Our Top Ten TV Box Sets to Binge
||Published: 8th January 2021 15:51
As we face yet another national lockdown, many of us will be scouring the homepages of our favourite streaming services, searching for a series to stream to fend off the stay-at-home blues. With the incredible range of box sets now available at our fingertips, settling on just one to watch is not a easy decision to say the least. To help narrow your choices, the AboutMyArea / Island City Living editorial team have recommended and reviewed 10 of our Lockdown favourites.
Created by Canadian father-son duo Eugene and Dan Levy, Schitt's Creek is a charming and hilariously slick sitcom that navigates the ups and downs that a once-rich family encounter as they are left with nothing and forced to deal with the consequences. Whilst similar concepts have been seen elsewhere, it's the characters of Schitt's Creek that make it a truly special and standout watch. All six seasons are packed to the brim with laughs, and are intricately woven together by a growing attachment to the Rose family and the eccentric individuals they encounter along their journey.
The show explores themes of self-discovery, community, fortune and sexuality, all in an endearingly self-aware manner. The humour is consistent throughout - Catherine O'Hara's performance as ex-soap actress Moira Rose providing many a quotable moment, and Dan Levy's facial expressions as David Rose speak for themselves. What is most consistent, however, is the pure joy that runs throughout. A celebration of all identities, backgrounds, and walks of life, Schitt's Creek is truly a feel-good goldmine - and much like the town itself is a space free from the ignorance and hatred that often pervades these discussions.
Watch if you like: eccentric-yet-lovable characters, happy-crying, family drama & a good laugh.
All 6 seasons of Schitt's Creek are available to watch on Netflix.
Better Call Saul
If you loved Breaking Bad then Better Call Saul is a must see. It's a prequel to BB developing the character of Jimmy McGill (aka Saul Goodman), superbly played by Bob Odenkirk. Beautifully shot, written and acted it moves at a much slower pace than BB, intricately setting the scene for what is to come, but is well worth the investment in time.
Although it's a prequel, it easily stands alone as a fine example of small screen storytelling, the often inept and misplaced actions of its central character creating unseen ripples across the murky waters of drug dealing and legal malpractice. It also provides the back story for other BB characters such as Gus Fring (Los Pollos Hermanos), Mike Ehrmentraut and the bell ringing Hector Salamanca. It's the character of Kim Wexler however, who adds real depth to the piece as Jimmy's love interest and foil; Rhea Seehorn's performance is outstanding.
Watch if you like: simmering tension, dark humour, love/hate characters, slow-cooked plot development.
Seasons 1-5 of Better Call Saul are available on Netflix (Season 6 will be the final one).
There isn't much that hasn't already been said about David Lynch's 1990 TV debut masterpiece, and for very good reason. Twin Peaks is a cult classic like no other - it's premise centers around the peculiar death of high school student Laura Palmer and the investigation that ensues, but this barely scratches the surface of what goes on to unfold.
David Lynch's signature absurdism is paired with larger-than-life characters and a mystery so rich that confusion is a guarantee, but it's a confusion that you'll relish every second of. Kyle MacLachlan's Agent Cooper is perhaps one of the most interesting characters that television has to offer, acting as your window into the mystery as we uncover more and more secrets about the town of Twin Peaks alongside him, piece by piece.
The first two seasons were released in the early nineties; a 25-year wait and a prequel film elapsing before the markedly different third season arrived in 2017. Whilst a far cry from the warmer and more familiar predecessors, the third season adds even more layers to a show already entrenched in depth, and acts as Lynch's own meta-commentary on the nature of how we consume television as a whole. Despite it's oftentimes heavy subject matter, returning each episode to the town of Twin Peaks is a comfort like no other, aided by Angelo Badalamenti's dreamy soundtrack. If the intersection of macabre and instant nostalgia is your cup of tea (or should I say coffee), Twin Peaks is the show for you.
Watch if you like: mystery, interesting characters, supernatural elements, theorising & a beautiful soundtrack.
Seasons 1, 2 & 3 (The Return) of Twin Peaks are available to stream on Now TV. Fire Walk With Me (the prequel film) isn't currently available on any UK streaming platforms, but can be purchased on DVD and BluRay, and is a must-watch between Seasons 2 & 3.
Money Heist or to give it its original Spanish title La Casa de Papel (The House of Paper) is a high octane, mind boggling, surreal piece of TV, a modern-day Robin Hood with explosions, sex, violence and plenty of laughs. It is a tour de force, successfully marrying the cool and restraint of the ‘heist' genre with Spanish passion and unpredictability.
The earlier seasons follow the exploits of a criminal gang put together by the enigmatic ‘Professor', who has hatched an audacious plan to rob the Royal Mint of Spain. Instead of disliking the Professor and his gang members, named after capital cities to protect their identities and clad in red boilers suits and Salvador Dali masks, we quickly grow to love them and see them as anti-heroes, railing against the system.
Themes of friendship, fraternity and romance are explored and sit easily inside the rock and roll perspective that pervades, both in terms of its narrative and the excellent soundtrack. Seasons 3 and 4 see the gang take on a second heist, and we, like the millions who have watched Money Heist (Netflix's most watched show of 2020) eagerly await the next season.
Watch if you like: action, rollercoaster rides, battle of minds, love, laughter and thumping good entertainment.
Seasons 1-4 of Money Heist are available on Netflix - please watch with the original Spanish soundtrack and accompanying subtitles!
The Queen's Gambit
Prior to the October release of The Queen's Gambit, if anybody had told us one of our favourite TV releases of 2020 would be a miniseries about competitive chess, we'd have laughed in their face. However, the coming-of-age story of orphaned chess prodigy Beth Harmon and her journey through loss, addiction and adversity is captivating from start to finish.
Based on Walter Tevis' novel of the same name, the story is set in 1960s Kentucky; oscillating between the highest highs and lowest lows of Beth's chess career. Her growing success only leads to further hurdles to overcome, and Anya Taylor-Joy's focused performance makes this an intoxicating watch. Consisting of only seven episodes, The Queen's Gambit is fast-paced and intricately choreographed - even if you have no concept of the game of chess (we definitely didn't!), watching Beth progress and grow before your eyes gives you something to root for. It's extremely emotional at some points and nail-bitingly tense at others, making for the perfect lockdown distraction. If the ongoing hype and rave reviews haven't convinced you yet, let this be your sign to watch it!
Watch if you like: unconventional coming-of-age stories, period dramas, fast-paced storytelling, polished and elegant visuals.
Season 1 of The Queen's Gambit is available to watch on Netflix.
Friday Night Dinner
The concept of watching a family have dinner together every Friday across 6 seasons may put some people off this sitcom, if it does then they will be missing out on TV comedy gold!
Every Friday evening, sons Adam and Jonny return to their family home to have dinner with their parents, Jackie and Martin. The comedy arises from the Goodman's own family interactions and idiosyncrasies, and the constant interruptions to their traditional Jewish Shabbat dinner. The claustrophobic nature of the setting adds to the comedic conflict and provides plenty of ‘cushion in front of the face' moments.
The writing and characterization is top notch, not just of the four family members but also of their extended family, friends and acquaintances. This is especially true of their next door neighbour, Jim (and his dog Wilson), who must be one of the funniest TV characters ever created, wonderfully played by Mark Hemp.
Watch if you like: British comedy, squirming behind a cushion, belly laughs, excellent writing and characterisation.
Seasons 1-6 of Friday Night Dinner are available on All 4, Netflix and Amazon Prime
Released in 2019, Euphoria is an edgy teen drama revolving centrally around Rue; a troubled 17-year-old whose overdose and subsequent stint in rehab sends shockwaves through her own life and those of everybody around her. It features a talented ensemble cast of newcomers and familiar faces alike, and each of its eight episodes revolves around a particular character's own story. Touching on themes of identity, trauma, sex, drugs, relationships - you name it - Euphoria doesn't shy away from depicting the reality of 21st century teendom in all its graphic glory.
One of the main draws of Euphoria is its stylisation, marking the dawn of a new age of television. Its cinematography is dazzlingly artistic in a way that could've easily run the risk of detracting from the story, but instead succeeds in emphasising the subtlest of emotions in dizzying detail. Euphoria has also received praise for its experimental use of fashion and makeup as a storytelling device, leaving no stone unturned when it comes to character building. However, even if the show lacked its aesthetically rich presentation, its raw and vulnerable performances would remain impactful, notably those from Zendaya as Rue and Hunter Schafer as transgender teen Jules. Even though its focus is on young adults, Euphoria's relatability means that watchers of any age will find something of themselves in it.
Watch if you like: unreliable narrators, creative and expressive design, and storylines that don't sugarcoat the real issues.
Season 1 of Euphoria is available on Amazon Prime and Now TV. Ahead of season 2, two special episodes are being released - the first is available on Now TV and the second is out on January 24th.
Any project that involves Martin Scorsese would, one assumes, be a sure-fire hit, yet Boardwalk Empire, which also boasts the writing prowess of Terence Winter and the incomparable acting talents of Steve Buscemi, did not really get the full credit it richly deserved when it originally aired.
We would highly recommend that you give this a watch, especially if you're fan of the American gangster genre. It tells the story of politician/gangster Nucky Thompson, who stops at nothing to exploit the period of prohibition in the US. Larger than life fictional characters intertwine with actual historical figures and the subject matter is reflective of the social and political tensions of the time. English actor Stephen Graham plays Al Capone with equal measures of violence and pathos, and a strong cast delivers across the piece. It's a visual treat enhanced by an impressive soundtrack and the 5 seasons will while away many a lockdown hour.
Watch if you like: Gangster/Mafia movies, great acting, writing and directing, stunning visuals.
Seasons 1-5 of Boardwalk Empire are available on Sky Boxsets and Amazon Prime.
Another Netflix staple, Sex Education is a joyous and colourful celebration of acceptance, identity, and openness. First premiering in early 2019, the show follows Otis, an anxious teenager who has a complicated relationship with sex, partly owing to his mum's occupation as a well-reknowned sex therapist. Asa Butterfield and Gillian Anderson navigate each and every awkward crevice of this mother-son dynamic brilliantly; making us laugh, cry, cringe, and feel just about every emotion in between.
The show features an ensemble of talented young actors as Otis' peers, whose performances and story arcs are so well-rounded that any one of them could've been interpreted as the central character. Throughout the two seasons there are storylines that touch on sexuality, family, abortion and sexual assault, to name but a few. Each of these topics are handled incredibly sensitively, yet do not shy away from accurately presenting the realities that come along with each one of them. Sex Education is an exuberantly explicit showcase of the ups and downs of adolescent life and beyond, and is a must-watch for just about anybody.
Watch if you like: playing innuendo bingo, celebrating diversity, messages of empowerment, and a good happy cry.
Both seasons of Sex Education are available to watch on Netflix.
Fauda's Arabic translation is ‘chaos' and this dual perspective story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict certainly lives up to its name. The fact that we get to see both sides of the horrors of this ongoing conflict, through the eyes of an Israeli agent (and his undercover unit) and his various adversaries, therefore makes Fauda quite unique, mixing as it does both the political and personal conflicts its characters face.
Fauda is not for the faint-hearted and leaves a mark on the viewer as we witness at first hand the brutality of deep rooted and fractured conflict and its devastating impact on communities, families, friends and colleagues. Authenticity is added via the show's creator and main actor, Lior Raz, himself a former member of the Israeli Defence Force. The show will keep you on edge of your seat and at times you may have to remind yourself to breath but is eminently watchable and very bingeworthy.
Watch if you like: Homeland, tense thrillers, brutal realism, intrigue, preconceptions challenged.
Seasons 1-3 of Fauda are available on Netflix - please watch with the original soundtrack and accompanying subtitles!
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