Monday 18 December 2017

New on netflix: From plain Jane to TV's groundbreaking star

* Jane the Virgin, Season 1 From Tuesday

Gina Rodriguez stars as a young woman whose life takes a turn for the dramatic after a fateful visit to the gynaecologist, in Jane the Virgin on Netflix.
Gina Rodriguez stars as a young woman whose life takes a turn for the dramatic after a fateful visit to the gynaecologist, in Jane the Virgin on Netflix.
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

This series, an adaptation of Venezuelan telenovela Juana La Virgen, tells the story of Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez), a caring young woman whose life takes a turn for the dramatic after a fateful visit to the gynaecologist.

It turns out that she was artificially inseminated by mistake. To make things worse, the biological donor is a married man, a former lothario and cancer survivor who is not only the new owner of the hotel where Jane works, but was also her former teenage crush. Deftly balancing biting humour with Jane's moral journey, the series gained almost universal critical acclaim when it aired in the US and won a slew of awards, including a Golden Globe for Rodriguez. The second series is airing there on the CW television network and making its own waves.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey From Friday

It might be natural to wonder how Seth MacFarlane - he of Family Guy and 'I Saw your Boobs' Oscar skit fame - would handle producing a remake of Carl Sagan's famous Cosmos series from 1980. Would McFarlane's distinctively stoner humour sully the science or would MacFarlane's street cred bring the wonders of the universe to a younger audience. Blessedly, MacFarlane had the good sense to bypass himself as host and instead go with the modern-day Sagan, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Using sophisticated CGI effects, Tyson positions himself on a computerised expanse while the universe is created around him. We are taken along for the ride as he walks us through a cosmic calendar - conjuring the entire history of the universe and mapping it out as if its constituent parts were dates on an annual calendar. It's well done on every level and was warmly received stateside when it premiered there two years ago - a minor, if predictable, rumpus from the religious right excepted. Well worth a look.

Brave From Saturday

This film seemed a little anomalous when it came out a few years ago. On the one hand it seemed to eschew the adult-friendly zingers and one-liners that one associates with Pixar's output, but on the other it didn't especially seem to be aimed at tots. It's set in a fantasy Highlands which somehow seem about as Scottish as Mike Myers's grandfather in So I Married An Axe Murderer. Kelly Macdonald voices Merida, the plucky, flame-haired Princess whose tomboyish enthusiasm for archery is indulged by her loving father, the King (Billy Connolly), but frowned upon by her strict mother, the Queen (Emma Thompson). Soon, the official Highland Games are to begin, in which various nerdy princes are to compete, but Merida is infuriated to discover that the winner gets her hand in marriage, whether she likes it or not. Julie Walters's creamy tones are also discernible somewhere in the mix - she plays a witch.

Better Call Saul Available now

The first season of this Breaking Bad prequel promised much and so far the second season has delivered. Plot lines and character arcs are steadily beginning to crystallise and there have already been tantalising rumours that more of the original Breaking Bad characters are going to appear (although, somewhat disappointingly, Bob Odenkirk, who plays Jimmy/Saul fairly adamantly ruled out an appearance from Walter White any time soon). The pulse quickened, the knuckles whitened as one of Breaking Bad's characters made his debut last week. Mark Margolis reprised his Emmy nominated turn as Hector "Tio" Salamanca by joining Mike at a restaurant to make a veiled threat to get some of the charges against Tuco dropped. Meanwhile, Jimmy's relationship with Kim continues to go through a rough patch and the huckstering lawyer learns the price of his wheeling and dealing.

Catch up now

Marvels' Agents of SHIELD

Channel4 On Demand, ends tonight, Series 3, episode 10

Based on the Marvel Comics organisation SHIELD (which stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division), this deals with a fictional peacekeeping and spy agency who specialise in a range of subjects, including weapons technology, earthquake-creation and various black ops. The team operate in a world of superheroes, but on the shadows, as much beset by faceless bureaucracy as by villains with super powers. Here, Daisy fights to keep the Hydra at bay while Coulson and Fitz take risks.


RTE Player, until March 21st, Season 3, episode 1

As Season 4 unfolds on RTE, here's a chance to get to grips with Season 3. An Irish-Canadian co-production created for the History Channel and filmed here, the story is loosely based on the 13th-century sagas of Norse hero Ragnar Lothbrok, the scourge of England and France. Here, Ragnar is now king (still protesting that really, all he wants to do is farm) with new worlds to conquer, but King Ecbert may be planning treachery despite his oath of friendship, and domestic matters are heating up. Joan Bergin is back as costume designer, in a series that is as stylish as it is gripping.

Davina McCall - Life At The Extreme

UTV Player, until March 21st

Having successfully reinvented herself after the deep staining of Big Brother, via a thoughtful series on adoption stories, Davina, pictured left, - ever-ready to have-a-go - is now venturing into David Attenborough territory (at which some critics are deeply unhappy, citing her OMG-style of delivery as an irritant), and exploring the natural world.

Here, she travels to the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean to investigate some of the world's deepest-diving creatures, including whales, and how they cope with the pressures of diving.


By Emily Hourican


This is one for fans of Making Of A Murderer, or anyone who has ever fancied themselves an amateur sleuth. With millions of listeners, Serial - spin-off from the hugely-successful This American Life - is investigative journalism at its best, with Sarah Koenig and her team tackling strange, shady cases, everything from the disappearance of a high school girl in 1999 and subsequent arrest of her ex-boyfriend for murder, to the desertion of a soldier in Afghanistan. The story is told week by week, allowed to unfold in a variety of directions at its own pace. Serial is now in its second series, but begin at the beginning and simply work your way forward.


This is the audio spin-off of the Freakonomoics books, by economics professor Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen J Dubner. They keep it simpler here however, getting their teeth into specific topics, such as the gender pay gap, why everyone should be in a rock band, the virtues of handwriting, and what would happen if restaurants did away with tipping entirely. Light delivery, serious topics.

Number 2s

You'll have to subscribe to get access, but it's worth it. A sitcom from the writers of Give My Head Peace and produced by Radio Ulster, this is set "in the bowels" of Stormont, where the main characters are two civil servants, and is as funny as it is insightful about Northern politics. Think Yes, Minister with Northern accents.

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