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The small screen renaissance continues
Which came first: the pandemic or the great TV?
Maybe Disney+ would have hit the ground running anyway. Perhaps Marvel’s punt on a faux suburban sitcom as the best way to expand the MCU was guaranteed. We might have gone ga-ga over “Connell’s chain” even if we weren’t trapped indoors for months on end with nothing else to distract us. That’s one for the future pop historians to debate.
Either way, we are indisputably living through a golden age of the small screen. Since 2022 seems to be already shaping up to be a repeat of 2021 and 2020 – at least in terms of our somewhat compromised relationship with the outside world – long may the telly renaissance continue.
This year The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon will keep the fantasy fans happy, Marvel will continue to expand its MCU and we’ll see the return of some genuinely ground-breaking shows including Euphoria and I Love Suzie.
There’s plenty of tantalising new stuff too, from Jed Mercurio’s latest drama to David Tennant’s ever-expanding portfolio of appointment viewing.
Get comfy… it’s another year of great TV.
Your ability to enjoy the return of Natasha Lyonne’s gothic comedy will hinge entirely on how comfortable you are with being entertained by one of the great comic performers of our era while also being just a liiiiiittle bit confused. The premise of season 1 was pretty graspable, if mind-melting in its own way – Lyonne played Nadia, a chain-smoking, gruff-talking New Yorker who finds herself dying over and over again, and forced to relieve her own birthday party almost 30 times (horrors!) while she tries to work out exactly why it’s happening to her. This time, she’s not dying but time-travelling, on the subway, from which she emerges as her own mother, played, when she looks in the mirror, by Chloe Sevigny, who’s trying to save the family gold. Get it? Got it? Nope? No problem. There’s still much to enjoy.
In this witty, pacy adaptation of Mick Herron’s bestselling spy novel, Scottish actor Jack Lowden plays a young spook with a dashing name – River Cartwright – but, sadly for River, the similarities to any other suave spies you can think of ends there. Instead, following a significant screw-up during a training exercise, River finds himself banished to dark, depressing Slough House, a kind of dreary Limbo for a group operatives who’ve malfunctioned in some way and need to be contained. Gary Oldman mumbles and farts his way to glory as Slough House overlord Jackson Lamb (another sexy name that belies the pointed unsexiness of its owner), although soon there’s a genuine espionage intrigue to break the Slough House-mates’ holding pattern.
Ronan Bennett’s Top Boy continues to go from strength to strength despite having made the leap from Channel 4 to Netflix in 2019: in fact, it has arguably benefited from the longer episode running times the streaming platform has afforded. The visceral, urgent and frequently harrowing account of power struggles among gang members, drug lords and the ordinary people in their orbit on the Summerhouse estate in East London, starring the magnetic duo of Ashley Walters as Dushane and Kane Robinson, aka rapper Kano, as Sully, does not shy away from painting the broader societal issues at work while also giving rich psychological depth to the show’s stand-out characters. The fifth and final season has been confirmed and will be, let’s face it, devastating.
Who knew a slick, stylish TV programme could be made about the drudgery of corporate culture? OK, maybe Matthew Weiner of Mad Men, but still, advertising is glamorous in a way that data processing in dreary cubicles is not. So extra props then, to Dan Erickson, creator of stand-out series Severance on Apple TV+, a thrilling and disturbing drama which makes full use of the existential ennui and fearful symmetry of office environments. Adam Scott plays Mark Scout, who in episode one finds himself leading the “severance” programme of Lumon industries, for which employees undergo a medical procedure that separates their work memories from the real-life ones. The cast also includes John Turturro and a savagely frosty Patricia Arquette, and it’s no surprise the second season has already been confirmed.
HBO’s energetic, larger-than-life portrayal of the rise of the LA Lakers, based on Jeff Pearlman’s book Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s, drew some headlines while still in production for being responsible for the end of another dynasty: executive producer Adam McKay allegedly fell out with his long-time friend and Anchorman collaborator Will Ferrell after McKay decided to cast John C Reilly, not Ferrell, as the Lakers’ oily impresario Jerry Buss. Casting was also reportedly difficult for the roles of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, but after an extensive search Quincy Isaiah and Solomon Hughes were given the gigs, and have proved themselves well worth the hunt.
TV commissioners love a charlatan right now, but while Netflix’s Inventing Anna, about society fraudster Anna Delvey, was somewhat disappointing, it was The Dropout on Disney +, starring Amanda Seyfried as disgraced biotech entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes, that brought the fakin’ bacon home. Seyfried is sensational as Holmes, in trademark turtleneck, who, in 2003 and aged just 30, became the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire by virtue of a game-changing medical innovation that could detect a plethora of conditions from a single drop of blood. As you’ve probably foreseen, Holmes’ claims were not entirely watertight.
For the last decade or so, Tim Key has been British comedy’s secret weapon. As well as 12 years as Alan Partridge’s sidekick Simon, he’s popped up in Stath Lets Flats, Peep Show, Detectorists, Pls Like and loads else besides; now, alongside This Country‘s Daisy May Cooper, he’s got his first gig where he’s the main man. Scripted by the Gibbons brothers, who revamped Partridge, The Witchfinder is a historical sitcom set in 1645. Key and Cooper are witchfinder Gideon Bannister and Thomasine Gooch, the witch he has found. They have to go on a road trip across East Anglia, and – wouldn’t you know it? – get into some scrapes along the way.
The People Just Do Nothing gang signed off from Kurupt FM with their Big in Japan film, but they’re still very much in each other’s pockets – and for The Curse, they’ve for King Gary‘s Tom Davis in tow too. It’s a period crime caper set in a beautifully observed mid-Eighties East End, and it lays its cards on the table at the end of its first episode. Tash (Emer Kenny) and Albert (Allan Mustafa) are just about managing their cafe when Tash’s brother Sidney (Steve Stamp) tips them off about a £50,000 score coming into his lock-up. Albert and his idiot mates go for it, but soon find their plot overtaken by genuine hard nuts who know what they’re doing. It turns out that Sidney might have undersold the prize: they make off with several million pounds’ worth of gold bullion. But, as Tash tells us at the end of the first episode, there’s a curse on that gold, and all but one of the burglars will die by the story’s end. Really funny and satisfyingly twisty.
Part disaster movie, part Lord of the Flies rewrite, part horror-mystery, Yellowjackets stacks a lot onto its plate. It’s split between two timeframes too: back in 1996, a high school football team’s plane crashes in the wilderness, and the survivors form into cannibalistic gangs; in 2021, members of that same team get stuck into some blackmailing, kidnapping, love triangles and political chicanery. It’s a wonder that it all hangs together at all, but its mordant humour and commitment to the pure horror of the 1996 storyline give it real crackle.
The sixth and final season of the floppily-chapeau’d gangster drama returns after a two-year gap to resolve the season five cliff-hanger. When we last saw Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) he had a gun to his head, after seeing visions of his late wife Grace (Annabelle Wallis). Now the . The fascism subplot of the last season continues, with some big names (Tom Hardy; Anna Taylor-Joy) returning to give the whole thing a suitably grand send-off. Get yourself in the mood with our oral history of Peaky Blinders.
Detailing the fallout from the stolen sex tape made by honeymooners Pamela Anderson and Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee in 1995, you’ll either see it as (a) exploitative gonzo TV at its silliest or (b) a more nuanced reflection on commerce and celebrity in the pre-mainstream internet age. Either way, you’re going have a look, right? Seth Rogen’s in it, too.
US-UK co-produced drama adapting the hit Adam Kay nonfiction book of the same name, about the tribulations of a NHS employee working his way through the hospital system, with the long hours and stress derailing his personal life. Ben Whishaw plays junior doctor Kay.
If the pitch promised a certain weary familiarity – it’s Martin Freeman’s turn at a gritty police procedural – the reality is way better than that. Written by ex-cop-turned-author Tony Schumacher in his TV debut, the premise is necessarily open-ended. Freeman’s Chris Carson is a “first responder”, the first man on the scene for literally anything – road accident, neighbourly dispute, old lady dying. Imagine if that was your job. Freeman, in a Bafta-nomination shoo-in, makes it look worse than you can imagine. Baggy-eyed, suddenly middle-aged and sporting a formidable Scouse accent, Carson is buffeted from Liverpool’s mean streets to his psychiatrist’s couch to his exhausted wife at home, in a job he describes as “whack-a-mole, except the moles wear trackies”. Riveting stuff.
Everyone was complicit in billing this as “Jed Mercurio’s new drama”, despite it only being produced by the same company owned by the Line of Duty showrunner. No matter, Trigger Point plays like it’s got Mercurio’s prints all over it. Vicky McClure is once again the cop under pressure. The Metropolitan Police Bomb Disposal Squad is the police department under pressure. Like LoD you need to (a) severely suspend your disbelief and (b) let the preposterous police lingo sail over your head. Like LoD it’s a total blast.
Rue, Jules and the whole dysfunctional gang of drug-addled, sex-addled, phone-addled teenage sinners are back for another roll of the dice in Sam Levinson’s HBO series, the first season of which was wildly popular when released back in 2019. After two Christmas specials, which told Rue and Jules’s relationship from each of their perspectives, and a whole pandemic of production delays to boot, the first episode of season two picks up the pace with a chaotic New Year’s Eve party which teeters on the edge of chaos, with the show’s signature whirling camera shots used to almost nauseating effect. Having won an Emmy for her role as Rue, Zendaya is never better at playing someone just keeping their head above water, and fellow Emmy-winner Labrinth is also back creating magic with the musical score. This trailer has teased a potential moment between Nate (Jacob Elordi) and Cassie (Sydney Sweeney, riding high on her excellent performance in The White Lotus), and there’s also the addition of musician Dominic Fike, who joins the cast a new source of narcotic temptation for Rue. All that plus plenty of the emotional breakdowns and nihilistic excess which has prompted both outrage and delight in its viewers. Buckle up!
Jamie Dornan wakes up in the Australian outback with amnesia and the unwelcome realisation that people he can’t remember want him dead. Memorably shot and with smart use of fast-forward and rewind montages, we’re as in the dark (or possibly overpowering light + desert heat?) as the sometime Hugo Boss model and 50 Shades pin-up. As you might expect, not everyone is who they say they are, adding to the confusion of ‘The Man’ (Dornan), and ours. Yes, it’s a bit Memento-light but if you like this sort of thing – and who doesn’t? – that’s actually a plus. It’s not that confusing.
Atlanta finished its second season way back in pre-Covid 2018 (halcyon days!) now the long wait for season three is officially over. Showrunner, star and 21st Century multi-hyphenate Donald Glover will expand his “Twin Peaks with rappers” universe in the third outing of the comedy-drama, which sees the action moving to Europe. We join Earnest ‘Earl’ Jones plus his crew on the road as they try to acclimatise to success and the unfamiliar environment.
Release date: March 24, TBC
The first season alone has reportedly cost around NZ$650m (£327.7m) and there’s obviously no shortage of material to follow. Will Amazon get its crazy budget back? The history of Tolkien adaptations suggests the answer is yes. Morfydd Clark plays Young Galadriel. Robert Aramayo, Peter Mullan and um (checks notes) Lenny Henry also star.
Release date: 8 September, Amazon
Delayed because of The Obvious, Season 5 will now be with us at the end of the year. Imelda Staunton takes over the role of Queen Elizabeth from Olivia Colman. Jonny Lee Miller will play John Major, Bertie Carvel is Tony Blair (Crown stans will recognise him as journalist ‘Robin Day’ from season two), Elizabeth Debicki is Princess Diana.
Release date: November, Netflix
Billie Piper’s glorious mess of a former popstar-turned-TV-actress Suzie Pickles is back for a second season, with the writing team of Piper and Lucy Prebble reuniting. Season one was rightly acclaimed, an ambitious, messy, comedy-horror about female friendship and modern fame, we cheered for Piper, even as we squirmed.
Release date: Late 2022, Sky Max
Based on the much-loved/ “unfilmable” Nineties fantasy-horror DC comic by Neil Gaiman. After a set of false starts in development as a movie, Netflix has done what Netflix does and turned The Sandman into a big-budget TV series. Tom Sturridge plays Dream, the titular Sandman. Gwendoline Christie, Boyd Holbrook and Charles Dance support.
Release date: TBC, Netflix
David Tennant (demon Crowley) and Michael Sheen (angel Aziraphale) are back for season two of the fantasy series based on the book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Tweets Gaiman: “We get to have new adventures with old friends, to solve some extremely mysterious mysteries, and we encounter some entirely new humans (living, dead, and otherwise), angels, and demons”. The end of season one saw the on-screen/ off-screen pals preventing the apocalypse. Can they do it again?
Release date: TBC, Amazon Prime
Disney didn’t pay $4.05 billion for Lucasfilm to leave any of its Star Wars characters on the shelf. After The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi the latest name to emerge from the frozen carbonite. Ewan McGregor reprises his role as the exiled Jedi Master for the single season show, planned as six hour-long episodes.
Release date: TBC, Disney+
Doctor Who writer-showrunner Steven Moffat reunites with his former Doctor David Tennant for a new BBC miniseries that also stars Stanley Tucci, Lydia West and Dolly Wells. The criss-crossing narrative follows a vicar in a quiet English town, a prisoner on death row in America and a maths teacher trapped in a cellar.
Release date: TBC, BBC One
Emergency blood transfusion from Bruce Banner… what could go wrong? Orphan Black favourite Tatiana Maslany stars as Jennifer Walters whose regular life as a lawyer is complicated by the fact she can now turn green, fly planes and knock down buildings. With four hit live-action Marvel shows in 2021 and four more this year Disney+ has become the dons of superhero spin-off TV. Eyes down for those MCU crossovers, now.
Release date: TBC, Disney+
Set 200 years before Game of Thrones, HotD tells the story of the civil war fought between rival factions of the Targaryen family. Despite being a prequel several of the Westeros locations will be familiar, including the Red Keep on King’s Landing. Matt Smith, Olivia Cooke, Emma D’Arcy and Paddy Considine star. Ten episodes.
Release date: TBC, Sky Atlantic
The first Sally Rooney adaptation on the BBC, Normal People, became one of 2020’s cultural landmarks – @connellschain still has 158,ooo followers. Newcomer Alison Oliver plays 21-year-old student Frances, with American Honey’s Sasha Lane as her best friend Bobbi – their relationship hitting the buffers after Frances hooks up with an older man. It has been adapted by the Normal People crew. Expectations are high.
Release date: TBC, BBC3
Screenwriter Craig “Chernobyl” Mazin oversees the first HBO show to be based on a video game. Set in a post-apocalyptic USA, the series follows Joel (Pedro Pascal) a smuggler tasked with escorting teenager Ellie (Bella Ramsey) through forests and sewers, while avoiding hostile humans and cannibalistic creatures infected by a strain of fungus. Yes, it does sound a bit like The Walking Dead. But with a budget of CA$10m (£5m) behind each episode, much like a bunch of marauding zombies, it’ll be hard to avoid.
Release date: TBC, HBO
David Tennent, hello again. Here Tennant plays the British-naturalised Russian defector and former Russian Federal Services and KGB officer, who was poisoned to death in 2006. It is also the story of the determined Scotland Yard Officers who worked for a decade to prove who was responsible in one of the most complicated, and presumably dangerous, investigations in its history. The four-part series is written by Lupin creator George Kay.
Release date: TBC, ITV