The Best New TV Shows To Watch This Week
We've got your weekend covered (it will be covered in robots).
Finding yourself approaching the weekend without any big, wild plans? Well, we’re here to help because October is looking like the best month for streaming brand-new TV from all over the globe. Whether it’s sci-fi Westerns, rollicking rom-coms or moody slow-crime dramas, we’ve got all the angles covered on your weekend TV binge.
By now you’ve probably heard of Westworld, HBO’s newest genre-bending extravaganza that’s just arrived to fill that big Game of Thrones-shaped hole in your heart. The series has pulled in some of HBO’s biggest ever same-day ratings in its first week, so it’s worth a gander just on the Keeping-Up-With-The-Joneses-factor alone. It’s also a sci-fi Western mindfuck with brilliant performances, which tangles together some undeniably sticky yet engaging ideas in its pilot episode (the only episode currently available to view).
Based on the 1973 film of the same name, the beautifully produced Westworld follows the fortunes (and many many misfortunes) of frontierswoman Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) and the rest of her robotic “host” friends, who live in an interactive theme park, “Westworld”, where visitors can pay to enact semi-scripted scenarios on a harsh Western frontier.
The show splits its time between the inhabitants of Westworld (both robot “hosts” and human visitors) and the Truman Show-esque control centre in which jaded staff program the theme park, update the robots and write the theme park’s scripted scenarios (rather like a real-life television studio). Here, Westworld’s creator (Anthony Hopkins) and head designer (Jeffrey Wright) grapple with a new update that has made their robot hosts more self-aware — and more dangerous.
Westworld is playing with some interesting ideas about storytelling and barbarism: how much does our natural desire to see (or play out) extreme sex and violence on a stage affect our humanity? But in the hands of a HBO series, with all the requisite sex and violence that we’ve come to accept from the cable giant, Westworld’s central question becomes a little contrived. How can a show wag its fingers at a violence-hungry audience when it mows down its characters like fruit flies meeting a can of bug spray in its pilot? Is the show serious about its existential musings on barbarism, or is it just a ploy to get away with another filthy, seductive genre win for HBO, without some of the criticism that plagues the super-popular Game of Throne? Watch the pilot and find out!
Luke Cage (Netflix)
Netflix’s contingent of Marvel superheroes (Jessica Jones, Daredevil etc.) has a new member with his very own spin-off series: Mike Colter’s muscle-bound, indestructible defender of Harlem, Luke Cage.
Dedicated viewers of Marvel’s Netflix content will recognise Colter’s Luke Cage from Jessica Jones, where he played Jones’s sometimes paramour (and made a splash with his tender, nuanced performance). In Luke Cage Colter is out of the Meatpacking District, uptown in Harlem, defending his community from threats both supernatural and commonplace. Like Jessica Jones, Luke Cage runs on its own distinct rhythm, exploring geo-political issues with a nuance that’s unexpected in general superhero fare.
The series has a ripper soundtrack and a brilliant central performance from Colter (who has a longtime fan right here, thanks to his smart, silly work as Lemond Bishop on The Good Wife). Where it suffers is when it remembers it’s a superhero story, and one that’s connected to the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as being slightly let down by the same problem that exists in all Netflix series: binge-fatigue induced by a flabby second half of the season. Still, Luke Cage is certainly interesting and pleasingly off-beat, and well worth a binge this weekend.
It’s no secret that we’re fans of Darren Star’s excessively silly rom-com Younger, which follows fortysomething Liza (international treasure, Sutton Foster), who pretends to be 26 in order to land a job in the publishing industry. With no shortage of high-concept hijinks, Younger is not only wildly entertaining, it’s also a smart and stylish look at modern ageing, modern dating and the unnumbered benefits of solid female friendship.
Liza is supported at turns by her two best friends: her roommate Maggie (the fabulous Debi Mazar) a sultry lesbian artist, who is Liza’s age, and knows about her ploy; and her bright, brassy workmate Kelsey (Hilary Duff, doing the best work of her career) who is 26, and doesn’t yet know Liza’s secret. For those romance superfans, don’t worry, there’s also a steamy love triangle between Liza, her young stud boyfriend (Nico Tortorella) and her handsome divorced boss (Peter Hermann).
Younger’s third season is streaming on Stan in time with its US release, and new episodes are released every Thursday at 6pm. But for those who are new to the show, you can catch up on the brilliant first two seasons (perfect for a lazy weekend binge) before you jump into the third.
No Activity (Stan)
No Activity is the first of Stan’s original Aussie series. Starring the delicious Patrick Brammal, the series centres on two beat cops on a late-night stake out. Part-Seinfeld and part-The Trip, the show explores that age-old question: is two guys talking shit and doing little else, actually worth watching? Turns out it is, because Brammall and his on-screen partner, Darren Gilshenan are furiously funny and pretty good at doing practically nothing.
There’s also the criminals they’re trying to catch (played in season one by a range of well-known Aussie faces, including Dan Wyllie, Sam Simmons and David Field) and the officers manning the police scanner back in the station (Harriet Dyer and Genevieve Morris).
No Activity’s second season drops on October 26, so this weekend is the perfect time to catch up on season one before the arrival of the next instalment (which features the divine Rose Byrne as a kidnapped WASP).
The Wrong Girl (TenPlay)
Zoe Foster-Blake’s tremendous novel, The Wrong Girl, has been tarted up for TV, and so far it’s a success. The new series, starring Aussie sweetheart Jessica Marais and the drool-worthy Rob Collins, this week premiered its second episode, and now’s the time to put it on your watchlist; the series is a bright, jolly, hugely enjoyable rom-com romp.
The Wrong Girl is the perfect playing field for Aussie TV: frivolous and fun television, with a good dose of smarts, that you can veg out in front of. Catch up on the first two episodes, which are available on TenPlay, and start placing bets on who Marais’ Lily will pick: hapless, scruffy music journo Pete (The Moodys’ Ian Meadows), or hunky (but tragically humourless) chef Jack (Collins).
You Can’t Ask That (ABC iView)
The ABC is killing it this year as far as short and sweet webseries’ go. First they snapped up the brilliant The Katering Show, a sharp satire of daytime cooking shows created by Kates McLennan and McCartney; then they brought us the surprisingly successful meta-Playschool pastiche, Sammy J’s Playground Politics.
Perhaps their best effort yet is the clever interview show, in the style of Adam Zwar’s Agony series, You Can’t Ask That, which offers the public a chance to ask awkward (and in many cases “politically incorrect”) questions to diverse groups of people. A fascinating and blindingly necessary series, You Can’t Ask That asks a wide range of outrageous questions to trans men and women, Muslim people, wheelchair users, sex workers, and more. For an eye-opening look at a world and identity beyond your own, give You Can’t Ask That a go; I guarantee you won’t stop at just one episode.
Deep Water (SBS On Demand)
If you’re anything like me, you miss the moody slow crime dramas that populated our screens in the last couple of years, like Broadchurch, The Fall and Top of the Lake. Well, lucky for us, SBS has jumped in (a little late) on the trend with Deep Water, starring Noah Taylor and Orange Is The New Black’s Yael Stone.
The series centres on real-life hate crimes that were perpetrated against gay men in Sydney’s eastern beaches — around 88 deaths that were originally ruled suicides or accidental deaths, but which are now being reinvestigated by NSW police’s special hate-crime task force Operation Parrabell. To track the investigation, SBS has launched a multiplatform project, the ‘Deep Water’ project (including a documentary, a podcast and an online interactive hub), and Deep Water, the Special Broadcaster’s lavishly produced four-part miniseries, is the project’s fictional compliment.
Lovers of US director Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies, Happy Christmas) and his mumblecore sensibility will be thrilled by the arrival on Netflix of Easy. This charming series has a refreshing sense of simplicity as it follows the fortunes of several young-ish hipsters, including a sex-starved married couple (Elizabeth Reaser and Michael Chernus), a young black woman exploring Sapphic love with a vegan lesbian (Kiersey Clemons and Jacqueline Toboni), and a yuppie couple who trawl Tinder for a paramour who will join them in a threesome (Orlando Bloom and Malin Ackerman).
Swanberg’s slippery solipsism is not to everyone’s taste, but for those who appreciate his dedicated and distinctive indie style, Easy has plenty to offer in sharp performances and unexpected stories, collected together rather like a jumble of literary-style short fictions. The whole series is available to stream now on Netflix.
Matilda Dixon-Smith is a freelance writer, editor and theatre-maker, and a card-carrying feminist. She also tweets intermittently and with very little skill from @mdixonsmith.