It’s coming into a fantastic time of year for TV but what if you’ve missed some of the shows that have already changed the landscape of the small screen as we know it? It’s been a hell of a year for women on the small screen and though they are the primary focus of much of our selection, the common thread of each show is that they all made for exhilarating viewing. Some can be streamed on Netflix, others online or bought on DVD. Have you a favourite or any to add to your must-watch lists?
The Handmaid’s Tale
Atwood’s dystopia in The Handmaid’s Tale is a terrifying vision of oppression that’s frightfully relevant to our times; set in the Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States of America. There’s been a coup, and an all-powerful, Christian fundamentalist army has imposed a terrifying new order on its citizens. There’s no escape and rules that must be obeyed. It’s within this brutal regime that we meet Offred, a Handmaid (Elizabeth Moss), the literal property of a high-ranking “commander,” who must forcibly bear him children. It’s so close to the bone, it’s almost unbearable to watch but it is an absolutely necessary one. Compelling, cinematic and full of mesmerising performances, it’s one of the best TV series to air in years.
Twin Peaks: The Return
The new season of the beloved, cult series was about anything but who killed Laura Palmer – and also everything that linked the three seasons together. We return 25 years after Dale Cooper entered the Black Lodge and much has changed in Twin Peaks. We have aged, the town has aged and the death of a homecoming queen has left a darkness behind that never subsided. It challenged, it broke boundaries, it left us with few answers but Twin Peaks: The Return smashed an unofficial casting paradigm for women and gave us back favorites who haven’t managed to turn back time in the 27 years since the show’s debut. The older cast members have grown; some are wiser, some will repeat the mistakes of the past but they know what we know: you can’t undo those actions. Nor can you always hope to make right the evil in the world. I’ve yet to watch anything that resonates with me as much. It’s thrilling and one of the best things you’ll ever see on TV, so make sure you take every single episode in.
Twin Peaks: The Return is available to stream on NowTV
Big Little Lies
First and foremost, Big Little Lies has a stellar cast: Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley – all actresses of incredible caliber – take leading roles for the HBO limited series based on Liane Moriarty’s best-selling 2014 novel of the same name. The plot revolves around three mothers living seemingly perfect lives until a dark turn of murder leads to everything unravelling, but what it also does is capture a truth on screen – how obsessed we are with other people’s lives. Yes, it revolves around money-obsessed, very attractive Americans, but it does what the best David Lynch films do so well; take a hard look at the cracks beneath a seemingly perfect surface. And as our Lauren Heskin so eloquently summed up: “This TV series is a shot into the heart of Hollywood’s portrayal of women as catty, competitive and superficial creatures, from which we can only hope there’s no turning back.”
Big Little Lies is available to buy on DVD now
Netflix’s Spanish-language series Ingobernable is vastly underrated. Yes, it has subtitles, but don’t let that put you off for even a single minute – it’s a cracker and at its heart is a woman to be reckoned with. It follows the First Lady of Mexico, Emilia Urquiza (played by a captivating Kate Del Castillo), after a violent fight with her president husband leaves him dead – and her the target of a national manhunt. The real drama starts when she’s forced to hide from the people who apparently framed her for Diego’s murder. It’s intriguing and exciting from the get-go with a brilliant heroine and plot twists you’ll never see coming.
Ingobernable is available to stream on Netflix
Billed as “Gossip Girl meets,” the CW’s stylised teen murder mystery was a hit following a confident pilot and immediately gained a devoted fandom. Based extremely loosely on characters from Archie Comics, Riverdale begins with New York it girl Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) arriving in the titular small town, just after the mysterious death of a wealthy local teenager. The first season had ups and downs but it was distinctive, intriguing and kept everyone guessing.
Riverdale is available to stream on Netflix
The highly anticipated seven-part series Keepers attempt to explain the events leading to, and following, the brutal murder of young, beloved nun, Sister Cathy Cesnick. Sister Cathy was killed in November 1969, and her body was found two months later, in early 1970. Ever since the 26-year-old nun and school teacher went missing from her apartment in Baltimore, Maryland, the details of what happened to her that night remained a mystery. This isn’t just about her about tragic death but the quiet quest she was on prior to it to expose the abuse of Father Joseph Maskell who taught at the school she worked in. Haunting, hard to watch, yet extraordinarily gripping, you won’t be able to look away.
The Keepers is available to stream on Netflix
Feud showcased the bitter battle between iconic movie stars Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, played superbly by Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange.
The two cinematic icons apparently harboured a deep hatred of each other, duking it out over the same men and movies Neither made a secret of their dislike for each other but they acted together in 1962’s Whatever happened to Baby Jane to rapturous reviews, and their on-set antics are now legendary, and the basis of the series which went beyond to probe the tragedy behind the icons. But for all the outrageous antics depicted, the series is intended as a close study of two women constantly victimised – by men, by the media, by the studio system – and thus, it is a feminist story and a brilliant watch.
Top of the Lake: China Girl
Robin Griffin is looking to come to terms with her past by trying to find the daughter she gave up for adoption 17 years previously. At the same time, she finds herself caught up in a new case when the body of a young woman washes up on Bondi beach hidden in a suitcase. She then finds herself returning from New Zealand to Sydney to work with a new partner on the investigation which sees them plunge into the dark side of Sydney’s sex industry. Helmed by one of the most incredible female directors working today, Jane Campion, all eyes were on this noir-tinged series, the theme of which is, she says,“whatever you try to sink rises again.” It’s a must-see.
Top of the Lake: China Girl can be streamed on BBC iPlayer