Best new TV shows to stream: 13 July
- Brian Donaldson
- 13 July 2020
Including The Plot Against America and Miracle Workers
From carnage in the Middle East to silliness during the Dark Ages, here are new shows for your small screens.
Once Upon A Time In Iraq ★★★★★
Across five engrossing and moving episodes of Once Upon A Time In Iraq, a diverse range of people are interviewed with multiple opinions put forward. But there is one thing they would surely all agree on: the war in Iraq, which began in 2003 and continues in some form to this very day, changed all of their lives forever. We meet the tequila-slugging Sgt Rudy Reyes, a US reconnaissance marine who is pretty much Rambo in actual human form; there's Waleed Nesyif, a heavy-metal obsessive who was 18 at the time of the invasion and gained eye-opening work as a translator for foreign journalists; we also meet two reporters from The New York Times who were embedded with the US military and witnessed things which will never leave them; and there are bombing victims who were children at the time and have grown up scarred both physically and mentally, all the while trying to keep hate from their hearts.
Created by award-winning documentary filmmaker James Bluemel, and narrated by Andy Serkis, the series takes us through the many contradictions of that country and dissects the traumas suffered by its citizens, firstly through some of the harsher tactics of the invading US army as well as the ISIS forces who stepped brutally into the void. There is footage that is sad and images that are disturbing, but the humanity of those selected for interview comes shining through, whether it's the remorse written all over an American colonel's face, or the forgiveness shown by a tormented father. Once Upon A Time In Iraq is a crucial document of the terror that war unleashes, told by those who have been forever shaped by it.
BBC Two, Monday 13 July, 9pm.
The Rise Of The Murdoch Dynasty ★★★★☆
On several occasions during The Rise Of The Murdoch Dynasty, you have to remind yourself that this is not the new series of HBO drama Succession. There's the same scratchy home movie footage of the Murdochs larking around in palatial surroundings while the narrative continually brings us back to the matter of who will take control of Rupert's media empire when he finally calls it a day: the word 'succession' is uttered many times.
In this compelling three-part documentary, we track the history of Melbourne-born Rupert Murdoch, a man driven by a sense of injustice that his father failed to leave him enough of his own newspaper business. In episode one, we see Murdoch ditching his Conservative pals by courting Tony Blair with episode two focussing on his fall initiated by the News Of The World phone hacking scandal. Finally we witness his second coming in the US thanks to the surge of Trump, the alt-right and Fox News-imbued populism.
Murdoch strikes a forlorn figure as his empire shakes and crumbles a little, and you might even feel vaguely sympathetic when he's physically attacked with a 'shaving foam pie' during the Leveson Inquiry. But despite the cast of critics interviewed here (Alan Rusbridger, Hugh Grant and Max Mosley for three), it does feel as though the documentary lets Murdoch slightly off the hook. There's nothing here about the move of News International printing operations from Fleet Street to Wapping which decimated industrial relations, and no mention of Page 3 nor the scandalous reporting by The Sun of the Hillsborough disaster.
Given that another two hours could easily have been filled, that's arguably a tribute to Murdoch's ability at continually making his own headlines. The documentary does deliver its own verdict on which of the offspring will carry the torch into the future, hinting that strife and controversy will continue to be a way of life for this family business.
BBC Two, Tuesday 14 July, 9pm.
The Plot Against America ★★★☆☆
Perhaps because of the USA's relative youth in terms of nationhood or the fact that in a short time-span the country has continually been hit hard by epoch-changing trauma and controversy, America has always been ripe for alternate history makeovers in culture. On screen, everything from Death Of A President, The Trial Of Lee Harvey Oswald, and, um, Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies imagines a wholly different path for US politics. In books, Curtis Sittenfeld has just published Rodham which wonders what might have happened to Hillary's life and career had she never hooked up with Bill.
Published in 2004, Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, concerning the election of an anti-politician public figure who preaches firebrand populism while clearly being in bed with right-wing nutjobs, might have seemed fanciful at the time. Now, as we hopefully enter the final stages of a one-term Trump administration, that fiction has become all-too real. In this six-part TV version, the slow, steady creep of fascism into the everyday lives of Americans during World War II is accelerated when FDR is ousted at the polls by fancypants pilot Charles Lindbergh. The story is told through the eyes of a New Jersey Jewish family who have wildly varied opinions on 'Lindy', with all of them finally waking up to the horror of state-endorsed anti-Semitism when it's much too late.
In perhaps his most straight-forward and non-layered drama to date, The Wire and The Deuce creator David Simon teams up again with Ed Burns to tell a tale of what happens, not so much when good people do nothing, but when public anger and empty rhetoric bashes into each other. With John Turturro as a rabbi used by Lindbergh to hoodwink the nation's Jews into believing that he's not a monster, and Winona Ryder and Zoe Kazan as sisters viewing the world through different perspectives, this is a potent if overly long strike against liberal complacency.
Sky Atlantic, Tuesday 14 July, 9pm; all episodes on NOW TV, Tuesday 14 July.
Miracle Workers: The Dark Ages ★★☆☆☆
After a first season where 'heaven' is fought over in the modern day, Miracle Workers returns with a second batch plunging the same set of main actors into the murky era of the Dark Ages. Steve Buscemi plays Eddie Murphy Shitshoveler who takes immense pride in the work which his surname has landed him with, but any hopes that his daughter Alexandra (Geraldine Viswanathan) would gleefully follow in his excrement-covered footsteps is dashed.
As a determined feminist she wants more for her life, although much of her ambitions end up being filtered through the lives of handsome but empty young men: a selfish cosmologist called Archibald Cosmos (Chris Jenks) and the feckless Prince Chauncley (Daniel Radcliffe). The latter is also keen to veer from the fatherly path which is understandable given that his dad (the always excellent Peter Serafinowicz) is a ruthless and bloodthirsty ruler.
The script relies too much on believing that inserting contemporary language and modern ideals into an ancient part of history is in and of itself simply hilarious. While it's fair to say that Radcliffe has done plenty on stages and screens to put the Harry Potter albatross behind him, it's also sadly accurate that comedy just isn't really his thing. He was decent enough playing against his public image in Extras, but here he is given an overwhelming number of lines that bear very little humorous fruit. Meanwhile, Buscemi (who also directs one episode) has now settled into playing characters that are more homely than vital. If you go into this looking for just one laugh per 20-minute segment, then you can relax and enjoy some decent set-ups and characters without the added burden of anticipating better jokes.
Sky Comedy, Monday 13 July, 9pm; all episodes on NOW TV, Monday 13 July.
Breathe: Into The Shadows ★☆☆☆☆
In this era of prestige television, it's almost reassuring to see something so crashingly awful as it reminds you that those acres of quality TV at our disposal should never be taken for granted. Breathe: Into The Shadows is a Delhi-set thriller about a couple whose daughter has been snatched by a mysterious kidnapper unleashing ransom demands which force the parents to commit multiple murders. A ropily-shot and awkwardly acted 12-part drama with inept dialogue that will truly sadden your ears, this should be tense and traumatic but is tedious and trite.
It also steals unashamedly from the plot of Se7en with the deadly sins binding together the kidnapper's instructions. Without wishing to give anything away for the brave souls who stick with this, the final twist is likely to trigger everything from cancelled subscriptions to TV devices being hurled through closed windows.
All episodes on Amazon Prime Video.
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