Binge watching on a wet weekend
Spring is here… ish. It’s New Zealand so the weather is bound to take its time hitting its stride.
When (not if) you get a weekend where the weather fails and you’re desperately looking for some entertainment, don’t waste your time scrolling through Netflix with a hit-and-hope approach to the remote.
I’m back to help and not by telling you to watch the entire box set of Madmen or Breaking Bad, who has time for that? I’ve got a selection of weekend-bingeable shows with one or two seasons in the can so you don’t feel like you have to make a long-term commitment to catch up.
This fictionalised story traces the evolution of the FBI’s criminal profiling team, who created the term “serial killer”. Hands down, it’s my favourite drama of the past year. It’s based on a 1995 book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit and walks the line between a true crime anthology (meet America’s weirdest and most sadistic killers) and a psychological thriller. FBI agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff, best known for his work on Glee … yes, this is a big sideways step for him) is the lead but the previously unknown Cameron Britton, playing 205cm “co-ed killer” Ed Kemper, steals the show. Ford’s relationships with his partner, girlfriend and boss glue the episodes together but his somewhat unhealthy bond with Kemper is the narrative force. Smart, disturbing and edgy, Mindhunter is to die for.
The star-studded cast is one of the best recommendations for Collateral. Carey Mulligan (the adored star of Pride & Prejudice, An Education, The Great Gatsby) is joined by John Simms, Nicola Walker, Billie Piper and Saskia Reeves in a police-meets-politics drama written by Britain’s pre-eminent playwright Sir David Hare. The cast is precisely why this BBC-Netflix collaboration became a miniseries. Hare envisaged it as a film but was told “too many leading characters”. So, it breaks the rules in terms of TV drama by taking your focus in many directions at once. A pizza delivery man is gunned down in the street and what follows is an intertwining of lives and institutions – from the church to the political arena to the army, with Mulligan’s DI Kip Glaspie (somewhat unbelievably her backstory is as a former pole vault champion) relentlessly pulling it all together with her tireless investigation. And at just four hours in total you can watch it in an afternoon.
There’s period drama and then there’s Harlots, a raunchy, titillating period drama about warring brothels in 18th-century London (Downton Abbey this ain’t). Fiendish plots, double-crossing, mayhem, murder and sex are wrapped up in a brilliantly shot, intricately-plotted show starring Samantha Morton as Margaret Wells, who became a “harlot” at the age of 10 when her mother sold her into the brothel of Lydia Quigley (Leslie Manville) for a pair of shoes. Margaret sets up her own brothel to try to undermine Quigley’s upscale bordello and yet ends up selling her own daughters in one way or another. It’s drawing a long bow, given the slight time difference in which they’re set, but this is like the dark underbelly of Downton Abbey – driven home by the casting of Jessica Brown Findlay (almost unrecognisable as Lady Sybil Crawley from Downton Abbey) as Margaret’s conniving daughter Charlotte.
Alias Grace (Netflix)
The adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has been one of the most talked about TV series in a long time, but an equally good Atwood-adaptation was released at the same time and flew under the radar. It shouldn’t have, because Alias Grace is a powerful and thought-provoking six-part miniseries based on the true story of Irish immigrant servant in Canada named Grace Marks, who in 1843 was convicted of murdering her employer and housekeeper (played by Anna Paquin). Sarah Gadon in the lead role is extraordinarily good as the unreliable narrator who is either a downtrodden victim or a sociopathic murderer … it’s a different kind of maid’s tale but just as riveting.
And if the Handmaid’s Tale is about one kind of dystopian future, a reversion to biblical times, say, Westworld is the flipside where the future of artificial intelligence opens up a world in which anything is possible. In this case, a theme park where human visitors can interact with cowboy robots and do anything they please. But the question becomes, if you can do anything you want without fear of punishment do leave your moral belongings at the door? Couple that with a mystery thriller and you have a highly addictive show.
Killing Eve (TVNZ OnDemand)
There’s not too many programmes that could pull off the murder mystery, thriller, comedy concoction of Killing Eve. It’s so ludicrously balanced you feel is could fall from the high wire at any moment but like any great circus act, half the fun is holding your breath in anticipation. Eve (Sandra Oh) is a spy searching for an assassin, Villanelle (Jodie Comer). Oh’s deadpan humour and Comer’s loveable malevolence make this both wicked and funny.
Kids tucked in bed: Catastrophe (Neon) - irreverent adult-oriented rom-com about a couple thrown together after their one-night stand results in a pregnancy.
Funny and familiar: Seinfeld (Lightbox) - The great thing about Seinfeld is that you can watch any show at any time and not have to worry about the narrative arc. It is what is, which is funny (still).
Connect with the teens: Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Netflix) - Think of The Office repositioned in a police station and you get the picture.
When-you-want-to-learn-about-politics-but-don't-want-to-watch-CSPAN: The Veep (Neon) – An episode in series six has vice-president Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) monitoring a free election in a former Soviet republic. It’s LOL funny because it’s so close to the bone.
Tips on how to watch
Your ultimate setup for streaming the content you love looks like this:
fibre + unlimited data + a Smart TV plugged into your modem.
There are heaps of ways to watch Netflix, Lightbox and other streaming services. The easiest is through an app on your Smart TV but you can also stream shows through your laptop or PC. However you watch, it’s best to make sure your devices are using the best broadband connection so you don’t get the dreaded mid-episode pause while your device “buffers”.