Best new TV shows to stream: 6 July
- Brian Donaldson
- 6 July 2020
Including Mrs America and Little Voice
From The Kemps to The Donald, here are new shows for your small screens.
Unremittingly bleak doesn't really cover Stateless. This drama of six parts (only six, thankfully) focuses on the inner workings of an immigration detention centre in a remote part of Australia, a facility which is pretty much a living hell. Four strangers (a deeply unstable ex-air hostess on the run, a refugee fleeing Afghanistan, a security guard with a heart, and a bureaucrat running the centre as firmly but fairly as she can) are all driven to their limits by complicated pasts and stress-packed presents. It barely helps matters for the viewer to know that Stateless is 'inspired by true events'.
Cate Blanchett and Dominic West are the star names here, but the pair's limited roles as lifestyle gurus who run their operation like a cult suggest they may have been on board mainly to help get this made. The real stars are the quartet in dire straits, particularly Yvonne Strahovski (perhaps best known for her Emmy-nominated role in The Handmaid's Tale) as Sofie, the only white person trapped in this detention centre, and Fayssal Bazzi as Ameer, a man struggling to keep his family together as they attempt to find a better life away from war and persecution.
As the episodes unfold, it's perhaps wise to simply succumb to the misery and allow yourself to believe that no good will come of these stories. That way, when a shaft of light does enter proceedings, it might feel like an avalanche of joy. Given that such humanity-crushing detention centres exist around the globe makes Stateless a vital but depressing watch.
Netflix, Wed 8 July.
The Kemps: All True ★★★★☆
It's not clear whether the world really needed to know that Martin and Gary Kemp could laugh at themselves, but the proof is steeped in the All True pudding: the Spandau Ballet siblings are well up for a heavy dose of self-mockery. Aided and abetted by the mockumentary's writer/director/poker-faced presenter Rhys Thomas, the pair plunge headfirst into daftness by undercutting each other at every turn as they attempt to get their names in the limelight once again.
As well as pursuing solo projects (Martin is the auteur behind a superhero-esque horror movie featuring 'Britain's hardest bastards' while Gary is launching a meat-substitute product which fails at the most basic level: it's meat), the duo are curating an album in which contemporary music icons take on Spandau's greatest hits: the only problem is that everyone wants to sing 'True'.
Given that all concerned are in on the joke (though Tony Hadley's feelings on his portrayal might be worth hearing), this is far from the unimaginably icky Bros documentary from a couple of years back: no one will be dashing behind the sofa in pained embarrassment at the scripted Kemp antics. Fortunately, All True also happens to be very funny, with highlights including Martin's ongoing feud with wife Shirlie (did he always actually prefer Pepsi?), Gary's attempts at 'art', and the montage of staged brutality which covers Martin's EastEnders years. All True is comedy 'Gold'.
Available now on BBC iPlayer.
Little Voice ★★★★☆
With Netflix's The Eddy covering jazz and Channel 4's Philharmonia focussing on classical music, it was clearly time for folky-indie-singer-songwriter-pop to take its turn in driving a drama's narrative. And so Little Voice is the tale of Bess King (Brittany O'Grady), a young New Yorker struggling to make her way in the music biz while trying to hold her family together. Her dad (Chuck Cooper) is a legendary crooner having fallen on hard times, leaving Bess as ostensibly the primary carer for her autistic brother, the Broadway-obsessive Louie, their mother having walked out many years prior. Plus, Bess juggles multiple dog-walking duties with her role as a piano teacher to young kids and music therapist to care-home seniors. Oh, and she has the attention of two terribly handsome chaps to handle.
Little Voice (created by Sara Bareilles and Jessie Nelson with JJ Abrams on executive producer duties) has all the makings of an overly-earnest schmaltzfest but somehow gets away with it. This is partly down to some solid performances, the ultimately sensitive handling of Louie's story (for a brief moment it felt like he was the butt rather than the instigator of the show's humour), and the believable rough and tumble of trying to make a breakthrough in a field jammed full of similar wannabes. Little Voice is also canny in leaving itself open for a second series while offering up an emotionally satisfying closure to its debut.
Apple+, Fri 10 July.
Mrs America ★★★☆☆
Stateless and Mrs America may have casts which both include Cate Blanchett, but that's promptly where the similarities end. Her role in the latter as 1970s anti-feminist campaigner Phyllis Schlafly is a dominant part of Mrs America compared to her low-key appearances in Stateless. And Mrs America, despite its undoubted serious subject matter of equal rights, is almost a dance in the park compared to the constant guttural traumas of Stateless.
With the cataclysmic 1960s still reverberating in the US as a new decade progresses, voices are being raised loudly for and against women gaining equality. In the pro corner are the likes of Gloria Steinem, the outspoken co-founder of Ms. magazine, and Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to be elected to Congress and who, in 1972, became the first candidate of colour to make a strong run for the presidency. Firmly in the anti category are Schlafly and her bread-making acolytes who insisted that the Equal Rights Amendment being proposed by the 'libbers' would dismantle the patriarchal America they had fought tooth and well-manicured nail to prop up.
Slammed by Gloria Steinem when it first aired across the US for over-accentuating Schlafly's role in the ERA debate, Mrs America is (again, unlike Stateless), somewhat burdened by its celeb cast: Rose Byrne is plain to see under the waist-long hair and massive specs of Steinem, while Tracey Ullman as '60s feminist pioneer Betty Friedan trying to reclaim her position at the movement's forefront almost makes us forget that torrid Nicola Sturgeon impersonation. And John Slattery very nearly reprises his role as Mad Men's wisecrackin', gin-totin' lothario Roger Sterling in the frame of Phyllis' spouse Fred with his attempts at reasserting himself as the guy who wears the trousers in their marriage. In terms of tone and weight, Mrs America veers closer to the bubblegum activism of Ryan Murphy's The Politician than the emotional and intellectual heft of Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing.
BBC Two, starts Wed 8 July, 9pm.
Trump in Tweets ★★☆☆☆
Ever since announcing his run for the US presidency, it's been hard to keep up with the torrent of mayhem, insanity and befuddlement that Donald Trump has unleashed upon the world with his public utterances. Whether it's at sabre-rattling rallies or during increasingly confrontational press conferences on the White House lawn, each crazy statement and/or palpable untruth has barely sunk in before the next one thunders along.
As shown in this 70-minute migraine-inducing and tinnitus-inflaming blizzard, Twitter has been the main organ through which the commander-in-chief has blown out his chaotic 'thoughts'. Across a noisy, pacy and flashy 'infotainment' (you'd hardly call it a documentary), we track Trump's rather bland debut on social media right through to the UPPER-CASE, typo-riddled rants we've become accustomed to over the past four years. Among the interviewees are Anthony 'The Mooch' Scaramucci and former press secretary/media haranguer Sean Spicer, who both discovered that you should swiftly make new plans after upsetting The Donald whilst in his employ ('The Mooch' lasted a whirlwind ten days as director of communications).
As if to let us know that Trump supporters aren't merely angry white dudes, we're also introduced to Bryson Gray, a Blexit rapper in an oversized MAGA hat whose main case for the defence is that Trump is really good at giving his enemies nicknames (eg 'Sleepy' Joe Biden, 'Crooked' Hillary, 'Lyin'' Ted Cruz: playground classics one and all). Weirdly, Vladimir Putin has escaped the orange manchild's penetrating wit. Wonder why. Anyone would think the Russian leader has Trump in his back pocket...
Available now on BBC iPlayer.
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