Reviews: Four television shows you should be watching (but probably aren’t)

Four television shows you should be watching (but probably aren’t)  by Dash Wilson

A scene from the third season of 'The Leftovers' - DOP Robert Humphreys ACS
A scene from the third season of ‘The Leftovers’ – DOP Robert Humphreys ACS

THE LEFTOVERSLost (2004-2010) was one of those television shows that was a
worldwide phenomenon. Much like Twin Peaks (1990-1992) before it. Lost became the must-watch series and was arguably one of the most intriguing and defining shows that ignited this golden age of television. It is interesting then that The Leftovers was co-created by Damon Lindelof, one of the minds behind Lost and yet whilst that series was watched by millions, The Leftovers has come and gone flying nearly completely under the radar.

Based on the novel by Tom Perrotta and aired originally on HBO, The Leftovers starts three years after the mysterious disappearance of 140 million people or 2% of the world’s population. Becoming known as ‘the sudden departure’, the show focuses on the Garvey family and the small town people of Mapleton, New York and how society would deal with such an event.

Led by a stellar cast including Carrie Coon, Amy Brenneman, Ann Dowd and Justin Theroux, The Leftovers draws you in from episode one. The performances, atmosphere, cinematography (three episodes by Australian Robert Humphreys ACS), direction and music are all sublime. It’s an unpredictable and fascinating story that is really unlike anything you have seen before.

If there is a gripe to be had it is that it is quite obvious that during the making of the show there was considerable argument about its creative direction. All three seasons, whilst intelligently linked, are very different in story arc and character development. The theme music also strangely changes after season one but is kept the same for two and three.

Even thought this show officially ended in 2017, it had such an impact on me that I had to include it on this list. Whilst there are many flaws, it is one of the most original, interesting, thought provoking and brilliant television shows of the last decade. In many ways it is far superior to Lost, however I suspect its lack of popularity is simply because its themes are hard to watch and ultimately it does not answer many of the questions that it asks.

A scene from 'The Good Fight' - DOPs Fred Murphy ASC and Tim Guinness
A scene from ‘The Good Fight’ – DOPs Fred Murphy ASC and Tim Guinness

THE GOOD FIGHT – The Good Wife (2009-2016) ran for eight seasons, was an Emmy favourite for much of its run and cemented Julianna Marqulies’ place as a darling of American network television. Set soon after its finale, The Good Fight is its exceptional and criminally under watched sequel series.

Christine Baranski (Cybil, The Good Wife) plays Dianne Lockhart, who instead of retiring, is forced back into the workforce as a lawyer of Reddick, Boseman & Kolstad – one of Chicago’s preeminent law firms. Dianne’s goddaughter, Maia also comes to start work for the firm, all while the FBI investigates her father’s involvement in a Ponzi scheme.

Created by Rober and Michelle King, who are ex-lawyers themselves, there is an authenticity about this production that is rare, particularly on network television. Paired with composer David Buckley and cinematographer Tim Guinness (Boardwalk Empire), The Good Fight is a polished production that never feels overcooked despite its worldly and often complex legal cases.

Very much a show for the present day. The Good Fight is heavily political and has an ambiguity, balance and humour about its stories that The Good Wife seemed to be missing. There are less main characters and sub-plots in The Good Fight and the show feels lighter and fresher as a result.

Performance wise, the cast really can’t be faulted. Cush Jumbo who plays Lucca Quinn and Sarah Steele the office’s private investigator, are particular standouts. Significantly, the show also primarily deals with the story lines of its three female leads – Diane, Lucca, and Maia – and contains considerable political and social commentary, exploring highly topical issues such as the ‘Me Too Movement’, fake news and the Trump Administration.

Due to air it’s third season in 2019, it may not last for as many seasons as its predecessor but for sheer quality, pacing and enjoyment they don’t come much better.

A scene from the second series of 'Ozark' - DOP Ben Kutchins
A scene from the second series of ‘Ozark’ – DOP Ben Kutchins

OZARK – I remember seeing the trailer for Ozark and thinking this is going to be one of those Netflix shows – and there are many – that has a great cast but no real depth. How wrong I was.

Jason Bateman (Arrested Development) and Laura Linney (The Big C, John Adams) play the leads in this Netflix series that has somehow remained underrated, both critically and in viewership. Created by Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams (The Accountant), Ozark works on multiple levels. Bateman is quite simply, brilliant. Especially in season one. In fact, his multiple, layered performance is far superior to his critically lauded and popular role in Arrested Development. This may be in part due to the fact that he also directs multiple episodes and is a co-producer of the show, so clearly it is a project that he cares deeply about.

Cinematographer Ben Kutchins was deservedly Emmy-nominated for his work on this show. The blue-grey colour palette and striking locations used throughout the series are highly effective because the style matches the grimy and bleak world of the backwater that is the Missouri Ozarks. Whilst highly stylised the mood and atmosphere of the show is foreshadowed in every shot. Something that television just didn’t do ten years ago.

Season one does start slowly but builds to an almost frenetic pace. I challenge anyone to not watch the last four episodes in one sitting. Whilst this ultimately creates some considerable narrative and pacing issues at the beginning of season two, the sophomore season is in many ways saved by Linney’s brilliant character development and the unpredictable storytelling.

Ozark is so well done and addictive that forgive its flaws. Recently commissioned for a third season airing in 2019, this Netflix original is one of those shows that unexpectedly becomes that guilty binge you didn’t realise you couldn’t live without.

A scene from an episode of 'Killing Eve' - DOP Julian Court
A scene from an episode of ‘Killing Eve’ – DOP Julian Court

KILLING EVE – After a string of murders, Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), a desk bound MI5 officer begins to track down talented psychopathic assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) while both woman become obsessed with each other.

Based on Luke Jennings’ novels Codename Villanelle and developed for television by Pheobe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag), Killing Eve is a show that is hard to define but also one of the year’s best.

Produced by BBC America and watched by less than half a million Americans, Killing Eve is Sandra Oh’s return to television after her career defining role on Grey’s Anatomy. From Paris, Moscow to Bucharest the show uses its worldwide landscapes to great effect and it has been beautifully framed by Julian Court (Prime Suspect) and Tim Palmer (Doctor Who).

Shot using an Arri Alexa Mini, there is an intimacy achieved between the characters that juxtaposes the almost frenetic changes in location. What really stayed with me from Killing Eve was its originality. In a crowded landscape of television shows, Killing Eve stands out because of its razor wire tension, sex appeal, looming sense of violence and ultimately its willingness to have a life independent of genre conventions.

It should also be said that while Oh is exceptional in the lead role, for me, the breakout star her is Comer. Both wickedly evil and wildly misunderstood, there is an intensity to her performance that stays with me and it’s a crime that she hasn’t been more rewarded for it. Recently commissioned for a second season, if you want a crime show with balls – and eight brilliant episodes – then you can’t miss this.

Dash Wilson is a film-lover based in Brisbane and resident Film Reviewer for Australian Cinematographer Magazine.

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