Showmax turns up the heat with January titles

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AS if we need it to be hotter. It’s no secret I am not a fan of summer, ugh, and therefore I have no shame in staying indoors, out of the sun, watching series. It’s a beautiful day? Sure it is. Close the damn curtains and pretend it isn’t there. Here are some of my January picks on Showmax plus a couple I’ve added to my watchlist based on a recommendation (This England) and the strong possibility of being lavishly gorgeous (Kingdom Of Dreams).

Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt Photo credit by Boris Martin/SHOWTIME

It’s a terribly snobbish thing to do but these days, if I haven’t heard of a series I’ll do a quick Google and see what its ratings are; less than 70% on Rotten Tomatoes and I’m likely not to bother. However, I began watching The First Lady (previously on M-Net) without checking anything. RT users did not like it but I did, and by that time I was invested, so it goes to show you never can tell.

Viola Davis as Michelle Obama. Photo by Jackson Lee Davis/SHOWTIME

Coming on January 23, The First Lady takes us into the East Wing of the White House, where some of history’s most impactful decisions have been hidden from view, made by America’s charismatic, complex and dynamic first ladies. It was nominated for three 2022 Emmys – hair, make up and costume.

Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford. Photo by Murray Close/SHOWTIME

Spanning three different political eras between 1933 and 2017, the show is headlined by triple-Oscar nominee Michelle Pfeiffer (French Exit, The Wizard of Lies, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Frankie and Johnny) as Betty Ford, Emmy winner Gillian Anderson (The Crown, Sex Education, The X Files) as Eleanor Roosevelt, and Oscar winner Viola Davis (The Woman King, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Help, Fences) as Michelle Obama. Davis was nominated for a Black Reel Award, while Pfeiffer was nominated for Best Actress in a Limited Series or Movie Made for Television at the 2023 Critics Choice Awards. Overall, Pfeiffer and Anderson received the most praise, Davis not so much, and she was my least favourite…that thing with her mouth. I asked someone if Michelle Obama did that and they assured me she does. Google images disagrees. I scrolled through dozens of pics and all I saw was a gorgeous smile.

Emmy nominee O-T Fagbenle (The Handmaid’s Tale) is Barack Obama; Emmy winner Kiefer Sutherland (Designated Survivor, 24) plays Franklin D Roosevelt; and Critics Choice nominee Aaron Eckhart (Rabbit Hole, Olympus has Fallen, The Dark Knight) is Gerald Ford.

Corey Stoll as Mike Prince. Photo by Jeff Neumann/SHOWTIME

When I realised Damien Lewis was leaving Billions after five seasons as the main character Bobby “Axe” Axelrod I was concerned the series would tank (for me). I am so glad I was wrong. His nemesis in season five, Mike Prince takes over where Axe left off. He’s played by strangely sexy Corey Stall (House Of Cards, The Many Saints Of Newark) and there’s just as much tension and drama as there ever was. Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) is still hell bent on taking down a billionaire, any billionaire, Wendy (Maggie Siff, Sons Of Anarchy) is as brilliant as ever, and so is Asia Kate Dillon as Taylor Mason. Wags (David Costabile), one of my all time favourite characters in this show, goes from having a heart attack (saved by some rather invasive employee tracking) to singing an Eagles song on stage with his band. If that’s not reason enough to watch I don’t know what is. From January 23.

The Last Of Us (new episodes weekly on Mondays) took me by surprise. If you say “video game adaptation” my eyes immediately glaze over. But tasked with writing a review of the first episode, I watched. And enjoyed.

The game is a hit and the series adaptation looks like it’s following suit – the critics are raving. If like me you are new to this, it’s 20 years after a fungal infection has destroyed civilisation. Not the fun mushrooms at all. Smuggler Joel (Critics Choice Super Award winner Pedro Pascal from The Mandalorian and Game of Thrones) is hired to smuggle 14-year-old Ellie (BAFTA Award winner Bella Ramsey from His Dark Materials and Game Of Thrones) out of an oppressive quarantine zone. But what starts as a small job soon becomes a brutal journey as the pair traverse the US, depending on each other for survival.

Gamers will know how it ends but the producers have promised there will still be some surprises in store for them.

Bella Ramsey and Anna Torv

The series is written and executive produced by Emmy winner Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann from The Last of Us and Uncharted video game franchises. The cast includes Emmy winner Murray Bartlett (The White Lotus), Emmy nominees Melanie Lynskey (Yellowjackets) and Nick Offerman (Fargo), Teen Choice nominees Gabriel Luna (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., True Detective) and Storm Reid (Euphoria, A Wrinkle In Time), multi-award winner Anna Torv (Fringe, Mindhunter), and Oscar nominee Graham Greene (The Green Mile, Wind River).

BAFTA winner Merle Dandridge (The Flight Attendant) and BAFTA nominee Jeffrey Pierce (Castle Rock) reprise the roles they voiced in the game franchise as Marlene and Tommy respectively, while Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker – who voiced Ellie and Joel in the games – are among the guest cast.

On my watch list is documentary series Kingdom Of Dreams in which a French entrepreneur uses young punk talent to reinvigorate fading fashion couture houses and become the richest man in the world. What could possibly go wrong?

Model Debra Shaw

From the Emmy-winning and BAFTA-nominated filmmakers behind McQueen and Rising Phoenix, the four-part series goes into the world of high fashion to reveal the dark side of a billion-dollar industry. With rare library material, never-before-seen personal archives and story-driven interviews, the series follow the meteoric rise of designers John Galliano, Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen and Tom Ford as luxury emperors Bernard Arnault (LVMH), Francois Pinault (Gucci Group) and Anna Wintour (Vogue) reshape the fashion world, conquering its four great kingdoms – Paris, Milan, London and New York.

The Times says it is “visually sumptuous” and I’m here for that.

British politics, don’t get me started. To use a South African phrase, “is alles orraait byrie huis?”. It doesn’t seem like it, shame, bit of a mess over there. I had no intention of watching this series until it was recommended. Now streaming, co-written and directed by BAFTA winner Michael Winterbottom (The Trip, Greed, Welcome To Sarajevo), This England stars Oscar winner Kenneth Branagh as Boris Johnson (complete with prosthetics, a barrelling hunch and a very good, very bad hairpiece) and Ophelia Lovibond (Minx) as Carrie Symonds.

Kenneth Branagh. Photo by Phil Fisk

The six-part Sky Original drama takes us inside the halls of power during Johnson’s tumultuous first months as Prime Minister, as he grapples with Covid-19, Brexit, and a controversial personal and political life.

That should keep you (and me) out of trouble for a while. If you’re looking for more top class content, here are 2023 Critics Choice & Golden Globe nominees on Showmax:

  • House Of The Dragon S1: Best Drama Series, Supporting Actress (Milly Alcock) and Supporting Actor (Matt Smith) nominations, Critics Choice Awards | Best Drama Series and Actress (Emma D’Arcy) nominations, Golden Globes
  • Hacks S2: Best Comedy Series and Actress (Jean Smart) nominations, Critics Choice Awards | Best Comedy Series, Actress (Jean Smart) and Supporting Actress (Hannah Einbender) nominations, Golden Globes
  • Barry S3: Best Comedy Series, Actor (Bill Hader) and Supporting Actor (Henry Winkler) nominations, Critics Choice Awards | Best Actor (Bill Hader) and Supporting Actor (Henry Winkler) nominations, Golden Globes
  • The White Lotus S2: Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Coolidge) nominee, Critics Choice Award | Best Limited Series, Supporting Actress (Jennifer Coolidge and Aubrey Plaza), and Supporting Actor (F. Murray Anderson) nominations, Golden Globes
  • Euphoria S2: Best Drama Series and Actress (Zendaya) nominations, Critics Choice Awards | Best Actress nominee (Zendaya), Golden Globes
  • The Offer: Best Limited Series, Supporting Actor (Matthew Goode) and Supporting Actress (Juno Temple) nominations, Critics Choice Awards
  • This Is Going To Hurt: Best Limited Series and Actor (Ben Whishaw) nominations, Critics Choice Awards
  • Station Eleven: Best Limited Series nominee, Critics Choice Awards
  • The Girl From Plainville: Best Limited Series nominee, Critics Choice Awards
  • My Brilliant Friend S3: Best Foreign Language Series nominee, Critics Choice Awards
  • Ray Donovan: The Movie: Best Movie Made for TV nominee, Critics Choice Awards
  • Nikki Glaser: Good Clean Filth: Best Comedy Special nominee, Critics Choice Awards
  • The Staircase: Best Actor: Limited Series (Colin Firth) nominee, Golden Globes

P.S. Rotten Tomatoes has revealed its Golden Tomato Awards for the best reviewed titles of 2022, with House Of The Dragon taking home Best Series and Top Gun: Maverick, which launches on Showmax on Monday, being named Best Movie. There were also 25 other Showmax titles listed.

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