With loads of great returning shows, and a few new entries, here’s ten offerings of the small screen you can’t miss this year.
10. Westworld (HBO)
Background: based on the 1973 film of the same name. Sci-fi thriller about an adult amusement park where customers get to live out their fantasies in virtual reality. No, not those fantasies, unfortunately they’re limited to three simulations: the American Old West, Medieval Europe and Pre-Christian Rome. Things get interesting when the androids running the program start malfunctioning and murder people and stuff. The film is pretty meh.
Why you should watch it: because it’s being produced by Jonathan Nolan (Person of Interest, The Dark Knight, Interstellar) alongside J.J. Abrams (Lost, Star Trek, the new Star Wars film). It stars Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs, Fracture) and Ed Harris (The Truman Show, Apollo 13). HBO are pumping a serious budget into it.
9. Peep Show– Series 9 (Channel 4)
Background: written by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain (The Thick of It, Four Lions, Babylon). David Mitchell (geeky chubby guy, on pretty much every panel show) and Robert Webb (cool but dysfunctional skinny guy, poor solo career, e.g. Let’s Dance) share a flat.
Why you should watch it: because Mitchell and Webb have great chemistry. Because the ‘El Dude Brothers’ somehow never get boring; each episode is short and easy watching comedy. This is the last season so we’re hoping for a good send off.
8. Pariah (FX)
Background: a TV personality has a meltdown, looses his career and has to confront the fact that he is of zero value to society. Co-produced and written by a bunch of people from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, alongside Bill Burr playing the lead.
Why you should watch it: because Bill Burr is one of the best popular American stand-ups around at the moment. It’s Always Sunny was great, so this should be great.
7. True Detective– Series 2 (HBO)
Background: Southern Gothic, neo-noir, crime drama created by author Nic Pizzolatto. The first season starred Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar, Wolf of Wall Street) and Woody Harrelson (Natural Born Killers, No Country for Old Men). It was pretty great, a bit slow at times but nice cinematography, acting and tension.
Why you should watch it: the second season replaces McConaughey and Harrelson with Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn. We also ditch Louisiana for the outskirts of California, and with less focus on the two males leads but the development of major characters in general. It could end up sucking, but I have faith in Pizzolatto.
6. Fargo– Series 2 (FX)
Background: another crime drama, but with a black comedy, surrealist twist. The first season starred Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton, and was based on the 1996 Coen Brothers film. It won Emmy Awards for Outstanding Miniseries and Outstanding Directing, and got 15 other nominations.
Why to watch it: the second season has a new storyline, taking us back to 1979. The protagonist will now be Keith Carradine (Deadwood, Dexter), whose character was arguably the most interesting after Billy Bob Thornton’s.
5. Game of Thrones– Series 5 (HBO)
Background: surely you must know it. Kingdoms and dragons and sex.
Why to watch it: because I can’t stand fantasy but the political focus of this made me enjoy it. Really good cast, really good acting, really good writing. It’s really good, ok?
4. Utopia (HBO)
Background: the uk version lasted two series before being cancelled by Channel 4. God knows why- it was great. Some of the most colourful, cool, cinematography I’ve seen on TV, it had great sound design, themes, mostly good acting. Anyway, the Americans are remaking it now, directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven).
Why to watch: because Fincher is awesome and the original had such a great, quirky aesthetic. Watch it.
3. House of Cards– Series 3 (Netflix)
Background: Kevin Spacey is a badass Democrat who manipulates his way up the political food chain after being passed over for Secretary of State. One of the first shows Netflix commissioned and it’s amazing.
Why to watch: because things get really juicy. You don’t need to understand the politics of it all- the drama’s good enough, slow but really satisfying. The conclusion of the last series means this one is going to be even more dramatic.
2. Louie– Series 5 (FX)
Background: another of the best American stand-ups, Louie CK, is a divorced father of two young girls in New York City. It’s semi-autobiographical, with Louie CK also writing, directing, editing and producing the show. Has two Emmys of Outstanding Writing of a Comedy Series.
Why watch: because CK’s creative control means it has such a unique feel to it. It explores everyday issues in a sincere comedic way that isn’t necessarily laugh your tits off funny, but entertaining all the same. As long as you go in with a reasonably open mind, you’ll get something from it.
1. Hannibal– Series 3 (NBC)
Background: the first season focusses around the relationship between FBI investigator Will Graham (played by Hugh Dancy) and psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lector (Mads Mikkelsen). Will has an empathy disorder that gives him a superhuman ability to take on the perspective of serial killers and solve crimes, while Hannibal is a manipulative psychopath who exploits this. To be honest, the first season is good but not amazing. The second season however was the best thing on TV last year. Will’s magical empathy superpower was put into the background in favour of more attention to the mind games the lead characters were playing with each other. It was tense, the cinematography was beautiful, performances were perfect, the murders were more gruesome, lighting amazing, the soundtrack alternated between dark whimsy and sophisticated chaos. Just watch it. Bon appétit.