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Always the champion of independent storytellers in film and theatre, Sundance also includes lots of surprisingly great TV series on its standalone streaming service, Sundance Now.
The problem of lesser-known indie series is figuring out which ones are worth your precious binge time. That’s where we come in.
Begin your maiden Sundance Now journey with the following top-notch offerings…
Here’s a job you simply don’t see portrayed on television. Hanna Stern (Nicola Walker) is a leading divorce lawyer who ditches her family firm for a rival, throwing her relationships into turmoil in the process. She has three kids, a fine husband and a successful career and everything should be good, but it really isn’t. Dealing with other people’s problem marriages can take it out of you and her own personal life is becoming very complicated besides. Don’t let her cool, calm demeanour fool you, there’s all kinds of chaos brewing within this protagonist.
Inspired by the book McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld (2008) by journalist Misha Glenny, this series chronicles the life of Alex Godman (James Norton), the Britain-raised son of a Russian mafia boss living in London. Godman senior is doing his very best to escape from the world of organised crime but, much like that classic Corleone quote: just when you think you’re out…they pull you back in. The family fights against the lure of corruption and their former connections, but when tragedy strikes Alex is inexorably drawn back into “the life” in the name of revenge and survival.
In a world where greedy corporations and corrupt forces victimise average citizens with impunity, a team of high-tech Robin Hoods rise up to scam from the rich and bank transfer to the poor. Captained by Nate Ford, a street-wise former insurance sleuth, this elite crew is made up of a thespian-level grifter, an eccentric bank robber, a human HAL-9000 hacker and a debt retriever with calloused knuckles. What’s driving Nate? You tend to lose faith in playing by the book when your employer refuses to pay for treatment that could have saved your son’s life. Now all bets are off and no Scrooge is safe.
Welcome to the sitcom about the trials, tribulations, and sometimes outright trauma, of being a middle-class alpha mum. The less-than-organised Julia (Anna Maxwell Martin) and her brood of birth-scarred pals do their best to navigate the challenges of parenthood while trying to balance their professional lives despite frequent hang-ups and misunderstandings. That said, and despite the pressures of raising a daughter with little help from an estranged husband, Julia always finds the time to run the odd scam, especially if the potential end goal is free child care.
Welcome to London in 1972, a seemingly safe and prosperous city where the world’s superpowers secretly engage in a war fought mainly by spies. Operation Glass, a Soviet plot to bring down Great Britain, is in full effect and is revealed to MI5 by a defecting KGB officer. Going to the British equivalent of DEFCON 1, Her Majesty’s Secret Service assembles a new team headed up by enigmatic agent Joe Lambe. His mission, should he choose to accept it: investigate the threat to Britain and locate enemy sleeper agents before they can be activated.
BFFs Kate and Michael, who are both deaf and live in Los Angeles, are about to face new challenges, including bad break-ups and being tokenised in their professions due to their condition. Dealing with work, romance and family drama is a delicate balance at the best of times, but even more so when a troubling secret comes along to test their bond in surprising new ways. Though having dual hearing-impaired protagonists makes This Close groundbreaking, nothing about this series pivots on hearing loss. This addictive series is all about good old-fashioned character development and a unique friendship that goes well beyond love.
When his father dies, struggling divorcee Stephen finally finds himself out from under the shadow of a pub landlord and local legend. Inheriting the family business represents a rare, golden opportunity to turn his wayward life around. Right up until Andrew, an affable former foster child briefly raised by Steve’s parents, turns up out of the blue at his father’s funeral and expresses an interest in reconnecting. Is this offer coming from a place of grief and introspection? Or can Andrew smell a payday and a free pub? Either way, hijinks ensue.
Being a resident of the titular rural Tasmanian town of Rosehaven, Daniel (Luke McGregor) is surprised to run into his best friend from mainland Australia, Emma (Celia Pacquola), whose marriage has just ended. During the day-to-day running of a troubled real-estate business, their friendship and sanity are tested by the occasional peaked-in-high-school bully from Daniel’s adolescence and a cabal of charming yet oddball townsfolk. Think: Neighbourhood Watch run by a bunch of isolated weirdos who fear change.
In this British travel documentary series bookish comedian, Richard Ayoade, journeys to a different location each episode with a celebrity guest. The series comes with delightful bits of observational humour and interesting personal insights into the stars themselves. Expect to travel awkwardly with Eddie Izzard, Frank Skinner, Fay Ripley, Jon Hamm and Matt Lucas to name but a few. With his guest in tow, Ayode samples the local delights, be they Alfa Romeo drives on an autobahn or tucking into a bit of boiled sheep’s head.
Here’s something for the viewers who like a bit of something disturbing mixed into their viewing. Rillington Place is a three-part drama series based on the true story of serial killer John “Reg” Christie and the wrongful execution of Timothy Evans. Fair warning: this gets dark, what with it involving a sadistic necrophile. Reg used his position of power as a special police constable to murder eight people (that we know of) in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Equal parts troubling and riveting, Rillington Place is one of the best biographical crime dramas in ages.
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