TV. There’s a lot of it. Too much to watch, unless you have enough screens to consume 13 shows at once, like Ed Harris in the Truman Show. Between trusty old broadcast telly and the insurgent forces of Netflix, Disney, Amazon, Apple and co, there is an astronomical amount of programming currently being pumped out. And, while Succession, Squid Game and the like attract plenty of column inches, there are plenty of other shows that fall between the cracks, either by dint of appearing on a niche network or through being under-promoted by one of the giants. So this week we’re giving overdue props to five of them. And if we’ve missed any (we definitely have), feel free to let us know: more info on that at the bottom of this newsletter.
My Brilliant Friend (Sky Atlantic/Now TV)
Adapting Elena Ferrante’s sprawling yet finely-drawn Neapolitan novels always seemed like an impossible task. And yet, this series – a co-production between HBO and Italian public broadcaster Rai – manages to effortlessly captures the essence of the Italian writer’s coming-of-age saga. Despite this, the series seems to largely fly under the radar in discussions about the best shows of the moment: perhaps its third series, which airs next month in the UK, may push it over the top.
Pls Like (BBC iPlayer)
You’ll only need a spare four hours to watch all of “greying millennial” Liam Williams’s super satire of the world of vloggers: every episode in each of its six-part series is just 15 minutes long. Last year’s third outing was the best yet, expertly skewering influencer culture, but also finding time to poke fun at pandemic-era rules and regs.
The Bureau (Amazon/Sundance Now)
Between Call My Agent, Spiral, Lupin and Baron Noir, French TV is en bonne condition at present. This series, about a deep cover unit (the fantastically titled Le Bureau des Légendes), is widely considered to be the best of the lot, but has barely been seen in the UK, where it is only available on Amazon’s Sundance Now channel. You’ll need to cough up for an extra subscription, but you’ll be rewarded with a fantastically taut drama that combines the better moments of Homeland with layered, Le Carré-ish spycraft.
Dark Side of the Ring (All 4)
It’s been a very long time since I’ve been able to watch professional wrestling with a straight face. But a documentary series about the real life stories behind professional wrestling? That’s another matter. Vice’s documentary exposes the industry’s grim underbelly with tales of addiction, corruption and even murder. At times it veers into salacious true crime territory, but it’s impeccably researched, boasts an impressive roster of talking heads, and manages to pack some truly eye-opening tales into its three seasons.
Steven Conrad is the best TV showrunner you’ve (probably) never heard of. His Amazon comedy-drama Patriot – about a wayward yet lethal, folk song-singing intelligence officer who has to go undercover in a midwest piping company – was one of the most audacious and original shows of the past decade, yet was unceremoniously dumped after two under-watched seasons. He followed it up with Perpetual Grace Ltd (available on another Amazon premium channel, Starzplay), a Coen brothers-ish neo-western which, despite starring Ben Kingsley and Luis Guzmán, ended after season one. Both are very much worth your time, and I’m also looking forward to catching Conrad’s new animated series Ultra City Smiths, which seems to be Raymond Chandler crossed with Team America.
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