Wednesday 22 November 2017

Why you should be watching Medici: Masters of Florence on Netflix

Medici: Masters of Florence: Season 1 8 episodes, available from Friday

Dustin Hoffman and Richard Madden in Medici: Masters of Florence on Netflix
Dustin Hoffman and Richard Madden in Medici: Masters of Florence on Netflix
President-elect Donald Trump. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

This smashed all ratings records when it aired in Italy earlier this year and Netflix is banking on it making a similar splash overseas, which should be helped by it's big name recognition - Dustin Hoffman stars - and by the fact that it was filmed in English.

The producer Frank Spotnitz recently said that he wanted to make a series about the remarkable Italian family which was aimed at those who don't really like historical dramas. The result is a period piece that doesn't depend on lush settings (although there are plenty of those - it was filmed on location in Italy) and gorgeous costumes. Instead it is a type of whodunnit murder mystery, which takes place at the moment of changeover in the dynasty, with Cosimo de' Medici (Richard Madden of Game of Thrones fame) taking over from his father. There are outstanding performances from Hoffman and Madden and the pacing of the show means that it improves as it goes on. Despite also being shot partly on location in the Vatican the series also pushes the envelope for a period piece - gay sex is depicted for instance. Definitely worth a look; - seven million Italians can't be wrong.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency: Season 1 8 episodes, available from Saturday

Douglas Adams was beloved of an entire generation for the wonderful sci-fi comic novel The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. Adams had a facility for creating surreal, preposterous places and characters and bringing them to life with a dryly witty prose. The author himself described this as "a thumping good detective-ghost-horror-whodunnit-time travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic" and most of those elements made it to the screen. While The Hitchhiker's Guide has a somewhat linear story, Adams's lesser-known 'Dirk Gently' books present the reader with a blizzard of concepts and universal phenomena appearing to have nothing to do with one another at first, before eventually coalescing into an interconnected pattern. That quality means that this series is probably better gorged in a couple of binge sittings than dipping in and out, when you'd be likely to get confused. Adams's books have been notoriously difficult to translate to the screen and predictably they take liberties with his plot. But if you like Doctor Who and Monty Python, or indeed just fancy Elijah Wood (who stars alongside Samuel Barnett) then you might enjoy this.

Captive Eight episodes, available from Friday

Life hasn't been the same since we finished binge-watching Making a Murderer, but now Netflix has begun to fill the true-crime documentary-shaped void in our lives. First there was Amanda Knox and now this show. The series investigates hostage situations and negotiations around the world. The company has got an all-star team on board to make the show, including Oscar-winner Simon Chinn and his cousin, Emmy Award-winner Jonathan Chinn. Producers have managed to gain access to - and footage of - some gripping cases, and will cover both high-profile negotiations and ones that have been kept hidden from the public, from the perspective of negotiators, government officials, the victims of the kidnappings and even the kidnappers themselves. Each of the eight episodes is a stand-alone drama and, from what we've seen so far, each promises nail-biting tension.

The Cuba Libre Story 8 episodes, available from Thursday

Given the recent death of Castro, we couldn't leave out this one, a collaboration between German, Russian and French television companies. It's a documentary series which weaves together over 50 exclusive interviews with the most important experts and eyewitnesses of Cuban history - both from within and outside the island. While the debate rages here as to whether Cuba is currently a socialist paradise or an oppressed backwater, this focuses less on Castro and more on the hundreds of years of Cuban history that came before him. It also asks what will happen when the dictator is gone. The entire series might be a little heavy but the first two episodes are riveting viewing and explode some of the myths around Cuba.

Catch up now

Emily Hourican

My Mother and Other Strangers

RTE Player, until December 14, episode 1

Written by Barry Devlin (Horslips, Ballykissangel, A Man Of No Importance) and set in rural Northern Ireland, in the fictional village of Moybeg, during the dynamic later days of World War II, this tells of quiet country life disrupted by the arrival of an American air base, and 4000 young Americans, all keen to whisk pretty country lasses into a whirlwind of romance, cigarettes and trips to the cinema. More dangerous by far though are the ripples caused in more settled lives. Rose Coyne is married to Michael, the local publican, and already feels like an outsider - English, well educated, unfulfilled, bored - when she meets the air base liaison officer, a man who thinks deeply, and quotes Tennyson. This stars Aaron Staton, who played ad man Ken Cosgrove in smash hit Mad Men, along with Hattie Morahan and Owen McDonnell in what is a fairly predictable but well-acted and plotted drama.

The World According to President Trump

All 4 (Channel 4), until December 12

24 WORLD AFP_IJ4VJ.jpg
President-elect Donald Trump. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
 

'President Trump' - the words you never thought you'd actually say. Well, we're all trying them on for size now. The question is - after all that wall-building, Clinton-jailing, Muslim-banning rhetoric, what is Trump likely to actually do as President? Here, former Channel 4 Washington correspondent Matt Frei - and the man who brought us the excellent The Mad World Of Donald Trump during the campaign - asks that very question, attempting to translate Trump's vague promises about 'Making America great again' into actual policies, and talking to some of those who know Trump, in an attempt to work out what he might do, and how afraid the rest of us should be. With no political experience and no track record to go on, it is pretty much impossible to predict which way Trump will jump, but Frei does a good job of speculating. And of reminding us of all the depressing reasons why we dreaded Trump's election in the first place.

Podcasts

Emily Hourican

Homecoming

www.gimletmedia.com/show/Homecoming

If Serial was the factual podcast that gripped the world, Homecoming may well be the drama version. Created by Gimlet media - the award-winning company behind Crimetown and Heavyweight - the first episode aired on November 16, so you still have time to catch up quick and get on board. This is a psychological thriller starring the wonderful Catherine Keener, along with Oscar Isaac, David Schwimmer, Amy Sedaris, and David Cross.

The trailer brings us a waitress going about her business, when a customer begins to ask about her time, four years earlier, with the Department of Defence, working on something called 'The Homecoming Initiative'. The action cuts back and forth between the two time periods so that the reveals are slow and the suspense compelling. Instantly, delightfully, addictive.

No Such Thing As A Fish

www.qi.com/podcast

You may be familiar with QI from the telly - comedy panel show with Stephen Fry asking ridiculously hard questions? - but there is far more to the idea than this, including books, games, apps, a radio show, and a weekly podcast, No Such Thing As A Fish. Here, the QI researchers simply gather together around a microphone, and share some of the weird and wonderful info they have gathered during the previous week. This means you can listen in on them chatting about Napoleon's Little Red Man, along with the rudest thing to say to a politician, the placebo effect, drunk animals and far more. And if that all just sounds utterly random, trust me, these guys make it work. Like ear-wigging on the best kind of smart, funny, eclectic conversation.

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