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Published on: 21 Dec, 2020
Updated on: 22 Dec, 2020

Maria Rayner

Maria Rayner‘s observational, fortnightly column from a woman’s perspective…

Bingeing TV Box-sets in 2020

Usually, about now newspaper columnists offer tips to help their readers survive the festive season. This year, many of us could claim to be experts on hunkering down with the family for days at a time and have a toolkit of activities to just to get through it.

Top of the list must be TV and films, and streaming sites have played a massive role in getting us through two lockdowns.

What’s that? Haven’t made the move to digital in 2020? Looking for a guide to navigate the dross. Look no more: I am that guide.

I’ve spent most of the year watching not only Netflix, but Amazon Prime, Sky (on a Now box) BBC iPlayer, ITV hub (I could go on) for this one article to take you through what to watch and what to ignore.

Settle back on the sofa with a glass of festive spirit and binge-watch these classics.

Best For A Touch of Summer

White Lines is for those who were young-ish in the Nineties. When a body turns up the hunt is on for a murderer, 30 years after the poor chap disappeared. The main story runs along two timelines and explores the themes of ageing, parenting and a lot of New Age waffle, stunningly set with a sunny Ibiza backdrop.

If you’re a sailor, like me, there is a funny moment with some lobster pots and a drug gang, which starts a side-plot. It is dark humour at its best but possibly not one to watch with an elderly aunt. (Netflix)

Best For A Twenty Minute Giggle Before Bedtime

Schitt$ Creek. This is a new one for me so I’m not at the season finale yet. Written by a father and son duo who also star in the show, it is a comedy about a wealthy family who fall on hard times, prompting a move to a town originally purchased for the funny name.

As the series progresses, the characters become less grotesque and the relationships more heart-warming. (Netflix)

Best for Gangland Violence and Cillian Murphy Fans

If you missed Peaky Blinders, the Birmingham-based, post-FirstWorld War drama on the BBC, don’t panic, it’s still on iPlayer. Following the Shelby family as they grow their gambling and illegal enterprise empire, dodging the authorities and outwitting their rivals, you can’t help but be seduced by their world.

Once the central romance ends (Series 4? 5?) the allure fades. This is no Downton: a period drama with an edge. Did I mention Cillian Murphy? (Also on Netflix)

Best for Keeping Up with The Kids

If you have teenagers and are ignorant of Sex Education then it’s time to catch up. Quick. This sounds more graphic than it is. Gillian Anderson is a single mum and sex therapist living in a spectacular village, a cross between the Wye Valley and Rydell High (the school in Grease).

Her gawky teenaged son hooks up with the school sexpot to hold his own advice sessions. Watch out for the plumber.

Best for Watching Hugh Grant Actually Show He Can Act

Also starring Ben Whishaw, this 2018 BBC depiction of the Jeremy Thorpe scandal is a must-watch. Grant is suitably slimy as Thorpe and it truly is A Very English Scandal from a 1960/70s where privilege and power trump all and those outside this circle are picked up and discarded at will. Watch out for the bit with the dog. (Amazon Prime)

Best Relocation from Oz to California

If you read Liane Moriarty’s novel, Big Little Lies, set in Sydney, prepare for a culture shock. But the HBO effort has much to recommend and I include it in the Best-of list because it is my husband’s favourite.

The all-star cast of Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern may have something to do with this, but it is beautifully shot, deliciously bitchy and there is a murder.

If you are looking for something to read then you could do worse than look out Moriarty’s other novels, but more about books another day. (Sky, Amazon Prime)

Best Newcomer (and Best of the Year)

If you are also being spammed by Netflix and are studiously avoiding chess masterpiece, The Queen’s Gambit, then succumb at once. Set in the 1960/70s and based on a 1983 novel by Walter Tevis, it follows hapless orphan, Beth, who accidentally discovers she has a talent.

The plot is as compelling as the filming is stylised. A feast for the eyes and the brain, just what you need in between eating all the food you bought before the Christmas bubbles burst. Before Tevis died, he told The Times the book was a “tribute to brainy women”. That’s something we can all toast.

Also-Rans: Top of the Lake, The Fall (also Gillian Anderson), McMafia, Stranger Things (but gets a bit weird in Season Two), The Undoing (Hugh Grant AND Nicole Kidman, a definite must-watch and just missed the podium), my daughter says The Crown (if you like an Americanised version of Royalty), Brooklyn 99, Gossip Girl, Friday Night Lights, Humans…. Stop me now!

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