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Best of 2021 (so far)

Ok, so not unsurprisingly 2021 is still strange but at least there are plenty of new shows to keep us entertained.

It will be interesting to see how the year pans out, will there be a bit of a drought? Will there be a sudden boom in slightly weirder ideas in order to fill up a shortfall? That’s all with a backdrop of production of these shows being under varying Covid-safe rules. So here’s our favourite shows from this year, it’s fair to say things are off to a good start.

Lupin

One of the really enjoyable things with Netflix’s commitment to local production is that we often get to see shows from other countries that we would have otherwise missed. Often they become genuine sleeper-hits. Lupin falls happily into that category. It’s a re-something (re-boot, re-imagining, re-fresh, take your pick) of Arsene Lupin a famous French Fictional character from the early 20th-century (think a light-fingered Sherlock Holmes).

In this series, main character Assane Diop is inspired by the stories of Lupin and sets out to steal a priceless necklace from the Louvre as revenge on a powerful family who caused the death of his father. Diop is brilliantly, and charismatically played by Omar Sy and the whole series is jam-packed with suspense and tension. Of course there are always going to be a couple of implausible moments, but the show moves forward at such a speed, you don’t dwell on them. More episodes due later this year, so you’d do well to get on board with this now, if you haven’t already.

Stills from Can’t Get You Out Of My Head

Can’t Get You Out Of My Head

‘Interesting’ in both positive and negative terms can often be applied to filmmaker Adam Curtis. To his supporters he is able to weave a compelling narrative from seemingly unrelated events. To his critics he can make bewildering leaps of judgement in order to fit his argument. What both can agree on is that he has a very unique style of documentary making, with a ‘pop-art’ approach to using different styles of footage. This series covers a huge range of topics from Social Media to the rise of China via consumerism, populism and American foreign policy. At its heart it is an examination of ‘how we’ve got here’ but also how the advance in technology has moved away from creating a Utopia to something potentially darker and more harmful.

This is a hugely rewarding series that draws you as a viewer into a constant debate with what is being presented to you so how much you agree with it is always in a state of flux which is probably deliberate by Curtis to reflect the peaks and troughs of modern living. It probably isn’t one for binge-watching as it is very lurid with a dizzying amount of information, concepts and arguments but it is an important documentary that helps us to make (some) sense of the world today.

WandaVision

A mystery, hidden in a riddle wrapped in an enigma might be closest to trying to describe WandaVision. So the premise is that it is set in the Marvel Comic Universe after the end of Avengers: Endgame. Two characters Wanda Maximoff and Vision (WandaVision, do you see?) are settling into a new suburban lifestyle. However, they increasingly start to notice that time has distorted and that their lives feel more and more like a television show. A fair bit to get your head around for starters.

There’s a lot to like about this series and the meta-TV nature of it provides really good value. It is also great to see something so different to come out on Disney+ that isn’t purely a franchise extension, but there is a catch. As we’ve mentioned it is part of Marvel so interlinking events preceding this series, come into play. Which means if you have little to no knowledge of it you might not be the best starting point, but for everyone else it’s a good watch that does a neat sideline in wry nudges to the viewer.

Photograph: Ben Blackall/Channel 4

It’s A Sin

Last year, I May Destroy You set the bar for show of the year very high, very early and for my money saw off all comers to serenely take that accolade. With Russell T. Davis’ 5-parter you get the feeling the same thing is going to happen again this year. It is about a group of gay friends who come to live together in London in the early 80s, and over the subsequent episodes their lives and world is torn apart by the emergence of HIV/AIDS. Everywhere you look in this series there is something that will resonate with you and will later come back to hit you in the gut. Whether it is the likeable, realistic characters. Or the caring world they create for themselves to keep away from prevalent homophobia and oppression.

The fact that you know things are going to go very, very badly as they virtually sleepwalk into disaster makes for one of the most heart-wrenching TV experiences there has ever been. It is a story that needs to be told and in the hands of someone as skillful as Davis it has dots and flashes of humour and humanity that prevents the series collapsing under the weight of the heavy, bleak subject matter. It also teaches us to accept that crises in humanity will affect us all directly or indirectly. To understand, empathise and do what we can for each other doesn’t cost much, but means the earth.

So there we go, TV-wise it has been a strong start to the year and here’s hoping there are a few more gems to enjoy over the course of 2021. We’ll come back to this list in a few months and at the end of the year and see how it all fares. Whatever your favourite movie genres….

Happy watching!

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