Like its anatomical namesake, the festive perineum is the boring bit that stretches between two much more interesting parts. It comes after Boxing Day when the relatives have gone home, it’s freezing cold, you’re bloated with carbs and cider, and there’s nothing to do before the New Year fitness regime kicks in – and it’s the perfect time for a TV binge.
The trouble is, you’ve worked your way through Breaking Bad and it’s months till the new seasons of Daredevil and Orange Is The New Black. With all those empty hours stretching out till 3rd January, why not dive into something you might not normally try? Coach looks beyond the usual American and British offerings to find some unexpected TV gems.
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Since The Killing, TV has seen a rash of miseryguts homicide detectives solving crimes with little regard for social niceties, and joining the likes of Broadchurch and The Bridge is this French series. Newly arrived in Lyon, Commandant Bertrand Molina (nicely played by stone-faced comedian François-Xavier Demaison) is immediately forced to deal with the disappearance of 17-year-old Léa Morel (Camille Razat) at a music festival. Tensions rise as the police’s search reveals some uncomfortable truths for her family and friends, exacerbated by Molina’s high-handed, by-the-book professionalism. A classic mystery with suspects and red herrings galore, it’s an easy but involving watch that doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Best thing about it? Alix Poisson and Pierre-François Martin-Laval as Léa’s devastated parents are wholly convincing, but probably the most enjoyable element is the developing rapport between Molina and perpetually hungry partner Camille Guérin (Alice Pol).
How much time do you need to devote to it? Eight hours.
You’ll like it if you like… The Killing, especially if you thought the first season – where, as here, a teenage girl vanishes and we see the shattering impact on her family – was too long at 20 episodes. Available on Amazon Instant Video (not Prime), iTunes, DVD, Blu-ray
Revenge. Preventing tragedy. The love of a good woman. Action-hero motivation is usually pretty predictable – but for NSS operatives Kim Hyun-jun (Lee Byung-hun) and Jin Sa-woo (Jung Joon-ho), their cause is a far nobler one: the reunification of Korea. Oh… and there’s the love of a good woman too, although unfortunately it’s the same one for both Kim and Jin. As the secret agents fight for the future of the peninsula, competing agencies appear out of nowhere, good guys are bad guys and vice versa, characters are horribly killed except not really, and it all adds up to a rocket-fuelled international espionage thriller – the most expensive Korean TV drama ever made – that will keep you nailed to your sofa.
Best thing about it? The breakneck shifts from romance to action will keep you on your toes, while the locations – it was shot in Japan and Hungary as well as Korea – are beautifully showcased with some dizzying camerawork.
How much time do you need to devote to it? 20 hours.
You’ll like it if you like… The much-missed, always exciting, extremely silly early-2000s US spy drama Alias, with Jennifer Garner. Available on Netflix
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Thicker Than Water
You thought Swedish TV was all grim-faced detectives and dead bodies? Think again. Sometimes it’s sun-drenched, dreamy family dramas… and dead bodies. The Waldemar siblings are reunited at their family’s guesthouse on the holiday island of Åland without knowing why – until their mother takes her own life, and her will instructs them to spend the season managing the hotel together if they want their inheritance. Eldest brother Lasse (Björn Bengtsson), a struggling Stockholm restaurateur, younger sister Jonna (Aliette Opheim), an actor, and middle child Oskar (Joel Spira), who manages the guesthouse with his wife Liv (Jessica Grabowsky), start out with the best intentions but they can’t escape the troubles in their past. How did Lasse’s restaurant get set on fire? What happened to their father? And why is that sexy vicar taking her top off in front of Oskar? Some of these questions will be answered.
Best thing about it? Spira’s performance is a masterclass in middle-child insecurity, as he keeps Oskar’s jealousy and resentment simmering beneath the surface – most of the time.
How much time do you need to devote to it? Ten hours.
You’ll like it if you like… Netflix’s Bloodline, with which it shares some similarities in theme if not tone. Available on All4, DVD
Club de Cuervos
Sex, drugs, family, politics and football – this glossy Mexican drama has everything you could want from a TV binge. When the long-serving chairman of Cuervos FC dies, his daughter Isabel (Mariana Treviño) assumes she will succeed him, only to be passed over for her feckless younger brother Chava (Luis Gerardo Méndez), who harbours grandiose plans to make Cuervos the Real Madrid of Latin America… if he can stop partying long enough. Cue the inevitable conflict, which the writers mine expertly for both drama and comedy. Depending on who you support, you may also find some pointed satire about the way football clubs are run.
Best thing about it? Undoubtedly Treviño, whose teeth-grinding, fist-shaking frustration is a delight.
How much time do you need to devote to it? With the second season released in early December, there are 23 episodes of around 40 minutes each.
You’ll like it if you like… Fiery women striving to achieve their ambitions and cast off the shackles of their overbearing families. Yes, it’s basically Game Of Thrones but with football and wealthy Mexican playboys. Available on Netflix
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Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
If you want something beyond the usual UK and US stuff that rules the TV schedules but would rather not read subtitles, how about this series of enjoyable whodunits set in 1920s Melbourne? Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis) is the sharp-witted detective running rings around murderers and police alike, solving the homicides of everyone from antiques dealers and magazine columnists to schoolgirls and chambermaids, all while quaffing champagne and showing off the most glamorous flapper fashions ever seen in Victoria. It’s true comfort viewing, with the intrigue and wit sometimes just a backdrop to costumes and set decoration, and it’s impossible to overdose on it – especially in your post-Christmas daze.
Best thing about it? When the dialogue and plotting sag, there’s always the gorgeously recreated sets to goggle at.
How much time do you need to devote to it? 36 hours, but without an overarching narrative to drive it, you can dip in and out as much as you like.
You’ll like it if you like… Poirot, because it’s basically Australian Poirot, except the quirky-but-brilliant art-deco detective has a sleek bob instead of a waxed moustache. Available on Netflix, DVD
A naïve blonde woman is sent to jail after doing one too many dodgy favours for her boss, who’s also her lover. Out of her depth and terrified, she is forced to negotiate the dangerous, unfamiliar prison territory and figure out who can and can’t be trusted among the staff and inmates. It may sound a familiar premise, but while Orange Is The New Black focuses on character and social issues, this Spanish series is a straight-up thriller – although like OITNB, Locked Up exploits the setting for some unsettling black comedy. After her cellmate is murdered, newly incarcerated Macarena Ferreiro (Maggie Civantos) decides the only way to survive is to get out, which means unearthing a bundle of money hidden somewhere on the outside. Cue violence, chicanery, betrayal, more violence… and the obligatory lesbian affair. Eminently bingeworthy.
Best thing about it? Najwa Nimri’s scenery-chewing turn as the villainous Zulema is cartoonish but hugely entertaining – hey, all prisoners in Spain are allowed to keep pet scorpions in their cells, right? – as is Ramiro Blas’s as creepy Dr Sandoval.
How much time do you need to devote to it? Eleven hours, with another season on its way.
You’ll like it if you like… Prison Break, 24 and anything else with a penchant for expertly crafted cliffhanger endings. Just one more episode… Available on All4
A bank robbery. Secret documents. A government cover-up. A maverick detective who won’t let go of the truth. Salamander has all the clichéd elements of all the most clichéd conspiracy thrillers but… there’s no but. Let’s face it, this isn’t the time of year to get into anything heavy, and this Belgian drama rushes by at a pace that lets you forgive its most hackneyed plot points. There are shadowy agents, and flashbacks to the war, and car bombs in suburbia, and in the midst of it all Inspector Paul Gerardi (Filip Peeters) maintains a permanent blank face and a dogged dedication to exposing the criminals. Ridiculous fun.
Best thing about it? There are just so many it’s hard to choose. The bit where Gerardi basically breaks the case thanks to a gobsmackingly massive coincidence. Or the fact that – for some unknown reason – he has an actual monk to do all his Googling for him. Or his lovely snowy-white beard. It’s the monk, isn’t it?
How much time do you need to devote to it? There are a dozen 45-minute episodes, with another season – yes! – reportedly on its way.
You’ll like it if you like… Switching your brain off and going with the flow. Available on Amazon Instant Video (not Prime), DVD
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