The Taste With Vir Sanghvi: The best TV shows to watch - From Billions to Killing Eve to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and more
In this week’s column, Vir Sanghvi writes about some of the best TV shows he’s watched over the past year and why he enjoyed watching them.
I wrote some weeks ago that the reason the Oscars were nominating little known movies (Manchester By The Sea, anyone?) was because it was between that kind of film or the big sci-fi flicks and the super-hero adventures of the kind that the Oscar Academy does not like.
The middle ground, I argued, had shifted to TV (both cable and streaming services).
This led to the obvious question: what did I think constituted quality television, the sort of thing I had claimed that the movies were not doing any longer?
Well, here are some of the TV shows I watched over the last 12 months or so .
Killing Eve: Perhaps the most unusual show of the year, this series about a Russian assassin and the intelligence agent who chases her, breaks all the rules, rips apart all the clichés and is compulsively watchable.
Sandra Oh has won the awards but the show belongs to Jodie Comer who is brilliant as the assassin.
Billions: The third season took a long time to drop in India but this show about the feud between a US Attorney and a Wall Street billionaire is powered by performances by two great actors. Paul Giamatti plays the US Attorney and Damian Lewis, now resigned to playing Americans (he is a Brit) forever, is even better as the Wall Street raider than he was in Homeland.
House of Cards: The year’s biggest disappointment. It isn’t that the show needed Kevin Spacey; Robin Wright is fine on her own. It is the terrible script which lets the new season down.They should just call it a day now. House of Cards is past its sell-by date.
The Romanoffs: Another over-hyped disappointment. Made by the creator of Mad Men, this is a set of feature-film length episodes telling different stories, all held together by the thin conceit that the characters may have some connection to the Russian dynasty. The first episode with Marthe Keller is good. But the show goes downhill after that.
The Marvelous Mrs Maisel: The first season of this show about a Jewish woman performing stand-up in 1950s New York was a triumph. The second season took a wrong turn by shifting the action to Paris (mainly, I suspect, to give Tony Shalhoub more of a role) but eventually got back on track.
Succession: One of the best shows of the year, this story about a media dynasty was supposed to be based on the Murdochs but quickly developed a compelling dynamic of its own.
Murphy Brown: Candice Bergen returns, older and wiser, to the show that made her such a TV star decades ago. Witty, topical and low budget, it is a relaxing watch.But it’s not as exciting as the original.
The Americans: Sadly, this tale of Russian spies in Reagan’s America never got the ratings it deserved and has now ended. For my money, one of the best things on TV. I was very glad when it won a Golden Globe a few days ago but Mathew Rhys deserved an acting award too.
Bosch: I started reading the Michael Connelly novels about an LA Police Detective a decade and a half ago and while Titus Welliver is not the Bosch I imagined, the show is terrific. The last season though is a bit of a downer.
Patrick Melrose: I am always astonished that any studio thought that Edward St. Aubyn’s cult novels could garner a large TV viewership . But the show seems to have found an audience largely thanks to Benedict Cumberbatch’s star appeal. Unconventional but enjoyable.
McMafia: This show about Russian gangsters in London got bad reviews in England. But I loved it. I thought the India sequences (starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui) were credible and grittily authentic.There was an enjoyable gloss to the European sequences which made the show seem more cinematic.
A Very English Scandal: Perhaps it is because I was a schoolboy in England when the collapse of Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe’s career began that I was fascinated by this recreation of the saga with first rate performance from Hugh Grant as Thorpe and Ben Whishaw as his gay lover. A real fun watch.
Wild Wild Country: You have probably seen this. An outstanding documentary series about Rajneesh/Osho, the dodgy guru who set up a commune in Oregon, this has been a global superhit. Some of its appeal comes from the decision to make Sheela Silverman, Rajneesh’s chief sidekick the slightly deranged centre of the show. In the process, Silverman who was living in obscurity in Europe has become famous again with such terms as ‘kick-ass babe’ being used by her admirers.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: I’m sorry. I don’t get it. This show has none of the excitement and drama of the first season of American Crime Story which retold the OJ Simpson story. Despite Penelope Cruz’s star turn as Donatella Versace, this is about Gianni Versace’s murderer Andrew Cunanan and I really don’t find him very interesting. Very dull after the first few episodes.
The Bodyguard: A huge hit on British TV, this show about a Home Secretary who has an affair with her police bodyguard is watchable without being memorable. Keeley Hawes is very good as the Home Secretary but the show is loosely plotted and the end is a complete mess.
Unforgotten: This was the year (on British TV, at least) of Nicola Walker (Ruth from Spooks). She plays a police officer who re-opens old cases and solves them. Walker is always good (see The Split, below) but I thought the scene-stealer was Sanjeev Bhaskar who plays Walker’s assistant. He doesn’t have that many lines in the script but effortlessly dominates the screen each time he is on.
The Split: A brilliant legal thriller and family drama from British TV, this had Nicola Walker playing a top flight lawyer pitted against her own mother. I hope there will be a second season.
Marcella: In Britain, they sold this cop-show as being deeply influenced by Scandi Noir. But I think it is British enough: it is not all dark, depressed characters moping in the rain. The plot is unusually deep for a police thriller and Anna Friel is good as the central character. (The show is written by Hans Rosenfieldt who wrote the Scandi-show the Bridge--- hence all the Scandi-Noir mentions.)
Ugly Delicious: A different kind of food show. The Chef David Chang (Momofuku) travels around the world answering the questions foodies asks themselves: what’s the difference between dim sum and such filled pasta as ravioli? What makes a pizza great ?
The style is fresh and different and I hope the show sets a new trend.
Chef’s Table: Possibly the most influential food TV show ever. While Masterchef is for the amateur, this is for knowledgeable hardcore foodies. The profiles of chefs are brilliantly shot and every episode is intelligently made.
The Looming Tower: Could 9/11 have been prevented? This show based on the bestselling book, suggests that inflighting between the FBI and the CIA led to many mistakes which allowed Osama bin Laden to get away. Jeff Daniels plays a real life FBI agent and the series is made to big budget movie quality.
Call My Agent: A low budget French comedy show about a talent agency, this often gets overlooked because of its idiotic English title. (The original French title is Dix Pour Cent.) Each week a real life star plays him or herself and that makes up for the low budget. Look for the episode where Monica Bellucci goes looking for a date.