5 TV shows you should be watching this December

Mike McCahill

The return of The League of Gentlemen, a fresh look at a Spike Lee gem from the 1980s and much more to look forward to in TV this December. 

Dave Gorman: Modern Life is Goodish: Series 5

At a moment when the news cycle brings only renewed misery, it’s become a rare pleasure to spend time each week in the company of an individual committed to finding the joy in life. The likable Gorman has been quietly cultivating a fanbase on Dave for several years now, his every show offering an hour of seamless stand-up in which PowerPoint is deployed to refocus viewer attention on the finer print of existence, and analyse everything from cereal stackage systems to mum emoji use. No show currently transmitting on British TV is more likely to put, and keep, a smile on your face.

What is it? Supremely thoughtful and inventive observational comedy—think Michael McIntyre’s Big Show without the smugness.

Why should I watch it? To see a plaid-shirted man making poetry from the filth festering in Internet comments sections.

Best episode? Episode One’s shoddy Pixar knock-offs provide an early highlight, but Episode Five best showcases Gorman’s gift for benign mischief: here our host gleefully briefs us on the plot involving decommissioned taxicabs and gentlemen’s club handouts that resulted in the world’s first economically neutral show (production cost: £0.00).

Watch on: Dave; UKTV Play

 

Fresh Off the Boat: Season 1 

Nahnatchka Khan is the sitcom nabob responsible for Don’t Trust the B**** in Apartment 23, a sharp-clawed riot (bingeable on Netflix) that made a star of Krysten Ritter but was altogether too spiky to survive for long on network television. Her follow-up hews a more ingratiating route—as a grown-up narrator revisits the foibles of his quirky but loving family unit, it inevitably recalls previous megahits Malcolm in the Middle and Everybody Loves Chris—but there’s one crucial cultural difference: this particular family, the Huangs, are Chinese-Americans arriving in the Florida sunshine amid the Nineties rap wars.

What is it? The best new product off the US sitcom factory-line.

Why should I watch it? For a novel perspective on the American Dream. (And these kids are even funnier than the Modern Family kids.)

Best episode? Episode Five (“Persistent Romeo”), with its timely workplace harassment seminars, vies with Episode Ten (“Blind Spot”), in which a bout of chicken pox sets off choice riffs on the Dustin Hoffman movie Outbreak.

Best character? Constance Wu is a genuine force of nature as the boys’ pushy mother Jessica—another Khan heroine blessed with seriously fierce timing.

Watch on: 5Star

 

Howards End

Adapted by the eminent American dramatist Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret, Manchester by the Sea), the Beeb’s new version of E M Forster’s 1910 novel proves a more staccato affair than 1992’s elegant Merchant-Ivory production, climaxing in a flurry of letter-writing. Yet Lonergan succeeds in re-energising his source material: these youthful Schlegels, eternally squabbling in entrance halls, stand as witnesses to deep-rooted social divisions—and melancholy ideas of Englishness—that seem unusually fresh and relevant in 2017. Vivid performances, Hettie Macdonald’s moment-sensitive direction, and polished period production design should ensure it takes next year’s TV awards by storm.

What is it? Four-part adaptation of Forster’s homes-and-gardens opus, the jewel in the BBC’s winter schedule.

Why should I watch it? To see the advantages of letting a most contemporary writer loose on potentially hidebound material.

Best episode? Episode Two is where you feel Lonergan’s singular, non-stuffy rhythms—overlapping dialogue! Actual jokes!—really kick in.

Best character? Matthew McFadyen is well cast as the gruffly patrician Wilcox; Hayley Atwell is all layered empathy as Margaret Schlegel. The discovery, though, is Philippa Coulthard as her sister Helen, increasingly agonised under her modern-girl beret: the fresh face of a thoroughly fresh treatment.

Watch on: BBC1; BBC iPlayer

 

The League of Gentlemen: Series 4 

Plenty of treats await us over Christmas—an all-new Little Women, a festive Upstart Crow, with a very special Elizabeth I—but the return to that grotty backwater Royston Vasey will likely offer nasty surprises. Fifteen years after Series Three (and 13 after twisted big-screen spin-off Apocalypse), Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith have put Sherlock, Benidorm and Inside No. 9 on hold long enough to film three back-to-back specials that reportedly have a certain Brexitty flavour. Local comedy for local people, then—don’t be surprised if something here makes you choke on your Quality Street.

What is it? After Twin Peaks and new Curb Your Enthusiasm, TV’s third-biggest comeback of 2017.

Why should I watch it? For the blackest possible antidote to the John Lewis Christmas ad.

Where did we leave it? In an uncertain universe: the self-referential Apocalypse saw Gatiss, Pemberton and Shearsmith (playing versions of themselves) slaughtered by their fictional creations. Tubbs, Edward and many other regulars survived, along with director Jeremy Dyson—but for how long?

Best character? A matter for the fan forums, perhaps—but this viewer hopes past-it rocker Les McQueen earns a long-overdue encore.

Watch on: BBC2, from December 18-20

 

She’s Gotta Have It: Season 1 

Back in 1986, an upstart punk director named Spike Lee assembled a rough-edged yet funny and sexy indie called She’s Gotta Have It, concerning free-spirited Brooklynite Nola Darling and her relations with three markedly different suitors. Thirty years later, the now much-laurelled Lee returns to the same story, updating it for the moment of Trump and Netflix and #BlackLivesMatter, and generating one of the finest projects of his entire career: a wry, jazzy, formally inventive fresco of modern life, blessed with spirited performances, and the most gorgeously diverse soundtrack in recent memory.

What is it? Spike Lee’s ten-part fleshing-out of his breakthrough work.

Why should I watch it? To witness a sometime enfant terrible rewriting an old love letter—to his home turf, and the artists fighting to make themselves heard there.

Best episode? Episode Eight’s opening montage, set to Stew’s “Klown Wit da Nuclear Code” and clearly inspired by the 2016 Presidential election result, is as provocative a stance as television has taken in years.

Best character? As in the movie, viewers are invited to pick their favourite suitor—but DeWanda Wise’s Nola, struggling to define her own identity, provides a captivating centre point.

Watch on: Netflix