Best TV shows to stream this week: 4 May
- Brian Donaldson
- 4 May 2020
Including Isolation Stories, Hollywood and Trying
From wish-fulfilment stories to a drama made in lockdown, we take a peek at the latest TV releases.
Isolation Stories ★★★★☆
At the end of March, Corona became the first movie to react (extremely speedily) to our new world order, as it trapped some characters in a lift with one of them showing signs of the virus. TV's Covid-19 coverage has been confined to rolling news coverage and a selection of documentaries, but this week ITV brings us four 15-minute dramas which have been created in the past month amid lockdown restrictions. Devised by Jeff Pope (screenwriter of Philomena and Stan & Ollie), the likes of Darren Boyd, Angela Griffin and Robert Glenister have been assembled to appear, with the opening salvo of Isolation Stories, 'Mel', starring Sheridan Smith.
This moving tale, shot mainly by Jamie Horn, the partner of a heavily pregnant Smith, is about a woman set to give birth while living alone in lockdown as she pores over her life and tries to make peace (or war) with a variety of people. Things get bleak when she bonds with a stranger whose own harsh existence comes starkly into focus. A small-scale triumph, 'Mel' marks yet another moment of quality in Sheridan Smith's already glittering career.
ITV, Monday 4–Thursday 7 May, 9pm.
After his much trumpeted but less than glorious Netflix debut The Politician, Ryan Murphy follows it up with the thoroughly enjoyable but often patchy Hollywood. Set in the post-war Golden Age of Tinseltown, Murphy uses semi-fictionalised versions of people who did indeed exist at the time as well as composites of various Hollywood movers and shakers, to tell the flawed story of the making of a movie about Peg Entwistle. This young Welsh-born actress gained notoriety in 1932 when she jumped to her death from the H of the Hollywood sign.
As well as the fact that this film never existed, Murphy doesn't attempt to hide the fact that this is nothing other than the story of an alternative history of representation along gender, race and sexuality lines that still struggle for parity in today's movie-making industry. Sometime this made-up story jars when set against reality, especially in the final episode which revolves around an Oscars ceremony with Peg up against actual films from that era.
Still, at a time when roles for veteran actors are often criticised for a lack of both quality and quantity, it's gratifying to see the likes of Patti LuPone, Joe Mantello and Holland Taylor outshine the young bucks such as Darren Criss and Laura Harrier who are the focal point in the opening titles sequence. There are also winning performances from Dylan McDermott as the charming pimp who runs his business out of a petrol station and Jim Parsons who proves there's more to him (a vicious streak mainly) than Big Bang Theory's Sheldon.
All episodes on Netflix.
In the eight-part Trying, Esther Smith is call-centre operator Nikki, living with long-term partner Jason (Rafe Spall), who teaches English to foreign students. Neither of them is flush with cash so they're forced to rent in order to survive in London, while they don't care too much for anything other than the simplest of pleasures. His wardrobe is full of Ramones t-shirts and she is prone to a series of social gaffes. A child might give their lives and relationship a fresh impetus, but that ambition is biologically thwarted. Soon, adoption is the long road they embark upon, but that journey is of course fraught with obstacles.
Joining the very watchable Smith and Spall is a fine supporting cast, headlined by Imelda Staunton as their deeply eccentric adoption social worker. Trying won't find itself on many people's best-of lists at the end of 2020 and is unlikely to overly concern award panels, but it's a pleasing enough ride through the moral and practical maze of modern adoption.
All episodes on Apple TV.
Harley Quinn ★★★☆☆
For fans of all things Gotham City-related, joy will be unconfined over this new animated caper based on Joker's girlfriend, Harley Quinn. Sadly for him, she has had enough of being perceived merely as his psychotic sidekick and is after a larger piece of the action herself; this decision is made somewhat easier when he leaves her high and dry in Arkham Asylum for taking the wrap after one of his latest blood-soaked atrocities.
One of Harley Quinn's creators is Justin Halpern, he of the Shit My Dad Says Twitter phenomenon, and the comedic tone here resides either firmly in the snark zone or couched in juxtaposition with characters chatting about the most banal things in a chatty banal manner while an over-the-top act of bone-snapping violence is occurring in the background. Taken at face value, the brutality is on a par with Gangs of London's gorefest, but only those who view Itchy & Scratchy as an actual threat to civilisation will watch this with any concern. Kaley Cuoco voices Harley while JB Smoove plays a dastardly plant called Frank and Lake Bell is Poison Ivy. Harley Quinn has fun and frolics aplenty with, quite probably, an empowering message at its core.
E4, Thursday 7 May, 10.30pm.
At one point in Upload, a character is seen scrolling past images of TV shows from a bygone age (this is set in the 2030s), including Parks and Recreation, King of the Hill, and the US version of The Office. A cutesy in-joke given that Upload creator Greg Daniels was responsible for those comedies, it also strikes a note of regret as this new effort pales in comparison on his CV beside those vastly superior forebears.
Robbie Amell's self-obsessed, arrogant Nathan joins the 27 Club when the driverless car he's riding in crashes into the back of a truck. His self-obsession and arrogance are only matched by his 'mourning' girlfriend Ingrid (Allegra Edwards) whose wealth allows him access into an afterlife digital paradise called Lakeview. Her main motivation is to keep him under her control which seems like a huge waste of time, expense and effort. Ensconced in Lakeview, and not exactly loving his new existence of extreme privilege, Nathan and Nora (Andy Allo), the tech support worker who acts as his guiding 'angel,' all-too inevitably start to develop a relationship after a rather bumpy start (she messed up his hair deliberately during his algorithmic make-over after finding him a little, well, self-obsessed and arrogant). This might act as a comfort blanket for those who miss the similarly-themed The Good Place, but this product-placement laden series becomes a spot you want to linger in less and less as each episode rolls unsatisfyingly by.
All episodes on Amazon Prime.
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