Jack English/APPLE TV+
April was a wicked month, with more series, mini-series and specials arriving than this column could possibly watch and review. Several April titles on streaming will be reviewed later. For now, here’s a handy shortlist of top titles and gems, starting with drama and comedy.
Slow Horses (streams on Apple TV+) is, at six episodes (all available now), an ideal length for a blistering espionage story. It also brings us one of the great dilapidated spies. That’s Jackson Lamb, a man so burnt-out, seedy and cynical he’s like a perambulating half-century of jaundiced espionage experience. And he’s played here with relish by Gary Oldman, in a performance that resonates with misanthropy. Lamb rules a warren of ramshackle offices called Slough House, where MI5 sends screw-ups and failures. Then a terrorism case puts these misfits into action. It is wonderfully spare and acidly funny at times.
Single Drunk Female (streams on Disney+ in Canada) is not a one-note story about a young woman with a drinking problem overcoming addiction. A highly unusual drama-comedy with a strange sensibility, superbly written and performed, it’s really about the incoherent rage of central character Samantha (Sofia Black-D’Elia). It’s about being twentysomething these days. Ten short episodes streaming now.
Catch up on the best streaming TV of 2021 with our holiday guide
The Girl from Plainville (streams on StackTV, new episodes Thursdays, W Network) is intense and bleak but a sensible dramatization of the real story of the 17-year-old girl accused of encouraging her boyfriend to kill himself. Elle Fanning plays Michelle, the accused, in a fine performance. The portrait of adolescent angst is deeply powerful. Seven episodes, two streaming now.
Steve Dietl/UCP / Courtesy of W Channel
The New Wave of Standup (stream on CBC Gem, two seasons) is a great break from bleakness, with up-and-coming comedians given 10 minutes to impress. One of the standouts is Salma Hindy. It’s best paired with The Kennedys (streams Amazon Prime Video), a daft and adorable six-part British comedy set in a housing estate in the 1970s.
The Flight Attendant (streams on Crave) is in its second season a tad more complex comedy-espionage thriller. Kaley Cuoco from The Big Bang Theory is soaring again as Cassie, a flight attendant now more hooked on spying than booze. Intrigue, murder and fun all click well. Four episodes of eight are available now.
Topline (streams on CBC Gem) may seem small-scale, but it aims big. In a Toronto suburb, in a Filipino family, there’s 16-year-old Tala (Cyrena Fiel), a shy singer/songwriter who, her family expects, is going to be a nurse. But music is her thing, and she’s got an online alter ego: 18-year-old Illisha. What Illisha sings is created in secret in Tala’s family bathroom. Then one of her songs goes viral and the music industry beckons. Funny, warm and poignant, the series – 10 episodes, each 10 to 15 minutes long – has the feel of a Degrassi drama.
The Baby (streams on Crave) is devilishly clever. A HBO/Sky co-production set in Britain, it concerns Natasha (Michelle de Swarte), a 38-year-old single woman who realizes two friends have both become different people: one has a baby and the other is pleased to announce she’s three months pregnant. Annoyed and depressed, Natasha takes a break from work and then, in this absurdist and dreamlike horror tale, a baby falls into Natasha’s arms, literally. The police arrive to take the child away but, as Natasha learns, the baby doesn’t want to leave her. He’s evil. Two episodes of eight half-hours available now.
Tokyo Vice (streams on Crave) is loosely based on a memoir by American Jake Adelstein (Ansel Elgort) who in the 1990s went to Tokyo and became the only foreign reporter at one of the city’s big newspapers, on the crime beat. He learned a lot, but never quite enough. His fascination with corruption in Tokyo is the real story. All eight episodes available now.
Two documentaries also stood out. Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story (streams on Netflix) is a two-part, three-hour look at the case of Savile, one of Britain’s most famous figures for decades and, shortly after his death in 2011, revealed to be a serial sexual abuser. Police in Britain put the total number of his victims at 589 people. To say the monster was hiding in plain sight is a vast understatement. The story of how he gaslit a nation is chilling and dumbfounding.
White Hot: The Rise & Fall Abercrombie & Fitch (streams on Netflix) is a fast-paced, but ultimately furious documentary about the clothing line that once was the fashion zeitgeist. It takes you back to the early days of music videos, to the naked male chests on shopping bags and to the pre-internet period of glamour found at suburban shopping malls. And then how the company was nailed for the racism at its core.
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