More than enough hours of TV to totally miss every game
We’re only a few days in but, I don’t know about you, I’m starting to feel World Cup viewing fatigue already.
Three games a day takes its toll on mind, body and soul, especially if you can’t resist the allure of the 11 O-Clock-er. Of course, you may not have any interest in the football, whatsoever, and simply seek some respite from the seemingly interminable coverage across your multi-media world.
Fortunately, it’s never been so easy to access a range of high quality TV shows without having to leave the comfort of your armchair.
We (most of the collective members of hardware review team, that is) have been putting our heads together to come up with a compelling list of what we consider some of the very finest TV shows available via streaming services. We’ve limited choices to programmes which come under the umbrella of a monthly subscription or, best case, you can get totally gratis.
Those streaming services include Netflix (of course), NOW TV and Amazon Prime Instant – because those are the ones we use - plus some chipping in from 40D.
The list is in no particular order of favouritism, although we each have our own, and makes no claims on being definitive. It’s simply the thoughts of a collection of middle-aged men who spend too much time sitting at home alone in the dark.
This recommendation comes courtesy of Mr Steve Withers who likened it to, ‘kind of a gothic mix of Ripper Street and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’, so if you liked either of those, it’s worth checking out. Penny Dreadful airs through Sky Atlantic – who co-produced with Showtime – and is currently available through NOW TV. Like anything NOW TV related, it’s always best to be quick off the mark as shows don’t always hang around for too long. Sky actually used NOW TV to premiere the first two episodes of the series. A gothic melodrama full of sex, violence, gore and swearing. There's Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman, along with every piece of Victoriana save Jack the Ripper's kitchen sink thrown in for good measure!
As the list grows you’ll see the motif of sex, violence, gore and swearing featuring quite prominently. We don’t know what that says about us, but if you’re of a prudish nature, you might want to turn away now. The latter three of those themes certainly run through this series, with both seasons currently exclusive to Amazon Prime subscribers. The dark and moody cinematography, mixes with an impressive degree of historical truth which is, in turn, interspersed with Norse superstitions and mythology. There are some well-drawn feudal, political and religious topics covered with an impressively even hand. If you don’t end up cheering on the rampaging North Men, who tear in to England around halfway through Season 1, we’d be surprised!
We met the news that the Coen Brothers Oscar-winning 1996, black comedy, crime drama, Fargo was receiving the TV adaption treatment with an equal mixture of anticipation and scepticism. For me, at least, the film was almost perfectly packaged into 98 minutes of, near ceaseless, brutal humour, witty dialogue and outstanding performances from all concerned. So the fact that writer and director, Craig Hawley, has managed not to let the 10 Episode series ever get stale is certainly a praiseworthy achievement. The series slightly bends storyline and alters the protagonists to fit its new borders but does so without losing any of the movies’ comedy, sense and intrigue.
Fargo is perhaps the best film to TV adaptation everI thought the lack of Steve Buscemi and Frances McDormand might leave a sense of loss impossible to replace but Billy Bob Thornton is simply delicious in his role as wise-cracking sociopath, Lorne Malvo, whilst Allison Tolman plays the steely yet unassuming Deputy Molly Solverson with a genuine warmth shown toward McDormand’s gong-winning performance as Marge Gunderson. Currently available as boxset on 40D (so it’s free), this exploration of crime and intrigue in small town America is well
worth checking out.
Person of Interest
Whilst this series continues to pick up viewers at a rate of knots in the US, it probably doesn’t get the attention it serves on Channel 5, here in the UK. Unfortunately, unlike 4OD, Demand 5 doesn’t keep box-sets in the library but you can get hold of Seasons 1 and 2 through UK Netflix. The story centres on a machine created for the US Intelligence services which can detect acts of terror before they happen. But it also can foresee violent crimes involving everyday citizens and that’s where our main protagonists, Reece and Finch, come in. Finch is a secretive billionaire who hires former (and deadly) CIA Officer John Reese to stop these crimes before they happen.
If this all sounds beyond the realms of possibility, then you’d be right, but the show somehow makes you throw some of your logic out of the window with episode after episode of well-crafted stories. There’s some interesting over-arching series plot lines, too, and the cast gels nicely to create something that gives you just the right amount of familiarity, from show to show, whilst always pushing things forwards in thought-provoking ways. Netflix has all 44 Episodes from over the first two series and as resident series champion Ed Selley puts it, “If your number's up - they are the only ones who can help you!”
This is another score for Amazon Instant in the UK. Prime subscribers have exclusive streaming access to this Starz Network produced Pirate drama. Created as a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and set 20 years prior to the novel, Black Sails has all you could want from a buccaneering romp in terms of bawdiness, booty and brawling. The story takes some time to get going but once in full sail it affords you a gloriously over-the-top mini epic with some really impressive CGI and some genuinely exciting action sequences.
Some of the performances might be a touch hammy but our main protagonist, the morally ambiguous Captain James Flint, is convincingly brought to life by Toby Stephens. There are some other nice turns here, too; the gorgeous Hannah New connives her way through as power-mad Eleanor Guthrie with aplomb and Toby Schmitz provides frequent comic value as the ever-so-deviant Jack Rackham. We’ll not pretend this is going to win any Emmys or BAFTAs but if you likes yerself a gritty tale of the seven seas, then you could do worse than check out Black Sails.
And now for something completely different. Part tragi-comedy, part social commentary this latest outlet for Ricky Gervais certainly seems to polarise opinions. In fact, amongst editorial I think I’m on my own with this one but I’m happy to defend it. And, besides, I’m the one with finger striking keyboard so it’s getting in. Gervais plays the eponymous character, a helper in a nursing home managed by Hannah, played by the utterly excellent Kerry Godliman. Derek clearly has some autism-like traits but Gervais manages to keep his characterisation just the right side of believable without allowing Derek to descend in to the realms of self-parody. It’s a tricky balancing act for Gervais and one he may just let slip, from time to time, but give this series time to warm up and you will find yourselves warming to it.
As well as the superb Godliman, Gervais is ably assisted by a typically laconic Karl Pilkington, playing Dougie and David Earl as Kevin "Kev" Twine, a character responsible for many of the laugh out loud moments spanning the two series. There’s probably as many tears of sadness as there are of joy but that’s likely one of the points Gervais is trying to make. At the very least, you would have to consider the subject matter to be brave even if it’s not your usual cup of cocoa. You can catch both series via 40D, for the princely sum of nothing, and Series 1 is covered under your Netflix subscription, with Series 2 due to be added soon.
Love it or hate it, Derek is definitely differentThe Shield
We’re taking a punt here because none of us have yet even seen this seven series crime drama set in inner-city LA. The reason we are doing so is that it receives so much love on our Forums and, you know, we trust your judgement. It’s been described as the most complete TV series ever, by some, and you can see it all via Amazon Instant’s UK service. The action centres around a tough police department whose inhabitants aren’t above breaking the law, but the police corruption is generally carried out with the intention of keeping the peace on the streets, rather than for personal gain, although sometimes the two overlap. The main character, Vic Mackie, is the epitome of this ideal and is played with some menace by Michael Chiklis, who straddles the roles of mixing with the underworld and that of a devoted family man on a knife-edge. It looks fraught and frenetic and it’s right at the top of our ‘to watch’ list but if this one is a bum steer we’re blaming our readers!
For many, this is it the best TV show created since the imperious The Sopranos bit the HBO bullet, and we can sympathise with that viewpoint. Spanning 5 seasons, Vince Gilligan’s crime drama centres on mild-mannered chemistry teacher, Walter White who, following a terminal diagnosis of lung cancer, turns to a life of crime to fund his treatment, and his family’s future well-being, through life as a master criminal. Along the way, Walt is aided and abetted by formal pupil Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), a stoner going nowhere transformed into such an able practising chemist as to become a highly valuable underworld commodity.
All the other main characters are superbly portrayed, too, with Walt’s family underpinning his descent from hero to super villain in totally convincing style. Beautifully shot, always compelling, sometimes brutal, occasionally heart-wrenching and lightly sprinkled with dark humour, Breaking Bad defines a new golden age of TV on an ‘unmissable’ rollercoaster ride. There’s so much more to it than we can get across here so go catch it all on Netflix to see for yourself. It’s even just become available via their new 4K Ultra HD service so there’s my life sorted out for the next few months!
First double-crossed and then enslaved by the Romans, a Thracian escapes almost certain death in the arena, at the hands of gladiators, only to become one himself, albeit unwillingly. Most will be familiar with the classic film, made in 1960 and starring Kirk Douglas in the title role, but the four seasons (3 ‘proper’, 1 spin-off) of the TV show allows for a much fuller exploration of the story behind the slave uprising led by Spartacus. Stylistically, there’s more than a nod to the 2006 movie 300, with lots of over-the-top CGI and a vivid colour palette but it’s the stirring narrative that draws you in. It’s very violent, high on the sex-scene count and contains lots of choice language. If that’s not enough to recommend it to you, the sub-plot showing the machinations of Roman society with its materialistic values and pompous etiquettes makes for almost as compelling watching as the main narrative.
Like the action, many of the performances are over the top and given the number of muscle-men amongst the cast, it’s no surprise to note one or two somewhat wooden performances but it really doesn’t matter and you will grow to love the likes of Crixus and Gannicus as they bravely battle the improbable odds. It’s a huge shame that the original actor cast in the title role, Andy Whitfield, passed away after filming the first season but Liam McIntrye picks up the baton convincingly, once he finds his feet. There’s a very moving tribute paid to Whitfield as the end credits to the final episode roll so, if the tears aren’t already streaming, they will be by then. Spartacus is television fit for Jupiter, himself. Epic, moving and sometimes frantically exciting – not to be missed!
House of Cards is a defining series for internet TVHouse of Cards
If there’s a TV show that defines the new age of TV streaming more ably than this one, we can’t think of it. Loosely based on the 1990 BBC TV series of the same name, House of Cards is a Netflix original, commissioned and paid for by the world’s most popular internet TV service. As a sign of intent for the future, Netflix certainly didn’t scrimp on the budget of this intense political drama with more than $100 million thrown at the first season alone, and high profile director David Fincher put at the helm. House of Cards went on to become the first ever non-TV network programme to scoop up an Emmy and, in fact, picked up three at the 2013 awards. Inexplicably, none of those went to Kevin Spacey who, as chief protagonist Frank Underwood, is at his captivating and majestic best playing a character so gloriously devious you can’t help but like him.
This a political thriller of the very highest calibre with a superb cast delivering exquisitely crafted story-lines and superior scripting. There’s nothing to fault here, from the production values to the performances and it truly stakes Netflix’s claim to start being considered amongst not only the leading delivers of TV content but also as one of its prospective major originators. The fact that it was the first TV series ever to be offered in 4K Ultra HD resolution just cements its place in our hearts. We’re all huge fans here and we know many of you are too!
There are many, many more high class TV boxsets available to stream but we had to stop somewhere. We’ll further suggest Orange is the New Black, Arrested Development, 24, Clone Wars, Sons of Anarchy, The Wire, The Tudors and The Walking Dead as series which could easily have made it and we’d love to hear your further suggestions in the comments below.
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