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If one of your goals this summer is to catch up on your viewing, then you’re reading the right story. There’s been no shortage of high-profile new shows that have rightly received praise this year, including Beef, The Last of Us, and Dead Ringers, but there are also many fine scripted shows that essentially went unnoticed in 2023’s torrent of streaming series. Here are 10 shows that flew under the radar, at least until now.
Marguerite (Sophie Cookson) and Frannie (Karla-Simone Spence) in The Confessions of Frannie Langton.Credit: BritBox
THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANNIE LANGTON
Not to diminish it by mere comparison, but this British period drama is in some ways what I wish Bridgerton could be: a sharply revisionist take on the corseted 19th century narrative that functions as a desire-laced romance, a murder mystery, and an indictment of Britain’s acquiescence to the slave trade. The daughter of a white father and his Black mistress, Frannie (Karla-Simone Spence), is sent from Jamaica to Britain in 1825, but life as an indentured servant changes when she begins an affair with the wife of her wealthy employer. These four episodes take no steps backwards.
Tomohisa Yamashita and Fleur Geffrier in Drops of God (2023)Credit: Apple TV+
DROPS OF GOD
Apple’s willingness to embrace an original idea over an easy to share marketing pitch resulted in this sumptuous drama where the will of one of the world’s leading wine experts leaves his unparalleled collection of bottles to the winner of a complicated tasting contest. The contenders are his estranged French daughter (Fleur Geffrier) and long-time Japanese protégé (Tomohisa Yamashita). Adapted from a best-selling Japanese manga, it’s a show about taste, legacy, and memory. As much as it sounds like it’s a contemplative and subtitled Rocky for sommeliers, Drops of God proves to be wholly accessible.
Mairead Tyers as Jen in Extraordinary.Credit: Laura Radford/Disney+
In a year when superhero fatigue weighed down film and television, the best take on cape culture was this droll British action -comedy. Launching her career with comical kicks and CGI punctuation, debutante creator Emma Moran imagined a world where virtually everyone gets a superpower of some kind at the age of 18 – unless you’re 25-year-old Londoner Jen (Mairead Tyler). Full of daft sequences and 20something malaise, this was an immersive and enjoyable show about feeling like you’re being left behind that made just as much of invaluable friendship as a character who could give voice to the dead.
High School is based on a memoir by Canadian alternative music stars Tegan and Sara Quin.Credit: Michelle Faye/Amazon
The superstar singer biopic was thankfully downsized in this painfully intimate coming of age story, based on the 2019 memoir of the same name by Tegan and Sara, the twin Canadian indie-pop musicians who’ve built an expansive career over the last two decades. In the first season of Clea Duvall’s show they’re high schoolers in 1990s suburban Calgary, just discovering their sexuality and songwriting. You see the individual perspective of both Tegan (Railey Gilliland) and Sara (Seazynn Gilliland), while Cobie Smulders (Stumptown) does invaluable work as their mother, Simone. Fingers crossed this gets a second season.
Matilda De Angelis plays a 19th century feminist lawyer in The Law According To Lidia Poet.Credit: LUCIA IUORIO/NETFLIX
THE LAW ACCORDING TO LIDIA POET
Playful in its period conventions, enjoyable in its plotting, and joyous in its feminist defiance, this Italian drama was inspired by the life of the real Lidia Poet, who in the 1880s eventually became the first woman to practise law in Italy. As played with exceptional verve by Matilda De Angelis, the screen version of Lidia is at the centre of both classical mysteries and patriarchal ignorance. Fans of Sherlock will definitely have a feel for these six episodes, which combine case of the week mysteries with a subversive self-belief.
THE LONG SHADOW
The English serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, who was convicted of murdering 13 women between 1975 and 1980, is barely seen in this true crime drama. The focus is his victims, whether sex workers or university students, and those who survived his attacks, as well as the institutional failings of the investigating police force, which prolonged Sutcliffe’s murderous spree. Creator George Kay, who this year also had a hit with Apple’s thriller Hijack, has forged a gripping show where the weight of events, whether personal or procedural, is immense.
The Makanai is filled with descriptive detail, especially in the kitchen.Credit: Netflix
Previously a winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, renowned Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda came to streaming television with this quietly detailed study of adolescent camaraderie, tradition’s evolution, and kitchen comforts. When 16-year-old best friends Kiyo (Nana Mori) and Sumire (Natsuki Deguchi) join a contemporary geisha house in Kyoto as working apprentices, their paths diverge: the latter blossoms professionally, while the former finds her footing in the kitchen. It’s wholesome but never twee, because the everyday rhythms have genuine stakes.
Jack Farthing as Florian Selby in Rain Dogs.Credit: HBO/Binge
At the start of March I wrote that this revelatory comic-drama was the “first essential new series of 2023″, and nothing has changed in the months since. Cash Carraway’s semi-autobiographical limited series is about a working-class single mother and aspiring writer, Costello Jones (Daisy May Cooper), who is caught up in both poverty’s grinding cycle and a destructive attachment with her gay best friend, Selby Florian (Jack Farthing). The show is shot through with scathing naturalistic humour, documentary-like detail, and relationships that hold entire lifetimes. It knocked me sideways.
A SMALL LIGHT
The story of Anne Frank, the Jewish schoolgirl and Dutch Holocaust victim whose diary about the years her family spent in hiding from the Nazis, has been told numerous times in different mediums. The lens for this series is Miep Gies (Bel Powley), the secretary who defies totalitarian occupation to protect her employer, Otto Frank (Liev Schrieber), and his family. There are brutal scenes, and moments of writerly melodrama, but most of all it’s a portrait of courage and survival that never loses track of the humanity of these characters.
Dominique Fishback plays an awkward young popstar fan in Swarm.Credit: Warrick Page/Prime Video
Co-created by Atlanta’s Donald Glover, this all too timely horror-thriller dug deep into both obsessive fandom and the machinations of true crime narratives; it was often wild, but never beyond plausibility. Dominique Fishback plays Dre, a young black woman from Houston who lives and potentially dies for a Beyonce-like pop superstar named Ni’Jah. Dre measures her real-life relationships by her parasocial grasp of her idol, setting up both confrontations and a narrative ripe for exploitation. Flipping between the eerie and the blood-soaked, this succinct series gets to places you would not initially suspect.
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