Best TV shows to stream this week
- Brian Donaldson
- 28 April 2020
Including Normal People, Gangs of London and After Life
From gory gangland drama to funny family feuding, there's plenty on the small screen to stream right now. Here's just a few of our picks for the week.
Normal People ★★★★☆
While Twitter and below-the-line contributors currently debating whether Sally Rooney's source novel was actually a bit 'meh', this 12-part TV adaptation (at manageable chunks of around 25 minutes per episode) is a moving and compelling triumph. Scripted by Alice Birch, Mark O'Rowe and Rooney herself, with Lenny Abrahamson (Frank, Room) and Hettie Macdonald (Howards End, Fortitude) taking the directorial helm for six episodes each, the story of final-year school pals who become on-off lovers across the following few years should appeal to a broad base.
Excellently performed by Daisy Edgar-Jones (War of the Worlds, Cold Feet) and TV newcomer Paul Mescal, Marianne and Connell are Sligo friends whose increasingly passionate relationship is kept from their peers: she is a highly-intelligent, loose-cannon loner, he is a sociable sports hunk with a sensitive side (he reads books and can't abide his mates' more laddish tendencies). After a fraught separation, they encounter each other again at Dublin's Trinity College where their lives merely get more complicated as inner demons steadily rise to the surface. With wonderfully natural acting across the cast, and scripts and direction that bubble with life, Normal People is a superior drama you'll be happy to lock into.
BBC One, Mondays, 9pm; all episodes on BBC iPlayer.
Friday Night Dinner ★★★★☆
With creator Robert Popper denying that the end of Friday Night Dinner is nigh, fans of the Goodman family's often ludicrous weekly gatherings can sample the latest series with less tinges of melancholy. In publicity interviews ahead of this new batch, Tamsin Greig (Jackie) reckoned the series pushed the boat out on the icky factor. Other than the regular shots of a topless and boiling Martin (Paul Ritter), only the scene of neighbour Jim (Mark Heap) spilling a cistern of 'human waste' in the living room would have churned a few stomachs.
Other than that, it's stupid business as usual with siblings Adam (Simon Bird) and Jonny (Tom Rosenthal) pranking and slapping each other around while Sally Phillips shows up as the boys' former au pair Gibby, and another death inconveniences the family's Friday meal. With the thorny issue of Jim's new dog settled in the opening episode, all fans needed to do was settle back and revel in another nonsensical ride with TV's most beloved family of 'pillocks'.
Channel 4, Fridays, 10pm; episodes on All4.
Gangs of London ★★★☆☆
Strong stomachs and a functioning whiteboard may be required to keep up with Gareth Evans' nine-part metro gorefest. From its opening scene of a man dangling atop a very tall London building before being set on fire, it's hard to keep up with the ins and outs of the multiple gangs at war. The Irish king of London (Colm Meaney) is assassinated at the beginning, leading to his son Sean (Joe Cole) looking for vengeance on those who ordered the hit.
Among the criminal groups he's trying to control are Albanians, Nigerians, Kurds, Welsh Travellers and Scandi special forces, all of whom perpetrate their own acts of terror with each episode featuring at least one bloody setpiece which resembles a video game in their head-exploding and body-crushing brutality. A machete attack on an investment bank and the various scenes of torture which will test even the most hardened viewer's mettle. There's an undeniable rush to the action sequences that thrills up to a point but the finale hints bleakly at a potential second series when you're more likely to be willing for proper closure.
Sky Atlantic, Thursdays, 9pm; all episodes on NOW TV.
After Life ★★★☆☆
Ricky Gervais' depressed widower Tony Johnson is back for another six episodes of downbeat drama leavened with the blackest of comedic touches. Still failing to deal with the death of his wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman), local news reporter Tony continues to just about get through every day before drinking himself to sleep while watching video footage of his departed partner. Each episode follows a strict routine as Tony banters with his pesky postie (Joe Wilkinson), writes about ridiculous stories for The Tambury Gazette, hangs out at his wife's graveside with another mourner (Penelope Wilton) and sits with his ailing dad (David Bradley) in a care home.
On those visits, he meets carer Emma (Ashley Jensen) who offers the potential for a brighter future. Meanwhile, Tony's boss and brother-in-law Matt (Tom Basden) visits the worst therapist ever in the shape of a lewd and unsympathetic Paul Kaye. The repetition might make bingeing a chore and the humour isn't quite as pinpoint as his previous work, but Gervais once again proves there's more depth to him than the public image of a cackling fool.
All episodes on Netflix.
Few recent dramas have taken themselves quite as seriously on the flimsiest of foundations as Alex Garland's Devs. If you're feeling charitable you might consider the show to be woefully miscast with Nick Offerman taking the lead as Forest, the messianic CEO of a deeply mysterious quantum computing company. We know he has delusions of christhood due to his long hair and beard while he is often framed with a bright white halo or ethereal glow behind him. His nemesis is Lily, played with a one-note glaze by Sonoya Mizuno, as she seeks answers after her tech-whizzkid boyfriend failed to come back home after his first day at Amaya, the Silicon Valley group Forest named after his dead daughter.
Across eight beautifully-lit but excruciatingly tedious episodes (this could have been a lesser Black Mirror squeezed into a fraction of the airtime), Garland drags viewers kicking and screaming through scenes heavy with clumsy exposition and featuring some of the most awful and self-important dialogue to be put in front of a TV audience for quite some time.
BBC Two, Wednesdays & Thursdays, 9pm; all episodes on BBC iPlayer.
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