The past year has been great when it comes to offerings on the small screen. Cinema always has a few moments of note but TV has been a more than worthy go-to for extended offerings of the subjects and series we love to obsess over. Below are the shows that didn’t make a whole lot of noise, but which are absolutely worth watching if you missed the first time around.
Based on the popular podcast of the same name, Homecoming is a twisted, mind-bending psychological thriller starring Julia Roberts in her big small screen debut. Heidi Bergman (Roberts) plays a caseworker at the Homecoming Transitional Support Center, a Geist Group facility helping soldiers transition back to civilian life. Four years later Heidi has started a new life, when she begins to get questions about why she left the Homecoming facility.
She soon realises that there’s a whole other story behind the story she’s been telling herself. The series has been directed by Sam Esmail, the acclaimed creator of MR. ROBOT so you know it’s going to be good. Roberts gives an appropriately understated performance and adds star power to a solid cast who know how to do creepy in the best way. Watch S1 before the second series, which is as good but the latter remains superior.
My Brilliant Friend
The series — based on Elena Ferrante’s acclaimed Neapolitan books — begins with two young girls, Lila and Lenu, who live in an impoverished part of post-war Naples, Italy. They are both extremely intelligent, but their differences bring them together, as well as drive a wedge between them. At the start, one is allowed to stay on after primary school and the other forced to stop studying and work in the family business.
We see everything initially through the eyes of the young girls; Lila, the one avoided by all hiding behind a curtain of dirty hair, while Lenu, more studious and a people-pleaser is drawn to her because she is unafraid, determined to discover all that is joyful and dark in the world. They unite over their fierce appetite for discovery and exploration.
The Little Drummer Girl
From the production companies that brought you the seductively brilliant The Night Manager comes a new six-part series on the BBC that already has critics talking. Based on le Carre’s 1983 novel of the same name, The Little Drummer Girl stars rising star Florence Pugh as Charlie Ross, a young woman scraping a living in London as an actress in the 1970s.
Offstage, Charlie is a left-wing idealist and soon after a string of attacks against high-profile Jewish figures across Europe, she’s identified by senior Israeli intelligence agent Martin Kurtz as the perfect person to go undercover to track down the Palestinian kingpin believed to be behind it all. It sounds like a stretch but like its predecessor, it really works once you get into it. The first two episodes are slow burners, but get past them and you’ll be hooked.
House of Cards’ creator abandoned the series at just the right moment — and let’s be honest, the series went downhill well before all the Spacey drama. Now Beau Willimon is back with a brand new series. The First follows humanity’s first visit to Mars. Sean Penn and Natascha McElhone are the two big-name leads who take the helm.
The plot details the crew, under the direction of visionary aerospace magnate Laz Ingram, who have to contend with dangerous situations and personal sacrifice as they undertake the greatest pioneering feat in human history. This one doesn’t heat up until later in the season but it’s already been a hit with critics who insist the show gets under your skin and stays there in a way you couldn’t have anticipated.
The End of the F**king World
This wonderful, weird surprise of a series is one of the best new shows of 2018. The crime-filled, darkly comic series starts in a way that’s rather terrifying — with self-described possible “psychopath” James (Alex Lawther) plotting to kill new girlfriend Alyssa (Jessica Barden). It sounds weird but stick with it; it soon turns into a poignant, crime-filled love story, complete with a fantastic soundtrack. Based on a graphic novel.
Actress Anna Friel remains vastly underrated (she shines in every project she touches) so we were thrilled to see that she’s starring in a new drama, already called a “game-changer” in the way it handles the extremely complex and emotionally-wrought subject of transgenderism by campaigners.
Butterfly – in which she plays mother Vicky Duffy – tells the story of a family coming to terms with the needs of their 11-year-old transgender child Max, who becomes Maxine. Friel said she was drawn to the script because she was taken by its emotional depth and because, as a mother to her own 13-year-old daughter, she very much related to Vicky. “I thought Maxine’s courage and bravery was a beautiful part of the story to tell.”
The Sinner S2
Actress Jessica Biel shone in the first season of the unexpectedly gripping series — an adaptation of the 1999 novel by German crime writer Petra Hammesfahr — which followed mother Cora Tanetti who while out with her family at the beach, is suddenly compelled to murder a man in cold blood. It’s a ‘whydunit’, a murder mystery not focusing on the ‘who’ but why the crime was committed.
Its second season follows the same premise, except this time, we meet a young boy, Julian who has supposedly killed his parents. Everyone quickly establishes how he did it, but no one can figure out why. The series is cryptic; each episode slowly reveals a thread that eventually interweaves into something else. The third season is on Netflix now.