Peak TV means that while some shows hog all the attention, a lot of excellent work is flying under the radar. Anders Furze nominates eight interesting series that you might have missed, and that you can stream right now.
Think: The Americans, House of Cards, John le Carré
Spy series The Bureau (rather impressively named Le Bureau des legends in the original French) is a slowly unfurling look at life inside France’s intelligence agency the D.G.S.E. Multiple plot lines cover everything from a new recruit finishing her training to the agency’s murky internal politics and the tense relationship between the French and Americans. At the centre of it all is the curious figure of Guillaume Debailly (Mathieu Kassovitz), who at the outset has just returned from a stint undercover in Syria. He proceeds to juggle several ongoing dramas, while occasionally narrating his philosophical meditations on the nature of life in espionage.
Where: Streaming on SBS On Demand
Episodes: 4 seasons, 10 episodes (54 minutes each)
Think: Q&A, House of Cards
English playwright Mike Bartlett wrote this six-part drama, which examines the role of the media in an age of fake news and increasing pressure on journalists. It follows the goings-on at two adjacent newsrooms: one belonging to tabloid paper The Post (a clear ring-in for The Sun), the other belonging to the ostensibly more principled Herald (subbing-in for The Guardian). Bartlett’s screenplay might veer occasionally into didactic territory – a disquisition on the nature of power from the resident Bad Guy Millionaire is unsubtle if nonetheless illuminating – but it’s fascinating to watch a barely fictionalised attempt at getting to grips with the politics of the present. Crucially, he refuses to take the easy route when it comes to any of his characterisations. Aussie Brendan Cowell pops up, as does David Suchet as the Murdochesque figure of The Post’s proprietor.
Where: Streaming on ABC iview
Episodes: 1 season, 6 episodes (58 minutes each)
Think: Game of Thrones, Outlander
This entertaining ride bills itself as a prequel to Treasure Island, following a series of misfit pirates on the seas surrounding 18th century Nassau. The action focuses on the complicated central figure of Captain Flint (Toby Stephens), whose motivations only really become clear in the second season. Crucially, the action on display is particularly well-choreographed, instantly shaming most previously filmed renditions of pirate attacks into mediocrity. It takes some time for the sails to unfurl, but when they do, Black Sails becomes well-executed entertainment that’s also unafraid to make a point about life on the margins. Refreshingly for this kind of thing, it never once feels too self-serious.
Where: Streaming on Stan
Episodes: 4 seasons, 38 episodes (50-72 minutes each)
Get a Room With Carson & Thom
Think: Queer Eye, House Hunters
This reality show follows original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy cast members Carson Kressley and Thom Filicia as they work together on interior design projects for various clients in New York City and surrounds. Thom’s an expert interior designer running his own business, Carson’s an amateur with taste. They argue good-naturedly with themselves and their clients, who run the gamut of McMansion owners in upstate New York to inner city apartment dwellers and small business owners. Every episode follows the same formula (will they come in under budget? Of course they will!) but there’s something deeply comforting about this vision of a world where the biggest problem amounts to choosing the right side table, a problem that’s easily resolved over a happy-hour cocktail in the city.
Episodes: 1 season, 10 episodes (43 minutes each)
Think: Stranger Things, The Returned
Netflix’s original German series Dark is an enjoyably convoluted and atmospheric time travel thriller that starts with a kid going missing in a small town. From there, a series of increasingly complicated plot machinations unwind across three time periods: 1953, 1986 and 2019. As one character puts it, “yesterday, today and tomorrow are not consecutive. They are connected in a never-ending circle.” Fans of the first series left wanting more after the final reveal will be happy to know that season two has just landed.
Episodes: 2 seasons, 18 episodes (55 minutes each)
Think: Top of the Lake
It’s all about the atmosphere in this French TV series about people in a remote town who inexplicably return from the dead, which first screened in 2012. If you’re looking for satisfying narrative resolution you might have to look elsewhere, but the moodiness on display, amplified by an ambient original score from post-rock outfit Mogwai, conjures a deeply evocative experience that pairs well with winter.
Where: SBS On Demand
Episodes: 2 seasons, 16 episodes (55 minutes each)
Think: Shrill, The Bold Type
Ryan O’Connell gained a sizeable millennial audience in the early 2010s thanks to his work for online listicle farm Thought Catalog. He stars in this adaptation of his memoir, about life as a gay twentysomething man with cerebral palsy. Each episode packs a lot into its short and sharp 15-minute running time, and the result is warm-hearted, funny and, in its frank representations of gay sex, disability and the messy nature of trying to live an honest life, quietly revolutionary.
Episodes: 1 season, 8 episodes (12-17 minutes each)
The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo
Think: Special, Will & Grace
Brian Jordan Alvarez is increasingly gaining recognition after a stint on the resurrected Will & Grace and a memorable appearance in Special. But before all that he created and starred in this witty, beguiling web-series. Merely recounting the premise doesn’t quite do this show justice: it follows the lives and loves of a group of friends in Los Angeles. It’s the show’s slightly addled, deeply witty execution and its generosity towards its characters that makes it a truly great piece of work. Most notably, there’s a wonderful sense that anything goes here, from the characters’ sexual identities, to their ever-shifting relationships and even the form of the series itself.
Where: Streaming on Youtube
Episodes: 1 season, 5 episodes (10-22 minutes each)
Feature image: Dark (Netflix)