Lockdown may be easing but the weather’s turn for the worse still has us largely stuck to our sofas for the foreseeable. We’re here to keep you entertained with our top picks of what to watch next. By Sarah Bradbury.
I May Destroy You – BBC iPlayer series
This new series from BBC has had rave reviews across the board and it’s not hard to see why. Behind it is Chewing Gum star Michaela Cole, who writes, stars and also part-directs a story that revolves around hedonistic author Arabella. After rushing to finish the draft of her second book – the follow-up to Twitter-viral Chronicles of a Fed-Up Millennial – she must piece together what’s happened to her after blacking out on a night out.
Bold, provocative and shot through humour and an electrifying central performance from Cole, this series thrums with life as it is lived – both the let your inhibitions fly in a club kind and the dark underbelly of trauma that awaits when things go awry. There’s an almost disconcerting realism to Cole’s portrayal and the interactions Arabella has with her friends (played by Weruche Opia and Paapa Essiedu). The rhythm of the dialogue, fluidity of the action, and the imprecise way Arabella tries to recall what’s happened is far more akin to how things play out in reality than we usually see in neatly packaged Hollywood tellings of abuses of consent. Memories and boundaries are blurred; the difficulty in navigating the millennial sexual landscape expertly explored.
However much you’d like to, you can’t blast through this in one sitting as the episodes are being drip-fed week-on-week. This only adds to the tension, as we are left scrambling in the dark to figure out the truth along with our protagonist, fearing only the worst…
Giri/Haji – BBC iPlayer/Netflix series
I’ve been totally obsessed with this highly-original Japanese-English thriller, whose title translates as Duty/Shame, following the ripple effect of a murder across Tokyo and London. World-weary Detective Kenzo Mori (Takehiro Hira) is sent to London under the premise of attending a training course to find his brother Yuto (Yosuke Kubozuka) after the killing of a Yakuza boss threatens to destabilise a truce between rival gangs in Tokyo.
Once there, his path crosses with British detective Sarah Weitzmann (Kelly MacDonald on top dry wit form) and a loose canon of a half-Japanese rent boy Rodney (by far my favourite character, played exceptionally by Will Sharpe who delivers some killer lines) who are later joined by Mori’s rebellious teenage daughter. Together they form a motley crew, jaunting through London’s streets to become even further embroiled in a web of murders, assassins and mysteries, while each have their own emotions and demons to battle.
I love the contrast of the two cities, whose backstreets and interior worlds are wonderfully captured, as well as the cultures, language and humour, which clash and collide throughout. Having spent time in Japan, it feels remiss so few dramas make it over here that portray and explore its fascinating culture. The first part of episode one is entirely in Japanese. How many other times has that happened on British screens? Little touches such as the animated interludes, theatrical uses of split screens and an unexpected choreographed dance sequence are also beautifully placed. I’d be reluctant for a second season only because this one was so perfectly formed.
Valeria – Netflix series
If you ever wondered what a Spanish Sex and the City would look like, then Valeria has your answer. While the characters are a smidge younger, and living in 2020 Madrid instead of 1990s New York, there are numerous parallels. Our Carrie is Valeria, a struggling writer who is facing something of an-almost 30 crisis after being married for six years, being constantly hit on by a distractingly handsome Victor (Maxi Iglesias), and pivoting to write her first erotic novel. Surrounding her are her three bessie mates, Lola, Carmen and Nerea, whose differing lives and attitudes to sex you wouldn’t struggle to match up with Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda.
The series is certainly easy on the eye and not just for the amount of camera-time devoted to Igelsias’s face and abs and the raunchy, wildly explicit sex scenes – it makes Madrid look simply stunning from its vibrant and oh-so-hipster flat interiors to sun-kissed streets (you will want to move there immediately). As with Carrie, you find yourself wondering at times if Valeria is not a bit of a self-indulgent narcissist, but there’s enough jokes at her and her cohort’s expense to charm you back into her world.
It may not seem quite a ground-breaking as Sex and the City did in its day but it still seems refreshing to see such frank depictions of female sexuality on the screen and it brings into the 2020s many of the now-outdated aspects of the American hit series.
Little Fires Everywhere – Amazon Prime series
There’s been much in the press lately about how the arts can help educate on themes of race and racism in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Little Fires Everywhere, while released a few months back, based on the book by Celeste Ng, in that respect could not be more relevant right now.
Reese Witherspoon plays a wealthy privileged white small-town journalist and mother of four (she seems to have nailing this type of role lately, see: Big Little Lies), Elena Richardson, who ends up renting a property in her well-to-do suburban area of Ohio, Shaker Heights, to single black mother and artist Mia Warren (Kerry Washington). However, as their lives and families become more intertwined, things quickly turn sour.
While the series certainly deals with race and racism, it’s often through subtle moments of ignorance and prejudice it’s most powerful: there’s an underlying tension between the women and families from the outset Elena can’t place. When she offers Mia a role as her “house manager”, she does not see why the proposition itself screams of racial prejudice. Attention is also drawn to how differently the white and non-white characters are treated in everyday situations: by the police, by teachers, by the courts, when they don’t have enough coins for the bus or in a shop.
It’s both an entertaining watch in the sense of plot twists and turns and exploring different relationships – between mother and daughter, first love, teenage sex and pregnancy – as well as passing commentary on the pervasive nature of racism and prejudice in US society. I particularly love the complexity of each of the female characters: none come out completely unscathed as each struggles in their own way with their past and present situations.
Top of the Lake – Netflix series
I’m very late to this party but this 2013 crime thriller series from Jane Campion had me on another binge-sesh immediately. If you’re also a fan of Elisabeth Moss this is a must-watch, though here she brings something a bit different from her turns in Mad Men or Handmaid’s Tale. She plays a fearless detective who becomes obsessed with the case of a disappeared 12-year-old pregnant girl in the surrounding small-town area of a freezing lake in New Zealand.
In her investigation she comes up against almost everyone – the less-than-competent police force, the hillbilly rowdy men that dominate the town, her own dying mother – as well as a trauma from her own past. The dark goings-on and rife misogyny will have you riled. But there’s something about the tone and aesthetic that feels offbeat yet compelling and the opaque mystery of who she can trust keeps you hooked. I’m yet to make it to the second season but I can give it to you on good authority that season one is worth your time.
Catch up with our other recommendations here:
- Reviews: White Lines, Anti-viral Wipe, Unorthodox, Devs
- Reviews: Normal People, Fleabag, Top Boy, Tully
- Reviews: Money Heist, How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast), Noughts + Crosses, Ozark, Uncut Gems, System Crasher
What have you been binge-watching lately? Share with the TMIK community at firstname.lastname@example.org.