By Craig Mathieson
Isla Fischer in Wolf Like Me, Tom Hiddleston in Loki, Zan Rowe in Take 5 with Zan Rowe and Murray Cook in Hot Potato: The Story of the Wiggles. Credit: Stan, Disney+, ABC, Amazon Prime.
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I finally did it! I found a way to think about the big streamers and their many offerings even more than normal. These past few weeks I’ve been on a side mission, creating lists of the 20 essential scripted shows available through Netflix, Stan, Disney+ and Binge − stay tuned for Amazon Prime.
As a curatorial task it was ludicrously tricky – each of my “tight” shortlists, carefully compiled for each, usually contained more than 50 titles. It made me reflect not just on what makes a truly great show, but also how we know we’re watching one. Each of the four lists I’ve put together so far included entries I found by accident, shows I changed my mind about, or rediscoveries made years after their debut or conclusion. It is harder than ever to start a meaningful search, as the scope is so vast.
Are there seasons coming out in October that will one day make my top 20 list? It would be rash to go that far, but it is a month notable for second seasons of several promising series.
If you’re not across the first season of these shows, let this month’s list help you get up to speed. There’s plenty here for your personal watchlist, whether you need a new comedy or a rewarding crime or police procedural.
Aya Furukawa as Tina, Kate Siegel as Camille L’Espanaye and Igby Rigney as Toby in The Fall of the House of Usher.Credit: Eike Schroter/Netflix
My top Netflix recommendation is The Fall of the House of Usher (October 12).
Mike Flanagan is Netflix’s in-house horror maven. Over the past five years he’s produced a succession of limited series for the platform – starting with the essential The Haunting of Hill House – that invoke the genre’s classic texts and reflect contemporary concerns. His latest show, adapted from the Edgar Allan Poe short story of the same name, is about the corrupt and uncaring CEO of a family-run pharmaceutical company, Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood), whose pampered offspring start dying in particularly bloody but appropriate ways. The nod to Richard Sackler, whose Purdue Pharma unleashed OxyContin, is obvious, and while Flanagan has a masterful touch with menacing suggestion and buried trauma, a first look suggests this is the one with the blood and gore.
Also on Netflix: Hear me out, please. If one British crime thriller about a detective investigating a mysterious death is good viewing, what about four simultaneously? Adapted from Si Spencer’s graphic novel of the same name, Bodies (October 19) is a temporal murder mystery, as four very different London police detectives in different years – 1890, 1941, 2023 and 2053 – all discover the same dead body. This is the kind of knotty, conspiratorial science-fiction I (and the other devotees of Netflix’s Dark) get very excited about, with an exemplary ensemble cast led by Stephen Graham (The Irishman), Shira Haas (Unorthodox), and Kyle Soller (Andor) adding to the anticipation.
Sophie Wilde is having a moment. Just two years after making her screen debut in the Stan series Eden, the young Australian actor gave a vivid, standout performance in the Adelaide-to-the-world horror film hit Talk to Me. Now she’s starring in the bittersweet Netflix comedy Everything Now (October 5), a British coming-of-age series in which her character, Mia, is returning to high school after seven months away dealing with an eating disorder. Mia is trying to hold it together, but also wants to tick off an adolescent bucket list that includes sex, substances and a genuine relationship. If it clicks, the show could be a successor to Netflix’s just concluded Sex Education – albeit with cooler-looking parties.
September highlights: The British coming-of-age comedy Sex Education went out on a strong final note, Jackie director Pablo Larrain returned to Chile’s past for the Pinochet horror of El Conde, and One Piece was the live action anime adaptation that worked.
Our Flag Means Death, season two.
My top Binge recommendation is Our Flag Means Death (October 5).
It took half of the first season of this 18th-century pirate comedy for this show to figure out what it was. Starring Rhys Darby as Stede Bonnet, a wealthy Caribbean plantation owner whose midlife crisis sees him make a skull and crossbones seachange, the series was in turn an optimistic satire, a guest star-laden romp and a gentle reflection on disenchantment. Once fellow pirate captain Blackbeard (Taika Waititi) appeared, becoming a love interest for Stede, Our Flag Means Death found a defining purpose – while retaining its many humorous strands – as a heartfelt and diverse depiction of the story’s multiple LGBTQ relationships. The first season concluded with some 18th century melodrama that divided the two buccaneers – “we’re on a break,” Stede insists – but their fraught romantic reunion and sundry skulduggery, underpins the confident new episodes.
Also on Binge: Since Friends wrapped Courteney Cox has accumulated some feisty roles. There was the tabloid drama Dirt, six frisky seasons of Cougar Town and now Shining Vale (October 14). The first season of this supernatural comedy introduced Cox as Pat Phelps, a successful novelist who moved with her husband, Terry (Greg Kinnear), and teenage children into a rambling Connecticut mansion as a fresh start after her infidelity came to light. Pat soon suspects the house is haunted, although it could also be her own disintegrating mental health she’s wrestling with. Despite pulling off a not insignificant balancing act as a mix of jump scares and thorny feminist commentary, Shining Vale’s debut flew under the radar. With the new season’s arrival, it’s well worth reconsidering.
September highlights: There were debuts for a cracking pair of British comedies, with the unlikely romance of The Lovers and the policing farce Special Ops, while American Horror Story returned with pregnancy nightmares and Kim Kardashian in a supporting role.
Isla Fisher and Josh Gad in the second season of Wolf Like Me.
My top Stan recommendation is Wolf Like Me (October 19).
Some second seasons struggle for purpose, but that’s not the case with this twist on the romantic comedy from Australian filmmaker Abe Forsythe (Little Monsters). The first season’s connection between Mary (Isla Fisher) and widowed father Gary (Josh Gad) had all the difficulties of defying loneliness and starting over in a relationship – with the added twist that she was a werewolf. The new season finds them forming a family with Gary’s daughter, but their union is tested by Mary’s pregnancy: is she having a baby or a wolf pup? Fisher’s nuanced portrayal of a woman facing up to her myriad fears tied the first season together, and the new episodes of this Adelaide-set series adds a welcome twist: Edgar Ramirez (Zero Dark Thirty) as Mary’s former professor.
Also on Stan: There are only going to be three seasons of Billy the Kid (October 16), which makes sense given the infamous wild west outlaw at its centre was gunned down at the age of 21. Created by Michael Hirst (The Tudors, Vikings), the first season of the revisionist western showed how the orphaned son of Irish immigrants went from a New York City childhood to taking lives on the New Mexico frontier. The new season finds Billy (Tom Blyth) wrestling with his growing legend while fighting in the bloody Lincoln County War, a historic conflict driven by economic rivalry. The show is set in the 1870s, but Hirst is intent on showing why his subject remains a deeply relevant figure today.
Arriving just as leading US car manufacturers are grappling with a major strike, American Auto (October 27) is a workplace comedy about the struggles of a corporate executive, Katherine Hastings (Ana Gasteyer, shining in a rare lead role), who knows nothing about vehicles but has been installed atop a storied Detroit automobile company. Katherine and her team – including Colin from Accounts’ Harriet Dyer as a beleaguered spin doctor – go from one mishap to the next, in a show whose wry, relatable tone will be familiar to anyone who enjoyed creator Justin Spitzer’s previous half-hour comedy, Superstore. Stan is putting up all 23 episodes at once, so the full binge is in play.
September highlights: Zombie spin-off The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon continued the franchise’s revival, the unfiltered black comedy C*A*U*G*H*T had everyone – even Sean Penn – sending themselves up, and documentary Revealed: Danielle Laidley – Two Tribes offered genuine insight.
Amazon Original documentary Hot Potato: The Story of The Wiggles.
My top Amazon Prime recommendation is Hot Potato: The Story of the Wiggles (October 24).
The most successful children’s music act of all time, playing to more than one million people a year, The Wiggles are one of Australia’s great cultural success stories. While their music is ubiquitous among their young target audience, the group’s story remains best known in broad outline. This feature documentary, from Emmy-nominated director Sally Aitken (David Stratton: A Cinematic Life), aims to fill in the gaps, from the group’s low-key beginning among a group of early childhood education students to its corporate ascension. It’s an official production, so Aitken has access to the Wiggles archive and interviews with members past and present − and that better include Captain Feathersword.
Also on Amazon Prime: Jamie Foxx follows up his larger-than-life turn in Netflix’s science-fiction comedy They Cloned Tyrone with The Burial (October 14), a hurly-burly courtroom drama in which he plays real-life American attorney Willie E. Gary, an unconventional personal injury lawyer. The feature is based on one of Gary’s most famous David versus Goliath cases, when in the mid-1990s he represented the owner of a Mississippi funeral home against a rapacious Canadian billionaire. Foxx’s legal showman gets an opposites-attract foil in the form of fellow Academy Award-winner Tommy Lee Jones, who plays wronged funeral director Jerry O’Keefe. Hopefully Foxx’s expressive energy and Jones’ deadpan retorts find a groove.
September highlights: The black comedy Wilderness made marriage deadly, while fantasy fans got a second season of The Wheel of Time, and Neighbours returned as the soap opera Australia seemingly can’t do without.
Brie Larson in a scene from Lessons in Chemistry.Credit:
My top Apple TV+ recommendation is Lessons in Chemistry (October 13).
Brie Larson has been busy since the one-two successes of winning the Best Actress Academy Award for Room and then getting into the superhero game with Captain Marvel, but she hasn’t found a definitive role since. That might change with this idiosyncratic period drama, in which Larson plays Elizabeth Zott, a gifted young scientist in the early 1960s who is fired from her lab by her conservative male bosses. Elizabeth rebounds by applying her chemistry skills in the kitchen and becoming the host of a television cooking show, giving her an influential platform to comment on inequality. Bonnie Garmus’ novel of the same name spent more than a year on the bestseller list, boasting a deadpan comic tone and cruel occurrences. Both Larson and the show’s creator, Lee Eisenberg (WeCrashed), have their work cut out to adapt it successfully.
Also on Apple TV+: Befitting a masterful novelist who under a pen name wrote about the flawed identities of spies and the compulsion to betray, John le Carré was an entertaining, if always guarded, interview subject. That changes, to a degree, with this autobiographical documentary feature, produced by le Carré’s sons and for which le Carré gave interviews just before he died in 2020. The added attraction of The Pigeon Tunnel (October 20) is that it pairs le Carré with Errol Morris, one of the half-dozen greatest filmmakers in the history of documentary. As the director of The Thin Blue Line and The Fog of War, Morris has found valuable truths with the most illuminating of methods. They’re not adversarial, Morris isn’t pushing him, but it’s a fascinating conversation.
September highlights: The catwalk queens of the 1990s told their stories in the glossy documentary series The Super Models, The Changeling was a vivid horror tale steeped in parental fear and folklore, plus the romantic comedy got a welcome spin with Still Up.
Ke Huy Quan as O.B., Wunmi Mosaku as Hunter B-15, Tom Hiddleston as Loki and Owen Wilson as Mobius in Loki.
My top Disney+ recommendation is Loki (October 6).
Marvel is easing back on its spin-off streaming series, which is understandable since the majority of them barely left a creative mark (does anyone remember Moon Knight?). The exception is this returning time-travel mystery, which brought back Tom Hiddleston’s capricious Norse god Loki and put him in the custody of the secret authority policing the universe’s many timelines. It’s all connected to the multiverse concept the studio has gone all-in on, but the true pleasure of Loki is the interaction between Hiddleston’s haughty anti-hero and Owen Wilson’s laconic detective, Mobius. The show’s second season furthers the duo’s quest for stability, with time loops and newly revealed adversaries in their way. A notable addition: low-budget American science-fiction filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (Something in the Dirt) will direct the majority of the episodes.
Also on Disney+: In the United States, Halloween is now a major programming vehicle for streaming services and television networks, with multiple releases tied to trick or treating’s big day at the end of October. Disney’s contribution is a reboot series of Goosebumps (October 13), the latest screen adaptation of R.L. Stine’s much-loved tween horror novellas from the 1990s. Last seen as a fun 2015 Jack Black movie, followed by a so-so 2018 sequel, this Goosebumps is a teenage horror-comedy, following a group of high school students who accidentally unleash supernatural forces while investigating a mystery from their parents’ past. Important news only comprehensible to Goosebumps fans: Slappy the Dummy will be making an appearance.
September highlights: The Other Black Girl was a sharply satiric horror story about racism’s workplace shadow, while football fans got a fresh instalment of the feelgood Hollywood-comes-to-Wales documentary series Welcome to Wrexham.
Kelsey Grammer as Frasier Crane, Jess Salgueiro as Eve and Jack Cutmore-Scott as Freddy in a scene from Frasier.Credit: Paramount+
My top Paramount+ recommendation is Frasier (October 13).
It would be churlish to question the validity of reviving what was a beloved sitcom, given that back in 1993 Frasier was itself a spin-off of Cheers. Nonetheless, the return of Kelsey Grammer’s Dr Frasier Crane, psychiatrist, radio host and quite possibly the most popular know-it-all in the history of television, does bring with it some question marks. Most prominently, none of the supporting cast, including David Hyde Pierce as Frasier’s pernickety brother Niles, will feature in the new edition, which sees Frasier returning to Boston to be closer to his adult son, Freddy (Jack Cutmore-Scott). The show’s new creators have a hefty legacy to match up to – Frasier won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series five years running – and Grammer will have to shine in his signature role.
Also on Paramount+: The historic romance, where the passion between two characters sparks as world-changing events unfold around them, has been a television staple stretching back to the miniseries era. The genre gets an update in Fellow Travelers (October 28), an adaptation of Thomas Mallon’s 2007 novel about the love affair between a pair of Washington DC insiders. With thriller elements, the show spans the 1950s (McCarthy-era witch-hunts), 1960s (protest movements), 1970s (gay rights and disco hedonism), and the 1980s (the AIDS crisis). The two handsome leads who are going to require significant chemistry are Matt Bomer (Magic Mike) and Jonathan Bailey (Bridgerton’s Viscount Anthony).
South Korea’s taste for can-you-believe-this concepts continues with Bargain (October 5), a deliciously mordant survival thriller about a criminal enterprise at a remote hotel the operation of which makes for a wild opening sequence, before the stakes – and everything else – are completely upended. I’m being deliberately broad to avoid spoilers, as Jung Woo-sung’s overloaded limited series is best experienced cold. The Squid Game comparisons are obvious if limited – the risks are equally extreme, but on this show, staying alive has nothing to do with games.
September highlights: The Gold broke down the British period crime drama and reassembled it in telling new ways, while female friendship and a disputed past collided in One Night.
Zan Rowe guides her famous guests through their favourite songs in the second season of Take 5 with Zan Rowe.
My top iview recommendation is Take 5 with Zan Rowe (October 10).
The first season of this spin on the Desert Island Discs format confirmed that Double J DJ and podcaster Zan Rowe also belonged on television. Guiding her famous guests through their favourite songs, as she’s long done on radio, Rowe was an empathetic interviewer and an obvious music aficionado; she has a knack for drawing personal insights out of shared appreciation. The line-up of creative voices for the second season is eclectic: Noel Gallagher, Natalie Imbruglia, Jimmy Barnes, Mark Coles Smith, G Flip, and Lin-Manuel Miranda are all on the schedule. The ongoing balancing act for Rowe and her team is this: how much of the subject’s chosen song should audiences hear? A taste or a full spin?
September highlight: Shot through with familial bonds and a tragic sense of history, Sherwood is one of the best British police procedurals in recent years.
SBS On Demand
Horror anthology Night Bloomers sees stories from the Australian Korean diaspora come to life.
My top SBS on Demand recommendation is Night Bloomers (October 28).
SBS’s Digital Originals initiative thankfully continues to chip away at the conservative impulses of local programming. The latest commission is this five-part anthology of Australian horror stories told from the viewpoint of the Korean diaspora. Shot in Sydney’s western suburbs, creator Andrew Undi Lee’s series gets a Halloween-adjacent release with tales of goblin stowaways, unknown creatures in the night and voices from the dead. The uncertainty underpinning the stories goes from malevolent spirits to fractured personal identities, as the Australian setting engages with Korean folklore. Given the recent international success of Australian horror feature Talk to Me, this is a timely showcase for the next generation of terror merchants.
September highlights: Everyone’s favourite dystopian New Zealand comedy about a world without men returned with a new season of Creamerie, plus the debut of the bracing Native American police drama Dark Winds.
Morven Christie as Lexie Noble and Derek Riddle as DCI Adam Guthrie in Payback.
My top recommendation for the other streaming services is BritBox’s Payback (October 19).
This Edinburgh-set crime drama comes with the imprimatur of Jed Mercurio, the gold standard in British thrillers after creating Line of Duty and Bodyguard. Mercurio produced this limited series from creator Debbie O’Malley (Call the Midwife), which follows the tightrope tactics of Lexie Noble (Morven Christie), a wife and mother of young children who learns that her accountant husband’s biggest client was crime boss Cal Morris (an extremely menacing Peter Mullan). With both the police and Cal pressuring her to co-operate, the inexperienced Lexie has to play them off against each other.
Better Call Saul devotees Jonesing for more Rhea Seehorn, who played lawyer and confidante Kim Wexler in the celebrated crime drama, should seek out AMC+’s Cooper’s Bar (October 11). Co-created by Seehorn, it’s a sitcom about a Los Angeles character actor, Cooper Marino (Louis Mustillo), who never found fame in Hollywood and makes ends meet by running a bar in his backyard. Circumstances change, however, when a hard-nosed studio executive, Kris Latimer (Seehorn), stumbles onto Cooper’s establishment and his story. AMC originally commissioned the idea as a series of online shorts, so expanding it to a half-hour comedy suggests they have confidence in the concept and – unsurprisingly – Seehorn.
September highlights: 7Plus brought back every episode of the Glenn Close and Rose Byrne legal drama Damages, while thriller BritBox’s Our House was every homeowner’s nightmare writ large.
* Nine is the owner of Stan, 9Now and this masthead.
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