The best (and worst) streaming TV shows & films right now

May 28, 2024
10 mins read

A regular column in which GARY STEEL sifts through the mountain of available streaming TV and brings your attention to great new and old shows as well as those to avoid.

Baby Reindeer (Netflix) 9/10

Encouraged by the uniformly glowing reviews and its general popularity, I was expecting to enjoy Baby Reindeer. Instead, what I encountered was one of the most excruciating shows I’ve ever watched. And that was only the first two episodes. Brilliant, but watching it was a kind of torture. The wife gave up on it, and I gave it a rest, eventually resuming solo. I’m so glad I did. What I discovered was that Baby Reindeer isn’t just about Martha, the portly and mad-as-a-snake disgraced lawyer who stalks terrible stand-up comedian Donny (Richard Gadd), it’s also about the seemingly endless well of sorrow and psychological disturbance that Martha simply activates rather than causes.


It’s definitely not an easy watch, and the subject matter – including aforesaid stalking and even more disturbingly, sexual predation – is somehow made even more effective by the script’s oddly humorous twists. There’s so much that’s transgressive about Baby Reindeer: the honest way it portrays Donny’s previous grooming and subsequent rape while suffering drug-induced blackouts years before the stalking, then later, the impossibility of having an honest relationship with a trans woman he really likes while he’s unable to process what’s happened to him, and his confusion over Martha’s obsession leading him to almost convince himself that her fantasies of him were real. If you’ve got the stomach for it, Baby Reindeer is a must. Once seen, it’s impossible to forget.

Being Beethoven (DocPlay) 7/10

Surveying the array of shows available on streaming TV you’d be forgiven for wondering what the heck happened to Western art music. Not so long ago so-called classical music composed by recognised geniuses (most of them at least 200 years old) was a regular feature on terrestrial TV in some shape or form. This captivating 3-part documentary series from 2020 breathes life into Beethoven’s awfully lonely and relatively brief existence, and while music plays second fiddle (ha!) to the story of this genius, there’s enough explanation of what made him such a revolutionary figure to satiate those of us who don’t know a quaver from a semi-colon (sic).


Using frequent dramatisations (well, there wasn’t exactly a lot of filmed footage available between his birth in 1770 and his death in 1827) along with interviews from a generous selection of musical and biographical experts, Being Beethoven piqued my interest on both a historical and musical basis. I found myself wanting to know more about the notoriously grubby, smelly young man (and how was it that his patrons put up with his lack of decorum?), and wondering how on earth he got away with such musical innovation. After all, the blistering loudness and rock-star repetitions of some of his later music must have seemed outrageous to those schooled in the musical fineries of his  famous predecessor, Mozart. A good watch.

Doctor Who (Disney+) 7/10

I grew up watching Doctor Who when it was in black and white and starred a really old dude called Patrick Hartnell who sometimes flubbed his lines, and featured aliens that were so cheap they made those American b-movies of the 1950s look expensive. Looking at those shows today, there’s a real cultural cringe. To me, they have a certain charm, but to my young kids, they’re just naff. When it was relaunched and recalibrated in 2005 I tried watching but it felt corporatized; much more adept but lacking any real sense of creeping menace or idiosyncrasy. But having enjoyed Ncuti Gatwa’s flamboyant performance in Sex Education, I couldn’t resist checking him out as the new Doctor. Well, he’s sensational.


Although I still have some reservations about just which age group Doctor Who is targeting (my 9-year-old daughter thought it was “really stupid” while my 5-year-old boy was suitably intrigued) I guess it’s one of the few shows that can claim to have some appeal to whole families. Apart from Gatwa, easily the best thing about the new Doctor Who is the way each self-contained episode comes up with creative and eccentric stories. Episode two is a good example, where the good doctor lands on a space station manned exclusively by talking babies. It gets even better: thev’re imperilled themselves by making a bogie monster literally out of snot. Really! I don’t know what the writers were on the day they came up with that, but hey, fun!

Gen V (Prime Video) 7/10

There comes a point where you’ve breathlessly devoured all three seasons of the endlessly great superhero satire The Boys and you’re still thirsting for more. That’s where Gen V comes in. The Boys really is a superhero show for people who normally hate superhero shows, as it exposes the rotten heart of the corporate exploitation of those with super-human abilities as well as pitting the few trustworthy “supes” against those who have inevitably become too big for their boots (so to speak). Gen V, on the other hand, is about student supes studying at a special college, and there’s a clear connective tissue between the two programmes that becomes clearer as the students begin to realise that everything isn’t quite as it seems at their studying facility.


Like The Boys, Gen V gets pretty twisted at times and those who can’t handle a bit of (sometimes shockingly comedic) carnage should stay away. In other words, there are exploding heads and much more outrageous carry-ons. For instance, the scene where a blood-controlling supe subjugates her would-be rapist by literally blowing up his cock. And yes, she gets cock-splatter on her face. But anyway, Gen V lacks a little of the multi-level plot development and characterisations of The Boys, but is never dull and features some great performances by the likes of the blood-controlling supe, Marie (Jaz Sinclair) and the mind-controlling blonde Cate (Maddie Phillips). Lots of devilish fun for those who aren’t easily shocked, in anticipation for the fourth season of The Boys due in June!

Parasyte: The Grey (Netflix) 6/10

Hmm. I’m a horror freak, so there’s a certain pleasure in watching this competent six-part Korean series about an alien, um, parasite that squelches through human ears to access the brain, which it then devours, becoming a look-a-like human that’s actually an alien that’s on earth expressly because humans are an excellent food source. Basically a spitting cousin of the original Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, these parasites (with the help of effective but kind of ridiculous CGI) are wont to split open their hosts’ heads to reveal a kind of lethal, extendable weapon with eyes.


There are a couple of issues. The parasites reveal too much of themselves right there in the first episode, so some surprise value is lost. The other is that there’s a certain Korean TV soap opera aspect that creeps through in the drama from time to time, just as it did on the “historical” zombie series  Kingdom. On the upside, however, there are also some genuinely philosophical musings on life and the universe as well. The gorgeous Jeon So-nee is spectacular as Jeong, a young woman with a tragic past whose parasite is only partially successful at taking over her brain, meaning that she becomes a unique hybrid of two species coexisting. This leads to some soul-searching and reflections on the nature of existence, which has to be a good thing.

Ripley (Netflix) 4/10

This turgid and utterly dull remake of The Talented Mr Ripley really misses the point. The eight hour-long episodes – pointlessly shot in hi-res black and white in what is seemingly an attempt to evoke 1950s noir films – feel like they last a small eternity. I get that the 1999 film starring Matt Damon was a little cheesy, but director Steven Zaillian (primarily known as the screenwriter of Awakenings and Schindler’s List) has fashioned Tom Ripley (played by Andrew Scott) as a down-at-heel swindler with absolutely no charm and no vibe. So when he turns up in Italy to inveigle his way into the life of cruising rich-boy Dickie Greenleaf (Johnny Flynn), it seems improbable that Dickie will take the bait.


There’s one great thing about this version of Ripley: the way the camera plays on the interiors and exteriors of the beautiful old buildings. But it’s not enough. The one real instance of edge-of-seat drama is Tom’s murder and disposal of Dickie on a small boat and his attempt to sink his body. The rest of the time, the director seems to think that we want to see every forensic detail of every conversation and every gesture, whether it has any meaning or not. The thing moves forward at a snail’s pace, Tom never quite convincing us that he’s as clever as he thinks he is, or ever revealing his true motivation, because we never get to see his backstory. Friends of mine (most likely ex-friends by now) think that the show is stunning, so forgive me if you agree. But I felt like I had completely wasted a day of my life watching this boring series.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (Neon) 7/10

I wasn’t a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fan the first-time round, but ended up taking the kids to see this reboot last year and ended up enjoying it immensely, while the 5-year-old was completely at sea with the storyline and the 9-year-old was more interested in her friends in another aisle. Having said that, like so many entertainments, six months or so later I can barely remember what happened during its 99 minutes, except that the animation was really cool.


But that’s the thing: the animation is so rad (to use a very 1980s word) that kids who are used to seeing generic computer animation are at first a little confused. The story, as I remember it, concerns the turtles’ discovery of some other mutants and their dastardly plan to generate a world where mutant forms dominate the world. It’s also has a teen coming-of-age theme which probably makes it much more suitable for tweens than kids.

The Beach Boys (Disney+) 5/10

Does the world really need yet another documentary about The Beach Boys? Probably not, but I guess the idea made sense to Disney execs seeing as how the remaining members are getting on now and the inter-band bickering has died down. Unfortunately, what would have made a gripping documentary series has been made as a single feature running for just a little under two hours, which makes it impossible to tell the group’s story without leaving too much out for it to not feel somehow incomplete. While the early days of the group’s story and their 1960s success is reasonably well told, the film rushes past those great post-Brian Wilson albums of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, ignoring the chance for a critical re-evaluation and moving right along to the point at which a new generation sparked interest once again in the golden era of America’s greatest pop band.


For all that, new fans who aren’t acquainted with the group’s story will find it compelling, as it wends its way from the harmonising boy band through the Wrecking Crew years of Pet Sounds and the daunting ups and downs of Brian’s mental health issues. Old footage of deceased former members like Carl and Dennis Wilson is used along with the rather hackneyed and pointless technique of interviewing 21st century acts about the group – who cares what they think! Also grating is the constant comparisons with The Beatles, as if they were the only two groups in the universe constantly competing to stay on top. For new fans, The Beach Boys may work as a primer, but long-time fans will be disappointed.

The Jinx (Neon) 8/10

There are so many great documentaries around at the moment that it sometimes seems irrelevant or just downright frivolous to bother with fiction. Besides which, The Jinx is stranger than fiction. The first season of The Jinx (2015) investigates Robert Durst, who is suspected of killing his young wife in the 1980s, shooting his best friend at the turn of the century, and murdering and chopping up some hapless chap in Houston in 2001. It turns out that Durst is the disgruntled son of a New York real estate magnate with so much money that it puts Trump to shame. Amazingly, having watched director Jarecki’s fictionalisation of Durst’s biography, he professed admiration for his work and offered to be interviewed, still claiming innocence. The first series skilfully tells Durst’s bizarre story and climaxes with several tense interviews with the suspect, the sixth and final episode ending with what seems to be an accidental admission of guilt.


It turns out that by the time that episode aired, Durst had been arrested and finally charged with murder. Series 2 of The Jinx (2024) tells the rest of the story, and there’s a lot to cover, despite the protagonist being in jail the whole time (he died in 2022, still waiting to go to trial for his wife’s murder in 1982). Jarecki’s team manage to get hold of visitor footage from prison as well as phone calls made by the increasingly frail and ailing Durst, and as former friends and confidantes come out of hiding, we start to learn about just how much of a master manipulator he was. While watching 12 hour-long episodes about one irredeemably horrible person who almost got away with at least three murders might seem more of a penance than entertainment, The Jinx is a never less than fascinating cat and mouse game with Durst, and there’s a lot to be learned about just how entitled the super-rich can be.

The Synanon Fix (Neon) 8/10

Streaming TV is bulging with documentaries and dramatizations about cults of various stripes, but The Synanon Fix really is something else. Typically, religious factions and communes start out with some good ideas and devolve through group-think and idolatry into dangerous cults. Synanon was quite different, for many years being a useful drug rehabilitation programme at a time when addicts had no recourse to treatment. Starting in 1958, by the 1970s things had changed drastically: the emphasis had moved away from addiction treatment to Synanon being a huge corporate entity hiding under a bogus claim to religious status, and founder-leader Chuck Dederich had become an authoritarian figure who made increasingly more insane dictates to his apostles.


The extent of the madness is illustrated by the loudspeakers wired throughout the various Synanon centres through which Dederich would make bizarre proclamations. These included having everyone cut off all their hair, arranging marriages (and annulling some marriages to do so), sending young kids away from their parents to brutal Synanon “educational” facilities and ultimately, banning procreation. The Synanon Fix uses a vast trove of insider film footage and audio tapes along with interviews with former members to explain over its four episodes the incredible full story of the cult, which is at times jaw-dropping. It doesn’t end well.

The Best & Worst Streaming TV is a regular column in which Gary Steel assesses the worth – or otherwise – of the vast trove available to stream. Unlike other media, our policy is to dig deep and go further than just Netflix or what’s new this week.



Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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