This week onkicks off with the third season premiere of Hard. The French comedy follows a widow who learns her recently deceased husband was in the porn production business. She inherits the company and all the challenges that come with it. The third season premiered on Monday.
On Thursday came a couple of documentaries. Eyes on the Prize: Hallowed Ground explores the journey of Black Liberation through the actors of the movement, and Marlon Wayans: You Know What It Is is a TV special about the actor, comedian, writer and producer.
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On the same day, you can also catch Sweet Life: Los Angeles. The series is described as an “An honest and unique look into what it means to be young, black and in constant pursuit of one’s dreams in the heart of South Los Angeles.”
Last week’s arrivals include reality series Hard Knocks ’21: Dallas Cowboys, competition series The Hype and superhero series Titans. For more options, check out the best of the HBO Max Originals below.
Best HBO Max Original TV series
The White Lotus (2021—)
What was initially a limited series was so good HBO renewed it for a second season. The satire about guests at a fancy resort gradually unveils the darker edges of its picture-perfect postcard. The White Lotus features an ensemble cast, including Jennifer Coolidge, Alexandra Daddario, Steve Zahn, Molly Shannon and more hilarious people, who make this series soar. If that wasn’t enough, a murder mystery with the big reveal waiting till the very end will keep you thoroughly entertained.
Starstruck is a classic screwball comedy, starring the lovably goofy Rose Matafeo. She plays Jessie, a twentysomething Londoner who parties it up on New Year’s Eve, then later discovers she had a one-night stand with Tom Kapoor, a celebrity played by Nikesh Patel. Follow Jessie as she juggles odd jobs, from cinema worker to nanny, and her blossoming relationship with a film star that involves no hijinks whatsoever. Watch out for scene-stealer Minnie Driver as Tom’s agent in this witty, neatly crafted comedy package.
The great Jean Smart rightfully takes the spotlight in this acclaimed comedy-drama series. Throwing iPads into swimming pools and delivering withering looks, Smart plays Deborah Vance, a legendary Las Vegas comedy diva who must face the prospect of appealing to a younger audience or disappearing into obscurity. She’s partnered with Ava (Hannah Einbinder), a young and equally snarky comedy writer, to freshen up her material. Perfectly balancing its biting insight into how the comedy business treats women, with the warmth of an odd couple buddy comedy, Hacks is one of the best originals to come out of HBO Max.
Made for Love (2021—)
Black Mirror, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel. This satirical comedy hinges on Cristin Milioti’s comedic talents. Hazel Green escapes a 10-year marriage — until she realizes her husband, a tech billionaire, has fitted a chip into her brain. He can see her every move and track her down to negotiate their marriage. Hazel searches for freedom with the help of her dad, played by Ray Romano, who’s in an unorthodox relationship of his own. A few twists, a helpful dolphin and socially awkward people also tag along for this disturbing ride.
The best TV show of 2021 might already be here. It’s a Sin follows a group of young gay men living in London during the ’80s, just when HIV/AIDS was first diagnosed. This unique look at the early stages of what became a death sentence is handled with creator Russell T Davies’ trademark irrepressible joy for life. The warm, empathetic characters continue to live their lives to the full, flitting between bustling share houses and local bars to the beat of a popping ’80s soundtrack. Fast-paced, stylish and eye-opening, with a prevailing sense of hope, It’s a Sin is a soaring triumph for everyone to fall in love with.
In the words of CNET reviewer Richard Knightwell: “2020 sucked. You got up every morning and it all was all just a tiny bit worse. But every now and then a ray of sun would appear through the clouds. One of those bright spots was Betty, a fly-on-wall-style tale of skateboarding teens in a balmy New York. Utterly real and breathlessly dreamy at the same time, HBO’s TV follow-up to the indie hit Skate Kitchen painted a picture of young women facing the world head-on, pushing off and gaining speed and reducing obstacles into things waiting to be jumped over while looking cool. My baby daughter turned one while this show was on, and I can’t wait to plonk her on a skateboard. I hope she finds a Betty crew of her own.”
This compulsive thriller starring Kaley Cuoco is one of the best new shows to come out of HBO Max. Cuoco plays Cassie, a reckless flight attendant who sleeps with a passenger on a wild night out. She wakes up in Bangkok with barely any memory — and a dead body in bed with her. With the ghost of the deceased helping her piece things back together, she sobers up and takes on the mystery of what happened. Watch out for a fantastic title sequence, as well as a surprisingly dark psychological layer. But mainly enjoy the amusing combination of an inept detective bumbling through the world of cold killers.
I Hate Suzie sees Billie Piper team up once again with Secret Diary of a Call Girl writer Lucy Prebble. The result is a frenetic tour de force of ideas, steered by a vulnerable performance from Piper. She plays the titular Suzie, an actress who, moments after winning a part in a Disney movie, discovers she’s one of the victims in a celebrity phone hacking scandal. Each episode explores a stage of trauma, tackling the question of how compromising leaks both upend and perhaps liberate a person’s life. Amid the ruthless satire is a wonderful friendship between Suzie and her manager Naomi (Leila Farzad).
The Other Two (2019—)
The sibling rivalry is strong and primed for hilarity in this comedy from a couple of Saturday Night Live writers. Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider tell the story of Cary (Drew Tarver) and Brooke (Heléne Yorker), siblings in their late 20s who struggle with the sudden rise to internet fame of their 13-year-old Justin Bieber channeling brother. Molly Shannon is a treat as their mother Pat, ushering her children through open doors to success. Once you get over the gimmicky premise, The Other Two’s pop culture satire and surprisingly heartfelt storylines are a winning combination. Schitt’s Creek fans should give this a look.
From the minds of the gang behind Horrible Histories comes Ghosts, a sitcom that manages to become better and better with every episode. The ever-reliable Charlotte Ritchie (Feel Good, Call The Midwife) stars as Alison, a woman doing up the old mansion she inherited with the help of her amateur builder husband. On top of money problems, their reno plans aren’t helped by the ghostly residents who want the house to themselves. If you’re on the look out for purely light-hearted viewing, Ghosts delivers a high gag rate, a talented comedic ensemble and even an endearing arc of friendship. Most of all, it’s gleefully silly.
This black comedy takes us from London to Newcastle, Australia, following the misfortune of a woman who loses everything after the untimely death of her husband (don’t ask how he died). Broke and desperate, Sammy is forced to return to her hometown with her son and daughter, where she soon discovers she isn’t exactly a popular resident. The cringe factor is strong as Sammy does everything in her power to return to London, with some standout moments when she reunites with her bickering brother.
This comedy-drama about a Syrian asylum seeker leans heavily on the warmer, cosier side of the equation. It follows the lives of a British family after they return from a holiday in France and discover a passenger hiding in the back of their car. There’s endless charm in Sami’s fish-out-of-water hijinks as he adapts to his new home. Home mines that feel-good vein, filled with nice people willing to help a good man, even if that’s a struggle for some of the family members.
Based on a memoir, Pure isn’t your average coming-of-age comedy about a young woman newly-moved to London. Marnie struggles with a form of OCD called Pure O, which causes her to have intrusive sexual thoughts, often in the worst moments. (Her own mother features in one of these thoughts — no wonder Marnie leaves home.) What Pure does best is address stereotypes about OCD in compassionate ways: Marnie traverses the same stresses as other twenty-somethings — a new job, her sexuality and friendship. An enlightening, relatable and essential comedy.
Stath Lets Flats is one of the best new British TV shows that trades in quintessentially absurd British humor. Stath is a socially inept Greek-Cypriot letting agent, whose dad hands him a job working for his company. Despite his ineptitude, Stath perseveres with his new vocation, showing flats to potential customers with the electricity cut off or with the security alarm blaring because he can’t remember the code. His attempts to impress his father burn the same cringe appeal as The Office, which also sprinkled in poignant moments ensuring you rooted for the characters. Stick around for the even better season 2, which won three BAFTAs.
Search Party caught the eye of HBO Max, shifting to production with the streamer in its third and fourth seasons. The latter is arguably its best yet, taking the story of four, clueless millennials to even greater extremes, including a bizarrely brilliant Susan Sarandon cameo. But we begin when twenty-something Dory becomes an amateur detective to track down a missing woman she barely knew in college. Really, she’s searching for something else: Herself. Equally conceited are her boyfriend Drew, the scene-stealing Elliott and the hilariously blonde Portia. This oddball show somehow creates the perfect cocktail of dark humour, mystery and insane characters. A collector’s item that won’t come around very often.
Adventure Time: Distant Lands (2020-2021)
Two years after Adventure Time ended, this four hour-long special came along, and it’s a brilliant treat for fans of the animated series. The miniseries nails the spinoff brief, introducing new characters and expanding on the Land of Ooo universe, while remaining true to its source material. Its heroes Finn and Jake, his magical doggo pal, set off on new adventures, along with Princess Bubblegum, Marceline the Vampire Queen and BMO. The hourlong format is a nice way to change up and add to the exciting storytelling. A surprisingly emotional ride packed with every ingredient that made the original so beloved.
Infinity Train (2019-2021)
Not a fan of cartoons? Let Infinity Train change your mind — all four seasons of the critically acclaimed show explore complex themes through character-driven storylines. Season 1 follows Tulip Olsen, a girl struggling with her parents’ recent divorce. Along with her pals — a confused robot and a talking corgi — she explores a seemingly endless train, whose passengers all have unresolved emotional issues or trauma. How do they leave the train? By resolving their issues, of course. Dark, challenging and magnificent, this is animated viewing like you’ve rarely seen it. Definitely not just for kids.
With its fifth and final season, this Italian crime drama based on a true story, has carved itself a place among the great mafia shows. It stands out for its realistic portrayal of the Naples underworld, following a clan’s internal power struggle after its head is arrested. With a dark, claustrophobic atmosphere and believable characters, Gomorrah is a refreshing and complete piece of TV.
Raised by Wolves will satisfy those who want to spend a lot of time (nearly 10 hours) in a world brought to the screen with the help of Ridley Scott. Two androids, Mother and Father, attempt to establish an atheist human colony on a new planet, after a war with a religious order destroys Earth. But they soon discover controlling the beliefs of humans is a tricky task. Directing the first two episodes, as well as pulling the strings as an executive producer, Scott sets up a provocative exploration into AI and religious beliefs. There’s blood, big performances and a powerful lead in Amanda Collin’s “Mother.”
Love Life is an anthology series that focuses on a different character’s love life until they meet the person they’re meant to be with. The first chapter follows Anna Kendrick’s Darby, an aspiring art collector who dates a range of different men with complicated results. Love Life paints a refreshingly imperfect picture, traveling a long, messy road that ultimately offers a hopeful look at relationships.
HBO Max thankfully brings this lauded Spanish miniseries to screens around the world. Veneno chronicles the life of Spanish icon Cristina Ortiz Rodríguez, a transgender singer and ’90s TV personality better known by the nickname “La Veneno” or “poison” in Spanish. Her enigmatic story comes under the lens of a curious journalism student grappling with her own identity. By turns hilarious, explicit and heart-breaking, this must-watch biographical miniseries explores survival and the influence of mass media.
Movies coming in 2021 from Netflix, Marvel, HBO and more
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