The Best Streaming TV Shows

The Witchdoctor team sifts through the mountain of streaming TV on offer and nominates the best… and worst.

RAD!

Anna opens fire

Anna (Neon)

Luc Besson’s 2019 film about a beautiful Russian assassin (shades of La Femme Nikita) doesn’t rate well on the opinion aggregator sites but despite numerous flaws I thought it fabulously entertaining. Besson may have been using the same slick techniques all these years, but they’re still as outrageous and effective as they were in Subway or Leon: The Professional or The Fifth Element. Anna Poliatova (Sasha Luss) is gorgeous, smart as hell and deadly, and the film keeps you guessing to the very end about who she is and whom she’s really working for as it gives us amazing and typical brutal set pieces that cut to explanatory flashbacks. The flaws? Well, some of the fight scenes are so incredible that while they leave your jaw on the floor they’re also simply unbelievable and obviously very carefully choreographed. Like most of Besson’s work there’s a level of conceit in the name of entertainment, but it’s all so beautifully done that you just want to like back on the edge of your seat and dream of (deadly) Russian beauties. GS

The Beastie Boys

Beastie Boys Story (AppleTV+)

Despite hitting the big time during my impressionable years, Beastie Boys were never my bag – a novelty act, sexist, brash, and, well… shit. But after watching Beastie Boys Story I might have to swallow my words. The two remaining members, Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz (Adam Yauch died of cancer in 2012) stand in front of a live audience and tell their tale with the aid of a teleprompter, a few props and a giant video screen in the background. If you’ve ever seen an Apple live event, then you’ll recognise the similar setup (curiously, this is also an AppleTV+ release). But this is way more than a “woohoo” Tim Cook event. Longtime video collaborator Spike Jonze helms this film and injects plenty of his unique flavour, spicing up what is already a fascinating story. But what makes this documentary special is how Diamond and Horovitz reflect on their journey, touching on topics of shame, regret, passion and friendship. As anyone will tell you, a good music doco will have you Googling the act and streaming their music after. Hell, this doco is so good it’s got me trawling the stores for some Beastie vinyl. TW

The Forest Of Lost Souls

The Forest Of Lost Souls (SpamFlix)

The only way to describe this Portuguese film is “highly unusual”, because its fusion of art and horror together with its odd twists and turns makes it impossible to posit in any comfortable niche. Perfect, then, for the new pay-per-view streaming service, Spamflix. Released in a limited way in 2017 on the festival circuit, The Forest Of Lost Souls follows a boomer (Jorge Mota as Ricardo) into a forest infamous for suicides and his seemingly random meeting with a beautiful and mysterious young woman (Daniela Love as Carolina) who it would appear is also there to end her life. I’m not going to be a spoiler, but suffice to say, I completely failed to predict its course of action, and by the end the viewer is left reeling as Carolina makes her way through the thronging masses of a pumping music festival. One reviewer described it as “arthouse meets grindhouse”, which doesn’t quite capture its essence but gets as close as any. GS

Giri/Haji

Giri/Haji (Netflix)

Looking for a series that keeps you on the edge of your seat? Netflix has already given us a classic thriller this year with The Stranger, but Japanese/English co-production Giri/Haji (Duty/Shame) takes the cake. Everything about BBC-commissioned eight-part series is superb. Much for than a Yakuza crime drama, Giri/Haji is a superb, stylish roller-coaster ride that’s rich in surprise, and surprising in the depth of characterisation as well as its multi-tiered storyline occurring in both Japan and London. About as close as television gets to the level of action-intrigue achieved by a big production like 007, this series also achieves the unthinkable by exploring the nature of filial and gang loyalty and is a deep love story as well. While it pays not to think too much about some of the improbable action scenes, the rooftop fight/dance in the last episode employs a level of creativity that leaves you breathless. Essential viewing. GS

The Morning Show

The Morning Show (Apple TV+)

Not really a morning TV show, but a show about a morning TV show, The Morning Show features two highly paid presenters: charming sleaze bag Mitch (Steve Carrell) and confident and pushy Alex (Jennifer Aniston). The series starts as Mitch loses his job due to sexual misconduct, in a #MeToo kind of unravelling. Alex finds an unlikely Mitch replacement, wildcard Bradley (Reece Witherspoon), who’s a simpler and more direct kinda gal and not immunised from everyday reality like her predecessor Mitch, and Alex. Over 10 hour-long episodes, various dramas unfurl. What did Mitch actually do? And who really are the baddies at the TV station? Overall acting skills are excellent, with a tight script, believable drama and excellent production values. Things get a bit weary by episodes 8 and 9, although the final episode is exceptionally good. It’s where everything ramps up, tensions mount, and all sorts of shit hits the proverbial fan. CJ

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (DocPlay)

Documentary streaming service DocPlay is packed with amazing films at the moment and Coda is one of the best musician profiles I’ve ever seen. The musician/composer’s illustrious past as member of “the Japanese Beatles” Yellow Magic Orchestra followed by solo success across a formidably wide range of musical canvasses is explored. But rather than a straight biography, the film’s leisurely pace captures Sakamoto in a rare stage of his life. Filmed during and after treatment for throat cancer, Sakamoto is profoundly philosophic as he explains his thoughts on the very nature of music, performs on a broken piano washed up in the 2010 Japanese Tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people, shows the photographs he took from his New York apartment building on 9/11, 2001, and more. There’s precious little about Sakamoto’s early life or his commercial work, and a little too much time is spent looking over his shoulder as he works away on compositions, but this deeply reflective film stays with you for weeks afterwards. GS

See

See (AppleTV+)

Humanity goes through a permanent world-changing disaster. As a result, generations end up living in primitive rural locations, subject to feral, almost prehistoric societal behaviours. Oh, and everyone (well, nearly everyone) is permanently blind. Bummer. See is a dark, bleak and gloomy heavyweight telling of a story centred around the precious few with functional eyesight, and a mission related to them, led by Baba Voss (Jason Momoa, of Aquaman fame). While Momoa’s acting is good, his talent is outshone by scarily bonkers WTF Queen Kane (Sylvia Hoeks) and Tacmacti Jun (Christian Camargo), the Queen’s assigned on-the-road roaming bad-ass Witchfinder General. It’s odd that 20 years pass by in the first five (of eight) episodes with little visual aging occurring, but this dark, heavy drama has enough plot twists and overall quality to maintain appeal, despite its intentionally depressing ambience. CJ

SAD!

The Good Karma Hospital

The Good Karma Hospital (AcornTV)

How could a medical drama set in the lush, mad paradise of coastal India go wrong? The basic format and scripting of this English drama is fairly predictable, and there’s more than a whiff of the soap opera to the way its storylines are resolved. Thankfully, the setting is eye-opening and we get to experience the full force of the cultural wow-factor through the eyes of English doctor Ruby Walker (Amrita Acharia). There are some fine acting performances, with Phyllis Logan of Downton Abbey fame as a terminally ill English expat being especially good. Already into its third series, The Good Karma Hospital won’t win any awards for originality, but as they say in real estate: it’s all about location, location, location. GS

Jeffrey Epstein – Filthy Rich

Jeffrey Epstein – Filthy Rich (Netflix)

This four-part “limited series” attempts to tell the story of the elusive multi-billionaire Epstein. While it appears well researched, and there are some gobsmacking moments as Epstein’s power and influence are revealed, he remains the invisible man, unknowable and only really explained in terms of the amoral sex addict who sought out fresh teens and young women for abuse on his massage table. Proceedings get rather mired in the seemingly endless legal red tape that characterised the fight to get him to court, and these segments make for slightly dull viewing. Coming so soon after Epstein’s shocking death in prison last year while awaiting the court case that would likely have seen him incarcerated for life, it’s not surprising that Filthy Rich fails on some level. Where it does succeed is in telling the story of his victims, and how they individually became ensnared in Epstein’s “sexual Ponzi scheme”. Ultimately, there will be more to tell when the dust has settled, but whether the truth will ever out about his circle of rich and famous friends (including President Trump, Prince Andrew and unsurprisingly, Harvey Weinstein) and the implications thereof, only time will tell. GS

The Orphanage

The Orphanage (Mubi)

Set in Russian-controlled Kabul in 1989 shortly before the Islamist coup, The Orphanage is based on the unpublished diary of an illiterate street urchin who is caught stealing and sent to an orphanage, where he is educated. An intriguing proposition that doesn’t quite come off, this 2019 Danish/Afghan co-production has its moments, but is hampered by a combination of stylistic mechanisms which clash. The film is mostly shot in a documentary-style, slice of life fashion but occasionally resorts to intentionally humorous faux Bollywood songs, presumably to illustrate the hopes, dreams and passions of its young characters. On top of that, Qodrat, (played by Qodratollah Qadiri) is an improbable lead: he’s impassive and we barely learn a thing about him in the movie’s 90-minute duration. GS

BAD!

White Lines

White Lines (Netflix)

All our worst preconceptions about dance culture – and especially the mindless house and techno that was the “loved-up” staple of the crowds that descended on Ibiza in the late 1980s – are confirmed by this vapid 10-part series. White Lines is a weak attempt to wrap a murder mystery around a nostalgic look at the island’s dance culture, and the whole thing feels like it’s for those Brits who look back at gyrating in clubs and taking various pills and snorting cocaine as the highlight of their sad lives. It’s one of those shows that’s partly in the present tense and partly in the past as Zoe/Laura Haddock arrives in Ibiza looking to find the murderer of her DJ brother Axel/Tom Rhys Harries 20 years before. While it’s entertaining enough and there’s enough movement and surprise value to keep the attention, there’s something oddly detached about the whole enterprise. GS

Watch This is a regular column in which Witchdoctor’s TV-loving scribes assess 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. This month’s capsule television reviewers were: Charles Jameson, Pat Pilcher, Gary Steel and Toby Woollaston.

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