Dirty Money, Season 1
Netflix’s commitment to non-fiction—already borne out in this year’s Oscar nominations, where a brace of features in the Best Documentary category (Icarus and Strong Island) bear the company’s logo—extends to two major new first-quarter series: Errol Morris’s Wormwood (see below) and this Alex Gibney-developed selection of briefings on varied aspects of corporate malfeasance.
Not untypically for Gibney—the docu-don behind 2005’s Enron and 2013’s We Steal Secrets—the series is founded on sharp, urgent, involving investigative journalism, addressing subjects as diverse as the VW emissions scandal, payday loans and Canada’s maple-syrup cartel. Sad truth: there’s probably material enough in the world for many more seasons yet.
What is it? Six-hour-long reports from deep within the corporate sector, sinking their teeth into the business of deceit, hypocrisy and corruption.
Why should I watch it? For a better understanding of the ways in which the modern world both does and doesn’t work.
Best episode? Following the money upwards, this is a magazine series that actually leads somewhere: the final hour, directed by Fisher Stevens and titled “The Confidence Man”, forms a comprehensive takedown of the shockingly negligent negotiating tactics that bought the current US President his power.
Watch on: Netflix
Search Party, Season 2
2016’s first run of Search Party—a disarming, melancholy satire headed by Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat—found a group of variously needy, self-obsessed or outright deluded New York hipsters turning detective to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a (in every sense vague) Facebook acquaintance.
While it’s equal in unexpected chuckles and breathtaking tonal shifts, Season 2 sees creators Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers and Michael Showalter developing the show’s key theme: the yawning gap opening up between our online and private selves, and the mania that lurks within it.
What is it? Offbeat comedy-drama about a generation with too many hours and gadgets on their hands.
Why should I watch it? It may make you feel oddly fond of those much-derided millennials. It’ll almost certainly make you laugh.
Where did we leave it? With blood on everybody’s hands. These kids were hopeless Sherlocks in Season One; they’re suspects from now on.
Best episode? Episode nine, “Frenzy”, is a lesson in how not to go about breaking and entering.
Best character? John Early’s gay narcissist Elliott hogs the bulk of the laughs—but the terrific Shawkat does subtly heroic work in keeping a potential murderess on the right side of viewer sympathies.
Watch on: All4
Wormwood, Season 1
Errol Morris sits among the grand old men of American documentaries: his 1988 landmark The Thin Blue Line is one of very few films that can be said to have changed the world, having liberated the wrongly convicted Death Row inmate Randall Adams.
His latest project is a fascinating shapeshifter: part-talking heads documentary, part-dramatised speculation (with Peter Sarsgaard heading the players), it casts new light on the reported suicide of CIA man Frank Olson, who fell to his death from the tenth floor of a Manhattan hotel in 1953. Did his drug-related Agency work have something to do with his passing? Morris uncovers no easy answers, but he’s still asking pointed, probing questions.
What is it? A quest for justice, a locked-room mystery, a distant echo of Hamlet… this is one of those shows that keeps changing form before our very eyes.
Why should I watch it? To witness a master storyteller (and eternal truth-seeker) at the very height of his powers.
Best episode? No spoilers here, but the concluding sixth episode allows for a multitude of interpretations—true to what’s proven far from an open-and-shut case. For once, a series invites us to choose our own preferred ending.
Watch on: Netflix
The X-Files, Season 11
2016’s six-episode mini-revival of Chris Carter’s very 1990s sci-fi staple hardly set the world alight—but it brought the X-brand back into living rooms, reunited David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, and did well enough among forgiving fans for Fox to commission a further ten-show run.
Early US reviews suggest this 11th season is a return to something like former glories, leavening the ever-torturous Mulder-Scully mythology with more playful one-offs, while returning the paranormal investigators’ former FBI boss Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) to the fold. The truth is still out there; it merely remains to be seen whether the moment has passed.
What is it? Second reboot for a pre-millennial cult favourite.
Why should I watch it? One point in the new Files’ favour, as became apparent over the course of the last run: even with subpar scripts, Duchovny and, in particular, Anderson, are far more nuanced performers now than they ever were back in the day.
Where did we leave it? With Mulder succumbing to a deadly virus that may have something or other to do with Government-implanted alien DNA, and a spacecraft hovering ominously over Scully’s head. You know, standard.
Watch on: Channel 5, My5; from February 5
The Young Offenders, Series 1
Back in 2016, the Irish writer-director Peter Foott made a modestly budgeted teen comedy about two spotty eejits—wannabe rogue Jock (Chris Walley) and his besotted best friend Conor (Alex Murphy)—which stormed the local box office and won glowing reviews.
Now Foott has turned the lads’ misadventures into a six-part BBC series, preserving the original movie’s mischievous wit and slow-burning warmth while gradually expanding the characters’ frame of reference. It helps that Walley and Murphy—a tracksuited Laurel and Hardy—are back on board: endlessly bantering, yet never quite inhabiting the same plain of comprehension, Conor and Jock remain solid-gold comic creations.
What is it? The latest comedy triumph from the Emerald Isle.
Why should I watch it? Because it beats Mrs. Brown’s Boys.
Best episode? After an opening episode that essentially recaps the events of the film for any latecomers among us, episode two introduces a new, bewildering element into the boys’ world: girls.
Best character? Impossible to choose between the swaggering Jock and the clueless Conor, but look out for Hilary Rose, reprising her fine, sympathetic work from the movie as the latter’s eternally, understandably exasperated mother.
Watch on: BBC Three; BBC iPlayer