THE AMERICANS – Over six seasons, The Americans has resolutely stuck to a pace that saw it regularly overtaken by glaciers, mobility scooters and stoned sloths. For some, that’s an understandable deal-breaker but if you can adapt to its ways, there are enormous rewards on offer. As we near the end of the Cold War and various nets tighten around the Jennings family, the inevitable end looms, but still The Americans refuses to rush towards the finish line, amplifying the tension through the slow, slow burn. Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell delivered acting masterclasses in every single episode of the show’s run, but the sixth season belongs to Rhys, as a conflicted Philip faces up to the true nature of his loyalties.
COUNTERPART – There’s another great double bill here: Counterpart and The Americans. Both refuse to make life easy for their viewers, both find exciting ways to tackle espionage and skulduggery and both are surprisingly moving. JK Simmons delivers a powerful and nuanced performance as Howard Silk, a low-level UN worker embroiled in a cross-dimensional conspiracy, and as Howard Silk, his gruff counterpart from a parallel world. We recently raved about season one, but in case you missed it: watch this now!
SHARP OBJECTS – While shows like The Handmaid’s Tale took a more literal approach to portraying the pitfalls of underestimating women, Jean Marc Vallée’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel tackled it from a subtler, eerier direction. Sharp Objects used the auspices of a murder investigation to delve deep into the bizarre conventions and toxic expectations of small-town America. Amy Adams is both brittle and delicate as the reporter drawn back into her strange family circle and a claustrophobic nightmare that unfolds slowly, right up until its shocking climax. More haunting than a thousand ghost stories, Sharp Objects lingers like the smell of rotting meat on a hot day.
THE TERROR – Horror is notoriously tricky to pull off on TV. Sustaining tension over 90 minutes is one thing, but it’s a completely different ballgame to find the perfect pitch over a whole season. The Terror achieves this and then some, creating a blinding blizzard of fear, tension and dread that creeps back and forward between waking nightmare and fever dream. Taking the true story of two British ships that mysteriously vanished in the Arctic circle in 1845, The Terror concocts a terrifying tale of monsters and monstrous men that proved utterly addictive.
BETTER CALL SAUL – Really, you could probably take the top 15 of these 20 shows and rearrange them however you like. What elevates Better Call Saul to the top of the pile? It could be expectations; nobody gave the show a chance of outpacing Breaking Bad, but season four did just that. It could be that Jimmy McGill’s fall from grace has been so gradual and so agonising that we feel like a part of ourselves has been lost along the way. It could be how Rhea Seehorn’s Kim Wexler breaks our hearts without eliciting an ounce of pity. It could be how Vince Gilligan’s storytelling has been refined to a piercingly sharp point. It’s all of these things and more. Jimmy McGill started as a likeable block, but Better Call Saul has chipped and chipped away at that block and found an amoral, selfish, duplicitous shark underneath. We always knew he was there, we just desperately wanted it all to work out differently.