It might lack the overall cachet of Netflix and Amazon Prime, but Now (formerly known as Now TV) is a streaming service worth shouting about.
Not only does Now 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 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.
Olivia Colman and David Thewlis are Brit acting royalty at this point (literally in Colman’s case, her having spent two seasons portraying Her Maj in The Crown and winning an Oscar for playing Queen Anne in The Favourite), and both get to flew their thesp muscles in this four-part miniseries about a real-life murder case. A middle-aged couple with a dark secret, you say? Bodies buried in suburban gardens? Dark humour permeating everything? Where do we sign up?
Written by Peep Show co-creator Jesse Armstrong and executive produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, Succession is a blackly comic drama series about a vast multinational media company run by demonic mogul Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and his brood of dysfunctional children (sound like anyone we know?).
When it becomes clear that Roy must soon step down as the company’s head, various members of his family begin to vie for the company’s levers of power – and it’s in this struggle that the satire begins to bite. More of a drama than Armstrong’s usual fare (and certainly not as knockabout as the likes of Veep), Succession has scooped armfuls of awards and become nothing less than a cultural touchstone, spawning memes left and right.
The White Lotus (S1)
This beautifully black comedy-drama takes place over the course of a week in a Hawaiian luxury resort. Following both the wealthy, entitled and privileged guests and the put-upon staff, it’s a biting satire that takes accurate pot shots at every first world problem in the book while building dramatic tension over a foreshadowed death amongst the holidaymakers. Yes, it’s packed with awful people, but what an enjoyable ride!
Mare of Easttown (S1)
Following in the footsteps of Nicole Kidman, Amy Adams, Jude Law and Mark Ruffalo, Kate Winslet becomes the latest Hollywood A-lister to front her own brooding, dark and mystery-fuelled HBO miniseries – and it’s really good! Winslet excels as Mare Sheehan, a world-weary detective confronting a new murder case, an old missing persons case and her own past trauma, all while her close-knit, small-town Pennsylvania community starts to unravel in the aftermath of tragedy.
A huge cast including Evan Peters, Guy Pearce and Jean Smart provides plenty of talented support for a multi-threaded story that – we assume based on the first couple of episodes – will be drawn together as the series progresses.
Raised by Wolves (S1)
Ridley Scott directs the first two episodes of this cerebral science fiction drama – the kind of ideas-filled show that will appeal to fans of Westworld and Scott’s own forays into cinematic sci-fi.
In the apparent aftermath of a horrific war on Earth, two androids arrive on a virgin planet with six human embryos. Their mission is to seed a new civilisation, free from the prejudices and religious strife of the old one – but a few years later more remnants of humanity arrive, threatening to reignite ancient conflicts.
Your Honor (S1)
Impossible choices abound in Brit telly writer extraordinaire Peter Moffat’s second major US series (the first being the superb The Night Of – also streamble on Now). Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston plays a judge who abandons his professional principals when his son is involved in a deadly hit and run accident. The fallout is a dangerous web of deception and lies that threatens further bloodshed.
Lena Dunham, both creator and star of this six-season HBO series, has a knack for dividing opinion – and Girls is a show that many loved, many hated and many simply didn’t get.
Focussing on four friends trying to make it in New York (career, romance, family… you name it), Girls seeks to sum up the hopes and fears of a generation of young millennial women, and do so in an entertaining fashion – and while, in our opinion it nails the latter part (it’s frequently hilarious, its characters are complex and flawed, and it’s beautifully written and shot), its scope is arguably too narrow for the former. Hey Lena, not every young woman is a white, well-educated, middle-class Au Revoir Simone fan! Even so, if Sex and the City proved too clean, bougie and just plain out-of-touch for your tastes, Girls makes for a filthier, funnier and sharper alternative.
The Undoing (S1)
From Big Little Lies writer David E Kelley and Bird Box director Susanne Bier, this miniseries stars Nicole Kidman as a hotshot New York therapist whose seemingly perfect life is shattered by a terrifying and brutal murder. As a straight-up whodunit, The Undoing doesn’t quite stick the landing and deliver on its early promise, but its excellent cast (which also includes Hugh Grant, Donald Sutherland and Edgar Ramirez) and effective suspense-thriller vibes, which leave you thinking that every rich person in New York has at least a dozen skeletons in their closet, make it an always-engaging watch.
The creators of Gomorrah go global with this ambitious series that follows an international cocaine shipment. Mexican narco-terrorists, corrupt police officers, Italian mobsters and a white-collar American family all intertwine in a gripping tale that illustrates how insidious and far-reaching the illegal narcotics trade really is – and how the so-called war on drugs is a total sham.
True Detective (S3)
More than any other relatively recent TV show, True Detective epitomised the “difficult second season” conundrum, with the taut, mysterious, terrifying and truly outstanding Matthew McConaughey- and Woody Harrelson-led first series followed up by a flabby, silly and barely comprehensible corrupt cop yarn in which Vince Vaughan and Colin Farrell failed to raise pulses.
But True Detective‘s third season wisely steers matters back to the original season’s weird and wonderful basics. Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali shines in a story of murder, satanic panic and good ol’ small town America creepiness unfolding over 35 years, told with the aid of copious flashbacks and convincing make up. Gripping stuff.
Olive Kitteridge (S1)
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.
Eastbound & Down (S1-4)
Danny McBride peddles a great line in loveable offensiveness. It’s never more evident than in this superb sitcom, in which he plays washed-up baseball star Kenny Powers, forced to slum it as a substitute teacher when his pitching arm loses its… er, power.
For all his bluster and bravado, Powers cuts a tragic and even sympathetic figure – and it’s testament to McBride’s skill as a writer and actor that he can wring the pathos out of such an arrogant and selfish character. Oh, and in case you’re wondering: it’s really, really funny too.
The Night Of (S1)
Riz Ahmed excels in this role as a shy and sheltered New York lad – a second-generation immigrant to America who just wants to do 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 point to him.
Off to brutal Riker’s Island prison he goes, with his future looking as bleak as bleak can be. 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 evening – that’ll keep you coming back episode after episode.
Penny Dreadful (S1-3)
A horror series set in Victorian London and bringing together many of the famous monsters and villains of literature and popular culture, Penny Dreadful is three seasons of grim, gothic delights – plus there’s an entirely separate but thematically similar spin-off in the shape of Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, set in 1940s Los Angeles to sink your fangs into once you’ve polished off the original.
Josh Hartnett, Timothy Dalton, Rory Kinnear and the incomparable Eva Green (made for this kind of show) star in an involving, atmospheric series that was offed before its time. Rest in peace.
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.
Curb Your Enthusiasm (S1-11)
Seinfeld co-creator Larry David has spent more than two decades playing himself in this sitcom – or at least an exaggerated, more obnoxious version of himself. 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 longtime friend and 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.
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.
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.
The Sopranos (S1-6)
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.
Patrick Melrose (S1)
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.
The Affair (S1-5)
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 five whole seasons to plough through before withdrawal sets in.
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 (S1)
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.
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.
Ray Donovan (S1-7)
Liev Schreiber plays the titular character in this long-running series 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 (played with rascally relish by Jon Voight) is released from jail, the distant 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 mainstream dramas on telly.
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.
Twin Peaks (S1-2)
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.