A pre-roundup of anticipated TV is a tricky task. With so much competition for viewers, across countess platforms, advance news and information can be withheld or be unreliable. But for 2020, January is already conspicuously packed with content to savour. Some of it might be the most memorable of the entire year. Let’s see.
A good bet for a binge-watch, this overblown, vaguely topical thriller is about a man (Mehdi Dehbi) who mysteriously appears in the Middle East as a mystic who develops a cult following. He gets much media attention after social media makes him an international sensation and, of course, he gets the attention of the U.S. authorities. A CIA officer (Michelle Monaghan) is assigned to investigate him and determine if he’s a con artist, a terrorist leader, the second coming of Christ or, heaven help us, the anti-Christ. It has a big budget and with plenty of shock tactics on display, its fake-seriousness amounts to good, prestige popcorn TV. (Starts streaming Jan. 1 on Netflix)
On the evidence of early episodes, CBC’s new series, part-thriller, part family-torn-apart drama and part nostalgia trip to the 1960s, is solid if unsubtle entertainment. It’s 1968 and Travis Hunter (Darren Mann), a U.S. soldier serving in Vietnam, is having a nightmare experience. Sent home under suspicious circumstances by an official, Vern Lang (Stephen Moyer, from True Blood), the very-stoned young man is soon smuggled into Canada. The smuggler is Ruby Howard (Kari Matchett), a Canada-based fervent anti-war activist. This particular action could tear her family apart, not to mention create serious legal trouble. About two-thirds of the way through Episode 1, you can see where the storyline is going. Solid performances from Matchett and Rick Roberts, as her husband, help keep it gripping. (CBC starts Jan. 8).
Sanditon is Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, and veteran British historical-period drama writer Andrew Davies adapts and, audaciously, finishes the story. Set during the Regency era, of course, the plot follows a young heroine Charlotte (Rose Williams) as she navigates life in the new seaside resort of Sanditon. There she has an on/off romance with one Sidney Parker (Theo James), who spends a lot of time sneering at her. That is, when he’s not sizing her up like a piece of meat to be devoured. Erotically charged in an unlike-Austen manner, it’s high-grade tosh and fun. Equally adored and loathed when it aired in the United States this year. (PBS Masterpiece, Jan. 12).
From Veep creator Armando Iannucci (who also created the BBC’s In The Thick of It and the movie The Death of Stalin), this satiric romp is officially described as “a space tourism comedy set 40 years in the future.” But it’s closer to whip-smart satire of now than fun with the future of space travel. Hugh Laurie is excellent as the captain ill-equipped to steer the ship. That ship is the Avenue 5, a space cruise ship with luxury amenities including gourmet buffets, a spa, an observation deck and yoga classes. The disgruntled passengers are fodder for vicious lampooning of all manner of pretensions. Sharp, fast and sometimes flat-out hilarious, this will likely be an excellent Sunday night tonic. (HBO/Crave starts Jan. 19).
Stephen King’s novel is given the lavish HBO treatment in a 10-episode adaptation. It starts as tense but seemingly conventional murder fiction. Detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) is in charge of investigating a grim crime in the fictional Oklahoma town of Flint City. A popular local businessman, Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman), is then arrested for the murder of an 11-year-old boy. A vast amount of evidence, including DNA, points to him. Then his alibi checks out – he was, as he claims, out of town. Only a supernatural twist can explain things. More serious-minded and tense, and bleaker, than any recent adaptation of King’s work. (HBO/Crave, starts Jan. 19).
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