BLACK NARCISSUS (NEON)
Loosely based on the 1939 Rumer Godden novel of the same name (which also spawned a memorable 1947 movie), this 1934-set, three-part mini-series is about a nun who is sent to establish a branch of her order in Himayalas. Unfortunately, she is distracted by a World War I veteran she meets there.
Gemma Arterton heads an impressive cast that also includes Alessandro Nivola, Jim Broadbent, Gina McKee and, in her final role before her death in September, Diana Rigg.
Call the Midwife this ain’t. Instead, this is an intense and increasingly erotic psychological drama which could become habit forming.
CALL MY AGENT (NETFLIX)
Now in its fourth – and final – season, this hilariously cynical French comedy focuses on a top Paris talent agency who are constantly scrambling to keep their top clients happy. Highlights of this latest six-part series include Charlotte Gainsbourg trying to escape a terrible sci-fi movie, Sigourney Weaver demanding a younger love interest and a finale involving Jean Reno.
“At times, its silliness stretches credulity – most of the plots could be resolved in five minutes, if only the characters would talk to each other directly – but it is so charismatic that it almost always gets away with it. … But this remains a wonderful, bright series until the end, and it does end – properly, satisfactorily and neatly,” wrote The Guardian’s Rebecca Nicholson.
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Season 2 of Dickinson begins streaming on Apple TV+ from January 8.
DICKINSON (APPLE TV+)
Hailee Steinfeld returns for another round as the eponymous poet in this comedic reimagining of her life. Series creator Alena Smith says the second season will focus on Emily’s position on fame and how much of her work was written in secret and not published until after her death.
“Steinfeld’s performance remains remarkable and complex,” wrote Culturess’ Lacy Baugher.
THE GOOD LORD BIRD (NEON)
A seven-part, late-1850s-set drama based on James McBride’s critically acclaimed 2013 novel of the same name, this boasts a similar swagger and sensibility to Tarantino’s Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, mixes genre storytelling and modern mores in the same way as Get Out or Us and has a relaxed approach to violence and colourful language that echoes fellow 19th century tales like Deadwood and Hell on Wheels (with which it shares a writer, Mark Richard).
Looking like a cross between latter-day Nick Nolte and Anthony Hopkins in Legends of the Fall and channelling the same fury as Samuel L Jackson at his best, Good Lord’s main drawcard is Ethan Hawke’s performance as abolitionist John Brown. The now 50-year-old former Gen X poster boy spits and dribbles his way through hilarious and endlessly quotable monologues with a voice that sounds like he’s been gargling cocktails of sand and marbles.
Losing Alice is now streaming on Apple TV+.
LOSING ALICE (APPLE TV+)
Eight-part, erotic psychological thriller from Israel which tells the story of ambitious 47-year-old film director Alice, who becomes obsessed with a 24-year-old femme-fatale screenwriter called Sophie. Through the prism of this female Faust, the series explores issues such as guilt; jealousy; fear of ageing, rage and the complex relationships women have with each other, says director Sigal Avin.
“For anyone who loves a good story about two equals ripping each other to shreds, Losing Alice has that in spades… Yet the saga that Losing Alice perfects is truly an internal one. This mini-series captures the war between art and life in a way that’s equally self-deprecating and immediately identifiable,” wrote Deadline’s Kayla Cobb.
NIGHT STALKER: THE HUNT FOR A SERIAL KILLER (NETFLIX)
The true crime specialist streaming service’s latest four-part doco series takes a look at one of the most feared killers in American history and the paranoia that swept through 1985 Los Angeles, via the recollections of the two detectives that hunted him down.
“Almost certain to keep you in its grips from the opening sequences to the final images. We are very early in the 2021 viewing season, but it’s difficult to imagine any project in this genre having a more profound impact. This is great television,” wrote Chicago Sun-Times’ Richard Roeper.
RESIDENT ALIEN (TVNZ ONDEMAND)
Santa Clarita Diet and Firefly star Alan Tudyk plays Harry Vanderspiegle, a small-town doctor with a big secret in this new US dramedy. He’s actually an alien who crash-landed on Earth and is now struggling to carry out the nefarious mission he was sent here for.
“Laugh-out-loud funny, full of heart-felt moments and, much like Harry himself, surprisingly sincere. It’s the first must-watch show of 2021,” wrote The Gazette’s Terry Terrones.
TOP GEAR (TVNZ ONDEMAND)
We already knew they’d remodelled and restored the show back to its original car focus, but now the current trio have successfully taken over the mantle as the most entertaining hosts of a magazine-style motoring series – in the world.
Yes, while their once beloved predecessors now flounder about on the occasional odyssey that just happens to involve them driving vehicles, this triumvirate offer practical advice and assessments of the latest models amongst bouts of supreme silliness and sometimes hilarious hijinks.
Season 29 is the third cycle of episodes involving the comedian (Paddy McGuinness), the cricketer (Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff) and the car enthusiast (Chris Harris) and despite the necessary concessions made to Covid-19, it still provides plenty of thrills, spills, pranks and pant-wettingly funny moments.