Thursday 23 November 2017

New on Netflix: Narcos returns as a feast of drama is served up

I Am The Ambassador, Available from Thursday - 6 episodes

Wagner Moura in 'Narcos'
Wagner Moura in 'Narcos'
Rufus Gifford in 'I Am The Ambassador'
Samiya Mumtaz and Saleha Aref in 'Dukhtar'
Campaigner Caitlin Moran
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

Rufus Gifford is huge in Denmark. The 41-year-old American ambassador to the tiny Nordic country was appointed by Barack Obama to the role in 2013, but since then Gifford has transcended diplomacy and become one of the biggest entertainment stars in the country.

Most Danes know him through his prime-time TV documentary series, Jeg er Ambassadoren fra Amerika (I Am the Ambassador From America). The show has been a national hit since it began in 2014, and in July last year earned Gifford the Danish equivalent of an Emmy Award. It has won the openly gay politician praise for his openness - his wedding to his partner last October was covered as a national event in Denmark - but Gifford has been criticised for perceptions that he isn't being serious enough, and indeed, the TV series can, at times, be pure reality show tackiness, taking viewers into deeply personal territory and vulnerable situations. In one scene, for instance, cameras catch the ambassador in his tighty whities as he changes into a SWAT uniform. There are also some telling insights into the practices of US diplomacy, however, and this series will probably translate well to a broader audience.

Narcos, Season 2

Available from Thursday - 10 episodes

The long wait is over and the first big returning series of the autumn is upon us. Netflix has just released a new trailer for this fast-paced drama, which is itself based on the manhunt for the infamous Colombian drug lord and cartel leader Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura). The first season followed agents Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) and Javier Peña (Pedro Pascal) on their life-long mission to take down the Latin American crime boss, but it was all leading up to this, the all-out war before Escobar's final downfall. Built around the tagline "Who Killed Pablo?," the latest season focuses on four main perspectives on the hunt for the infamous drug lord. First up is the DEA, but Escobar also has to reckon with the California cartel, the vigilante group organised to hunt him down and the Search Bloc, the wing of the Colombian police that is also following him. Wagner Moura makes his return as the titular kingpin, and Holbrook and Pascal round out the cast as the DEA agents Murphy and Peña. The performances have always been brilliant in this series. Definitely well worth a look if you liked, for instance, Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.

Chef's Table: France

Available from Friday - 16 episodes

The first two seasons of this cookery programme notably skipped over France as a source of inspiration and that was no accident - they were saving it. This season takes viewers to the land of Gallic flair for four episodes featuring chefs including Alain Passard of L'Arpège; Michel Troisgros, who comes from a famous culinary dynasty; Adeline Grattard, who blends Chinese and French flavours and techniques at yam'Tcha; and Alexandre Couillon, whose restaurant, La Marine, is on a small island off the French coast. The BBC's Planet Earth was the inspiration behind this series and they have not stinted on the photography or visual effects. It's a feast for the eyes and sticks to what creator David Gelb calls, "psychological, character-driven film-making." The episodes are designed to be stand-alone parts, so you can dip in and out of this series.

Dukhtar (2014)

Available from Thursday

There's no doubt that this is an issues film and maybe a little too nutritious for a lazy night on Netflix, but it didn't get 92pc on Rotten Tomatoes for nothing. The daughter in question (dukhtar means "daughter" in Urdu) is 10-year-old Zainab (Saleha Aref), who is promised in marriage by her father to a much older man. Zainab and her mother flee from the men in the family and the film essentially centres around their flight to safety and their enduring relationship. The performances are spectacular and the plot quietly gathers steam. The film also seems like a photographic love letter to Pakistan - a country whose patriarchal values it implicitly condemns.

Catch up now

Emily Hourican

The Zoo

UTV Player, until September 6, episodes 1-3

This is the first time in 10 years that the Zoological Society of London has invited cameras into their two zoos; the result is three episodes showing the behind-the-scenes work of staff at the ZSL, which runs London Zoo and Whipsnade Zoo. Cameras followed them for five months, showing their day-to-day activity, as well as their broader commitment to science and conservation work. In the first episode, they are hoping to breed gorillas and vultures but the situation gets complicated. Episode two deals with the difficult business of breeding elephants; here, they have been successful, but there has been an outbreak of a form of herpes that kills young elephants, and in the last five years the ZSL has lost three. A new calf is due this year and staff are determined that all will go well. Lastly, the flagship Gorilla Kingdom at London Zoo suffers a setback with the death of one of its star attractions, and the search for a replacement begins. One for animal-lovers and fans of heart-warming drama in general.

Raised By Wolves

Channel 4 On Demand, series 1 & 2

Campaigner Caitlin Moran

Written by Caitlin Moran, pictured above, with her sister Caz, Raised By Wolves is a loosely autobiographical rendering of their working-class childhood on a Wolverhampton council estate. Funny, endearing, whip-smart (as you'd expect), this is an unsentimental but warm rendering of life on the edge of financial failure, but rich in the compensations of inner life, intellectual ability and political rigour. Basically, a heartening two fingers to the Benefits Street style of reality TV. The Garry family are squashed into a small house - and that's even before Granpy moves in under the stairs - without material prospects or, in the case of eldest daughter Germaine, outlet for her raging hormones. But their tough-talking mother, Della, (possibly the best character in the series) keeps the family on track with flinty determination, and a whole lot of love.


Emily Hourican

Between the Covers, Today's Best Writers in  Conversation with David Naimon

There is no denying the hip credentials of this show. It airs on KBOO 90.7 FM in Portland, Oregon, pretty much the home of hip, and Naimon favours authors who blur boundaries and cross genres between art, literature, poetry, spoken word and more. He podcasts once or twice a month, and creates the kind of space necessary for a proper, in-depth understanding of the works showcased. Recently, we've had Jesse Ball with How To Set A Fire And Why, her blistering novel about a teenage girl who has lost everything, and will burn anything; Laila Lalami on The Moor's Account, her historical re-imagining of a 16th-century slave; the great sci-fi writer Ursula Le Guin, reading from her new collection of poems and Rob Spillman talking about his art rock memoir, All Tomorrow's Parties.

Drama On One

There is something fascinating about audio drama, about the immersive concentration process required to follow it, and the freedom of the form; perfect for long journeys or brisk walks. Drama On One is produced by an experienced and talented team, including Lorelei Harris, Kevin Reynolds and Aidan Mathews, and features both established and emerging talent.

Plays are complete and self-contained, by writers as diverse as Donal Dineen, John Boorman, Thomas Kilroy, Austin Kenny and Meadhbh McHugh. There are also interesting outreach and education projects, including Alan Stanford's guide to Hamlet for Leaving Cert students - and for any of the rest of us who want to understand the play better.

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