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 the series and shows we think you should watch, that's how.
Game of Thrones (S1-8)
The final stretch of HBO’s decade-long fantasy series may have left a sour taste in many viewers’ mouths but regardless of its divisive ending (which, to be clear, this particular writer thinks is very bad), Game of Thrones remains one of the most thrilling, surprising, involving and just plain old riveting TV shows of all time. It’s packed with so many well-drawn characters, memorable moments and assured world-building that you can’t write it off simply because the showrunners failed to stick the landing.
No other sword and sorcery series has enjoyed the production values lavished upon this adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s novels. It boasts a sprawling cast of faces both familiar and fresh, Hollywood-level visual effects and, particularly in the earlier seasons, some of the best writing and plotting on television full-stop. So take a trip to Westeros if you’ve never been – it’s bloody marvellous (emphasis on the bloody).
Band of Brothers (S1)
There’s a strong argument to be made that the “Golden Age of Television” in which we now apparently live started here, with this glorious 2001 World War II miniseries made by HBO (not to mention the BBC, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks).
Boasting mammoth production values (at the time of its making, it was the most expensive TV show ever), a cast of dozens and an impeccable script, Band of Brothers tells the story of the war from the perspective of Easy Company, a US Army parachute company. Stretching from Easy’s jump training through their deployment on D-Day to the very end of the war in Europe, with each of its 10 episodes bookended by interviews from the real-life veterans on which the story is based, it’s compelling from start to finish, and will likely leave you in floods of tears by the end.
Boardwalk Empire (S1-5)
This lavish period drama recreates America’s early 20th century prohibition era – and retells the rise of organised crime that resulted from the banning of booze – in lavish detail, complete with a huge (and hugely impressive) cast of actual and fictional crooks, corrupt politicians, cops, conmen, mobsters and molls.
Centred around New Jersey’s glitzy, seedy resort town Atlantic City (run by Steve Buscemi’s almost comically corrupt central protagonist, Nucky Thompson) but frequently taking time out to visit Chicago and New York, Boardwalk Empire rivals other HBO shows like The Sopranos and The Wire for scope and production values, even if it feels a little worn-out by its own lofty ambitions by the time the final season rolls around.
The Trip to Greece (S1)
They’ve been to Yorkshire, Italy and Spain and for their final routine, Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan are off to the Aegean, recreating Odysseus’ journey home from Troy – but with restaurant trips rather than trials, tribulations and encounters with cyclopes. You probably know the drill by now: in director Michael Winterbottom’s nuanced, semi-improvised comedy, Coogan and Brydon play fictionalised versions of themselves, and the rivalry between the friends is as tasty as the dishes on show. Gently powerful, The Trip to Greece is a clever musing on friendship, art, food and impressions. Don’t forget about the impressions.
The Righteous Gemstones (S1)
Danny McBride is at his absolute best on the small screen, with Eastbound and Down and Vice Principals proving him a world leader at playing the oafish, arrogant clown we somehow end up rooting for. Made by the same team as those rough diamonds, HBO’s series sees him team up with John Goodman and Adam Devine to enter the world of televangelism. Deep South family the Gemstones is famed for its riches and its preachin’, but all is not well behind the scenes – and forces from without and within are working to put the fear of God into these less than perfect pastors. Praise the Lord!
Curb Your Enthusiasm (S1-10)
After a long sabbatical, Larry David has returned for a 10th series of the sitcom that gave him his best-known role: Larry David. Curb Your Enthusiasm’s formula hasn’t changed a jot over the years: a misanthropic Hollywood millionaire attempts to negotiate life’s challenging little conundrums – social niceties, nonsensical customs and the like – and often falls foul of his own hubris along the way. Each episode feels like a well-crafted puzzle, with characters, running gags and themes that all pull together into some kind of wider comedic picture at the end.
Sprinkle in the dozens of celebrity cameos (Ted Danson as Larry’s recurring friend/rival is a joy) and Curb becomes a sort of meta-commentary on fame – that being a wealthy celebrity doesn’t shield you from the quirks and irritations everyone else has to endure.
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (S1)
If you’re a documentary fan and you’re currently unfamiliar with the story of Robert Durst, you’re in for a treat: The Jinx is an utterly compelling exploration into the eccentric New York property heir’s past, in which he may or may not have murdered one, two or three people – and got away with it every time.
Durst’s story would be intriguing enough on its own, but in this six-part series the man himself volunteers to be interviewed by filmmaker Andrew Jarecki – a seemingly unnecessary risk when you consider the crimes of which he’s suspected. As Durst’s participation starts to shine fresh light on the old cases, you’ll find yourself superglued to your screen right up until the unforgettable end.
Big Little Lies (S1-2)
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.
Jim Carrey stars as a grieving, issues-laden children’s TV entertainer in his first television role in a couple of decades, executive produced by his Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director Michel Gondry. Carrey’s ability for nailing darker, more challenging characters is well proven (remember The Cable Guy and Man on the Moon?) and given how rarely he actually appears on screen these days, he’s worth the price of admission here alone.
The Handmaid’s Tale (S1-2)
Margaret Atwood’s bestselling novel gets the big budget telly treatment here, with Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss excellent in her leading role as Offred, one of thousands of “handmaids” who serve as breeding stock to the ruling class in a brutal theocratic near-future United States. The producers expand the scope of Atwood’s book while retaining its necessary feminist premise, making this a grimly fascinating look at patriarchy taken to the terrifying conclusions of its twisted internal logic.
A miniseries recreating the terrifying events of April 1986, when a Ukrainian nuclear power plant went into accidental meltdown, and the brave, risky operation to prevent it escalating into a continent-spanning disaster. With a cast including Stellan Skarsgard, Emily Watson and Jared Harris, this Sky/HBO collaboration puts true quality into the retelling of this real-life horror story.
The Wire (S1-5)
Consistently ranked among the greatest TV series ever made, The Wire is a compelling US crime show that’s far, far beyond your common or garden police procedural.
Set in Baltimore, its five seasons take a novelistic approach to detailing the interplay between the city’s power structures, all the way from the mayor’s office to the corner boy crack dealers. As much as The Wire is driven by its seasons-spanning plots and huge cast of memorable characters, it’s perhaps the way it turns a brutal examination of the systemic failure of American institutions – politics, the press, education, the police force – into gripping entertainment that cements its status as one of the 21st century’s best TV shows so far.
Escape at Dannemora (S1)
An eight-episode miniseries directed by Ben Stiller and starring Benicio del Toro, Patricia Arquette and Paul Dano, Escape at Dannemora tells the story of a New York state prison breakout and the bizarre love triangle surrounding it. Astonishingly, it’s all based on real-life events.
In short, it’s precisely the kind of interesting, well-crafted one-off drama series that we’ve come to expect from Sky Atlantic in recent years, with an outstanding cast worthy of a Hollywood feature. It’s only available to stream on Now TV for a limited time, so don’t delay.