger (Walter Presents)
Mr Jean-Hugues Anglade and Ms Raphaëlle Agogué in The Passenger. Photograph courtesy of Walter Presents
This darkly stylish French thriller is the pick of the recent offerings from Channel 4’s foreign drama platform Walter Presents. We begin with the striking image of a murdered minotaur and the Greek mythology-inspired slayings are soon stacking up, all carried out in increasingly bloody and inventive fashion. This has the happy narrative side effect of uniting psychiatrist Mathias Freire (Mr Jean-Hugues Anglade) and Ms Raphaëlle Agogué’s fiery cop Anaïs Châtelet. They’re classic crime drama frenemies with a gender twist: he’s brain, she’s brawn; he’s analytical, she’s instinctive. They drive each other crazy, but might counter-intuitive sparks fly between them? Don’t bet against it.