As we’re coming to terms with the new world order (at least for now), I thought I would use my enormous capacity for devouring TV boxsets for good! Find below some of the boxsets I would recommend indulging in over the next few weeks. I’ve tried to go a bit different from other lists (you’re not going to find The Wire or Sopranos or West Wing here) instead I’ve looked at some of the recent hits that you may have missed. Almost all of them are based on books too! So I’ve included links to the books with each entry.
Only just finished on Sky Atlantic, for a while this was the highlight of our TV week. Based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, the story begins when Terry Maitland (played by Jason Bateman) is arrested for the murder of a young boy. One witness saw him pick the boy up in his van, while another saw him covered in blood. But Terry has proof that he was out of town at the time of the crime. It’s based on a Stephen King novel, so of course the explanation is supernatural but it’s a real pleasure to watch it all play out. The cast were brilliant (especially Cynthia Erivo, who is always someone different in everything she’s in) and even the bit characters got their moments. It was written by Richard Price, who has long been a terrific writer (The Wire and The Night Of are just the tip of the iceberg for the shows, films and novels he’s written. And the direction was out of this world with strange camera angles often giving the impression of the characters being watched from afar. Overall, it was just a fantastic production, a slow burn that steadily built the tension and pulled the characters and viewers alike into the hunt for the truth. Creepy, unsettling, brilliant.
The Outsider is based on, you guessed it, The Outsider by Stephen King. You can buy it here.
If you love historical drama then this is the show for you. In its third season now, it’s one of Europe’s highest budget productions, re-creating 1920s Berlin in startling detail. It would spoil things to delve too deeply into the plot but it follows Detective Gereon Rath and temp-worker Lotte Ritter as they become embroiled in the power play between the various factions fighting to shape Berlin’s future. Featuring Nazis, Bolsheviks, communists, loyalists, criminals and the government, every character has their own politics and an agenda. You have to keep your wits about you to keep up with dealings and double-dealings of the various players. Impeccably researched, and utterly thrilling, I can’t recommend this series enough.
Babylon Berlin is based on the Gereon Rath series by Volker Kutscher. You can get the first in the series here.
Some shows take a while to find their feet and The Magicians is certainly one of them. But what starts as a pretty basic ‘what if Hogwarts but it was a US college?’ idea flourishes in Season Two into something altogether more compelling. The writers pull a blinder by putting the characters in some incredible predicaments, perfectly pitched to test them and to change them in ways you wouldn’t predict. The outcome being that by the end you can’t help but love them, flaws and all. The show should also get a bit of kudos for its inclusivity on gender, sexuality and race. It’s a show that wears its heart on its sleeve and balances the humour with the drama and has an added bit of meta thrown in. It’s a favourite in our house.
The Magicians is based on a trilogy by Lev Grossman. You can get the first book, The Magicians, here.
An unexpected delight. We picked this up after having seen so many people talking about it on Twitter and we’re so glad that we did. What starts as a typical ‘fish out of water’ comedy as the wealthy, powerful Rose family find themselves down and out in the titular town, develops into something so much more. It isn’t the laughs (though there are plenty of those) but the nuance that carries this series. Character progression is slow but pronounced and believable as the Rosees adjust to their new situation. And there’s a romance in it that’s so adorable I’ve cried over it at least twice. If you’ve watched it already, you know exactly the pair I mean.
This isn’t based on a book, as far as I know, but if it was, it would be awesome.
Nothing had prepared us for this unexpected gem. We’re big Stephen King fans in our house and many a weekend has been polished off with a bottle of wine and a King film. When we put on Castle Rock, one cold December morning, we hadn’t expected to watch the whole first season in two days. But that’s just what we did. Set in Stephen King’s popular setting of Castle Rock, it brings in characters and locations from a number of King’s books and bounces them off one another in weird and wonderful ways. Even to tell you how the first season starts feels like a spoiler, but we found it compelling and we’re always glad to see André Holland in a lead role. An anthology series, season two can be watched without having seen season one (but it adds more fun in later episodes), and is uplifted by Lizzy Caplin (another household favourite) playing a young Annie Wilkes (Misery). If you’re a fan of Stephen King, this is well worth a watch, especially for all the King Easter eggs.
Castle Rock is based on allll the Stephen Kings. So here’s Misery in honour of the amazing Lizzy Caplin. And it’s, like, the ultimate self-isolation book? Maybe?
So there you have. I may follow up with a further five if there’s interest (and this whole thing keeps on going. In the meantime, hope you enjoy these shows and that you might consider my book, The End of the Line. Maybe if you buy enough copies, that might become a TV show one day. Who knows?!