New on netflix: There's no happy ending to hugely eventful series
* A Series Of Unfortunate Events, 13 episodes - available from Friday
"If you're interested in stories with happy endings," Patrick Warburton's Lemony Snicket warns in the second trailer for Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events, "that story is streaming elsewhere. I would advise all our viewers," he adds, "to watch something more pleasant instead".
It's a playful piece of reverse psychology that a series as promising as this can probably afford. Perhaps the most pertinent criticism of the 2004 movie of the same name was that it didn't really utilise all of the darkness of the children's novel by Lemony himself (the pen name of American author Daniel Handler) which follows the turbulent lives of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire after their parents' death in a fire. The film ended after skimming through only three books - which was perhaps inevitable given editing constraints in a movie. Thankfully this series seems to go deeper into Handler's imagination and the results, despite Lemony's exhortation, are definitely worth watching. And Netflix's confidence in it is evidenced by the fact that casting has reportedly already begun for the second series.
Cristela Alonzo: Lower Classy
Comedy special, available from Saturday
A lot of people thought that Cristela Alonzo was wasted in her fairly dire eponymous sitcom but the wise Latina fares much better in this stand-up special. Filmed in San Antonio, Texas it sees her skewer racial and gender stereotypes with a filthy sense of humour. Whether she's cracking a joke about her mother's lack of tact, or a date's lack of cultural understanding, Alonzo's talent is drawing on her own experiences. At times some of the jokes may be a little American-specific, but Alonzo's timing and energy on the stage carries the material. Definitely worth a look.
Degrassi: Next Class, Season 3
13 episodes, available now
Irish kids are back in school and Netflix's bunch of young misfits also return to class in this new series of their hit teen drama. It's essentially a soap opera on speed. You have a kid who was addicted to enough drugs to fill a chemist, another who has developed a life-threatening disease, one who seems to have changed sexuality a dozen times, all intermingled with the usual boyfriend-girlfriend dramas and social media bitchery. This Netflix original series - the most recent continuation of the popular Canadian teen drama franchise, which launched its first incarnation in 1987 - has nostalgic, self-referential tone with plenty of references to previous iterations of the series, which will satisfy long-term fans. The characters, some of whom will be familiar from seasons past, seem to fit certain teen drama tropes (the nerd, the jock, the overachiever). All, though, have layers that later unravel for viewers and the young actors seem to be winsome and knowing at the same time. The subject matter may seem to sometimes push the envelope but that only endears it to its target audience and, as one teen explained to me, the show is uplifting in the sense that actual teen life is not quite this bad.
Narcos, Seasons 1&2
With a new series of Narcos probably on the horizon in 2017 the time might be right to look back at the explosive first two series. Season one of this fact-based drama - about how cocaine created criminal empires in Colombia and beyond - was jam-packed with over 15 years of drug cartel history (and a great cameo from Nancy Reagan), and the result, unfortunately, was a sense that the characters were not sufficiently well drawn before the action began (unlike, say, Breaking Bad, to which this series owes a debt). But from the first moments of Season 2, the whole thing showed new focus. Thanks to a much narrower scope - the 18-month hunt for Pablo Escobar, following his escape from La Catedral prison - characters are allowed to breathe more. The power struggles have real weight. Politics intersects with high crime and human psychology.
Catch up now
RTE Player, until January 31, season one, episode one
Brand new drama from RTE, this started on New Year's Day so, for the many who may have missed that, here's a chance to catch up and join in with the rest of the series. Amy Huberman (above) plays solicitor Tara Rafferty, a woman professionally and personally on the cusp of big things, until a revelation on the night of her hen party sets her on an entirely new path. The series opens with images of a distraught Tara wandering tearfully through the thronged streets of Dublin, trying to assimilate the devastating news of her fiance's infidelity with a colleague. This then becomes the spur for her to leave the smart law firm where they both work and strike out on her own. Co-starring Rory Keenan, Neil Morrissey, Fiona O'Shaughnessy and Emmet Byrne, the first episode got rave reactions. Coming hot on the heels of Stefanie Preissner's Can't Cope Won't Cope, this is beginning to augur well for home-grown drama.
UTV Player, until January 23, season three, episode one
A one-hour Christmas special kicked off season three of the drama series, and, for many, plugged a large Downton Abbey-shaped hole in the schedules. Set in the 1950s, in the pleasant village of Grantchester, and with more than a whiff of Miss Marple, this confronted mild-mannered clergyman Sidney Chambers (James Norton) and Detective Inspector Geordie Keating (Robson Green) with the unpleasant reality of a groom discovered dead on his wedding day, with the wedding rings shoved down his throat. Top suspect is his blonde and lovely bride. Meanwhile, local girl Amanda Hopkins (Morven Christie) is pregnant and has been thrown out into the snow by her outraged father, who also threatens to cut off her aunt's only source of income if she continues to help the unfortunate mother-to-be. As usual, it is the dynamic between the procedure-focused Keating and considerably more intuitive Chambers, that is the real joy.
This social commentary podcast translates perfectly to live audiences and, now, to a TV show - on TV Land from this month - but also remains one of the most entertaining, invigorating listens around. Hosts Bryan Safi and Erin Gibson are "like you and your friend only wittier" according to one review, but without that ever feeling excluding. Together they take the piss out of various bits of news and current affairs, specifically those relating to women and gay men, along with each other, in a way that is savvy, knowing and very amusing. But they also know how to get angry when angry is required. Injustice, bigotry and crass stupidity all fire them up good-oh. Recent highlights include Bryan discussing the disappointment of some of Oprah's favourite things, and the ongoing phenomenon of One Million Moms, an organisation of American 'moms' fighting what they see as indecency.
Yes, this true crime investigation is a perennial favourite, and seasons one and two - devoted to the murder case of Adnan Syed and US army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's desertion of his post respectively - have been well aired by now, but speculation has begun about a third season, due to air in summer. Host Sarah Koenig was recently spotted attending the trial of a man accused of killing three people in a barbershop in Cleveland, Ohio, suggesting this might be the focus. Meantime, a seven-part Serial spin-off is due in March, described as "about a man who despises the Alabama town he's lived in his entire life and tries to do something about it. It involves a murder investigation that leads to strange relationships and a hunt for hidden treasure".
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