5 TV shows you can't miss this June
Dear White People: Season 1
Back in 2014, writer-director Justin Simien filmed Dear White People, a whip-smart if occasionally cluttered satirical comedy about the uneasy relations between white and black students on a modern American college campus. That movie here provides the springboard for a sharp ten-part series that allows Simien’s characters and themes to breathe a little easier.
Each episode unfolds a new perspective on race in the age of Obama and Trump: from top-dog jock through lowly journalist via scion of white privilege, everybody gets their say—funny, provocative or disquieting as those words may be.
What is it? A cleverly composed contribution to America’s ongoing conversation about race.
Why should I watch it? To figure out where you stand on the spectrum between Trump’s all-Caucasian cabinet and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Best episode? Chapter V, following a night on the tiles into more troubling territory, may be the strongest half-hour Barry Jenkins has directed in the past year—and that includes anything in his Oscar-winning Moonlight.
Best character? Amid an assured ensemble, Brandon P Bell radiates star quality as campus golden boy Troy: groomed for leadership, yet beset by nagging doubts about his trajectory.
Watch on: Netflix
Hospital People: Series 1
Amazingly, it’s now been a decade since we said goodbye to Little Britain, and character comedies since have been few and far between. (Lucas and Walliams’ follow-up Come Fly with Me lasted but one series before both left the latex suits behind in pursuit of less sweaty endeavours.)
Midas-like producer Ash Atalla (The Office, People Just Do Nothing) here fills that gap in the market with a gently amusing mockumentary account of life behind the scenes of the fictional Brimlington Hospital—its resident oddballs embodied by comedian Tom Binns.
What is it? Six half-hour trips to an even pokier corner of little Britain.
Why should I watch it? If you found Little Britain too grotesque for your tastes.
Best episode? Remember The Office’s Brent and Finchy? Or Beats and Darren in People Just Do Nothing? Episode Three, “The Local Millionaire”, contributes another to the Atalla stable’s portraits of slightly rubbish male friendships.
Best character? Hapless hospital radio DJ Ivan Brackenbury—spinning “Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart” in the wake of a fatal cardiac arrest—is Binns’ tried-and-tested creation, although he has competition in Father Kenny, the chaplain who regards his sermons as comedy preview gigs.
Watch on: BBC iPlayer
I Love Dick: Season 1
Chris Kraus’s confessional memoir—concerning the married author’s obsession with an unresponsive artworld figure, pursued to extraordinary lengths through a series of increasingly frank missives—here receives an often jawdropping adaptation care of Sarah Gubbins and Jill Soloway.
Kathryn Hahn gives a no-holds-barred performance as Chris, stalking Kevin Bacon’s cowboy-styled land artist through the dust of a Texan backwater as Gubbins and Soloway riff amusingly and imaginatively on the extremes of female desire.
What is it? Just the eight episodes, but possibly the wildest ride you’ll have from the comfort of your sofa this year.
Why should I watch it? If you liked Soloway’s work on Six Feet Under and Transparent, but felt she might have been holding something back.
Best episode? The gorgeous second episode finds Kimberly Pierce (Boys Don’t Cry) roaming the evocative magic-hour location; later instalments see American Honey’s Andrea Arnold polishing the complex interpersonal dynamics. Yet it’s the Soloway-directed Episode Five (“A Short History of Weird Girls”) that lingers: women reading letters to camera, and confessing long-buried secrets.
Best character? Hahn deserves every award going, but Bacon’s underplaying is just as crucial: the gag is that there’s nothing really to Dick.
Watch on: Amazon Prime
Orange is the New Black: Season 5
Jenji Kohan’s prison drama maintains its beady eye on the headlines. Season Four concluded with an African-American inmate killed by a white authority figure; now S5 ponders the vagaries of mob rule. This bottle season charts the four-day riot that erupts after that fatality: a siege that allows the actors to trash and repurpose that familiar set, dig deeper into their characters and swap ominous tales of torture and abuse.
That the lights go out inside Litchfield isn’t coincidental: things get dark this year—although Kohan and co. retain immense compassion for even the most accursed souls.
What is it? Award-winning women-behind-bars drama, a keystone of the Netflix revolution.
Why should I watch it? If you like your soap with extra grit, wit and topicality.
Where did we leave it? With “good girl” Daya (Dascha Polanco) starting an uprising by turning a loaded gun on one captor.
Best episode? Episode Four, “Litchfield’s Got Talent”, makes the sly point that reality television forms its own cruel form of control. And the storm-the-jail finale is, inevitably, a nail-biter.
Best character? This ensemble remains everything—women of all stripes, shades and sizes, men regarded with varying degrees of fondness.
Watch on: Netflix, from June 9
In 2010, director Philippa Lowthorpe oversaw Five Daughters, the BBC’s acclaimed dramatisation of the Ipswich sex worker killings; returning to TV after the light relief of last year’s Swallows and Amazons redo, she now tackles the grim child grooming case that emerged out of Rochdale in the late Noughties.
Tough really isn’t the word here, but Lowthorpe and writer Nicole Taylor strike a careful balance, displaying notable sensitivity around the victims while laying out the failings of the system that took so long to bring the guilty parties to justice with a considerable dramatic rigour.
What is it? Three-part account of an especially horrific chapter in recent British history.
Why should I watch it? Because it’s the kind of emotive, finely acted drama British television excels at.
Best episode? The final part—in which the eponymous heroines face cross-examination by nine separate defence lawyers—makes its own powerful argument against our still-glitchy legal system.
Best character? As social worker Sara Rowbotham—who believed these girls long before the police did—Maxine Peake confirms her status as among our finest performers, but it’s the three youngsters (Molly Windsor, Ria Zmitrowicz and Liv Hill) who’ll truly break your heart.
Watch on: BBC iPlayer
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