News, Culture & Society

From Space Force to Gangs Of London and Sir Cliff Richard: 60 Years: The best on demand TV this week

NETFLIX 

Space Force 

Last week, when President Trump proudly unveiled the flag for Space Force, there must have been high-fives all round at Netflix HQ because here comes its excellent comedy drama of the same name, about the newest branch of the US military, set up to protect America’s off-planet interests.

General Naird (US The Office star Steve Carell) is in charge of the fictional version and he’s struggling to get politicians, the other armed forces and even his own staff to take the organisation seriously.

His chief scientist (John Malkovich, star of The Killing Fields and The New Pope) is less than helpful, his wife (Lisa Kudrow, Phoebe from cult Nineties series Friends) is in prison and his teenage daughter (Diana Silvers) resents having had to move away from Washington.

General Naird (Steve Carell) is in charge and he’s struggling to get politicians to take the organisation seriously. His chief scientist (John Malkovich, above) is less than helpful

It’s drily funny, slyly satirical and actually has you rooting for the characters. Yet again, Netflix has lift-off. From Friday

 

Snowpiercer: The TV Series

Based on the film of the same name by Parasite director Bong Joon-ho (showing on Film 4, Sunday, 9pm). A train continuously circumnavigates the world bearing what’s left of humankind after a climate-change disaster. 

At the start of the show, the 1,001-car-long ark-train has been travelling for six years, nine months, 26 days and the temperature outside is minus 120 Celsius. When there’s a murder in the front part of the train, where the billionaires live, a former homicide detective is hauled out of the tail end, where the poor people are kept, and forced to investigate 

A train continuously circumnavigates the world bearing what’s left of humankind after a climate-change disaster. Jennifer Connelly (above) stars as Melanie from Hospitality

A train continuously circumnavigates the world bearing what’s left of humankind after a climate-change disaster. Jennifer Connelly (above) stars as Melanie from Hospitality

Jennifer Connelly stars as Melanie from Hospitality, who is also the voice of the train – and maybe more. From Monday

 

Hannah Gadsby: Douglas 

The Australian comedian’s previous show, Nanette, won awards and caused a sensation. It was a fairly normal stand-up routine for the first half-hour, during which Gadsby talked about growing up gay in conservative Tasmania. 

But it gradually developed into a discomfiting and angry critique of comedy itself, with Gadsby claiming she was going to give it up for the sake of her mental health. She clearly hasn’t because here’s a second comedy special which, among many other things, looks at how her life has changed because of the success of the first show. From Tuesday

 

New Girl 

After a break-up, quirky twentysomething teacher Jess (Zooey Deschanel) moves into a loft apartment where she shares with three young men. The sitcom follows their relationships with each other and with their romantic partners. 

Initially, Jess was promoted as being ‘simply adorkable’, which sounds unbearably twee and cutesy, but actually the show is funny and big-hearted and an ideal comfort watch. 

After a break-up, quirky twentysomething teacher Jess (Zooey Deschanel, above) moves into a loft apartment where she shares with three young men

After a break-up, quirky twentysomething teacher Jess (Zooey Deschanel, above) moves into a loft apartment where she shares with three young men

It’s set in LA rather than New York but it has a lot of the same DNA as Friends. If you loved that, you’ll like this, too. Seasons 1-7, available now

 

Into The Night 

Netflix’s first original series from Belgium is an intense sci-fi thriller. A gunman who claims to work for Nato forces an airline pilot to take off with a plane half-full of passengers from all over Europe. 

The hijacker says they have to keep ahead of the sunrise, which will kill them all. It quickly becomes apparent that he’s telling the truth – an extinction-level event is taking place on the Earth below. 

But planes have only limited fuel – and this one is going to have to land somehow, somewhere. The tension rarely lets up over six 40-minute episodes. Available now

 

Daughters Of Destiny 

Wonderful four-part documentary about the power of education to transform lives. The Shanti Bhavan school takes children from India’s lowest socio-economic class – the so-called ‘untouchables’ – and gives them an excellent education. 

Students who might otherwise have not gone to school at all have become medics, scientists and engineers. The series follows five female pupils of different ages and returns to them over a period of seven years to see how they are faring. Available now

 

SKY, BT, ACORN, ESPN & DISNEY+

Gangs Of London 

The cinematic gangster thriller starring Peaky Blinders’ Joe Cole has rapidly become Sky Atlantic’s most binged show of the year. When a teenage thug is tricked into killing Finn Wallace, London’s most powerful crime boss, the stability of the underworld is threatened as the Wallace family and their associates go all out to discover who ordered the hit. 

The cinematic gangster thriller starring Peaky Blinders’ Joe Cole (above) has rapidly become Sky Atlantic’s most binged show of the year

The cinematic gangster thriller starring Peaky Blinders’ Joe Cole (above) has rapidly become Sky Atlantic’s most binged show of the year

Was it the Albanians? The Kurds? The Pakistanis? There are some astonishing fight sequences but, be warned, this is a brutal series that revels in violence; in the 90-minute opener alone, one man has an ashtray smashed into his mouth, another is burned to death and yet another is killed with a meat cleaver. Sky/NOW TV, available now

 

McMillions 

Anyone who has visited McDonald’s in the past decade will be familiar with the Monopoly-based giveaway the fast-food giant periodically rolls out. This fun game of chance was, however, exploited by one man – Jerry Jacobson – who over a decade managed to defraud nearly $25 million worth of prizes. 

This six-part docuseries explores the mastermind behind the plan and the FBI agents on his tail. Sky/NOW TV, from Wednesday

 

Balthazar 

Raphaël Balthazar is a brilliant and handsome forensic pathologist who has ‘slept with half the female cops in Paris’, according to his colleague, but still grieves for his dead wife. 

He even talks to her in their apartment. Now, 12 years after her horrific murder, it looks as if her killer may have struck again. Each of the six episodes sees Balthazar (Tomer Sisley) involved in a new case while he also works on finding his wife’s killer. 

A huge hit in France, but the post-mortem scenes are very graphic. You’ll need a strong stomach. Acorn TV, from Monday

 

Taylor Swift City Of Lover Concert 

In a once-in-a-lifetime musical event, Taylor Swift performs songs from her award-winning seventh album, Lover, to an intimate crowd of hand-picked Swifties flown in from 37 countries. 

Swift’s set list includes tracks The Man, You Need To Calm Down and Me! as well as much-loved songs from her older albums such as I Knew You Were Trouble, Shake It Off and Red.

Filmed last September at L’Olympia theatre in Paris, the City of Love, this show gives fans unprecedented access to behind-the-scenes moments with Taylor Swift (above)

Filmed last September at L’Olympia theatre in Paris, the City of Love, this show gives fans unprecedented access to behind-the-scenes moments with Taylor Swift (above)

Filmed last September at L’Olympia theatre in Paris, the City of Love, this show gives fans unprecedented access to behind-the-scenes moments with Swift and marks her only concert performance this year after her Lover Fest tour was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Disney+, available now

 

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead 

Tom Stoppard’s only film as a director, based on his Tony award-winning stage comedy drama. The tale follows two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, who find themselves on the road to Elsinore Castle at the behest of the king of Denmark. 

Along the way they encounter a band of players, are asked to find out what is troubling the prince Hamlet and ponder the meaning of their own existence. Gary Oldman and Tim Roth excel as the eponymous duo, while the star-studded supporting cast features Richard Dreyfuss, Iain Glen, Ian Richardson, Joanna Miles and Donald Sumpter. Acorn TV, from Monday

 

Lance 

Lance Armstrong was once the most famous and inspirational sportsman on the planet, a seven-time Tour de France winner who had survived testicular cancer and founded a charity that raised millions to support cancer sufferers around the world. 

He dated rock stars, travelled by private jet and transcended sport to become a global celebrity. We know now, of course, that it was only through the use of banned drugs – notably EPO – that he was able to dominate the world’s toughest cycle race from 1999 to 2006. 

This absorbing documentary charts his spectacular rise and fall in forensic detail, with contributions from friends, enemies, journalists, former team-mates and the man himself. 

Lance Armstrong (above) was once the most famous and inspirational sportsman on the planet and a seven-time Tour de France winner who had survived testicular cancer

Lance Armstrong (above) was once the most famous and inspirational sportsman on the planet and a seven-time Tour de France winner who had survived testicular cancer

Regrets? He’s got quite a few… ESPN Player (espnplayer.com); part one from Monday, part two June 1

 

Breaking bad 

One of the most celebrated, critically acclaimed dramas of the past 20 years. When mild-mannered chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is diagnosed with lung cancer, he starts manufacturing the street drug methamphetamine in order to secure his family’s financial future. 

Aided and abetted by his former pupil Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), he turns out to be very good at it. The five series chart his transformation into a ruthless, murderous drugs baron. 

As he tells his horrified wife in a famous scene: ‘I am not in danger… I am the danger.’ AMC UK/BT, from Sun, 9pm

 

The Big Fib 

Community star Yvette Nicole Brown takes charge of a new game show inspired by the podcast Pants On Fire. In each episode (30 have been made in total), two adults claim to be experts in a particular subject, but one of them is lying. 

It’s up to the child contestant to figure out which of them is honest, and which is telling porkie pies. Flight Of The Conchords’ Rhys Darby is also set to feature as Brown’s robot sidekick C.L.I.V.E., who’s always on hand with fascinating facts. Disney+, available now 

Why is there such a buzz about..?

The Last Kingdom (Netflix)

Originally created by the team behind Downton Abbey and having had the first two series premiere on BBC2, you would expect The Last Kingdom to have been as British as it comes.

Season three introduced new characters, including Cnut (Magnus Bruun, above)

Season three introduced new characters, including Cnut (Magnus Bruun, above)

However, the beautiful cinematography and magnificent action sequences bring a sense of big-budget Hollywood to this historical drama. Based on Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories novel series, it tells the tale of how the separate kingdoms of what we now know as England became one.

Amid this turbulence lives our hero, Uhtred, son of Saxon nobleman Uhtred, who ends up having a son named – you guessed it – Uhtred. Played by a man-bun-wearing Alexander Dreymon as a more violent Poldark, Uhtred is on a quest to reclaim his birthright after he was captured by the Danes and raised as one of their own.

From season three, Netflix took over production, ramping up the blood-and-gore budget and introducing new characters, including Cnut, one of Uhtred’s new ruthless enemies, played by Magnus Bruun.

The Last Kingdom has a fast-paced story, constantly shaking things up with major deaths and shocks. Season three felt like the end, much to the dismay of fans, but season four paves the way for a new era. 

If you were disappointed with the final instalment of Game Of Thrones, this is the next, and (dare I say it) even better, medieval drama to sink your teeth into.

Kelly Woodward 

 

BBC iPLAYER, ITV HUB & YOUTUBE 

Sir Cliff Richard: 60 Years 

Showbiz contributors from Tim Rice to Joan Collins line up to celebrate the Bachelor Boy’s incredible 60 years in the limelight. Shadows Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch recall Cliff’s early career as a bequiffed rock ’n’ roller; friends including Olivia Newton-John and Barry Gibb chart his success into the 1970s and beyond. 

Friends including Olivia Newton-John (above with Cliff Richard in 1971) and Barry Gibb chart Cliff's success into the 1970s and beyond

Friends including Olivia Newton-John (above with Cliff Richard in 1971) and Barry Gibb chart Cliff’s success into the 1970s and beyond

But inevitably, the shadow of the 2014 police search of his home and his High Court case to sue the BBC over its coverage of it casts a gloom over the celebrations, as we see Cliff cautiously going about daily life (his fear of meeting ball boys at Wimbledon is sad to watch) before the case was concluded in 2018 and he was awarded £210,000 in damages. ITV Hub, available now

 

The Bare & Klare Show 

One of the stars of Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK, Scaredy Kat (real name Alex Cubb, below), has created this new, low-rent comedy series, which is a kitsch cross between Blue Peter and Eurotrash, with a splash of 1980s horror thrown in. 

It follows Scaredy Kat’s alter ego, the magical bear Bare, and his acerbic cohort Klare (Remi May), as they guide their humans through the lockdown with commentary on topics including the environment and social media. 

One of the stars of Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK, Scaredy Kat (real name Alex Cubb), has created this new, low-rent comedy series, which is a kitsch cross between Blue Peter and Eurotrash

One of the stars of Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK, Scaredy Kat (real name Alex Cubb), has created this new, low-rent comedy series, which is a kitsch cross between Blue Peter and Eurotrash

And if that doesn’t sound weird enough, they’ll also be introducing viewers to Coco the Fat Bat and Shaun the Turtle. YouTube, available now

 

I’ve Been There 

First broadcast to tie in with Mental Health Awareness Week, this three-part series sees celebrities open up about a big problem, before surprising teenagers currently facing the same difficulty and sharing their insights, which they hope will help their new young friends. 

First up, Connor Ball, bassist of boyband The Vamps, examines his own mental health and anxiety. Then, Amy Childs discusses her cosmetic surgery choices and how she regrets some of her decisions. 

And finally, professional boxer Dillian Whyte explains how boxing helped steer him away from the world of gang violence. BBC iPlayer, available now

 

State Of Happiness 

Set back in the day when oil was worth more (much more) than the storage space it takes up, this period drama, inspired by a true story, is set in a small Norwegian town that is changed for ever after international company Phillips Petroleum strikes black gold. 

It’s the summer of 1969 and the coastal town of Stavanger is in crisis. What its residents don’t know, however, is that a stunning reversal of fortunes awaits them… The eight beautifully produced episodes (think a Norwegian Mad Men) follow the stories of four people – Anna Hellevik (the wonderful Anne Regine Ellingsæter), Christian Nyman (Amund Harboe), Toril Torstensen (Malene Wadel) and Jonathan Kay (Bart Edwards) – revealing how they and their families are affected. BBC iPlayer, available now

 

Dana: The Original Derry Girl 

Perched on a stool on the stage in Amsterdam, where she won the Eurovision title in 1970, Northern Irish singer Dana looks back on a life rich in all kinds of everything, including pop hits, her own TV show and a cancer scare that nearly silenced her. 

She twice ran for the Irish presidency, became an MEP and, as an arch-conservative Christian, fought against abortion and sang for the Pope. Then came the sex scandal that nearly engulfed her. 

Perched on a stool on the stage in Amsterdam, where she won the Eurovision title in 1970, Northern Irish singer Dana looks back on a life rich in all kinds of everything

Perched on a stool on the stage in Amsterdam, where she won the Eurovision title in 1970, Northern Irish singer Dana looks back on a life rich in all kinds of everything

But it’s her pop career and her struggles with the pressures of fame against the backdrop of The Troubles that are the main focus of this feelgood profile. BBC iPlayer, available now

 

AMAZON

Regular Heroes 

Singer Alicia Keys, comedian Kevin Hart and musician Nick Jonas are among those making guest appearances in this eight-part documentary. Regular Heroes highlights the contributions and personal sacrifices of Americans going above and beyond to support their communities during the Covid-19 crisis. 

There are features on a New York deli owner, a science teacher in Washington DC, a New Jersey zookeeper, a reverend in Los Angeles and a truck operator in Virginia. In the opener, Keys visits a volunteer caring for the homeless in LA. First three episodes available now, with new episodes every Friday until June 26

 

Sherlock Holmes 

New to Amazon Prime this week are Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows, Guy Ritchie’s brace of Sherlock films – easily his best outside his tried and tested guns-and-geezers movies. 

They star a brilliant Robert Downey Jr as a frenetic Holmes, and Jude Law as his droll but surprisingly handy Watson, both cracking additions to the Conan Doyle canon.  

The original is the tighter of the two films, and has Mark Strong in his usual role as a dark and menacing sort who wants to take over Britain using – it appears – dark magic. Available from Saturday. 

The Sherlock films star a brilliant Robert Downey Jr as a frenetic Holmes, and Jude Law as his droll but surprisingly handy Watson, both cracking additions to the Conan Doyle canon

The Sherlock films star a brilliant Robert Downey Jr as a frenetic Holmes, and Jude Law as his droll but surprisingly handy Watson, both cracking additions to the Conan Doyle canon

Also streaming is the return of the original fast and furious boy racer, Mad Max: Fury Road. Tom Hardy plays the eponymous star alongside Charlize Theron in a high-octane thrill ride of a movie that somehow managed to secure six Oscars among all the explosions and car crashes. 

Sci-fi thriller Passengers stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt as an impossibly pretty pair who happen to be the only ones awake on board a spaceship heading for a new planet. Both available from today

 

FILMS

The Lighthouse 

Proclaimed an arthouse masterpiece by some, dismissed as over-indulged, pretentious twaddle by others, the one thing on which perhaps we can all agree is that it will put you off shooting seagulls for ever. 

Willem Dafoe certainly gives it plenty as the marooned lighthouse-keeper in this striking, black and white exploration of mermaids and madness, also featuring Valeriia Karaman (above)

Willem Dafoe certainly gives it plenty as the marooned lighthouse-keeper in this striking, black and white exploration of mermaids and madness, also featuring Valeriia Karaman (above)

With Robert Eggers directing (his last film was The Witch), Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson certainly give it plenty as the marooned lighthouse-keepers in this striking, black and white exploration of mermaids, madness and marine isolation, also featuring Valeriia Karaman. Sky Store & Rakuten, available to buy from Monday

 

Queen & Slim 

Melina Matsoukas’s Bonnie And Clyde-style drama was one of the unexpected early treats of this year, and it’s a mystery how it missed out on major award nominations. A young black couple are coming to the close of a first date that already hasn’t gone well but is about to go catastrophically wrong. 

Daniel Kaluuya is great and Jodie Turner-Smith even better in a fast-moving, powerful and surprisingly sexy film. Sky Store, available from Monday

Matthew Bond 

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