Box Set Binge – Join us as we explore a diverse selection of binge-worthy TV shows available now on DVD or streaming platforms.
HUNTERS (PRIME VIDEO)
Within the first 10 minutes, David Weil’s audacious series set out its stall as a 70s family barbecue turned to slaughter. Hunters would mix the horror of historical Nazi atrocities with an action-thriller that aimed to unpick the events following peace in 1945. The result was a show that was destined to divide public and critical opinion. While it may narratively trip up several times, Hunters is one hell of a ride as it dissects the historical and current march of right-wing politics, racism, anti-Semitism and oppression in a comic book-inspired landscape of heroes and villains.
HOUSE OF THE DRAGON
As Game of Thrones came to a close in 2019, many wondered if the media fire it had generated had been firmly extinguished. After all, the final season of the blockbuster show was and still is hotly debated as one of TV’s biggest anti-climaxes. Therefore when House of the Dragon was announced, a fair bit of scepticism was mixed with the excitement of a new beginning in King’s Landing. Thankfully any scepticism was put to bed just three episodes in, as the mix of betrayal, intrigue, medieval politics, and power that made Game of Thrones fascinating found a fresh voice through a host of exceptional new characters.
GAME OF THRONES
Based on the book series by George RR Martin, Game of Thrones would transform and forever redraw the boundary between television and cinema with a show that took the 16:9 TV in the corner of your room into unexplored territory. Game of Thrones was event viewing as it built a world unlike anything before, re-igniting a sleeping public love of historical fantasy through intrigue, sex, violence, sumptuous character design and stunning effects. Like many shows, its ending may have faltered in the eyes of many, but no ending would have been perfect for a show that left such a lasting mark and rich, dramatic legacy.
THE FLASH (CW)
The Flash stands head and shoulders above the plethora of DC Universe outings born from Arrow. That doesn’t mean it was perfect, and its poor later seasons are evidence that it should have stopped running before season six. But despite this, the early seasons of The Flash remain some of the best family DC Comics TV we have seen since Smallville. Grant Gustin completely reinvented Barry Allen for the small screen, offering us a modern TV superhero we could believe in as The Flash captured the tea-time Saturday energy of shows like The Incredible Hulk and Wonder Woman.
SEX EDUCATION (NETFLIX)
From the first episode of its opening season, Laurie Nun’s beautifully written comedy/drama helped shape the new landscape of teen drama for a new generation. Part Skins and part Charlie Bartlett, Nun’s comedy would top up the edgy teen drama with bags of John Hughes-inspired comedy as the anxieties and eccentricities of adolescence were placed centre stage in a show that felt timeless. But the true genius of Sex Education came from the casting room. From the gentle, frustrated and endearing Otis (Asa Butterfield) to the sharp, loving and proud Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and spikey, worldly-wise Maeve (Emma Mackey), Sex Education’s ongoing success is very much down to its enthralling and engaging young cast.
DERRY GIRLS (C4)
Lisa McGee’s semi-autobiographical knockabout coming-of-age comedy, Derry Girls, sensibly opted to say goodbye in its third series, but, oh my, were we sad to see it go. Derry Girls was rare in the landscape of modern situational comedy, first due to its heart and humour and second due to its exquisite reflection of a specific time and place. Chronicling the path to peace in Northern Ireland alongside Erin, Orla, Clare, Michelle and their wee-English fella, James, Derry Girls injects the heart-breaking years of Northern Irish violence and segregation with the hope of peace. It celebrates the best of Northern Irish culture, humour and togetherness while never shying away from the troubles and, in the process, becomes a modern TV classic.
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WORZEL GUMMIDGE (BBC)
Many of you, like me, will have fond memories of Jon Pertwee as the lovable, if slightly cantankerous, scarecrow Worzel Gummidge. Pertwee’s version of Barbara Euphan Todd’s 1930s character would shine from 1979 to 1981 before the famous Scarecrow suddenly fell silent. However, Christmas 2019 would see BBC One resurrect Worzel under the creative genius of Mackenzie Crook, and the result was a loving and celebratory re-imagination of Euphan’s characters. Bathed in stunning cinematography, gentle humour and delightful performances, the modern Worzel Gummidge is utterly beautiful and brilliantly endearing.
GENERATION WAR (ARROW)
Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter, or Generation War sparked more than a sprinkling of controversy on its release. Some criticised Philip Kadelbach’s epic drama for not focusing enough on the atrocities at the Eastern Front, while others pointed to oversimplified narrative paths, particularly in the final episode. But these criticisms, while all fair in their own right, ignore the sheer power and bravery of Generation War in the landscape of Wartime drama. Kadelbach’s three-part series opened up an important debate on the power and influence of political ideology. Generation War posed two simple questions that remain extremely difficult to answer: How did an intelligent and cultured society fall for the lure of Nazism? And why did some reject and stand up against this ideology, risking their own lives, while others accepted it without question? It may not provide all the answers, but Generation War remains an urgent and important exploration of a deep European wound.
WORLD ON FIRE (BBC)
Some TV dramas never received all the praise they deserved, and World on Fire was one. Broadcast in 2019, Peter Bowker’s BBC Second World War drama is a stunning and distinctly different exploration of the gradual descent into European and then World conflict. By weaving together multiple stories in a range of European cities that would soon face the abject horror of war, World on Fire immersed its audience in individual choices, inescapable decisions and growing darkness as democracy failed and fascism took hold. This is a seven-part drama that aimed to give voice to the ordinary people who found their lives transformed by an impending and unavoidable War as a rising tide of politically fed hate swept across Europe. A second series is now on the way following a pause due to COVID-19, and one can only hope the long gap doesn’t put people off returning to this stunning, timely and urgent drama.
Box Set Binge
EERIE INDIANA (ABC)
Eerie Indiana’s legendary status was born over a mere 19 episodes. By lacing together enthralling science fiction, fun fantasy and classic monster horror, Eerie pays homage to Tales from the Crypt and The Twilight Zone. Here each gloriously dark and delicious tale is set in a world of weirdness and wonder created by Jose Rivera, Karl Schaefer, and the indomitable Joe Dante. The result is one of the shortest-lived but most innovative children’s TV shows ever made.
DOCTOR WHO (BBC)
Few TV shows hold the legendary status of Doctor Who. Not only is this BBC science fiction show the longest-running sci-fi series in TV history, but it is also, without a doubt, the most unique. Doctor Who’s strength lies in its ability to appeal to different audiences at different times, reinventing itself for each new generation through every new regeneration. From its humble tea-time beginnings Doctor Who has become an institution in its own right and the face of British science fiction across the globe.
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AMERICAN HORROR STORY (FX)
Long before the MCU claimed to have invented the cinematic universe, Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was building a bloody universe all of its own. American Horror Story would transform horror on TV in the same way Game of Thrones transformed medieval fantasy. Unlike its brutal fantasy friend on HBO, every season of American Horror Story was a standalone story with a beginning, middle and end wrapped in a genre-defining theme from horror history. But in reality, each of these seasons was interlinked, not just through a fantastic ensemble of returning actors, but through timelines, places and people. Murphy’s horror universe was big, bold and other-worldly. While embracing the history of horror, Murphy also rejected and reworked the horror template of the monster, the serial killer, the witch, the alien and the vampire. He asked us to empathise with the exact figures we had been taught to fear and fear the people we had been taught to trust. Murphy’s horror world was unlike anything we had seen in its beauty, complexity, humour and scale, and it remains a tapestry of bloody brilliant terror.
STRANGER THINGS (NETFLIX)
Since the streaming giant’s launch, what has made Stranger Things one of the most loved and successful Netflix shows? Is it the mosaic of nostalgia carefully tied to every strand of the Stranger Things world? Or the Stephen King-like story of a small American town plunged into darkness with the local kids placed in peril? It’s all of these and more. In building Hawkins and the characters at the heart of Stranger Things, the Duffer brothers looked back on their own childhood and teenage years. The brothers would take elements of everything that inspired them as kids, stitching together a web of science fiction, nostalgia, king-inspired horror and pop culture. The result was the resuscitation of a TV format that failed to ignite in Eerie Indiana decades before; science fiction horror built on nostalgia. Unlike the 50s nostalgia present in Eerie, Stranger Things was firmly rooted in the 80s as it encouraged new generations to bathe in a neon glow of walkmans, synth-pop and Speilbergesqe imagination. In the Duffer brother’s world, the kid’s only weapons were their bikes, and their only communication was a landline and walkie-talkie. It would appear that this was also comforting for Generation Z, who lapped up the Duffer brother’s 80s dream.
GRANGE HILL (BBC)
We don’t talk about the BBC classic Grange Hill enough. Phil Redmond’s Grange Hill didn’t just reinvent the classic Children’s tea-time drama; it joyously tore up the rule book as it delivered fun, gritty and bold TV drama that understood the kids it was talking to. Until Grange Hill, the comprehensive state school had been kept silent on TV, with working-class kids rarely seen unless they were committing a crime in a police drama. The school gates of Grange Hill opened in 1978 and remained open for 30 years as each new generation of kids explored hard-hitting themes of abuse, addiction, teenage pregnancy, HIV, cancer and grooming to name a few. But while Grange Hill dared to challenge its young and older audience with big social themes, it never lost sight of the fun, humour and joy of the playground too. Watching Grange Hill now is a revelation as you realise just how cutting-edge this kid’s drama was and still is in the landscape of children’s TV.
BREAKING BAD (AMC)
If Oz gave birth to a new gritty drama format on HBO, Breaking Bad changed how we viewed TV forever. Launched on cable TV in the USA in 2008 to rave reviews, Breaking Bad struggled to find an audience. But with the arrival of Netflix, Breaking Bad was about to go stratospheric and usher in a new dawn of TV, the binge watch. From a mere million viewers on its premiere to over ten million on its finale, Breaking Bad embraced the classic cliffhanger while Netflix allowed you to spend all day watching it. It was a marriage made in heaven and one that changed TV forever.