Including Space Force, McMillions and Philharmonia
From American scandals to French dramas, here are new shows for your small screens.
If you lined up a bunch of global corporations to not have much sympathy for, McDonald's would likely be at the front of the queue. Yet, after six episodes of McMillions, you might consider them innocent victims of a complex criminal conspiracy. In the late 1980s, the fast-food behemoth launched a sales promotion based on Monopoly in which customers could collect tiny cards that might eventually earn them a cash prize. A small set of cards were immediate $1m winners, but each and every one of those golden tickets had been stolen by a man working security for the marketing firm who ran the game; ensuring his own substantial cut in advance, he would then distribute those cards to various friends and family for them to redeem the loot.
This is merely the beginning of a complicated story full of twist and surprises which brings together a mob family, Mormons, drug traffickers, wiretaps, a baddie with Guillain-Barré syndrome, and bizarre sting operations led by an FBI agent who seems to have had an indecent amount of fun. By the end, there are enough lives destroyed to realise this is no gleeful ride, with McMillions offering a compelling exploration of one man's greed and the lengths he went to in order to keep a racket going for over a decade.
All episodes available on NOW TV, Wednesday 27 May; starts on Sky Documentaries, Wednesday 27 May, 9pm.
Two Sisters One Body ★★★★☆
For a while, British TV seemed obsessed with producing documentaries about obesity or disability or mental illness that veered towards the senationalist and bordered on rubbernecking. Thankfully those days seem to have gone and a film such as Two Sisters One Body comes along with not an exploitative bone in its body.
It possibly helps that the story of conjoined twins Lupita and Carmen Andrade comes with an extra element which carries the documentary through its second half, encapsulated by one question which filmmaker Jack MacInnes asks the pair: what's harder, living as conjoined twins or being Mexican in Trump's America? Both swiftly plump for the latter.
Joined at the abdomen, the girls (now 18 and considering their next move in the world) have a brittle sense of humour that has clearly helped them through their lives so far, lives that weren't expected to last more than a couple of years at best. Arguably, this is exactly the kind of thing to watch during lockdown, offering a sense of perspective and a shot of hope into a bruised world.
Channel 4, Sunday 31 May, 9.15pm.
Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich ★★★☆☆
That title might seem a little flippant when you consider the horror of Jeffrey Epstein's sex crimes against underage girls. But thankfully, this Netflix four-part mini-series shows plenty respect for the victims of a long-term predator who died in his jail cell last August. Their stories are sensitively told on screen, many for the first time, and while the often stark and horrific details will leave you appalled, there's still room to feel ample outrage over the lenient treatment he received from the authorities when his crimes first came to light.
You'll be staggered as to why this billionaire investor wasn't put away for a very long time when the net seemed to be closing in on him around 2008: a plea deal meant he served 13 months for two crimes of prostitution soliciting while a long list of charges for sexually assaulting minors was ignored. That Epstein was a chum of presidents Trump and Clinton and also counted Harvey Weinstein and Prince Andrew as pals might not come as news, but the sheer width and length of the connections he maintained while committing sex crimes in various locations around the world is staggering.
The strength of the women who came forward to accuse him is one of the few positives you can take from viewing Filthy Rich. That they were denied their day in court across from him is the lingering tragedy of this long and sordid tale.
All episodes on Netflix from Wednesday 27 May.
'Black Swan in an orchestra' runs the tagline for this six-part French drama about the country's top philharmonic ensemble which contains the nation's finest players but also appears to be cursed. First, the conductor collapses and dies onstage out of the blue, then a young oboe player is found drowned. In between those tragic events, a new conductor is on the scene, the forward-thinking but blunt-talking Hélène Barizet (Marie-Sophie Ferdane).
Rubbing up the stuffed suits who run the orchestra the wrong way as well as making instant enemies with some of the musicians (a brass section member just so happens to be pregnant c/o Hélène's husband), 'the maestro' has chosen young violinist Selena (Lina EL Arabi) as her protégé. Soon, Hélène starts to struggle with her health: is she suffering from a hereditary disease that killed her mother, or is something more nefarious affecting her wellbeing?
Philharmonia packs a lot into its six episodes, and not all of it makes perfect sense or works as flawless drama. But credit is certainly due for it treating classical music with as much respect as The Eddy did recently with jazz, and the musical interludes are expressive and convincing. You may see the answer to its core mystery coming well in advance, but the last episode should still have you wound up tighter than a high-pitched violin.
All episodes available on All 4 from Friday 29 May; starts on Channel 4, Sunday 31 May, 11.15pm.
Space Force ★★☆☆☆
Coming rather swiftly on the back of their tiresome 'dead DJ' mystery White Lines comes another crushing disappointment from Netflix. Steve Carell hasn't worked with Greg Daniels since the triumphant US version of The Office, but on the evidence of their co-writing partnership for Space Force, you could be forgiven for thinking that they'd only just been introduced.
It may be billed as another workplace sitcom, but could it be that shows are fated to fall short when space travel comes to providing a backdrop for comedy? Armando Iannucci's recent Avenue 5 never quite hit the sweet spots of his previous classics while Matt Groening's Futurama was never up to the admittedly impossible task of following up The Simpsons.
Carell plays General Mark Naird who is assigned head up a new lunar branch of the US military with the country's president determined to put 'boots on the moon' by 2024 (the phrase 'boots on the desk' sums up one of the few moments of genuine amusement across the five episodes that this reviewer could stomach). Initially less than excited by the new job, he does get to grips with the vast task at hand while staving off personal enmity at work and home: his jailbird wife is played by Lisa Kudrow in a role that requires her to do almost nothing, while John Malkovich as the stuffy but brilliant chief scientist is one of the programme's few highlights. The Alien tagline had it that 'in space, no one can hear you scream'. Seems that laughing is at a premium there, too.
All episodes on Netflix from Friday 29 March.
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