In a world of Netflix and Prime Video, iPlayer and Apple TV+, our options for long form narrative storytelling has multiplied beyond measure over the last decade. The days of being limited to terrestrial TV have become a distant memory, and the hundreds of channels on a Sky or Freeview box often play second fiddle to the high budget programmes being produced across streaming services. The introduction of Disney+ and Britbox over the last year has introduced even more choice, and it can at times be quite daunting trying to choose a series to dedicate hours of your life to. I’ve always been a huge fan of storytelling through television, and perhaps foolishly tend to juggle far too many series at once (My TV Shows list on IMDb currently has 36 titles, with 12 of those being watched in rotation at the time of writing).
If, like me, you’re not selective with genre, that makes your choice even wider, with hundreds of programmes rated 7.5 or higher on IMDb, you really have to be selective on what you spend your time on. Below I have selected five TV programmes that I feel provide something special among the sea of series available to viewers today, watchable on either Amazon Prime, NOW TV (Sky) or BBC iPlayer and differing in genre from Sci-Fi to Action to Drama.
Devs, written and directed by filmmaker Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation) is a mind bending TV Mini-Series that aired earlier this year. Starring Sonoya Mizuno (Ex Machina, Maniac) and Nick Offerman (Parks & Recreation) it tells the story of Lily Chan (Mizuno), a computer engineer at Google-esque Silicon Valley tech company ‘Amaya’, who begins to question the corporations nefarious intentions after her boyfriend disappears.
The show really gripped me over the eight episodes, keeping viewers guessing about what the hell was going on, it reminded me of what it was like watching LOST all those years ago. It offers that scary type of science fiction that seems almost plausible, the argument over where we are heading with artificial intelligence and the power big tech companies hold in developing machines that could alter reality as we know it.
The show is beautifully crafted, with Garland bringing on frequent collaborators Rob Hardy as Cinematographer and Ben Salisbury as Composer, producing a programme of cinematic quality seen only in a few other shows this year. It’s a stylised slow burner, carefully unwrapping each nuanced layer of the story and drawing you deeper and deeper into its reality bending narrative. If you’re a fan of Garland’s films, or science fiction in general is your thing, choosing this show is a no brainer and should be at the top of your list. Devs was produced by FX Hulu but is available for free on the BBC iPlayer in the UK.
Gangs of London
Similar to Devs, Gangs of London’s creator Gareth Evans arrives from a feature film background (Director of renowned Indonesian action flicks The Raid & The Raid 2). The show, which aired all episodes immediately in April 2020, tells the story of various international gang families in London whose operations are thrown into disarray when the head of the Wallace family is assassinated. The shows follows protagonist Elliot Finch (Sope Dirisu), a grunt who finds himself thrown right into the heart of the Wallace family after an act of courage. I really can’t say too much about the show without giving plot points away, it’s at times high octane action and at times a very personal drama, bringing the trials and tribulations of various characters together in a similar vein to Game of Thrones. Also we have to talk about the violence, man the violence! If you’ve seen either of The Raid films you’ll know what I’m talking about. Evans brings a very noticeable style for both choreographing and shooting fight scenes; It’s rhythmic, it’s direct, it’s savage, it will have you on the edge of your seat and out of breath. Alongside Sope Dirisu the show stars Joe Cole (Peaky Blinders), Michelle Fairley (Game of Thrones) and Lucian Msamati (His Dark Materials) and aired on Sky Atlantic while also being available on Now TV.
Sally Rooney’s 2018 bestselling novel Normal People, which sold over 64,000 copies in its first four months of release, received its television adaptation earlier this year from directors Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald. Starring Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar Jones, it tells the story of Connell (Mescal) and Marianne (Edgar-Jones), two people from the same small town who weave in and out of each others romantic lives through school, college and beyond.
I normally veer towards television with some element of science fiction, horror or mystery attached to it and while I usually pass on romantic dramas, I’m thankful I gave Normal People a try because I have to say it’s easily up there as my favourite show of the year. You really feel for these two characters, the performances from Mescal and Edgar-Jones are truly stellar and the story draws you in from the get go. Set in Ireland, it portrays moments that I clearly remember from my own time at school, college and university, which makes the shows themes around first love, mental health and confidence hit home even harder. The shows cinematography and music choices are equally beautiful, I implore you to give this show a go.
Normal People is available for free in the UK on BBC iPlayer.
Tales from the Loop
Based on the beautiful picture books from artist Simon Stalenhag, Tales from the Loop tells the story of the residence of the town of Mercer, whose lives are influenced by the mysterious underground facility know as ‘The Loop’. Each episode of the show follows a different member of the community, with some form of science fiction element manifesting as a result of The Loop. Set in an alternate version of the 1970’s; Episodes move from time travel to time pausing, from body switching to alternate realities and everything in-between. The show has a beautiful score from Philip Glass and Paul Leonard-Morgan, stars the brilliant Rebecca Hall and Jonathan Price among others, and even has the accomplished Jodie Foster direct one of the episodes. It’s slow burning at times, allowing Glass’s score and cinematography from the likes of Jeff Cronenweth (Gone Girl, Fight Club) to take you on an ethereal journey through the picturesque landscape. Tales from the Loop is an Amazon Original available exclusively on Prime Video.
My final television selection is a show that actually finished late last year, but one that I feel not enough people have watched. Sam Esmail’s Mr Robot starring Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Carly Chaikin and BD Wong brings us Elliot (Malek), an introverted cyber-security engineer by day and a vigilante hacker by night. I really don’t like giving too much of this show’s plot away, but over its four seasons I can honestly say it is the best television show I have ever watched.
It’s at times highly surreal, at times highly poignant and portrays easily one of the best representations of mental health I’ve seen on screen. The show has its own unique cinematography, from the great Tod Campbell, alongside an excellent score from Mac Quayle that fits the show perfectly. The double twist at the end of season one will be like a sucker punch to the gut, and the way the series wraps in the final episode is perfection that is so easily botched by many a show (see Game of Thrones).
Mr Robot is available on Amazon Prime Video, and if there’s one show on this list I definitely think you should watch, that’s the one. Thanks for reading!