Best new TV shows to stream: 1 June
- Brian Donaldson
- 1 June 2020
Including Alex Rider, Sitting in Limbo and The First Team
From a flashy football sitcom to a traumatic racism drama, here are new shows for your small screens.
Sitting in Limbo ★★★★☆
When the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition with the Conservatives in 2010, there was a belief that Clegg and co would be there to douse some of their right-wing partners' more reprehensible policies. Yet this unholy alliance ushered in Home Secretary Theresa May's 'hostile environment' policy in which they would go out of their way to make life as tough as possible for those they deemed 'illegal'. The ultimate hope was that those targeted would be so beaten down by this state-sanctioned hostility that they would up sticks and head 'back home'.
Of course, this is disgusting enough when applied to anyone who has perhaps only just arrived in the UK to flee war and persecution in their scarred homelands. But what if people who had lived in Britain for many decades were somehow caught up in this due to quota-chasing and being deemed 'low-hanging fruit'? This is how the Windrush scandal came to pass, and the one-off drama Sitting in Limbo tells the terrible story of one London family ripped apart by this policy.
Having come to Britain from Jamaica at the age of eight, life worked out pretty well for Anthony Bryan (other than the racism he faced as a schoolkid) and in 2015 he was a tax-payer, long-term partner, father and grandfather. But then he was flung into a living hell when he applied for a passport to visit his elderly mother in the West Indies. Caught in an administrative nightmare leading to him being arrested in a noisy dawn raid and sent to a detention centre (twice), the threat of deportation becomes real unless he is able to prove his own identity. For anyone who needed a reminder or remained in the dark about the full extent and deep impact of the Windrush scandal, Sitting in Limbo is a powerful jolt to the system.
BBC One, Monday 8 June, 8.30pm.
Spelling the Dream ★★★★☆
Back in 2003, the wonderful documentary film Spellbound introduced to much of the world the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee, a championship for kids in America which features feats of word-recall that are frankly flabbergasting. Spelling the Dream takes that story further with its focus originating from a jawdropping statistic: since 1999, 18 of the 22 winners have been Indian Americans.
This film attempts to come up with an iron-clad rationale for such domination by positing various theories but failing to land on anything concrete. But even if there had been a eureka moment in Spelling the Dream, that would still not have been its most enjoyable element. Simply seeing children as young as six standing in front of hundreds of people (turning to millions when the final's latter stage was broadcast on ESPN) and wracking their brains to picture complex words which you and I have never even heard of never mind tried to spell is both tension-filled viewing and actually quite moving. Some even show a witty bravado: 'could you spell that for me?' is one wag's response to the invigilator when faced with a particularly tricky word. Uplifting and, obviously, highly educational.
Netflix from Wednesday 3 June.
The Other One ★★★☆☆
After a pilot episode broadcast a mere three years ago, Holly Walsh's The Other One has finally been elevated to full-series status. Upon the sudden death of her dad, Catherine Walcott (Ellie White) discovers that he had another family hidden away in another part of town. When the initial shock wears off, the soon-to-be-wed yet bumbling middle-class daughter forges an unlikely but close connection with her rough-as-nails half-sister (also called Catherine) played by Lauren Socha.
It's a solid premise which raises some gentle humour throughout (best set-pieces are a glamping hen weekend from hell and the wedding-day aftermath which reveals a final twist) but the show is stolen by Rebecca Front and Siobhan Finneran as the two mums who never quite see eye to eye until their own bond is forced together at the climax.
Starts on BBC One, Friday 5 June, 9pm.
Alex Rider ★★★☆☆
If you were tied to a chair in a sealed room far away from home with the sound of death metal being blasted in your ears until you told your captors what they needed to know, how would you react? Chances are few of us would think that singing a Jake Bugg number to face down a really loud tune called 'Killing Engine' would do any good, but it works for young Alex Rider in this eight-part small-screen adaptation of the Anthony Horowitz books.
Riddled with foibles and oddities, Alex Rider could easily have been totally awful, but somehow digs itself out of its annoyances and inconsistencies to become a perfectly watchable spy drama about a most unlikely secret agent. After the mysterious death of the uncle who raised him, Alex discovers that he may not have been a boring banker after all, but actually a high-ranking operative in the secret services. Proving himself to be daring and full of initiative (though he struggles to tell his woolly-hatted best mate the simplest of lies), a reluctant Alex eventually agrees to become a pawn in this spy game in order to uncover the truth behind his uncle's demise.
Immediately separating itself in the kiddie-spy sub-genre from the likes of MI High by taking itself very seriously indeed, it features a soundtrack full of industrial scratches, bleeps and yelps that sound like Aphex Twin angrily throwing a bag of synths down the stairs. Setting aside the fact that actor Otto Farrant is a 20-year-old playing someone five or six years younger, we also have Vicky McClure wearing massive specs and an even bigger scowl while Stephen Dillane peers over his glasses with a permanent look of headmasterly disdain, as they fling the lad Rider into peril with very little regard. Highly implausible from the off, but reasonably entertaining throughout.
All episodes on Amazon Prime Video from Friday 5 June.
The First Team ★★★☆☆
Initial reviews of football sitcom The First Team suggested that The Inbetweeners writers Iain Morris and Damon Beesley had lost their mojo after early impressive form. Those slatings were largely based on an admittedly sluggish opening episode or two, but proving that the fortunes of TV shows can be turned around, the full picture of six parts reveals a more subtle and far funnier affair than most predicted.
A struggling English top-division team with a clueless US owner (Will Arnett) and an Italian manager (Paolo Sassanelli) whose mercurial abilities are fading, recruit a largely unknown American player Mattie (Jake Short) who ends up spending more time trying to raise team morale than using his questionable skills on the field of play. Meanwhile hard-man club legend Petey (Theo Barklem-Biggs) is doing his utmost to undermine the manager with one eye on being promoted to the top job.
The First Team certainly continues The Inbetweeners' often juvenile and scatological strains of humour (two icky incidents with dog excrement bookend the series) but there's a bonhomie between the main characters and enjoyable performances (particularly Jack McMullen as a befuddled and introverted talent, and Shaquille Ali-Yebuah as a flashy but well-meaning lad who never quite gets his big break) that eventually win the day.
Thursdays, BBC Two, 9.30pm; all episodes on BBC iPlayer.
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