Under-watched TV series deserves your attention
ON A flight recently I binged all four episodes of Howard's End.
From beginning to end, I was enthralled, more than I would've expected to be from this costume drama. And I realised something. It's because it had my undivided attention - with my phone out of commission, those strange upper-class Brits were the only thing I cared about.
Too often we pick up our phones while watching TV - especially if it's some reality thing where the social conversation is infinitely more interesting than what's happening on screen.
But when it comes to scripted shows, what are we missing by checking our phones every three minutes? Do you really need to look up an actor's IMDb bio that very second? For this week, try putting your phone in another room. See what happens.
(Showcase on Foxtel - Tuesday, September 4 at 9.30pm, then on Foxtel Now)
Laura Dern is having quite a couple of years. After stellar turns in Big Little Lies, Twin Peaks: The Return and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, she's topping off her run with the starring role in the raw and uneasy HBO movie The Tale.
Based on a short story by writer and director Jennifer Fox, Dern plays the older Fox in this stunning biographical film about a woman in her 40s coming upon a story she wrote as a 13-year-old, ostensibly a fictional tale about her camp trainer and the trainer's lover. It later emerges the story is not so fictional and is actually a retelling of Fox's relationship as a teenager with a much older man, a bond she didn't acknowledge as abuse until now.
(Showcase on Foxtel - Tuesday, September 4 at 8pm, then on Foxtel Now)
One of the most under-watched and under-appreciated TV shows of the current crop, Insecure is seriously good storytelling. Star, writer and co-creator Issa Rae's Emmy nomination will hopefully propel Insecure further into the spotlight as the HBO series returns for its third season.
Insecure follows the story of Issa, a young African-American woman who's trying to figure it out - love, work and life.
It's a super relatable story, with this season hinged on Issa trying to be "more adult" and sort out the financial mess she's found herself while trying to deal with the challenges of a job she's been in for eight years, and work out where she stands with ex-boyfriend Daniel, who happens to be her roommate.
Insecure has great writing and its characters feel lived-in - a fresh voice in a crowded TV landscape that deserves your attention.
(Stan - now)
Jim Carrey has always been effective as a dramatic actor because he epitomises the sad clown.
From Man on the Moon to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Carrey's wistfulness has made him so empathetic, it's hard to connect him frantically jumping around in a green mask.
Reteaming Carrey with Eternal Sunshine director Michel Gondry, the eight-episode Kidding (created by Weeds writer Dave Holstein) is a portrait of a grieving father careering towards an inevitable breakdown.
Carrey plays Jeff Pickles, a children's entertainer in the vein of Mr Rogers, whose young son died a year earlier. Separated from his wife (Judy Greer), he's struggling to heal from the tragedy while playing the affable TV personality he's mastered for 30 years.
The first episode dropped early on Stan last Friday ahead of its official September 10 premiere so go check it out now.
TAKE ME OUT
(Seven - Monday, September 3 at 7.30pm, then on 7plus)
If you can't resist the allure of men and women falling "in love" on national TV, all trussed up in shiny clothes and too much make-up, then Take Me Out is better than most. A revamped version of a failed Channel 10 TV show from a decade back, the Joel Creasey version boasts better production values and self-awareness of how cringey it really is.
If you missed the Channel 10 original (and who can blame you) or you haven't seen the Chinese version If You Are The One on SBS, the concept works like this: There's one male suitor wooing 30 women who have the power to decide whether or not they're interested in him. So it's almost a reverse Bachelor (at least until the end when, if there are enough women still in, the power tables turn). It's tacky, it's brash but it just might be the distraction you're looking for.
(Showcase on Foxtel - Monday, September 3 at 9.30pm, then on Foxtel Now)
After the phenomenal success of IT, Stephen King is back in vogue. Adapted from his novel of the same name, the thriller series was developed by David E. Kelley (Big Little Lies, Ally McBeal) and stars Brendan Gleeson and Harry Treadaway. It's less horror-y than traditional King fare and much more a classic detective story than you'd expect.
The story starts when a man in a clown mask ploughs a Mercedes into a crowd, killing 16 people. Two years later, retired detective Bill Hodges (Gleeson) can't let go of the inexplicable crime, especially when the killer starts to taunt him.
IRON FIST S2
(Netflix - Friday, September 7 from 5pm AEST)
Of Marvel's four street-level heroes in its Netflix oeuvre, Iron Fist was the most problematic when he kicked his way on to the scene. The last superhero to be introduced, the show was slammed for several reasons, the most glaring of which is a miscast lead in Finn Jones, who was less than persuasive as someone who that was meant to be the most impressive martial arts fighter that ever lived.
Despite the tepid to unfavourable reception of its first season (I have yet to meet anyone else who actually finished the first season), Iron Fist is back for a second go-around this week, now with a new showrunner in charge and a shortened 10-episode season order.
The review embargo is in place until Wednesday so I can't say anything now but come back later this week for a full rundown on whether or not the second season has fixed the problems that plagued the first.
THE PINK HOUSE: AUSTRALIA'S OLDEST BROTHEL
(SBS - Saturday, September 8 at 9.35pm, then on SBS on Demand)
This intriguing documentary tells the story of Kalgoorlie's last original gold rush brothel. The pink house has been servicing miners since 1904 but with FIFO workers, well, flying out, and cheap escorts from the internet, the brothel has fallen on hard times.
The doco was filmed over several years and is more the challenges faced by its 70-year-old madam, Carmel, and her longest serving sex worker, BJ, than it is about smut or the brothel's clientele. The Pink House originally premiered at the Sydney Film Festival last year.