Some people are happy with a 90-minute movie, with one set of characters, and a storyline resolved in an evening. We are not those people. We are box set addicts, compelled to watch episode after episode, season after season of the latest must-watch show. Here's a list of some of our favourites - discover a new series or re-visit a classic.
A sexy, witty murder mystery set among California’s moneyed elementary school moms. And it comes with an A-list cast – Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Alexander Skarsgård, Laura Dern – giving excellent performances across the board. It may start out soapy, but it deepens into a pitch-dark exposition of married life and the disturbing truths that can lurk behind closed doors.
I can't tell whether this HBO series based on Tom Perrotta's novel is really deep or whether it's just pretending to be deep and I'm too shallow to figure it out! But I do know that until its third and final season ended on Sunday, "The Leftovers" was definitely the most interesting and original show currently in production. Justin Theroux plays a small town sheriff trying to keep things together in the wake of the "Sudden Departure", an event where 2% of the world's population just randomly disappeared all at once. His wife's (played by Amy Brenneman) response is to join a cult, the main features of which are not speaking and chain-smoking cigarettes. Just watch it. Mike (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)
Set against the real events, culture wars and political realities of Germany in the 1980s, this 8-part drama series is a stylish coming-of-age story, framed within a suspenseful Cold War thriller. In German with subtitles, interspersed with a retro-cool Europop soundtrack.
This is a fabulous HBO miniseries created and written by the novelist Richard Price (who also worked on The Wire). A young man is arrested for the murder of a woman with whom he spent a wild night. Did he kill her or didn't he? I was a little disappointed to find this was actually based on a British tv series (Criminal Justice) but it is so good that fact can be overlooked. It also means you can watch the original when you are done with this! Mike (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)
The night manager at a posh Cairo hotel is recruited to infiltrate the trusted inner circle of a ruthless arms dealer. Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman make up the excellent cast.
The sleeper hit of 2015 is a mesmerising, trippy tale of hacktivism and corporate evil that plays fast and loose with the truth and has two stand-out performances from Rami Malek and Christian Slater.
Set in the not-so-happy valleys of West Yorkshire, this gripping 6-part drama stars Sarah Lancashire as Sergeant Catherine Cawood, and a very menacing James Norton (Grantchester) in a tale of drugs and a kidnapping plot gone very wrong. Written by Sally Wainwright (Scott & Bailey, Last Tango in Halifax).
Set during the Napoleonic Wars in an England where magic once existed and is about to return. So begins a dangerous battle between two great magicians. Eddie Marsan and Bertie Carvel star in the seven-part mini-series, adapted from Susanna Clarke’s bestselling novel.
When Steven Soderbergh "retired" from filmmaking, he didn't promise to stay away from directing for television. And what television this is! Clive Owen plays Dr. John Thackery, a pioneering surgeon and raging cocaine addict at New York City's Knickerbocker Hospital in the early 20th century. The show is suitably gory (though apparently quite realistic) in terms of showing how surgery was performed in those days. Great director + great lead actor = great television! Mike (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)
A compelling 8 part miniseries about the disappearance of a child and the aftermath of the disappearance of a child, to be precise. Cutting back and forth between the summer of 2006 and the winter of 2014, "The Missing" is at once an unfolding mystery and a cold-case story. James Nesbitt and Frances O'Connor play Tony and Emily Hughes, a London couple vacationing in France with their 5-year-old son, Oliver. Their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, and they are forced to put up in a country town whose populace has been temporarily deranged by the 2006 World Cup.
The latest gripping drama to emerge from Scandinavia is named after the Øresund Bridge that links Copenhagen in Denmark to Malmö in Sweden. The atmospheric first episode opens with the discovery of a corpse slap bang at its midpoint. The body's top half lies just inside Swedish territory, belongs to a prominent Malmö city councillor. The leggy end, stretching on to the Danish side of the border, belongs to a Copenhagen prostitute who had gone missing over a year before. Who deposited the bodies, and why, are the questions that will keep you glued to this series over the next 10 episodes. In Danish and Swedish with subtitles.
Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson star as Rust Cohle and Martin Hart, two Louisiana detectives whose lives collide and entwine during a 17-year hunt for a killer. The investigation of a bizarre murder in 1995 is framed and interlaced with the testimony and story of the detectives in 2012, when the case is reopened. The eight episode anthology series also stars Michelle Monaghan as Hart’s wife Maggie, who struggles to keep her family together as the men in her life become locked in a cycle of violence and obsession.
When a counterterrorism raid goes wrong, DS Arnott refuses to participate in a cover-up. Ostracised by colleagues, he transfers to an anticorruption unit, AC-12, in the process of investigating one of the Force’s most respected officers, DCI Tony Gates. Not only has Gates just been awarded Officer of the Year, his squad has the best crime figures for three consecutive years. But can anyone really be that good? Arnott doesn’t think so and soon he and Gates become embroiled in a thrilling game of cat-and-mouse. Every time Gates seems cornered, he finds a way to turn the tables still believing he can save himself, if only he can prove his innocence. But all the time he’s digging a bigger hole and plunging irrevocably into a moral abyss. A fast-paced, gritty thriller with lots of plot twists. Can't wait for season 2! Lucie (Queen's Square)
Such a great series! Based on the memoirs of Jenny Worth, it tells the story of a group of newly graduated midwives practicing in the slums of London's East End in the 1950s. The midwives are spirited and resourceful, the mothers are courageous and the babies irresistible. The 50s English setting has its nostalgic moments for me it was the bicycles that everyone rides that appealed most. Altogether, the friendships and dramatic situations portrayed make for a delightful story about a vocation that continues to be a valued part of community health care. L. Foster (Queen's Square Library)
The US version with Bill Macy is alright (and has actually improved a bit) but the original British Shameless (which ran for 11 (!) seasons) is superb. Follow the Gallagher family's life on a Manchester council estate. Their mother has gone AWOL, father Frank is a hopeless drunk, leaving the kids to raise themselves. Hilarity ensues! Mike (Queen's Square Library)
Birgitte Nyborg becomes Denmark's first female Prime Minister through a political fluke and has to quickly learn the ways of coalition governments and the press while balancing her family life. The plot centers around the goings-on behind the scenes in the PM's office, her troubled spin-doctor Kaspar and his ambitious news anchor girlfriend. Highly recommended. Lucie (Queen's Square Library)
MI-5, know as Spooks in the UK, tells the story of a group of photogenic MI-5 operatives. When they aren't jogging through Little Venice and wondering why they can't make it in love, the spooks protect box-set-addicted British citizens from terrorism, plague, flood, power-crazed government ministers, teenage hackers and anti-abortion campaigners with bad hair and bombs. They spend a lot of time having meetings on the wobbly bridge and running very fast through underground stations. They never eat lunch, and they never get stuck in traffic. Spooks has had a revolving cast since it began in 2002, because people are always dying in amazing ways. A white supremacist stuck one spook into a chip fryer in series one, another spook faked his own death by wading into the North Sea after shooting his boss. So don't get too attached to your favourite character, chances are they aren't going to make it to the end of the season. Lucie (Queen's Square)
Saturated in gin fizz and repressed emotion, The Jewel in the Crown sits alongside Brideshead Revisited as the high-water mark of 1980s British TV. Understated and hugely poignant, its 14 episodes trace the decline of the British Raj from Gandhi's inflammatory Quit India speech on 1942 to partition and the riots that followed. Paul Scott's original Raj Quartet novels become much more navigable in Ken Taylor's elegant screenplay. Focusing on just two of the quartet's many storylines, the series follows the struggles of young Hari Kumar (Art Malik), an Indian raised in England who returns to find himself "too Indian for the English and too English for the Indians". Kumar's tragic affair with English girl Daphne Manners leads to conflict with racist sociopath Ronald Merrick (Tim Pigott-Smith), a policeman and later a soldier. (A. Coghlan, The Guardian, Sept.17, 2010)
Bernard Black, the owner of Black Books, is not a man who believes in good service, or even just service. Bernard doesn't bother with flashy window displays, three for the price of two offers, or the practice of giving readers suggestions – unless they're wildly offensive. Bernard would rather just sit by the till, reading, drinking, smoking and being foul to people. In short, this is the perfect bookshop. Showcasing the talents of Dylan Moran as Bernard, Tamsin Greig as his friend Fran, and Bill Bailey as the sweet, verbally abused ("You know what you are? You're a beard with an idiot hanging off it") shop assistant Manny. Moran has never been funnier than when he's in full rambling, ranting, ridiculous flow as Bernard, who can make even a tax return funny. "What is your mother's maiden name?" the form asks. "What's her first name?" he wonders. "I just knew her as 'Ma'! That'll have to do." Greig is a treat as the often-inebriated Fran, and Bernard's sharp observations ("Look at that face! I bet his Cornflakes tried to climb out of the bowl!") can stand multiple re-watchings. Yet it is Manny – naive, childlike, excitable – who takes Black Books to a different level. Bullied by his boss, yet unable to cope with life outside the shop, he is the perfect foil to Bernard's incredible ranting. (Vicky Frost, The Guardian, Dec 4, 2009)
The BBC's 1979 adaptation of John le Carré's thriller is still unmatched in its evocation of the chilly, cynical cold war era. The story, the hunt for a mole deep within the secret service, is based on double-agent Kim Philby, who duped MI5 for decades. He created his spybuster George Smiley, a dumpy, elderly cuckold, as the "anti-James Bond". Alec Guinness, perfectly cast, might not look so good in a pair of skintight trunks, but Smiley's brains and guile are worth all of Bond's gadgets put together. His dissection of the commie conspiracy is riveting from start to bloody finish. Tinker, as much about atmosphere as action, depicts a very British, very bureaucratic, and very bumbling secret service: a clutch of pipe-smoking, snobbish, sniggering schoolboys, repressed homosexuality seething through grey strip-lit corridors. Watch the seven 50-minute episodes back-to-back and betrayal starts to feel all part of a day's work. It's shot in suitably leeched colours, too: if it's not raining, then it's snowing; and the vibrantly spangly (and deeply ugly) 70s wallpaper occasionally swallows Smiley whole. Then there's the acting. Ian Richardson invests even the lifting of a teacup with meaning, while Patrick Stewart, as Smiley's Russian nemesis, can speak volumes without uttering a word. (Toby Manning, The Guardian, January 14, 2011)
*Excellent* HBO miniseries about the life of the second president of the United States. Stellar cast including Paul Giamatti, Laura Linney and David Morse. Highly recommended. Mike (Queen's Square)
Wallander is Sweden. Blond, broody and faced every morning with two possibilities: breakfast or suicide. An excellent series based on the books by Henning Mankell. Lucie (Queen's Square)
If you enjoy British costume dramas, you are in for a treat with this entertaining series. Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) wonderfully recreates the world of Edwardian aristocracy where old notions about propriety are being threatened on all sides by 20th century ideas. For the Crawleys of Downton Abbey, it is a crisis of inheritance that rocks that their well-ordered world. Male heirs are lost in the sinking of the Titanic, leaving a distant cousin, a barrister from the middle class, as heir apparent. No one is happy with this turn of events not the uprooted egalitarian lawyer, and certainly not the Earl of Grantham or his American wife, his marrigeable daughters or his mother (played with imperious gusto by Maggie Smith). Even the servants have their opinions. Suddenly, it becomes very important for the young Crawley women to find suitable husbands. The machinations of life on the great estate not to mention the great acting and Fellowes' attention to historical detail will hook you in. Plan on watching all the episodes in one long Downton Abbey lovefest. Nancy Ryan (Queen's Square Library)
Jonathan Rhys Meyers stars as King Henry VIII of England in this lavish and spectacularly shot series. Chock full of sex, violence and profanity, you'll never look at the monarchy the same way again. It's good to be king! Mike (Queen's Square Library)
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman star in the wittiest and most imaginative reinvention of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Lucie (Queen's Square Library)
Land Girls is an entertaining look at the women working the farms "doing their bit" to aid the war effort during WWII. Set in the English countryside, four very different "girls" arrive from the cities. There's romance, murder, class struggles, friendship and betrayal. A bit soapy but undeniably addictive with well-cast characters, you'll be chomping at the bit to see Land Girls 2. Leah (Queen's Square Library)
This HBO miniseries is exceedingly well done and much closer to the James M. Cain novel than the 1945 Joan Crawford flick. Directed by Todd Haynes, this features superb performances by Kate Winslet, Melissa Leo, Guy Pearce and Evan Rachel Wood (Winslet picked up the Golden Globe and Emmy while Pearce won an Emmy). Mike (Queen's Square Library)