This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.
Two posts for Best TV in one month may seem a little excessive but we are responding to demand. So many of us are relying on the TV or books to while away the long evenings and so more best TV is required. It’s hard to believe but despite the coronavirus pandemic causing massive delays in the entertainment industry, there are loads of exciting TV shows coming to our screens in 2021.
Also the last post invited our readers to suggest some Best TV for January and we received some great recommendations and hence the second post for this month.
LUPIN | Netflix (recommended by a reader)
Each episode of Netflix’s new hit Lupin, a nimble caper series starring Omar Sy (The Intouchables) as gentleman thief Assane Diop, builds to the type of rug-pulling flashback that you might find at the end of an Ocean’s movie. Disguises are ripped off; diamonds get pocketed; the dashing hero slips away, again. It’s a classic heist-movie device that could get repetitive or predictable, but, luckily, Lupin, with its mercifully short five episode first season and its endlessly charming leading man, executes each reveal with a high degree of finesse. With a show like this, getting fooled is half the fun.
It’s a Sin | Channel 4 airs 22nd Jan 2021
Russell T Davies’ latest creation It’s A Sin takes place in 1980s London, following a group of young gay men who arrive in the capital just as the AIDS crisis strikes. Pop singer Olly Alexander from the band Years & Years plays Ritchie, an 18-year-old who harbours hopes of becoming an actor. The cast also includes the likes of Stephen Fry, Neil Patrick Harris, and Keeley Hawes as Ritchie’s mother.
THE RESTAUARANT | Amazon Prime Video
This series, The Restaurant, popped up on Amazon as a recommendation for my husband and I. It is a great Swedish drama about a family owning a restaurant as WW2 ends. There are 3 siblings and their mother, Helga Löwander, the matriarch of the family-owned restaurant of the title. As the story unfolds you follow the lives of the individual characters.
The Restaurant is a subtitled (don’t be put off), three-season series now streaming on Sundance Now (via Amazon Prime), weaves much of Sweden’s ambiguous WWII history through its first season. One persistent element is the genteel anti-Semitism among Stockholm’s elite, moneyed classes in the late 1940s, personified by Helga Löwander, the matriarch of the family-owned restaurant of the title.
More compelling, however, is one of the central plot lines in the first season—a star-crossed romance involving Peter Löwander, the family’s young scion. While a soldier, assisting at one of the resettlement camps for those rescued by Bernadotte, Peter falls in love with a deeply damaged French Holocaust survivor named Suzanne Goldstein.
I’m neither a gourmet nor a foodie, but some lockdown viewers who miss their favourite restaurants, or those doing more elaborate home cooking as a diversion, may also be attracted to The Restaurant. There are many scenes of food preparation of classic Scandinavian dishes in the Djurgårdskällaren’s frenetic kitchen.
An absorbing family drama that also tells you much about the 1940 – 1970’s Sweden.
My Octopus Teacher | NETFLIX (recommended by a reader)
My Octopus Teacher tells the moving story of how Craig Foster came to know an octopus – and the emotional bond that formed when he did. If you love wild life documentaries you are going to love this.
Midnight Diner | NETFLIX (recommended by Katya, owner of Bombshell HQ)
In a back alley of a busy district sits a small eatery called Meshiya, referred to by its patrons as the “Midnight Diner”. The little joint, which the Master runs by himself, is open only from midnight to 7:00 AM. The menu consists only of a pork miso soup set, beer, saké and shochu, but the Master’s policy is to make whatever his customers request. Tonight, like every other night, a menagerie of customers flock to the Midnight Diner, where the bonds among the Master, his food and the patrons set the stage for humorous and sometimes wistful episodes of human drama that feed both the belly and the soul.
There is always a recipe at the end of each episode.
SPIRAL SEASON 8 | BBC iPlayer
The final season of Spiral has arrived. If you have not seen the previous seven seasons then now is a good time to catch up.
The show’s eighth and final season begins with a shot of Sacré-Coeur, but the camera pans down to the working-class Barbès district, where the dead body of a homeless Moroccan teenager is found inside a launderette washing machine.
Season 8 carries on a series-long exploration of the need to break the rules in a justice system hobbled by bureaucracy, careerism and politics. With the end in sight, however, the key is lower, less sensational, more twilight than previous seasons.
CALL MY AGENT | NETFLIX (recommended by a reader)
Call My Agent, which launched in 2015 on the public France 2 channel, details the daily shenanigans at one of the two biggest (fictional) film agencies in Paris: Agence Samuel Kerr, or ASK as it is known. It’s a dog-eat-chien world of highly-strung agents vying for influence and access, put-upon assistants, singing receptionists, a literal lapdog called Jean Gabin, and a whole lot of real-life talent. And it is this talent that pushes the series well beyond the standard show-about-showbiz trope. Call My Agent has featured a steady stream of frankly awesome guest stars – from Isabelle Adjani and Monica Bellucci to Isabelle Huppert – each playing a very believable yet fictional version of themselves.
This is a total gem of a TV series. I loved the first series and must get back to watching the other two series as Season 4 launches on 21st Jan.
BABYLON BERLIN | Amazon Prime (recommended by a reader)
I wrote about this series in October 2020 but if you missed it then, now is the time to catch up.
Babylon Berlin is the most expensive German TV production ever lavishly recreates 1929 Berlin, from horrifying slums to glamorous nightclubs, supplying a rich backdrop for this police drama. Lotte Ritter – a street-smart girl from the wrong side of the tracks – secures secretarial work at the police station, but ends up assisting uptight, PTSD-suffering Inspector Gereon Rath in investigating an extortion ring where politicians are filmed with prostitutes, and then in the case of smuggled gold and chemical weapons from Russia. Season three focuses on a series of grisly murders at a film studio. The wars, of course, cast shadows over everything – both the traumatic legacy of WWI, and the rising spectre of the Nazis and WWII – making for a tense film-noir setting where the hedonism of the cabarets feels like the last, desperate party before it all comes crashing down. Stylish, riveting stuff.
Grace & Frankie | Netflix (recommended by a reader)
If you haven’t watched this series and you want a good laugh then catch it now. There are 6 seasons and it stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. There is a perfect chemistry between these two veteran actors.
Frenemies Frankie and Grace meet up for dinner with their husbands, Sol and Robert, who have been law partners for decades. The men tell their wives that they are gay, have been having an affair for 20 years, and want to get married. After both women justifiably freak out at their spouses, they take refuge in the beach house that the two couples own jointly and that has been the men’s love nest for years. Grace is trying to get Robert to make Sol kick Frankie out of the house, but the ladies end up taking muscle relaxants, drinking peyote on the beach and bonding over their mutual sadness.
This is make you laugh out loud comedy.
THE INTOUCHABLES | Amazon Prime Video (recommended by a reader)
This is an old French movie but I found myself watching it again as a reader had reminded me of it. After he becomes a quadriplegic from a paragliding accident, an aristocrat hires a young man from the projects to be his caregiver. It is touching, humorous. The culture clash shtick is nothing new, but seldom has it been this funny, and Philippe and Driss’ opposing perspectives on music, opera and art produce many a laugh-out-loud moment.
Death in Paradise series 10 | BBC One
It’s the tenth anniversary of Death in Paradise, and the show is pulling out all the stops. DI Neville Parker (Ralf Little), who took over as the show’s top detective last year, will be solving more murder mysteries – this time alongside DS Florence Cassell (Josephine Jobert), who is back on Saint Marie to pick up where she left off. She’s not the only familiar face to return: Sara Martins is back as DS Camille Bordey for a guest appearance, while Ben Miller will cameo (somehow or other) as the show’s original lead, DI Richard Poole.
Easy escapism. It is the nearest we are all going to get to sunshine and a sandy beach for some time so enjoy!
Radium Girls | NOW TV (with Sky cinema)
This film based on true events is set in the 1920s and portrays a group of factory workers who advocate for safer work conditions after some of their colleagues become ill from radium exposure.
Songbird | Amazon Prime
Hollywood’s first Covid thriller but maybe a bit too close to home as we are still living through it. The film was also created during the pandemic so a double first.
It’s 2024 and in the Songbird version of events, things haven’t got any better; they’ve been getting progressively worse. The latest virus is the deadliest yet, with a 56% mortality rate. That has led to a strict divide between those who have immunity (which carries a much-sought-after yellow bracelet) and those who don’t (forced to stay indoors at all times).
I won’t tell you any more but I am sure you know where this one is going.
I think you will agree that there is lots more best TV for January which is certainly appreciated as there is not a lot else to entertain us during lockdown.
P.S. Don’t forget The Dig (film) starring Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan is live on Netflix on 29th January (reviewed in my previous TV post) and it received a 5* review from The Times.
And if you missed my previous best TV recommendations for January 2021 click HERE.