Ok, normally I’d write a ‘best of’ roundup at the end of year or perhaps in January. But it’s now April and I’m only just getting around to it. I’ve been busy, and pandemic life gets in the way, to misquote Jurassic Park.
But back to the matter at hand. What did I watch last year? What did I enjoy? What surprised and delighted me? Read on.
It’s a mighty tough act to follow Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 film. There was pressure on this show to deliver. Luckily it turned out well – the first season was a twisty tale of toil and suffering, with a bit of revolution thrown in, and Daveed Diggs and Jennifer Connelly were perfectly cast as its two leads. Also, season two is out now.
This arrived last October on Netflix without much fanfare. I love shows like Vikings and Spartacus, so I gave it a go. I’m glad I did, because it was surprisingly compelling. Not spectacular, but comfortably deserves a second season. The dynamic between barbarians Thusnelda (Jeanne Goursaud) and Folkwin (David Schutter), and roman soldier Armenius (Laurence Rupp) are what drove the whole thing along and made it work so well.
I wrote a review for this HBO-BBC co-produced show, calling it This Life meets Billions. It’s about a group of sexy young graduates trying to make it at a London investment bank. A second season is coming.
Locke & Key
This show’s based on a Joe Hill graphic novel. When I first heard they were doing it I was surprised – as it feels a tricky story to bring to life on TV. The first season was fairly good, and a second’s on the way.
I’m not sure if this counts as TV. Steve McQueen’s anthology was basically a series of movies, or long TV episodes. Either way they were fantastic, particularly Lovers Rock (pictured) and Mangrove.
A gentle sci-fi comedy starring Andy Allo and Robbie Amell. Allo’s character Nora is assigned to Amell’s Nathan, a man who died and got uploaded into a virtual afterlife. Slowly, they fall for each other. It’s sweet and heartwarming and a second season is on the way.
From the somewhat disturbing sci-fi brain of writer-director Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation), Devs follows computer engineer Lily (Sonoya Mizuno) as she investigates her boyfriend’s murder.
This show blew me away. The performances from the two leads, Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal) were astonishing. It’s the story of two people growing up in Northern Ireland and how their lives romantically intertwined. Adapted from a Sally Rooney novel it received critical acclaim on release.
The Queen’s Gambit
Scott Frank is one talented dude (for those not aware, he wrote Minority Report, Logan, TV show Godless and more). This limited series tells the tale of chess prodigy Beth Harmon’s (Anya Taylor-Joy) struggle with addiction as she becomes a global chess star.
Gentle comedy is not typically my thing. And yet… this show drew me in. By the second episode I was hooked and blasted the entire thing in a few days. The first season came out in 2019, with the second plus the Christmas special out last year. In a world of bleak, dark drama this show was warm and welcome change of pace. A third season should be out later this year, and I can’t wait.
It feels like a lifetime ago that this strange documentary came out, but it was actually the start of lockdown (March 2020) in the UK. I can’t even imagine the pitch of this to Netflix. It’s about, er, a gay tiger breeder called Joe Exotic and the mad events which ultimately led to his imprisonment. Sold! Oh, and if you need a sweetener, Nic Cage might play him in an upcoming show.
Three episodes is all we got from creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, yet the first two in particular were extremely good. Dracula (Claes Bang) felt different to previous iterations. His scenes facing off against Sister Agatha Van Helsing (Dolly Wells) were when the show really came alive and sparked.
The first season was an unknown quantity. Turns out it was about a rather sweet and dyfunctional family of superheroes. Season 2, out last year, had the gang time travel to the 1960s, giving the characters complicated issues to deal with around racism, sexuality and, er, which of them was responsible for the assassination of JFK.
Season 2 of this show went a little head to head with the one above it in this list, and I have to say, I think The Boys came out on top. Much of this was down to the deliciously evil performance by Antony Starr as Homelander, and the addition of equally evil ‘hero’ Stormfront (Aya Cash). Season three started filming earlier this year.
The second season of this show aired in January 2020, which sounds like a long time ago. Yet it’s a show that’s so firmly on the cultural pulse and has such well drawn characters that it sticks in the mind. So much so that I feel like I watched it yesterday. This second season, in some ways, feels more grown up than the first, tackling big themes like sexual harassment, toxic masculinity and sexual desires in a deeper way. Season three is likely to arrive later this year.