Best new TV shows to stream: 15 June
- Brian Donaldson
- 15 June 2020
Including The Salisbury Poisonings and What We Do In The Shadows
From undead vampires to unearthed pharaohs, here are new shows for your small screens.
The Salisbury Poisonings ★★★★☆
The Salisbury Poisonings is either the best or the worst show to be watching in these testing times. In the summer of 2018, a charming but previously non-newsworthy medieval cathedral city in Wiltshire became the site of a chemical warfare attack that seemed to come straight from an episode of 24. Former Russian spy and defector Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, were struck down and almost fatally wounded by a dose of Novichok, a nerve agent that causes a speedy collapse in essential bodily functions. It only took a few dots to be joined up in order for UK officials to point the finger of blame at Skripal's ex-boss Vladimir Putin, who was believed to be fuming over his former secret service operative's betrayal.
But that's not the story of The Salisbury Poisonings, which focuses on the response on the ground by police, scientists and health officials (chiefly Tracy Daszkiewicz, Wiltshire council's director of public health who is played by Anne-Marie Duff) once it became clear that drastic and deeply unpopular action was required to prevent Novichok's devastating effects from spreading across the population. And this, of course, is where the TV drama reverberates with the world we live in now.
An often uncomfortable watch, this compelling three-parter sheds a prescient light on how a wrong decision or even a moment's hesitation can lead to potential disaster. The Salisbury Poisonings should also nudge your empathy muscles and by the time we reach the final frames featuring the real people behind the dramatisation (revealing that the casting is spot on), anger and outrage should also have stirred in your veins.
BBC One, Monday 15 & Tuesday 16 June, 9pm; episode one on BBC iPlayer.
What We Do In The Shadows ★★★★☆
With fans and newcomers catching up with the 90s joys of Buffy over on All 4, the Undead breathes again with this second batch of What We Do in The Shadows. Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi's mockumentary originated as a movie in 2014 before being recast for its Staten Island-set TV version to feature Kayvan Novak (prissy and ineffectual leader Nandor), Matt Berry and Natasia Demetriou (bickering centuries-old lovers Laszlo and Nadja), and Mark Proksch (Colin Robinson, the 'energy vampire' who bores mortals to submission).
In classic second-series style, some showbiz favours appear to have been called in with Haley Joel Osment, Mark Hamill, Lucy Punch and Benedict Wong all showing up to flap around for a bit in the fun. Among this season's diversions are Laszlo temporarily hotfooting it to escape an enemy by running a bar in redneck country, some fiendish witches threatening our anti-heroes' existences, and Nandor's 'familiar' Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) departing in the huff after 11 years' service to hang out at another vampire's cool lair before realising that change is not all that it's cracked up to be.
Enjoyment of What We Do In The Shadows will largely come down to the audience's belief that we have yet to reach peak mockumentary. From The Office to Parks and Recreation and on to Modern Family, the continual to-camera winks, nods and looks of bafflement have become a hardy sitcom perennial. Much of the humour here resides in everyday trivial concerns and modern speech patterns clashing up against the mythical, old-world iconography and habits of vampiric lore. And for now, there seems to be fertile ground for Clement and Waititi's show to prosper. Killer theme tune, too.
BBC Two, Thursdays, 10pm; all episodes on BBC iPlayer.
Initially a popular web series, Dutch drama Anne+ gets the Walter Presents treatment with every episode across two seasons now cobbled together on All 4. And just to prove that Channel 4's European strand isn't simply about noir, crime and buckets of innovative blood-letting, Anne+ is a perfectly pleasant run-through of a young woman's love life (the + is added to in each episode's opening credits with the name of a partner whose story is about to be told).
The only way to tell where the join is between the seasons is that the second batch features a curious new voiceover technique in which we hear Anne's thoughts commenting on what has just been said or how what she is about to say in a conversation doesn't reflect her true feelings. All fine and well if not especially original. But an increasingly distracting problem occurs when we hear her voice chiming into scenes where she isn't actually present. Has she developed a new superpower without us knowing? Whatever the plan, it's a jarring misfire in a programme that doesn't need any fancy innovations.
Much of the fun in Anne+ is trying to guess who she will wind up with: her oldest pal and first real love, Lily? Or Sara, the commitment-phobe who got away but then came back again? While there's a late stab at weight in an episode aimed at showing that the Netherlands, with all its apparent sexual liberty, doesn't exist in a homophobic-free zone, Anne+ is overwhelmingly light and fluffy.
All episodes available on All 4.
Tutankhamun In Colour ★★★☆☆
An hour of unfiltered Egyptology sounds like nirvana for those whose passions run deep for the lives of Xerxes and Ramses. But this retelling of the story of Tutankhamun and the 1922 discovery of his tomb and its many treasures is likely to be little more than a recap for the initiated. Whether the titillation of seeing the old footage of Howard Carter, his backer Lord Carnarvon, and the locals who aided them in their hunt, transformed from black and white to colour is enough of a carrot for the seasoned pharaoh-watcher is unclear.
Egypt expert Elizabeth Frood is our guide as she switches between chatting with the French tech wizard behind the colourisation and poring over the familiar story of Carter and co's daring trip into the Valley of the Kings. After a brutal world war and a devastating flu pandemic, this discovery was viewed by many as welcome good news. There are hints that some Egyptians were less than enamoured in seeing their own country being plundered for the benefit of western interests, but Frood skates over all this, preferring to coo at the details on caskets brought out by the new film processes.
BBC Four, Thursday 18 June, 9pm.
The Woods ★★★☆☆
Thriller novelist Harlan Coben gets his second Netflix adaptation in 2020 with The Woods following up The Stranger. While the latter shifted the action from a mix of New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania to one location in the north of England, The Woods moves from the US to Poland. Relentlessly downbeat and gloomily atmospheric, the storyline pay-offs might not feel enough of a reward for sticking with its six episodes, but there's enough going on to tune in should your must-see lists be exhausted.
Switching in time between the present day and 1994, Pawel is a state prosecutor trying to uncover the truth behind a rape case now and the disappearance and likely murders of four teenagers from a summer camp he attended 25 years earlier. Among the missing is his own sister, one in a string of tragedies during his own life including the mystery behind his own mother abandoning him and the death of his wife from a terminal illness, leaving him to raise their daughter on his own.
There are many strands to these cases which keep the guessing games afloat, and it's also enjoyable to hear a soundtrack filled with 90s Polish chart hits and rock tracks.
All episodes on Netflix.
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