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.
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.
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.
This Anglo-French crime series is a loose adaptation of the brilliant Scandi-noir thriller The Bridge, and while it doesn’t quite hit those heights it’s still an excellent, intelligent modern police procedural.
The first of the three series is the closest to its Swedish/Danish source material, with a body being found in the Channel Tunnel straddling the border between Britain and France. Grizzled English detective Karl Roebuck (Stephen Dillane) must team up with socially awkward French Capitaine Elise Wasserman (Clémence Poésy) to solve the case - and predictably it’s not always smooth sailing.
It’s not like fans of the original shouldn’t bother with this though - there are enough differences between the versions that The Tunnel comfortably stands on its own feet.
Just what is it about Dexter? What is it, within an apparently straightforward contemporary drama series – police department employee with dark secret – that let it get green lights all the way through to eight seasons and 96 episodes? Its sunny Miami setting, perhaps?
It's certainly not hampered by its charming titular protagonist and his goodly mix of attractive and/or amusing cohorts. Nor by its slick production. So it must be those moments when Dexter – both the character and show – hovers, knife already bloodied, unsure of itself... And then does what you thought it wouldn't.
Hank Moody is a writer, but he behaves – and is treated – like a rock star. It’s all Hollywood parties and excess in all its most debauched forms. It’s glorious to watch in the same way Entourage was when its characters were at the peak of their success. What’s more fun than watching someone living the dream?
The show’s guilty of getting a little too bogged down in the relationship between Hank and his paramour and “baby momma” Karen, but Duchovny plays the roguish charm so well that it’s always pretty irresistible. And an outrageous sexual encounter or improbable cameo is never far away. Marilyn Manson and Tim Minchin pop up in the final series, for heaven’s sake.
A Sky original – and thus exclusive to Now TV at the moment – Fortitude is an icy, dark drama with a superb ensemble cast. Like a cross between John Carpenter’s The Thing, Twin Peaks and The Andromeda Strain, the taut thrills come thick and fast as the mysteries of this arctic Norwegian town unfold. Fortitude is a place where the hungry polar bears are the least of your worries, as a London detective – played somewhat incongruously by the very American Stanley Tucci (don’t worry, they explain it) – finds out very quickly after he flies in to investigate a brutal murder.
Now TV has recently added the second series too.
You've already read about Twin Peaks: The Return earlier in this list, but if you haven’t already met Agent Dale Cooper, The Log Lady, Audrey Horne and The Man From Another Place, you ought to do that before starting on the new series.
The first season, now 25 years old, is a masterpiece of TV and is still every bit as brilliant as it was when it first had the world hooked. Season Two isn't always so successful - director/writer David Lynch left halfway through and it shows, with a major lull in the middle and a succession of rather stupid storylines - but stick around for the final few episodes and you'll be nicely set up for the third season.
Just remember: the owls are not what they seem.