With spring just around the corner – and a return to normal life in sight – many of us are looking forward to spending more time outside and making the most of the outdoors. But while the weather is still chilly, and lockdown continues, there’s also plenty of opportunities to curl up in front of the TV, and enjoy some escapism and adventure.
There have never been so many great TV shows to watch as there are today, but with so much choice, it can be hard to know which series to pick. So, we’ve put together a list of 12 of the best TV shows you can stream today, from brand-new BBC dramas to critically acclaimed US series – on both free streaming platforms and fee-based subscription services.
Debuting on New Year’s Day, the BBC’s new series has become one of iPlayer’s most watched shows – and for good reason. This unsettling eight-part drama tells the true story of murderer and thief Charles Sobhraj, who drugged and killed more than a dozen people during the mid-70’s on Asia’s hippie trail.
With excellent performances from Jenna Coleman and Billy Howle, The Serpent is a slow-burn watch that perfectly portrays the drift and decay of the era. This was a time when many young people were searching for freedom, adventure and self-discovery as they travelled through Asia – and these were precisely the sort of people Sobhraj preyed upon. A compelling, atmospheric watch that’ll have you desperate to find out what happens next.
Whether you’re a chess fan or not, it’s fair to say that you’ll probably be gripped by Netflix’s seven-episode limited series – and that’s because at its core, the show isn’t really about chess at all. The Queen’s Gambit is based on the novel of the same name, and the series follows young orphan Beth Harmon as she works her way through childhood trauma, addiction, living in an orphanage, and discovering she’s a chess prodigy.
The style of the 1950s and 60s is beautifully brought to life through striking costumes and incredibly detailed production design, and every episode is a joy to watch. Anya Taylor-Joy is exceptional in the lead role, perfectly capturing Beth’s vulnerability and torment, as well as growing confidence. An enthralling series well worthy of all the praise.
If you enjoy police dramas but haven’t watched Line of Duty, you’re in for a treat. When it first aired in 2012, Line of Duty was BBC Two’s best performing drama in over a decade, and nine years on, after moving to BBC One, it’s become even more popular.
This breathlessly tense thriller follows DS Steve Arnott and DC Kate Fleming as they work for AC-12, the police’s anti-corruption unit, attempting to uncover “bent coppers”. With a breakneck pace, intelligent plot, powerful performances and unflinching violence, Line of Duty is head-and-shoulders above most UK crime dramas, and demands your complete attention from the moment an episode begins til the credits start to roll. Season six premieres on the 21st March, so there’s hours of great TV to immerse yourself in.
Now in its fourth season, The Crown has captivated viewers all around the world and won countless awards – and you certainly don’t have to be a royalist to appreciate this drama. While it’s based on true events, The Crown is a fictional retelling of the events of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, following political rivalries, romances, and many of the events that shaped the second half of the 20th century.
Series one begins in 1947, before the young Elizabeth ascends the throne, and the most recent series centres on the Thatcher years and Princess Diana’s difficult relationship with the royals. Every two seasons, new actors fill the lead roles to account for the ageing process: Claire Foy plays the Queen for the first two seasons, and Olivia Colman for the second two, while Imelda Staunton has been cast for the final two seasons – and it’s arguably worth watching this series just for the cast themselves.
If you like family-focused dramas, then This Is Us might be right up your street. This multi-award winning American series follows the lives of two parents, Jack and Rebecca, and their three children, Kevin, Kate and Randall, over several different time frames.
The show follows the characters’ personal struggles at different stages of their lives – from battling obesity to dealing with heartbreak and trying to pursue a more meaningful career. With an ensemble cast, This Is Us is an unashamedly emotional drama that perfectly depicts both the joys and pains of life, the changes we undergo as we grow, and the search for love, meaning and happiness.
Gemma Foster is a family doctor, happily married to Simon and with a young son, Tom. But then one day, she begins to suspect her husband is having an affair, and she sets out to discover the truth. As she follows different lines of enquiry, she unravels dark secrets that threaten to destroy her – and her family too.
Suranne Jones gives a powerful performance as the scorned and compulsive Gemma, and this tension-filled drama was one of the BBC’s biggest hits in years. With two excellent seasons to immerse yourself in, Doctor Foster explores themes of love, obsession, revenge and betrayal, and questions how well you can ever really know someone – including yourself.
Gripping, dark and atmospheric, Ozark is one of Netflix’s most popular shows, and it probably won’t take more than a couple of episodes for new viewers to get hooked. The series follows financial advisor Marty Byrde, who, after becoming embroiled with a Mexican cartel, is forced to relocate his entire family from Chicago to the Ozark mountains in Missouri.
Marty’s life is spared on the condition that he launder enormous amounts of money for the cartel, but as he and his family delve deeper into the criminal underworld, the line between good and bad becomes blurred – and Marty’s family becomes increasingly vulnerable. With standout, award-winning performances from leads Jason Bateman and Laura Linney, this is an exceptionally thrilling series that will leave you reeling.
Set in Birmingham in 1919, Peaky Blinders is an enormously successful gangster period drama that’s won countless awards – and if you’ve never watched it before, it won’t take many episodes for you to see why. The show follows Tommy Shelby (played brilliantly by Cillian Murphy), a cunning, ruthless crime boss who will go to any lengths to move up in the world and build a business like no other.
The Shelby crime family is based upon a real-life crime family, and the depiction of Birmingham’s lawless streets is as horrifying as it is captivating. With five series available on iPlayer (and a sixth in the works!) Peaky Blinders is the perfect show to get you through the rest of lockdown.
It might be a little while before we can all go on holiday again, so in the meantime, why not allow The Durrells to transport you to a sundrenched Greek island? This ITV family drama follows the Durrell family – Mum Louisa, sons Larry, Gerald and Leslie, and daughter Margo – as they uproot themselves to Corfu and start a new life.
Based on a true story, the show follows the cash-strapped family as they try to adapt to their beautiful but challenging new home, make new friends, and search for adventure and romance. Funny, comforting and heart-warming, The Durrells is the perfect show to watch when you’re feeling a little low or uninspired.
If you love historical TV dramas with plenty romance, danger and adventure, then why not give Outlander a go? Based on the best-selling books by Diana Gabaldon, Outlander tells the story of Claire Randall, a former British Army nurse.
After serving in the Second World War, Claire and her husband take a second honeymoon in Scotland – but when Claire touches a mysterious ancient stone, she’s suddenly transported back to 1743. The series follows Claire as she battles to survive in the violent highlands, falls in with a group of Jacobite rebels, and eventually falls in love. With five seasons to lose yourself in, Outlander is great escapism.
One of the best dramas to come out of the BBC in recent years has got to be Happy Valley, a gritty police drama set in Yorkshire’s Calder Valley. The show follows Catherine, a tough-as-nails police officer who’s still coming to terms with the suicice of her teenage daughter Becky, who killed herself after being raped. When Becky’s rapist Tommy is released from prison, Catherine’s grief and anger resurfaces, and she struggles to balance her emotions with her professional integrity – all while trying to locate a kidnapped young woman.
Happy Valley is a darkly realistic look at pain, regret, and the desire for revenge, and its unrelenting pace will leave you breathless. Sarah Lancashire won the Best Actress BAFTA for her portrayal of Catherine, and the show also won the BAFTA for Best Drama Series – and it’s likely after just a couple of episodes, you’ll agree these were both well deserved.
It may have finished in 2013, but Breaking Bad’s impact on television resonates just as much today as it did then. Arguably the most influential TV drama ever, Breaking Bad is also the most critically acclaimed TV show of all time, and over five seasons you’ll witness some incredibly powerful and dramatic character development and story arcs.
The series tells the story of mild-mannered chemistry teacher Walter White, who, when he discovers he’s terminally ill, decides to make crystal meth so he can leave behind some money for his young family. Once he’s thrust into the drug world, obstacles arise, the pressures mount, and Walter’s life – and his family – threaten to be ripped apart. Episodes vary from edge-of-your-seat exhilarating to gut-wrenchingly emotional, but the story and acting is always stellar, and you’ll be left in wonder at where the story goes.
Thanks to the internet and streaming, a whole world of virtual adventure and escape is available at our fingertips – and whether you’re into romance, family dramas, police series or dark depictions of the criminal underworld, there’s a great TV show out there for everyone.
The beauty of streaming is that once you’ve finished an episode that ends on a cliffhanger, you don’t have to wait for a week for the next one. But whether you want to be restrained and just watch one or two episodes a night, or ‘binge-watch’ a whole series in one day… well, that’s up to you.