The TV schedule is packed with so many new and returning shows that it can be easy to fall behind on what you need to be watching. Mike McCahill guides us through the five essentials you shouldn't miss this month. 

Girls—Season 6 (Sky Atlantic)

Few shows have wrestled more compellingly with their feelings towards their own lead characters. After several seasons in which Girls seemed to regard its scatterbrained millennial heroines as just about the worst humans on the planet, this final run of Lena Dunham’s comedy-drama has made its peace with Hannah, Jessa, Marnie and Shoshanna, nudging them each towards better choices in life, work, even boys.

If Dunham’s salty, no-holds-barred writing remains an acquired taste, the gag rate has stayed consistently high: here’s a show that’s generated funny, pointed, sometimes uncomfortable entertainment from the process of growing up in public.

What is it? HBO’s boundary-pushing update of Sex and the City for the Tinder generation.

Why should I tune in? To witness the emergence of a notable new comic voice.

Where did we leave off? With Dunham’s Hannah heartbroken after seeing her beloved Adam (Adam Driver) taking up with her sometime bestie Jessa (Jemima Kirke).

Best episode? “American B***h”, a prickly two-hander between Hannah and an older male writer (Matthew Rhys) that reworks the battle-of-the-sexes of Mamet’s Oleanna.

Best character? Girls aside: Alex Karpovsky’s Ray, the series’ mordant conscience, who wouldn’t disgrace the pages of Tolstoy.

 

Homeland—Season 6 (Channel 4; All 4)

Since the departure of Damian Lewis’s Brody, this post-9/11 drama has gone through ups and downs: the cracking, Pakistan-set fourth season was followed by an oddly flat run around Berlin.

Season Six brings the battle-scarred survivors back home to New York to confront the matter of domestic terrorism: after an infuriatingly slow opening, it comes to life with a loud bang that forces everyone to reassess their allegiances. Homeland—televised chess—carved out its niche by playing a long, intricate, involving game, and it shows no signs of abandoning that tactic.

What is it? The 24 team dissect recent American policymaking.

Why should I tune in? To savour modern TV’s foremost blue-chip drama, and immerse yourself in the labyrinthine complexities of America’s intelligence community.

Where did we leave off? With Carrie (Claire Danes) estranged from the CIA, despite close ties to spymaster general Saul (Mandy Patinkin) and traumatised footsoldier Quinn (Rupert Friend).

Best episode? The electric “Casus Belli”, running the aftermath of a terrorist attack alongside Quinn’s descent into violent paranoia.

Best character? No face on television has been more expressive or exercised than Danes’s: you can witness entire weather fronts rolling in across it.

 

O.J.: Made in America (BBC iPlayer)

This time last year, TV viewers were gripped by The People Vs. O.J. Simpson, which transformed the celebrity murder trial of the 20th century into telling, tragicomic pantomime. There now follows this exhaustive factual counterpoint: all eight hours of it, originally manufactured for the US sports network ESPN, yet given a brief cinema run ahead of winning the Best Documentary Oscar last weekend.

Director Ezra Edelman gives a mean Ken Burns impersonation in examining even minor fluctuations in Simpson’s fortunes in unprecedented detail, all the while setting out a big-picture story of America’s ever-fraught relationship with race.

What is it? An epic study of a fallen hero, now available on the BBC’s iPlayer in three hefty, Sunday afternoon-friendly chunks.    

Why should I tune in? To witness every stage in the making and breaking of a suspected murderer.

Best episode? As in last year’s dramatised version, the trial section retains its own procedural (not to mention theatrical) fascination, but the opening stretch provides highly useful background on O.J.’s success in the footballing arena: you’ll learn just why this case was such a big deal to Americans.

 

This Country—Series 1 (BBC3; BBC1; BBC iPlayer)

New cult comedy alert. Busting irreverently out of BBC3’s online ghetto, this increasingly cherishable mockumentary follows hoodied ne’er-do-wells Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe (siblings Daisy May and Charlie Cooper) as they kick their heels around the genteel Cotswolds village they call home.

Choice characterisation (and language) abounds, but as in the show’s inner-city cousin People Just Do Nothing, the devil lies in the detail: the weirdly obsessive Kurtan—seemingly named for his retro hairstyle—spends his not inconsiderable leisure time building scarecrows and pondering the fate of Cadbury’s Fuse bars.  

What is it? Off-kilter semi-improvised comedy, afforded a prime post-pub platform in BBC1’s Saturday night schedules.

Why should I tune in? If you like People Just Do Nothing, Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May, the Cotswold landscape or just really artful swearing.

Best episode? “Mandy” finds Kurtan going to extraordinary lengths to track down an old classmate, while Kerry dodges the attentions of an amateur tattooist.

Best character? The harassed vicar struggling to handle the cousins’ boisterousness, the Quaver-munching slowcoach known locally as “Slugs”, rampaging sociopath Uncle Nugget… The Coopers have created an entire universe in a handful of episodes.

 

Uncle—Series 1-3 (BBC iPlayer)

Awaiting discovery on iPlayer after the conclusion of its final series last month, Oliver Refson and Lilah Vandenburgh’s sitcom—first aired on BBC3, before a promotion to BBC1—comprises one of the fondest comedy projects of recent times.

Saddling a reckless wannabe-muso manboy (stand-up Nick Helm) with his studious nephew (Elliot Speller-Gillott), this sharp yet self-deprecating British response to the ladcoms of Judd Apatow et al. is elevated way above expectation by sincere playing and an unusual emotional streak: it’s one from the heart.

What is it? Sweet, funny, character-based sitcom. With songs.

Why should I tune in? For comedy that warms the cockles while massaging the funny bone.

Where do we start? With Helm’s washed-up Andy diverted from suicide by a call to pick up his nephew Errol—beginning a mutually beneficial friendship.

Best episode? Series Three’s “2:27” (shuffling chronology around a hospital bed) and “…Is This Just Fantasy?” (venturing into alternative realities) illustrate Refson and Vandenburgh’s growing experimentation with traditional sitcom form.

Best character? It wouldn’t work without the leads’ eminent chemistry (there’s an album title), but shout-outs, too, to Con O’Neill, for investing a trans role with real pathos, and to Nick Mohammed’s gently perverse carpet salesman.

 

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