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.
Band of Brothers
There’s a strong argument to be made that the “Golden Age of Television” in which we now apparently live began with this glorious 2001 World War II miniseries made by HBO (with help from no less than 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) and a cast of dozens, 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 have you in floods of tears by the end.
It’s testament to the growing standing of modern television that it can attract movie stars like Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, who light up the small screen here as a mismatched pair of Louisiana cops charged with solving a ritualistic murder.
While the plot is undeniably gripping, the cinematography masterful and the Southern Gothic atmosphere creepily evocative, it’s the characters – McConaughey’s nihilistic philosophiser and Harrelson’s booze-addled womaniser – and their fraught relationship that provide True Detective’s primary pull. Don’t be surprised if that’s what drives you to devour its eight episodes in short order.
You’ll notice we haven’t mentioned the second season of True Detective yet, and that’s because it’s basically bobbins – at least in comparison to the first. Despite a similarly stellar cast, its plotting feels muddled and unfocussed, its characters derivative rather than deep. It’s not the worst show in the world, but we’d suggest you stick to the initial season, especially considering each season is a self-contained story with no relation to the other.
A four-hour miniseries adaptation of Elizabeth Strout’s novel of the same name, this slow-burning examination of marriage, parenthood, depression and suicide isn’t always a fun ride. It is, however, an intensely involving and well-crafted one, with memorably perfect performances from Richard Jenkins, Zoe Kazan, Bill Murray, Peter Mullan and particularly Frances McDormand in the title role.
Set in small-town Maine, it portrays a couple of decades in the life of a misanthropic teacher, wife and mother who struggles in the latter two roles, and uses all of its running time to craft a depiction of people as flawed, complicated and conflicted creatures that lingers long after the end credits roll.
David Simon, creator of The Wire, takes on early 1970s New York – the scummy, scuzzy Big Apple of Taxi Driver and Midnight Cowboy, which feels a million years away from today’s gleaming, PG-rated Manhattan – in this eight-part series about prostitution, porn, pimps, organised crime and the harrowing hustle of anyone trying to make it in the big, bad city.
With sky-high production values and a stellar cast including James Franco (in two roles) and Maggie Gyllenhaal, this is the very definition of a prestige television show; look out for the arrival of a second season, set several years later, very soon.
This lavish period drama recreates America’s 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 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 fifth season rolls around.
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.
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 four whole seasons to plough through before withdrawal sets in.
The Night Of
It’s been a great few years for Brit actor Riz Ahmed, and despite his turn in Rogue One, it’s arguably his performance in HBO's miniseries The Night Of that’s cemented him as an internationally-lauded talent.
He certainly makes an impression here, playing a shy and sheltered second-generation immigrant to America who just wants to make his parents proud, succeed at his studies and make something of his life. That life is snatched away when a horrific crime is committed – and all fingers are pointed at him.
Off to brutal prison Riker’s Island he goes, with his future looking as colourless as the concrete walls. John Turturro provides excellent support at the eccentric lawyer who takes up Ahmed’s case, but it’s the burning sense of injustice – and the desire to find out what really happened that fateful night – that’ll keep you coming back episode after episode.
The Handmaid’s Tale
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.
Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones probably doesn’t need much of an introduction from us. It’s the biggest TV phenomenon of the past few years, an impeccably-produced fantasy epic with a cast of dozens (including a good handful of non-humans) and an utterly gripping, twist-riddled plot spanning continents and years, and taking in several bloody wars along the way.
All seven seasons – 67 episodes in all – are available to stream on Now TV, so if you’re dying to discover what all the fuss is about (or you just fancy revisiting Westeros for a recap before next year’s eighth and final season), now’s the time to dive back in. Well, you’d be Stark-raving mad not to…
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.