Fleabag – Series 1 (2016) Amazon Prime (illustrated above)
Created by BBC Three and Amazon Studios, this edgy, black comedy follows its titular character, played by British playwright Phoebe Waller-Bridge, in modern London as she enjoys (or endures) an ever growing series of sexual exploits, suffers family dramas, including her cloying and passive-aggressive stepmother, and tries to keep her guinea pig-themed cafe from going under—all while delivering some of the wittiest, cutting quips and remarks on any show out there. The delicious Waller-Bridge regularly breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience, giving us the feeling that we’re in on every eye roll and dirty, dirty joke. But let’s be clear: This is not a show for children or the prude. It has all the feminist, female-centric, and in-your-face qualities of HBO’s Girls, but it’s much darker and pulls even fewer punches. Still, Fleabag is not without heart. Waller-Bridge’s character, Fleabag, reveals moments of true vulnerability, especially when looking at her complicated but loving relationship with her sister Claire (Sian Clifford), her father (Bill Paterson) and ill-fated best friend and business partner Boo (Jenny Rainsford). The show offers tears of laughter, sadness and joy—and with just six episodes, it’s an easy weekend binge. We couldn’t recommend it enough. Amazon has not yet decided if Fleabag will return for another season.
Banished – Series 1 (2015) Hulu
This show tells the story of the first British penal colony in 1788 New South Wales, which eventually grew into the nation of Australia, and the challenges faced by both the prisoners and their overseers. With five men for every woman and a ratio of 10 prisoners to one guard, the drama builds quickly, though it’s also clear that everyone, prisoner and guard alike, are in the same boat—living with little food and support, and surviving at the mercy of England. Tensions mount when guards fight with prisoners and each other for the right to enjoy the affections of certain women, over how much food they are allowed to eat, and other basic rights in this very unique situation. It’s hard to stop watching and makes for a great seven-episode marathon. The major downside is that it was not renewed for a second season, and it will most certainly leave you wanting more.
Manhattan – Seasons 1–2 (2014–15) Hulu
A period drama about the men and women tasked with creating the world’s first atomic bomb, Manhattan splits from historical accuracy and uses the period and setting as a device for good, mostly believable storytelling. The show takes place in the top secret Los Alamos, New Mexico town which was hidden from the entire world, for obvious reasons, in 1943–44 when the Manhattan Project was underway. John Benjamin Hickey plays Dr. Frank Winter, who leads one of two groups of scientists tasked with figuring out how to make a functional atom bomb. Winter and his crew work on cracking the implosion design of the bomb, while a competing group of scientists push forward with a conflicting theory based upon more standard artillery. Meanwhile, the scientists’ wives are stuck in the middle of nowhere, being told almost nothing, and it doesn’t take long for them to get into trouble. The show originally aired on WGN, home to such shows as Outsiders, Underground and Salem. It was not renewed for a third season.
Poldark – Season 1 (2015) Amazon Prime
First broadcast on BBC One, this period drama is based on the Poldark novels by Winston Graham. The story begins when British Redcoat soldier Ross Poldark comes home to his Cornish tin mines after three years fighting in the American War of Independence in order to avoid being punished for smuggling. Unfortunately, upon returning, he finds his father is dead, his estate is in ruins, and his girlfriend is now engaged to his cousin. Ross, who is by all accounts a good and fair man, must battle all sorts of adversity to bring his family name, his business and his relationship back from the ashes. Along the way, he rescues young peasant, Demelza, from a beating, and hires her as a kitchen maid, but she might end up being a little more than that. All the while, he is fighting against the rich and powerful Warleggan family, who are trying to undermine his efforts and take over all the mining in the region. This is a romantic, swashbuckling series that’s not to be missed. Season 2 has already aired and is available for paid streaming, but it should be appearing free on Amazon Prime soon. Season 3 is already in production.
Cleverman – Season 1 (2016) Netflix
This SundanceTV series may seem off-putting to some due to it’s imaginative and unique premise, but it’s a gripping show that’s well produced and like nothing we’ve seen before. Set in a dystopian version of New Zealand, the world is now starkly divided between the regular humans and a society of “hairypeople” or “hairies,” who were previously believed to exist only in mythology. Since their arrival, the hairypeople have been subjugated and imprisoned or made to live in a segregated zone where they are forced to remain. With this as the backdrop, the story follows two estranged brothers who are forced to work together when one of them inherits the mantle of the “Cleverman,” an Aboriginal shaman with great power who lives between the regular world and a sort of spirit world, called the Dreaming. Yes, it’s strange, but give it a chance and you’ll be hooked. SundanceTV has renewed the show for a second season.
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