It might lack the overall cachet of Netflix and Amazon Prime, but Now TV is a streaming service worth shouting about.
Not only does Now TV feature a best-in-class Movies package (see our recommendations from that line-up here), it also offers a separate, nicely affordable "Entertainment Pass" that grants you access to hundreds of TV shows and documentaries, both in BBC iPlayer-style catch-up form (based on Sky's broadcast channels) and box-sets featuring individual seasons or entire runs of a single show.
There's a lot of stuff to sift through on Now TV Entertainment but as always, we're here to help. How? By picking out 19 shows we think you should watch, that's how.
Based on the semi-autobiographical novels of Edward St Aubyn, this Sky- and Showtime-produced drama series stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular Patrick, an aristocratic heroin addict trying in vain to outrun the damage done in childhood by his monstrous upper-class father and weak, emotionally absent American mother.
With each of the five episodes based on a single novel in the St Aubyn’s series, each feels like a self-contained story – but together they represent as vivid, complex and compelling a portrayal of addiction, hopelessness, cruelty and redemption as you’ll find on television.
You’re reading Stuff, so it’s a given you’re a tech fan. Which means you’re the target market for this sizzling satirical sitcom from the mind of Mike “Beavis and Butthead” Judge, which brilliantly skewers the vices, caprices and hypocrisies of California start-up culture as it follows the peaks and troughs of file compression service Pied Piper and its crew of socially dysfunctional creators.
As crude and raucous as it is insightful about the nature of the tech biz, Silicon Valley is one of the few sitcoms that doesn’t make you feel stupider the more you watch.
An intelligent big budget drama from HBO, Westworld is set in a future where the rich can live out their fantasies of heroism or villainy in a vast high-tech theme park populated by robotic “hosts”.
The beautifully realised setting gives the show’s creators plenty of room to ponder big philosophical chin-scratchers: the ethics of robotics, the nature of entertainment, the dangers of AI, and the whole concept of free will.
All interesting stuff, but at the end of the day this is a sci-fi drama that’s made to entertain, and on that level it doesn’t disappoint – even if some of the most compelling thematic threads seem to unravel amidst the dramatic twists and turns towards the end of the first season.
Nowadays we take intelligently written, thematically deep, beautifully shot big budget television series for granted – but a couple of decades ago such programmes (bar the odd miniseries) were a rarity.
Then along came HBO and David Chase’s The Sopranos, a long-running drama about the New Jersey mob, family and millennial America. Gripping, funny, moving and often hard to watch, this show made a bone-fide star of the late James Gandolfini, who excels, attracts and repels in equal measure as mafia boss Tony Soprano.
Every single episode of what might be the greatest TV show ever is currently available on Now TV, so if you haven’t watched it already – or it’s been a few years and you’re missing Paulie Walnuts, Silvio, Big Pussy and Christopher – grab yourself a bin bag full of snacks, several gallons of your preferred bevvie and get settled in for a mobster marathon.
Sky’s flashy new in-house series for 2018, set during AD 43’s Roman invasion of Britain, is a weird, wonderful and over the top trip into ancient history.
The moment its psychedelic credit sequence, to the accompaniment of Donovan’s flower power anthem “Hurdy Gurdy Man”, starts rolling, you’re left in no doubt that creator Jez Butterworth (screenwriter for Spectre, Edge of Tomorrow and Black Mass) is more concerned with creating a certain atmosphere and tone than cleaving to historical fidelity.
Butterworth's approach – as well as the unapologetically modern dialogue, oversaturated colour palette and trippy camera work – might put off viewers looking for a convincing portrayal of the tribes, religions and customs of the ancient inhabitants of what’s now Kent, but if you’re instead seeking the kind of bloody violence, political scheming and visual splendour as seen in Game of Thrones or Vikings, you’ll be right at home here.
Based on journalist Roberto Saviano’s non-fiction book of the same name, Gomorrah takes a deep dive into the dark, bloody Naples underworld and the Camorra – the Mafia-like crime syndicate that runs it.
While Gomorrah isn’t quite as all-round impressive as The Sopranos (and it’s an Italian show, so sorry – you’ll have to read subtitles unless you speak the language) it provides a similarly enticing look into both the “professional” and personal lives of the crime family’s members, as well as a glimpse of a seldom seen side of Italy.
As for the show's accuracy to the real-life machinations of the Neapolitan mob? Well, given that Saviano has been living under 24-hour police protection since his book was published, it’s safe to assume that he unearthed some truths during his investigations - so this show is probably as accurate as any drama series is going to get.
Twin Peaks: The Return
There are two ways to look at the new series of Twin Peaks. One is that it is without question the most utterly brilliant TV show of the year, the other that it’s a massive pile of pretentious poo-poo.
Now we’re firmly in the former camp here at Stuff, but if you a) didn’t like the original two series or b) generally don’t like David Lynch’s creative ouput then this is emphatically not going to change your mind. Indeed, The Return is a kind of meta-Lynch show, distilling themes, elements, tropes and filmmaking techniques he’s employed elsewhere into one bewilderingly incredible experience.
Set 25 years after the events of the groundbreaking first two series, The Return revisits many of the characters from the originals, and there’s enormous amounts of fun and interest to be gained merely in seeing how they’ve aged and how their lives have worked out.
We don’t want to spoil things by going into detail about the plot, but suffice to say that it’s about as far from a straightforward linear journey as you could ever imagine. Absolutely essential viewing.
Think of Billions as the high-finance counterpart to House of Cards and you won’t be far off the mark.
Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti are superb as, respectively, the win-at-all-costs head of a massive hedge fund and the win-at-all-costs district attorney determined to put him behind bars, although both are thoroughly upstaged by the even better Maggie Siff as the woman who keeps both at the top of their game.
It can get a bit bogged down in financial jargon - unless you’re a hedge-fund manager yourself, you’ll likely not understand a word of what’s being discussed at times - but that’s never really a problem, because this isn’t really a show about global financial markets. Well, no more so than Game of Thrones is really a show about dragons.
Instead, it’s a show about power and whether the kind you can buy is more important than the kind you earn. Well worth a watch.
Big Little Lies
It’s not often a TV series manages to land Hollywood royalty like Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, but Big Little Lies isn’t your average show. A miniseries (albeit one that, owing to its success, is now set for a second season) based on the novel of the same name, it’s a briskly paced, tightly written, impeccably directed and lavish production with a fantastic soundtrack and a tone that hovers between somewhere menace, comedy and drama as it tracks a few months in the lives of a collection of families in swanky Californian coastal town Monterey.
The story opens in the aftermath of an apparent murder, but we don’t know the victim and we don’t know the perpetrator – in fact, we don’t know anything about the setting or the characters at all. This foreshadowing of violence is used brilliantly by veteran writer David E Kelley and director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyer’s Club), as we’re kept guessing as to what (or who) went down right up until the final reel of the final episode.
This slow burn of a series charts the growing mutual attraction between two married people and the passionate, destructive affair that unfolds. As with any affair, people end up hurt – but in this case it’s worse: somebody ends up dead.
What elevates this beyond your typical steamy thriller is its structure: The Affair is told through multiple characters’ points of view, which differ in slight but significant ways. The effect is to make you question what you think you know.
Throw in stellar performances by Dominic West and Ruth Wilson and this becomes an utterly riveting watch. But don’t worry, you have three whole seasons to plough through before withdrawal sets in.
If a comedy drama about the struggles of an aspiring rap star and his manager sounds too similar to something like Entourage, don’t worry: Atlanta is a decidedly different, far more interesting kettle of fish.
Produced by and starring Donald Glover, it’s a disarming, slick, offbeat, observant and endlessly charming sitcom about, to paraphrase Glover, “what it’s like to be black in America”. Funny as Atlanta is, it shies away from very little in its quest for veracity. Still, it would be a crime to reveal too much about this wonderful show – best you just watch it for yourself.
Whenever we talk about the greatest TV shows to suffer an untimely cancellation, Deadwood is the name that comes first to most people’s lips – and the ones that don’t say it probably just haven’t seen it yet.
David Milch’s Old West drama, set in the eponymous frontier town, is so much more than a simple tale of grizzled gamblers and driven lawmen. It’s more like a rich, ugly, booze- and tobacco-stained tapestry, encompassing so many threads of early American life that it’s almost novelistic in its scope and detail.
That detail came at a huge budgetary cost, which is why HBO decided to cancel it after three seasons, despite several storylines being very much unresolved. Keep that in mind while watching, but also retain a little bit of hope in your heart, because rumour has it a feature-length final instalment is coming to tie up all those loose ends and give Deadwood the send-off it so richly deserves.
The Trip To Spain
When it was announced that Sky, rather than the BBC, would be showing the third series of the loose comedy drama – which teams up director Michael Winterbottom with comic actors Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan playing exaggerated versions of themselves – some feared that the magic would be lost. That’s far from the case; anybody who found themselves enrapt by the first two series will find this one nigh-on indistinguishable in terms of writing, production value, tone or format.
This time the duo’s culinary tour takes them to Spain (yeah, we know, there’s a clue in the title…) where their insecurities, their (not always) friendly professional rivalry and their celebrity impressions once again strike the right tragicomic chords.
Liev Schreiber plays the titular character in this long-running series (the fourth and fifth seasons of which are currently available to stream here - the rest can be found streaming on Amazon Prime Video) about a Los Angeles law firm “fixer” who solves problems for Hollywood’s elite – often in ways that bring him into conflict with the authorities.
When Donovan’s father is released from jail, his past comes back to haunt him. And that’s lucky for us, as it kicks off a chain of events which help make this one of the most absorbing big budget mainstream dramas on telly.
Alan Partridge's Mid Morning Matters
Starting life in the unpromising guise of a series of web shorts for chemical-packed lager-water Fosters, Mid Morning Matters is now a Sky-owned show – and hence available to stream on the Sky-owned Now TV. And for Steve Coogan fans seeking more of Alan’s time-worn brand of awkward, cliché-ridden, foot-in-mouth patter, it’s absolutely brilliant; a snackable form of Partridge – set entirely in his local radio studio – that exhibits everything we love to hate about Norwich’s most famous export since Colman’s Mustard.
It's also well worth checking out Alan Partridge's Scissored Isle, a 45-minute special in which the king of sports casual investigates young, disenfranchised Britain by, er, going to a party in Manchester and fawning over a lord.
Created by that master of creepy fantasy movies Guillermo del Toro with Chuck Hogan, and based on the books the pair wrote together, The Strain takes some familiar tropes - vampires, a deadly plague, the collapse of society, a rogue scientist battling to save the day - and manages to make a fresh-feeling show out of them.
The first two seasons are available on Now TV (there’s also a third, with a fourth and final one now in production) and while it gets a bit muddled halfway through season two, it’s well worth watching if you’re a fan of fantasy horror.