The very best of TV: everything you should stream in January

By Thomas Mitchell

Top streaming in January (from left): Nicole Kidman in Being the Ricardos, Jamie Dornan in the Tourist and Bojana Novakovic in Love Me.

Another month, another slew of TV shows to keep you entertained across your platform of choice.

While the options can seem daunting, we’ve waded through all the platforms and come up with a best-of list that covers all the major providers.

A mix of old, new, funny and true; our “what to watch” list for January is guaranteed to offer something for everyone. Let us know what you think in the comments section, and don’t forget to tell us what you’re watching. Find out the next TV, streaming series and movies to add to your must-sees. Get The Watchlist delivered every Thursday.

Netflix

Eddie Izzard and Cush Jumbo in the thriller Stay Close, which is based on a Harlan Coben novel.Credit:Netflix

Our top recommendation on Netflix is Stay Close which gets ★★★.

You know what you’re getting with a Harlan Coben novel and it’s been much the same with Netflix’s adaptations of the American author’s popular thrillers over the past few years. Safe, The Stranger and now Stay Close are devious untanglings of past crimes, relocated to British soil and given an extra dollop of escalating plot tension. In this instalment, it’s Cush Jumbo’s Megan who has to look back in anger, when a figure from her former life, long missing, has returned in search of her; menacing flashbacks make the risk clear. Parallel strands add a police detective (James Nesbitt) still looking for the same missing person, and sundry family members who are possibly connected by questionable acts while Eddie Izzard as a seedy solicitor brings welcome eccentricity to his every scene.

What else to watch on Netflix:

If you want a movie that everyone is talking about check out Don’t Look Up to see if you are in the love or loathe camp. A star cast headed by Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett feature in this satire about what happens when a deadly comet is discovered to be headed straight for Earth. Writer-director Adam McKay, co-writer of The Big Short, takes a shot at the media, politics, cancel culture, celebrity culture and everything in between.

If you want something to watch with the kids the new animated feature Back to the Outback is a cute tale about a bunch of zoo animals often given the cold shoulder by visitors (including a snake, spider and scorpion) escaping to the outback and includes the voices of Tim Minchin, Keith Urban, Isla Fisher, Eric Bana, Miranda Tapsell and Guy Pearce.

Binge

Bojana Novakovic as Clara and Hugo Weaving as her father Glenn.Credit:Sarah Enticknap

Our top recommendation on Binge is Love Me which gets ★★★★. Binge’s first original commission is a slickly produced drama following three members of the Mathieson family finding love in the wake of loss: widower Glenn (Hugo Weaving), his daughter Clara (Bojana Novakovic, pictured above), an anaesthetist who fears her successful career has come at the cost of finding a life partner and younger brother Aaron (Will Lodder), a law student caught up in the throes of first love or at least, lust. When matriarch Christine dies, grief affects each of the Mathiesons in different ways and they grapple with their loss at the same time as experiencing new love. The six episodes follow each of the Mathiesons’ love stories, but it’s the story of 60-something Glenn, who falls in love with Anita (Heather Mitchell), that’s the most radical here, with its honest portrayal of older people as sexual beings. Directed by Emma Freeman (The Newsreader), Love Me is a polished tale of love across three generations, set in a very chic looking Melbourne.

What else to watch on Binge: If you want to finally catch up on one of the most acclaimed shows of 2021 … Mare of Easttown won’t disappoint with Kate Winslet starring as a toughened, care-worn police detective. It might have taken until the summer holidays for you to find the time to watch it, but our critics think this crime series is worth the wait.

If you want to feel better about your family after a Christmas argument … the Roy family will surely make you reassess any qualms you have with your relatives. A masterclass in Machiavellian family dynamics, Succession follows the lives of media mogul Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and his children who are in a constant struggle for control of the family business.

Stan*

Luci (Shalom Brune-Franklin) and The Man (Jamie Dornan) in The Tourist.

Our top recommendation on Stan is The Tourist, which gets ★★★★.

Jamie Dornan (The Fall, The Fifty Shades of Grey) plays The Man, who is chased off the road by a truck in the South Australian outback. When he wakes up in hospital, he has no memory of who he is, save for a note in his pocket directing him to a meeting the next day at Gloria’s Diner.

With the aid of a young policewoman, Helen (played by Danielle Macdonald), and a waitress, Luci (Shalom Brune-Franklin), The Man attempts to piece his past together, starting with his name. He’s not the only one trying to find himself, though: he’s being pursued by a mysterious cowboy hat-wearing man (Olafur Darri Olafsson) and a detective (Damon Herriman).

Read our interview with star Jamie Dornan and our review.

What else to watch on Stan:

If you want a quirky family drama Bump, the feel-good hit of last summer is back with a new season full of big-hearted comedic drama. Emerging stars Nathalie Morris and Carlos Sanson Jr. are terrific as teenage parents Oly and Santi, who are taking baby Jacinda to high school with them. Claudia Karvan and Angus Sampson are hilarious and deeply sympathetic at the head of a cast of adult characters who are also struggling to figure out this complicated thing called life.

If you want a post-apocalyptic drama imbued with hope … Station Eleven centres on Kristen (Mackenzie Davis) who, 20 years after most of humanity has been wiped out by a flu, is a performer with a travelling troupe of actors and musicians. Based on Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 novel, this 10-part series strays a little from the book. Still, it remains a sprawling tale of interwoven stories set both pre- and post-pandemic.

If you want tender tragedy the fourth and final episode of Landscapers reinforces how effectively it reworked the true-crime drama. While it is based on real life events, the murder case involving Olivia Colman and David Thewlis’ seemingly innocuous couple uses illusions to illustrate bedrock truths. Director Will Sharpe shows sets being decommissioned, while the characters lie to themselves so they can continue to believe what they need to.

Amazon Prime

Javier Bardem as Dezi Arnaz and Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos.Credit:Glen Wilson/Amazon

Our top recommendation on Amazon Prime is Being the Ricardos which gets ★★★★½.

Nicole Kidman is terrific as Lucille Ball, playing both the savvy showbiz veteran and her completely different TV persona Lucy Ricardo, whom 60 million Americans watched every week in 1952, until hack Walter Winchell labelled her a communist. Aaron Sorkin’s masterful film follows Lucille and husband/co-star/producer Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) through the worst week of their lives, as they put together their 37th show.

Read our review.

What else to watch on Amazon Prime:

If you want stellar sci-fi … The Expanse‘s concluding sixth season brings to a head an escalating 23rd century conflict spanning the fragmented solar system. Interested in inequality’s grip and the rise of militancy, the narrative makes the individuals at the centre of these events flawed and by this despairing point, even fatalistic. Space opera heroics have thankfully rarely played a part in this series, arguably the best science fiction in the past decade, and the show is set up to leave a comprehensive streaming legacy.

If you want to be beamed up … new documentary Shatner in Space follows legendary Star Trek actor William Shatner’s journey into actual space on Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin mission that left him weeping at the condition of the Earth.

Apple TV+

Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in The Tragedy of Macbeth. Credit:Alison Rosa/A24/Apple TV Plus

Our top recommendation for Apple TV+ is The Tragedy of Macbeth which gets ★★★.

The Tragedy of Macbeth, the first feature film from Joel Coen without his brother Ethan, is a reasonably faithful adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play – and as such, not a million miles from the Coens’ back catalogue, half of which focuses on bumbling would-be crooks whose bad choices bring them undone.

Yet the film’s Macbeth, finely played by Denzel Washington (above), is anything but a bumbler. On the contrary, he’s a serious man and his choice to go over to the dark side by slaying his ruler Duncan (Brendan Gleeson) is made with open eyes after careful deliberation. Similarly calculating is Lady Macbeth, as played by Frances McDormand.

Read our review.

What else to watch on Apple TV+:

If you want an alternative history of the space race … For All Mankind replays the Cold War and social issues such as women’s liberation through long character arcs both on the moon and in the control room.

If you want to rewatch comedy gold … Blazing Saddles is always worth revisiting but even more so with the release of director Mel Brooks’ memoir All About Me!

Disney+

Cave divers Rick Stanton and John Volanthen in diving gear for documentary The Rescue.

Our top recommendation for Disney+ is The Rescue which gets ★★★★.

The Rescue is a gripping, detailed account of what is very much still a headline story – the remarkable extraction of a teenage soccer team from a flooded Thai cave system in 2018. The outline and outcome of the rescue may be known, but there is much to be learnt, some of it deeply unexpected and tragic.

Read our review.

What else to watch on Disney+:

If you want a witty comic thriller … Only Murders in the Building was among our top shows for 2021. The pleasures in this show were numerous and unexpected although anything that included Steve Martin and Martin Short was always going to have us laughing.

If you want something for young book-lovers … chances are they are fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the mega-selling illustrated books by Jeff Kinney. This new CGI adaptation has a real emotional authenticity to it and given it runs less than an hour is great family holiday viewing that won’t wipe out an entire afternoon.

Paramount+

Faith Hill as Margaret Dutton in 1883.Credit:Emerson Miller/Paramount

Our top recommendation for Paramount+ is 1883 which gets ★★★★.

This is a detailed, unyielding western that looks anew at how America’s frontier was settled, and the many conflicts that created, while also serving as an origin story for the popular drama Yellowstone.

Read our review.

What else to watch on Paramount+:

If you want Oscar winners in a crime drama …. Dianne Wiest and Jeremy Renner star in Mayor of Kingstown set in a grim Michigan town dominated by the private-prison industry. Renner plays a suit-wearing fixer who makes his living doing whatever is needed to keep the peace between corrupt prison guards, violent inmates, murderous police and murderous street gangs.

If you want funny friends … the imperfect dynamic of Kat Stewart’s Liz and Johnny Carr’s tradie Simmo in this local comedy-drama about a modern group household is at the centre of Five Bedrooms.

ABC

As the daughter of Prime Minister Isabel Perez (Claire Fearon, centre), Cat (Cassandra Helmot, right) will soon discover how the corridors of power really work in The PM’s Daughter. Credit:J. Pratley

Our top recommendation on ABC Me is PM’s Daughter which gets ★★★ ½.

With a sharp tone and some real heart this ABC series shows – with some comic exaggeration – how the gap between an individual and the government isn’t insurmountable. Forging a teenage coalition and pushing for change is possible, which is a message that takes this series beyond its adolescent audience.

What else to watch on ABC iview:

If you are a news junkie … The Newsreader is a thrill from beginning to end, as it hooks the big news moments from 1986 (Halley’s Comet, the Challenger explosion, the release from jail of Lindy Chamberlain, the Russell Street bombing) against the personal lives of ambitious reporter Dale Jennings (Sam Reid), star newsreader Helen Norville (Anna Torv) and their colleagues in Melbourne’s “News at Six” newsroom.

If you want something short and interesting … AFTRS: Festival Favourites showcases recent student films from the Australian Film Television and Radio School and is a chance to see the work of some of our emerging filmmakers, and a celebration of the short film format.

SBS on Demand

Marc Fennell presents the four-part documentary Framed on SBS.

Our top recommendation on SBS on Demand is Framed.

Marc Fennell really knows how to satisfy his curiosity. A year ago, the media polymath – he’s a co-anchor on The Feed, award-winning podcaster, and host of Mastermind, among various gigs – learnt through Twitter of an infamous crime he’d never known about: in 1986 Pablo Picasso’s painting The Weeping Woman was stolen from Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria, with ransom demands left by a group calling itself Australian Cultural Terrorists.

Just 12 months later and Fennell knows much more about the theft, which was then a media sensation in Melbourne and the subject of headlines worldwide. The result is a four-part true-crime documentary which in 100 minutes takes viewers through variously a cultural crossfire, true crime farce, and lingering tragedy.

Read our interview with Marc Fennell.

What else to watch on SBS on Demand:

If you want some extra-credit Lucille Ball bingeing … pair a screening of Being the Ricardos with documentary Lucille Ball: We Love Lucy, which focuses on her groundbreaking work as an actor, becoming the first woman head of a television production studio, and the ways in which she paved the way for future generations of female comedians.

If you want a Norwegian science fiction police procedural … and who doesn’t? In Beforeigners, refugees are mysteriously arriving in present-day Oslo from the Stone Age, Viking era and 19th century.

Other FTA streamers (10 Play, 9Now, 7plus)

Sir David Attenborough’s new show is A Perfect Planet

Our top recommendation across the free-to-air streamers is David Attenborough’s A Perfect Planet on 9Now.

David Attenborough takes a fascinating sidestep in this documentary series, shifting his focus from animal life to earth science with footage shot over four years in 31 countries.

What else to watch

If you want a laugh … Jimeoin delivers observations in the same affable style in Jimeoin: Ramble On that he’s become known and loved for. Along the way, he reveals the absurdities that hide in plain sight everywhere in life. 10Play.

If you want a droll British comedy … The Goes Wrong Show is for anyone who has ever secretly hankered for a theatre performance to have hiccups, a setback, and a complete stuff-up in a single performance. 7Plus.

* Nine is the owner of Stan, 9Now and this masthead.

Find out the next TV, streaming series and movies to add to your must-sees. Get The Watchlist delivered every Thursday.

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