Day million-and-twenty-three of lockdown. It might be a Thursday, it might be a Sunday. Who knows? Are you even wearing pants right now? Anyway. I’m sure it’s occurred to you that all this sudden downtime is best used doing little else than binge-watching TV. You switched on cats and kittens may have already tuned into the antics of the Tiger King, caught onto Ozark, burnt through Money Heist and watched (maybe through your fingers) the Gangs of London get grimy.
But a TV addict’s work is never done. There are still some shows, past and present that deserve your love!
I’ve split my recommendations to suit the mood swinging nature of quarantine. We have drama to escape into and some reality TV to add some light and laughter.
THE NEST – BBC iPlayer
Starring Martin Compston, better known as AC-12’s finest DC Steve Arnot from Line of Duty, this four-part story set in Edinburgh explores what happens when desperate, wealthy couple Dan and Emily turn to a teenage tearaway to carry their child. The Nest is a tale that pulls you in from the start, trailing gentle seeds of unrest through its first episodes – enough to make you feel you know where the trail is going before it….turns. With strong acting, particularly a mesmerising performance from young newcomer Mirren Mack, The Nest is a powerful exploration of family, hidden truths and path of redemption.
UNORTHODOX – NETFLIX
Loosely based on the memoirs of Deborah Feldman, and set in an ultra-orthodox Jewish community living in Williamsburg, New York, Unorthodox follows 19-year-old Esty as she escapes to Berlin in search of freedom. We meet Esty at the very moment she takes only the items in her pockets and sneaks past the watchful eye of her community. The four-part series then moves expertly between Esty making friends and pursuing her dreams of music, flashbacks to her struggles adjusting to coming of age within her community, and the husband she left behind who journeys to bring her home. The series is mostly in Yiddish, which feels authentic and helps envelop the viewer into Esty’s world as we learn how she came to feel stifled and ultimately reject the only way of life she’s ever known. Unorthodox is an emotional, eye-opening, and life-affirming exploration of a young woman reclaiming her autonomy and coming to terms with the collision of her past and present.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS – AMAZON PRIME
A classic show often lumped in with other teen dramas of the early to mid-00s, such as The OC or One Tree Hill, but criminally far less watched; Friday Night Lights follows the Dillon Panthers, a Texan high school (American) football team in pursuit of state championship glory. Guiding the team through the trials and tribulations of growing pains as well as glory is Coach Taylor, a pure-hearted family man who tries to juggle the high expectations of the townspeople with being a husband and father. Friday Night Lights is arguably one of the greatest teen dramas ever made; focusing not just on the Panthers themselves, but life in a small town, like many in America, where success and stardom seem the only means of escape – but cannot be guaranteed for all. This show boasts a host of familiar faces including Jesse Plemons (Breaking Bad, Black Mirror), Taylor Kitsch (John Carter, Waco), and most notably Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther, Just Mercy). You don’t need to be interested in American Football to love this show, just a fan of great acting, tough lessons and inspirational speeches, because Coach sure has a lot of em.
THIS IS US – AMAZON PRIME
Have tissues ready. And maybe someone to give you a hug. And a comfort treat. Now I know not everyone will rush towards a show that will assault your emotions – particularly right now – however, This Is Us is truly soup for the soul. Following the “Big Three”, triplets Randall, Kevin and Kate Pearson, the show moves through their lives both in the present, past and future. Kate is an aspiring singer juggling weight issues with stepping out of her mother’s shadow, whilst Kevin is a successful actor longing to define himself in a serious role and struggling with substance abuse. Randall faces a unique struggle after being left at a fire station and adopted by Jack and Rebecca Pearson; growing up as an African American in a white family, Randall is now keen to find his father. Whilst these siblings are each extremely different, they are all bonded by a family tragedy that continues to impact their lives and that the viewer comes to know in the best use of continuous, multi-timeline flashback I’ve ever seen used in a show. Tune onto This Is Us for towering performances and a real visceral reminder of what it is to be human, to be fragile, and to be strong. Many shows try to replicate the emotion of This Is Us in a way that is contrived, but this show is for real. Google the awards. Get in touch with your feelings.
MILLION DOLLAR LISTING NEW YORK – Amazon Prime – HAY U
I wasn’t exactly sure I wanted to be looking at New York City’s most luxury homes whilst being stuck in the four walls (and I mean four) of mine; however Million Dollar Listing New York is a frivolous treat. Part of a franchise across several states, Million Dollar Listing New York introduces us to three real estate brokers each fighting it out to close deals, clinch commissions and keep clients happy. Fredrik, a larger than life Swede and former gay porn star (by this own admission), is the big cheese in NYC, with huge deals under his belt, open houses of legend, and killer instinct and attitude. A lot of attitude. Ryan is work hard, play hard; juggling demanding and at times ridiculous clients, but always managing to come through, he’s scrappy and will do whatever it takes to get a sale – even if that means shooting a music video in a clients house without permission. Michael is daddy’s boy born into the business and trying to make his own way; needing Fredrik’s skill and Ryan’s scrap, Michael is a hard worker keen to land on his feet and close deals on his own merit….most of the time. Needless to say, the selling point of this show is the brokers, who when they aren’t handling tough sells, are butting heads with each other with claws out at all times. Once you move past some of the initial grumbles of seeing houses you can’t afford, you do start to take pleasure in seeing truly beautiful spaces, wondering how other more quirky properties will sell, and certainly having an opinion on a client asking for 7 million when that property is clearly only worth 5 million….jeez. Tune in for some escapism with a side of cattiness and spectacle.
THE BIG FLOWER FIGHT – NETFLIX
Whimsy. Whimsy. Whimsy. Just had to get that out there. The Big Flower Fight is a direct disciple of Great British Bake-Off; tent – check, themed weekly challenges- check, quirky presenters – check. However, the Netflix touch makes it an international affair as teams of two from around the world compete in a series of eight challenges with the winner being crowned ‘best in bloom’ and the losers being weeded out of the pack. We also see a revolving door of judges with one resident judge, well cast personality Kristen Griffith-VanderYacht, florist to the stars, and other specialists coming from the wide-ranging botanical industry. I’ll announce at this junction that I have zero interest in gardening. I like looking at pretty flowers because who doesn’t, but a phobia of bees and wasps really ends my involvement there. I loved this show. Whilst initially the show doesn’t seem to know how to balance the number of contestants with enough airtime to properly see all of their creations, once you see the feats achieved – you can’t help but be curiously hooked. Using sculptural structures, teams are tasked with conjuring floral fashion, giant hairy beasts and harvest festival edible thrones amongst other many amazing things. The scale of these projects is truly spectacular and some teams truly excel themselves with offerings that are art installation incredible – including one that is genuinely moving. The Big Flower Fight isn’t perfect, but it’s the light, fun and flimsy energy we need right now and I look forward to seeing future seasons.
RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE – NETFLIX
Across the course of a decade, this show has gone from niche to mainstream front and centre. If you haven’t watched RuPaul’s Drag Race yet then most will have heard of it, or at the very least recognise the statuesque, stunning figure of RuPaul Charles, the most famous drag queen in the world. As a super fan of the show, it’s almost hard for me to write about it without jumping into FULL CAPS and squealing about its majesty – however, here goes. For those uninitiated, each season sees 14 drag queens competing in a series of challenges to be crowned America’s Next Drag Superstar. Challenges revolve around design, acting, comedy, dance, and most importantly, fashion. Queens of all ilks take the runway each week to strut the runway in a series of sickening looks, ranging from night of a thousand Madonnas and business executive realness to eleganza extravaganza and the colour purple. Sound strange? Wait till you see Shakesqueer or Macbitch. Whilst Drag Race marvels in the ridiculous, it’s never without reason. This show, whilst certainly not without its critics and off-screen drama, has been seismic in terms of not only bringing drag culture into the mainstream but showcasing a world where the LGBTQ community can be who they truly are and express themselves in a way that uplifts not only themselves but others. Between the laughs and saucy jokes, the queens are upfront about the struggles they’ve faced, the families they’ve had to leave behind, or been cast out of, and a range of dangerous situations being gay has presented them with. Drag Race is bold, brassy and a whole new world for many of its new fans, but it brings a new level of entertainment, skill, and heart. With queens passing into legend (see: Trixie Mattel, Shangela, Miss Vanjie) and popular culture in their own right, memes and catchphrases aplenty, trust that this unashamedly queer show has something for everyone.
RACE ACROSS THE WORLD (SEASON TWO) – BBC iPLAYER
Again, I know we’re on lockdown, so watching a show about people travelling through some of the most beautiful places in the world while we’re more or less restricted to a merry jaunt to the park doesn’t sound fun – but Race Across The World is excellent. Five teams of two are tasked with travelling from Mexico City across Latin America to the world’s most southerly city Ushuaia in Argentina. This trek will take them two months, covering 15,000 miles and passing through 16 countries, with checkpoints in Honduras, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Chile. Sounds fun. The catch? No flights, no phones, and only £1,453 cash in their pockets at the beginning. The team who reaches the final checkpoint in Argentina will win £20,000. Not only are we dazzled by the array of countries the teams’ race through, but each partnership brings something different. Amongst a well-cast group of travellers, we have uncle and nephew Emon and Jamiul who have been estranged due to a family falling out and are looking to reconnect, Jen and Rob, a married couple discovering a new version of themselves following Rob’s hearing loss, and mother hen Jo, who is taking the opportunity to travel the world for what may be the last time as well as trying to open up new horizons and independence for her son Sam. Watching each team go on a mental and emotional journey with each other is truly heartwarming; coupled with the exhilaration of seeing them running for buses, trains and boats, begging bystanders for help and grafting where they can to earn extra money, Race Across The World is truly an uplifting and interesting watch.
If documentaries are more your thing, take a look at 5 true crime documentaries you need to see.