Even when the drug cartels are looming, crooked lawyer Jimmy McGill’s biggest enemy was an inability to walk away. This Breaking Bad prequel/sequel finished with familiar twisting panache. Broadly considered narratively richer than its bloodthirsty sister show, it kept us wondering almost until the very end with one last sublimely-staged dodgy deal. More of a complicated character study than a gory crime caper, it succeeded In getting us to look at the major Breaking Bad characters in unexpected ways, exploring various motivations and underlining the hidden tensions which flowed through that earlier show. But Saul still stands on its own as an intensely fulfilling dramatic work, providing a mesmerising analysis of individuals on a very lonely road.
While the Star Wars franchise’s transfer to the small screen has been imaginative and interesting, full of big set-pieces and Easter eggs for the fans, we’ve been waiting for something which was truly compelling. And Andor took us by surprise. A prequel of Rogue One, which itself was a prequel of the original Star Wars film, we follow the titular hero’s maiden misadventures. Life is pretty haphazard when you’re an outcast, as we see him veer from one criminal caper to the next, constantly trying to outsmart the authorities and simply stay alive. This is a thrilling look at what happens in the shadows before anyone gets to blow up a Death Star.
Just an everyday story of a family getting on with the day-to-day grind of laundering money for the mob, Ozark drew to a stunning end this year. An unravelling of the American Dream, we get to see how greed and power corrupts everything around it in a searing climax. Erstwhile accountant Marty is still making the worst possible choices, the authorities are getting ever closer and his shady criminal bosses are never satisfied. And somehow, he and his wife Wendy need to keep everyone together – if only for their own safety. This is a visceral tale of the corruption within certain sections of society, where people can justify almost anything in their bid to get ahead.
SAS: ROGUE HEROES
From the makers of Peaky Blinders comes an action-packed, potty-mouthed slab of World War II nostalgia. Backed up by a disparate group of outliers, who in another time would probably be football hooligans, David Stirling unleashes his bold plan to construct a new kind of fighting unit. Jumping between the shady world of espionage in Cairo and the Sahara’s endless sands, we see the formation of the world’s most iconic special forces unit in all its stabby glory. Mostly based on true events, SAS: Rogue Heroes didn’t pull any of its punches in this bold new outing for the BBC.
STANLEY TUCCI: SEARCHING FOR ITALY
Whoever Tucci’s agent is, I hope he got a massive bonus for landing the star this tasty TV outing. The set-up is pretty simple: Stan The Man bobs around Italy, looking at glorious scenery, meeting cool people and eating their food. It’s as difficult to describe the joy on this Emmy winner’s face when he samples another dish as it is to understand how he can remain so trim after gorging on so many carbs. But hey, that’s Hollywood, they don’t suffer like the rest of us. Part travelogue and part food diary, it’s a sumptuous look at a country packed with tradition and idiosyncrasies. Buon appetito!
FOR ALL MANKIND
This relentlessly optimistic alternative-timeline space adventure showed few signs of slowing the pace in its third season. A third competitor has entered the race for Mars in the form of hyper-rich businessman, Dev Ayesa. Any similarities to Elon Musk are entirely in your mind… It’s now the 90s, and there’s an uneasy peace between the world’s two superpowers. But can NASA’s Margo Madiso stay on target and seize the ultimate prize? Not if the Russians have anything to do with it. Packed with genuine spectacle and emotion, For All Mankind might just be Apple TV+’s most ambitious show, and that’s really saying something.
While many of their films conform to a standard Lycra-clad formula of running, jumping and punching, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s small screen offerings have been unafraid to hijack and subvert familiar TV tropes. With Ms. Marvel, this entertainment goliath has taken on teen dramas as our titular protagonist struggles to understand her true potential. It’s refreshing to see an honestly portrayed female Muslim lead in any show, let alone one supported with as big a budget as this. Becoming a superhero was not what Kamala Khan’s family had planned, as this landmark series effortlessly explores Pakistani Diaspora, dating, identity and the ability to harness cosmic energy for crime-fighting purposes.
It’s a cold heart that doesn’t love this bunch of misfits, as Lisa McGee’s peerless sitcom draws to a close. A semi-autobiographical farce set in mid-90s Northern Ireland, it manages to combine bad jumpers and retro style with a knowing contemporary look at the hopes and dreams of young people – with plenty of bawdy humour along the way. Much of the comedy comes from twisting archetypes. You’ve got the artistic dreamer, her whacky cousin, the obedient and slightly neurotic one, and the English guy. We find their community entering a period of peace and optimism, but that doesn’t mean the gang aren’t going to find trouble at every corner. Derry Girls forces its way to top of the pile as a joyful modern classic.
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