Every week for the last five years, I've been recommending 7 (sometimes 10) TV shows you can't miss. Most of them new, some of them returning, but rarely any of them repeats. However, when approaching this week's list of unmissable shows, I struggled.
I only had one show on my list this week, and that was Michaela Coel's stunningly good series about assault and consent, I May Destroy You, which continues Mondays and Tuesdays at 10.45pm on BBC One.
It's no surprise that during the summer television is quieter, especially a summer that was meant to have the Olympics and Euro 2020. But when you add to that a global pandemic which saw TV production halt towards the end of March and not start up again (aside from soaps) the TV schedules are empty. Even the repeats are less appealing than they were at the start as broadcasters really start to run out of new shows.
But it won't be like this for long, many are holding key titles back to maintain some level of normality in the autumn schedules, but until then there's not a lot to get excited about.
So as we enter a new month and begin to emerge from a three-month lockdown, I thought rather than not recommend anything, this week was a good time to look back at the 80+ shows I've recommended since the start of lockdown (23rd March) and pick my 10 favourite shows that are worth revisiting or discovering this week.
All shows are still available to watch and there's a mix of comedy, drama and true crime.
1. After Life
Series 2 available on Netflix
Arriving onto Netflix a month into lockdown was the second series of Ricky Gervais' superb comedy After Life in which he plays local newspaper writer Tony, whose life is upended after his wife Lisa, played by Kerry Godliman, dies from cancer.
Set in the small fictitious town of Tambury, series two saw Tony continue to struggle with his grief as well as trying to become a better friend to those around him. Each of whom are grappling with their own problems. Problems which are intensified by the looming threat of the local newspaper being shut down. But thank god for Ken and his Am-Dram group which tries to lift everyone's spirits.
Alongside Ricky Gervais and Kerry Godliman, returning cast includes Penelope Wilton, David Bradley, Ashley Jensen, Tom Basden, Tony Way, David Earl, Joe Wilkinson, Mandeep Dhillon, Jo Hartley, Roisin Conaty, Diane Morgan, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Peter Egan, Ethan Lawrence and Bill Ward. Not forgetting of course a fabulous cameo by Annette Crosbie!
Prepare to laugh, to cry and to want more. Which is lucky, because shortly after the second series of After Life arrived on Netflix, it was announced that it would be returning for a third and final series.
2. The A Word
Series 3 available on BBC iPlayer
Hit BBC One drama The A Word, about a young boy with autism and his family, ended its second run in December 2017 and just as I was giving up hope of ever revisiting the Hughes again in the beautiful Lake District, a new series was announced and finally aired in May.
Set two years on from the end of series two, Joe, played superbly by Max Vento, is now 10 and living in two places at once, processing the seismic change in his life through the filter of his autism. When we first meet him, he's so unsettled by all the changes in his life that he rejects his headphones.
His parents Alison and Paul, played by Morven Christie and Lee Ingleby, are divorced and live 100 miles apart. Nicola has moved to London, whilst Eddie, played by Greg McHugh lives with his dad. Only Maurice, played by Christopher Eccleston, is holding it together. And that's when you know you're in trouble.
Elsewhere, Alison clashes with a stranger and Joe's older sister Rebecca, played by Molly Wright, has some big news to share with everyone.
Available on Sky Comedy and NOW TV
I watch a lot of television anyway, but during lockdown I've had even more time to discover new shows and tick off those must-see shows from what seemed like a never-ending list. One evening I happily stumbled across a new show on Sky Comedy called Betty and three hours later, I'd watched all six episodes.
Written by Crystal Moselle, the comedy drama is based on her critically acclaimed 2018 feature film Skate Kitchen and reunited the stars of that film; Dede Lovelace, Moonbear, Nina Moran, Ajani Russell, and Rachelle Vinberg.
Together they play a group of young New York women navigating their lives through the predominantly male-oriented world of skateboarding. It's beautifully shot, character-driven, has a brilliant soundtrack and its cast really shine.
4. Dead To Me
Season 2 available on Netflix
One of my favourite US dramas of 2019 was Dead To Me, starring Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini in which Applegate played a recently widowed woman called Jen who’s coming to terms with the loss of her husband in a hit and run.
Three months later she meets Cardellini's character Judy, at a grief retreat and the two become close friends despite Judy hiding some major secrets that connects her to the hit and run. When Judy moves in with Jen and her two kids it's only a matter of time before Jen discovers Judy’s secret, culminating in that epic season one finale.
Season two picks up in the aftermath of THAT bloody backyard reveal as the irrepressible pair once again struggle to keep their secrets buried.
With a surprising new visitor in town and Detective Perez, played by Diana Maria Riva, hot on their heels, Jen and Judy take drastic measures to protect their loved ones and each other, no matter the cost.
Dead to Me is a superb drama about grief, loss, heartache and female friendship, as well as keeping secrets and getting away with it. Will there be a third season? No official word yet, but I bloody hope so.
5. I May Destroy You
Available on BBC iPlayer
Even though we're only halfway through I May Destroy You, it's already clear that Michaela Coel's stunningly good series about assault and consent is already one of the standout shows of the year, if not the last few years.
Michaela Coel, who not only plays the lead, has also written, produced and co-directed the drama, and it appears that she has been given complete creative freedom to tell the story she wants to tell, in the way she wants to tell it. And that's what makes it so good.
Made up of 12 compelling 30-minute episodes, each as unpredictable as the last, this fearless, frank and provocative series explores the question of sexual consent in contemporary life and how, in our modern landscape of dating and relationships, we make the distinction between liberation and exploitation.
Coel plays Arabella Essiuedu who following triumph from a piece of writing that garnered internet acclaim, finds herself feted as the ‘voice of her generation,’ with an agent, a book commission and a helluva lot of pressure. She's easily distracted, non-committal and carefree.
After being sexually assaulted in a nightclub, her life changes irreversibly and she is forced to reassess everything: her career, her friends, even her family. As Arabella struggles to come to terms with what has happened, she begins a journey of self-discovery.
Throughout the series Coel is joined by Weruche Opia and Paapa Essiedu who play her best friends Terry and Kwame and both put in some incredible performances. Elsewhere there are also appearances from Aml Ameen, Adam James, Sarah Niles, Ann Akin, Harriet Webb, Ellie James, Franc Ashman, Natalie Walter and Samson Ajewole, who makes his television debut.
6/12 episodes (2 new episodes on iPlayer every Monday)
Available on Sky Documentaries and NOW TV
During lockdown, Sky launched three new channels; Sky Nature, Sky History and Sky Documentaries and it was one particular show on Sky Documentaries which had me glued to my screen for six hours straight, McMillions.
Executive produced by Mark Wahlberg, McMillions chronicles the stranger-than-fiction story of an ex-cop turned security auditor called ‘Uncle Jerry’ who managed to rig the results of the popular McDonald’s Monopoly game for more than a decade, stealing millions of dollars by creating an intricate plan that included a vast network of co-conspirators located across the US.
This six-part series features exclusive first-hand accounts and archival footage from the FBI agents who brought down the gaming scam, McDonald’s corporate executives and the culprits and prizewinners who profited from the complicated scheme.
7. Normal People
Available on BBC iPlayer
Ever since Normal People, the BBC Three adaptation of Sally Rooney's bestselling novel, dropped on iPlayer, the series has been breaking records, becoming BBC Three's most watched programme ever. And for good reason. As a huge fan of the book, I could not have not been more pleased with how it was adapted for television.
The modern love story has had people rushing to social media to praise the show and its two main leads, Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones who play Conell and Marianne, a young couple who profoundly impact each other’s lives.
In a school in a small-town west of Ireland, Connell is a well-liked, good looking and athletic football player, whilst Marianne is a proud, intimidating and unpopular loner who actively avoids her classmates and challenges teachers’ authority.
Sparks fly between the two when Connell comes to pick up his mother Lorraine from her job at Marianne’s house and a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers. One they are determined to conceal from their peers.
A year later, they’re both studying in Dublin and Marianne has found her feet in a new social world but Connell hangs at the side lines, shy and uncertain.
8. The Salisbury Poisonings
Available on BBC iPlayer
Like many BBC One dramas during lockdown, The Salisbury Poisonings was originally meant for BBC Two but when it aired over three consecutive nights, it became the BBC's most-watched first episode of a new drama since Bodyguard, after 10m people watched in 7 days, and deservedly so.
Written by Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn, the three-part drama wonderfully tells the story of what happened in March 2018 when Salisbury became the site of an unprecedented national emergency and focuses on the extraordinary heroism shown by the local community.
The Salisbury Poisonings begins as emergency services descend on Salisbury’s city centre where they find Sergei, a former Russian military officer and his daughter Yulia Skripal unconscious on a park bench. They are taken to hospital, where doctors struggle to diagnose the source of their illness. DS Nick Bailey, played by Rafe Spall, decides to investigate the Skripals' home, but soon after returning to work he begins to feel ill.
Tracy Daszkiewicz, the Director of Public Health for Wiltshire Council played by Anne-Marie Duff is called into an emergency meeting, where it’s revealed that it was an attempted assassination with an unidentified poison. She realises the potential danger and locks down the main sites but when CCTV footage shows the Skripals have been all over town, she fears the entire city centre could have been infected with an unidentified toxin.
Meanwhile Dawn Sturgess, played by MyAnna Buring, is furious at herself for missing a planned trip to the playground with her daughter. As her boyfriend, Charlie Rowley, played by Johnny Harris, comforts her, she vows to turn things around. As Tracy struggles to deal with the responsibility of having the safety of thousands in her hands, Nick’s condition worsens.
9. Save Me Too
Series 2 available on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV
It was a huge hit for Sky Atlantic in 2018 and shortly after lockdown on the 1st April, Lennie James' original drama Save Me, which follows Nelly Rowe in his search for his daughter Jody, returned for a second series, now called Save Me Too.
After being dragged into a dark underworld towards the end of series one, Nelly took dangerous risks not just for himself but also those closest to him and was left devastated when his desperate search was unsuccessful in a gripping final episode.
Save Me Too picks the story up 17 months later as Nelly’s quest to find his missing daughter lives on. Putting his relationships and his life on the line, Nelly heads deeper into Gideon’s hidden world as new potential suspects will be revealed and long buried secrets unearthed. Nelly is torn between protecting Grace and keeping alive his quest to find Jody.
The high-profile trial of Adrian Edmondson's character Gideon, accused of the sexual exploitation of Olive Gray's character Grace, brings newfound hope and Gideon's wife Jennifer, played by Lesley Manville who joins this series for the first time, has to face the grim truth of the monster she’s been married to.
Suranne Jones returns as Claire who is confronted with the grim possibilities of her daughter’s fate. As their lives and the trial unravel, Nelly takes Grace further under his wing. But when a shocking crime throws suspicion on them all, Nelly’s attempt to protect Grace triggers consequences that neither of them could have imagined.
10. Sitting In Limbo
Available on BBC iPlayer
When Sitting In Limbo aired on BBC One, it came at the right time as the UK and indeed the world were discussing the Black Lives Matter, but with little to no promotion only 2 million people watched what was - in my opinion - one of the most important dramas the BBC have made in a long time. So there's sadly a good chance that you've never heard of it.
This one-off 90-minute drama, set in 2016, sees Patrick Robinson play Anthony Bryan, a painter and decorator who is wrongfully detained by the Home Office during the Windrush scandal and has been written by Anthony's brother Stephen S. Thompson.
When he applies for a passport to visit his elderly mother, he's told that there is no record of him as a British Citizen and is threatened with deportation, despite him living in the UK for 50 years, since 1965 at the age of 8.
With the onus on Anthony to prove his British status to the Immigration Office, Anthony finds himself stuck in limbo, forced to leave his job and unable to claim benefits. In the early hours of a Sunday morning, Anthony is forcibly removed from his home and detained as an illegal immigrant. The devastation that ensues puts Anthony at the centre of what has now become known as the Windrush scandal.