With so many entertainment options, it's easy to miss brilliant streaming shows, movies and documentaries. Here are the ones to hit play on, or skip.
Back to Life
SBS On Demand
Daisy Haggard as Miri Matteson in Back to Life.
Jenji Kohan recently remarked that she felt a little sad Weeds never got the love it deserved – particularly for the way it smashed down boundaries around what women were and weren’t supposed to do. Drug-dealing Nancy Botwin was certainly a suburban mom like no other we’d ever seen, and while transgressive women have never been a stranger to both big and small screens, Kohan’s daring 2005 series could certainly be considered the modern mother to a whole generation of empathetic bad girls. Kohan herself gave us, first, Piper Chapman in Orange is the New Black and then, as executive producer, the gorgeous ladies of wrestling in GLOW. The entire oeuvre of showrunner/performers like Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Killing Eve, Fleabag) and Julia Davis (Nighty Night, Sally4Ever) are, if not direct descendants, then certainly part of a movement that dares to write women who are troubled, flawed, rule-breaking, complicated and confusing – but still get to live and be loved. And now there’s a new girlfriend to puzzle and beguile us: Daisy Haggard as Miri Matteson in Back to Life.
Our introduction to Miri is her doing very badly at a job interview, intercut with scenes explaining why. She’s just been released after spending 18 years in prison. The length of the sentence indicates she wasn’t in there for welfare fraud but what could she have done that’s so terrible? As with Fleabag (Back to Life is from the same production house) it takes a while for us to discover just what Miri’s done – although there are plenty of clues it’s not good. And, as with Fleabag, when the reveal comes it’s one of those television moments that will stay with you for a long time.
Geraldine James as Caroline and Richard Durden as Oscar in Back to Life.
But where Haggard’s series (she co-created and wrote it, as well as starring) diverges from Waller-Bridge’s is in how mild, how inoffensive, and how fundamentally optimistic Miri is. The whole six episodes detail her struggle to reconnect with her family, and with society generally (for instance, she still thinks Blockbuster is a thing) and that struggle moves effortlessly from the hilarious to the heartbreaking and back (and sometimes, both at the same time).
Back to Life also makes clear that while Miri may not be perfect, she’s not the only one with something on her conscience – nor is she the only one deeply affected by both her crime and her punishment.
Queer Eye just keeps getting better.
If all you ever watched on TV was news and current affairs – under the misapprehension that you were pursuing the truth of things – you’d actually end up with quite a skewed view of the world. The magic of the broader church of factual television is that it gives us a window into all kinds of realities and for four seasons now the re-booted Queer Eye has shown us an America full of kind, often quirky people who only want the best for each other. The only thing they have in common with the US we see on the news is that they tend to have terrible hair and dress really badly. But they want to change that! For the better! And that’s where the Fab Five come in.
Not only do the boys attend to aforementioned hair, clothes et cetera but they also share their own struggles including depression and bullying. They’re as interested in making over people’s spirits as their wardrobe. And four seasons on – despite (or perhaps because of) everything else that’s happening in the world – Queer Eye just keeps getting better: more loving, more inclusive, more optimistic. For real.
New lease on life: Lucifer gets a season 4.
The streaming services were just made for shows with a cult following and since this quirky supernatural dramedy migrated from Fox (where it was cruelly terminated after three seasons) it’s garnered a whole new fan base – and a new lease of life, with Netflix commissioning two fresh seasons. Based on characters created by Neil Gaiman it stars the madly charismatic Tom Ellis as Lucifer Morningstar, who’s resigned from being The Devil and decided to run a nightclub in LA instead. Oh. And solve crimes.
Before Mystery Road: The Circuit starring Gary Sweet and Aaron Pedersen.
Before Mystery Road there was this ambitious, ground-breaking and thoroughly engaging series. Starring Aaron Pedersen and Garry Sweet as a lawyer and magistrate, respectively, in the Kimberley Circuit Court it uses the familiar tropes of the court procedural to explore a range of issues not just about indigenous Australia, but Australia more broadly. It’s a fabulous showcase of indigenous talent both before and behind the camera (it was one of Pedersen’s first cracks at directing). And the Kimberley landscapes are absolutely spectacular.
Alison Brie as Ruth and Britney Young as Carmen in Glow season 3.
Season three sees our gorgeous ladies of wrestling taking up their Las Vegas residency. Theoretically things are on the up, but this is a show that loves to play with “…on the other hand…” and that’s certainly the case for many of our favourites, who find themselves trading all kinds of things off against attaining their long held dream: fulfilling, secure employment. And, as always, the way in which the travails of GLOW sit alongside contemporary feminism is intriguing and instructive, if occasionally depressing.
Demetri Martin: The Overthinker
Not so much an over-thinker as an oddball thinker, Demetri Martin’s schtick is classic observational comedy taken to sublime heights. He’s also a really likeable sort of person – there’s nothing abrasive, edgy or political here. It’s just funny in a deadpan, delightful sort of way. (Fans of Flight of the Conchords will be totally into it.) Overthinker is Martin’s second special for Netflix. His first, Live (at the time) is also here and both are well worth checking out, especially if you’re in the mood for a bit of a lift.
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