HUGH LAURIE can do no wrong, in my opinion, even when he’s doing his best to be wrong. Like in Avenue 5, which concludes its season on M-Net 101 on Friday, July 9 and will move all of its nine episodes to Showmax to binge from July 16.
I watched it because of Hugh and it became a guilty pleasure. The HBO sci-fi (only because it’s set in outer space) comedy is utterly ridiculous and frequently completely silly, but it’s got often-subtle black, dry, sardonic, distinctly adult and sometimes blatantly sarcastic humour going for it. The shining moments are plentiful enough to forgive the face-palming turd jokes. Does anyone other than small boys find poo funny?
The story is: “Avenue 5 follows the beleaguered crew and spoiled tourists aboard a space cruise ship that gets thrown off course, turning an eight-week trip around Saturn into a three-year journey back to Earth.” Labelled “galactically good” by Independent (UK), Avenue 5 has already been renewed for a second season, so at least I’m not the only one who enjoyed it.
It has solid credentials in that it was created by Oscar nominee and Emmy and BAFTA winner Armando Iannucci (who brought us Veep, The Thick of It and The Personal History of David Copperfield), the show’s cast is led by Golden Globe winner and 10-time Emmy nominee Laurie (House M.D., Catch-22, Chance); Annie and Grammy Award winner Josh Gad (the voice of Frozen’s Olaf); and Josh Woods you’ll know from Silicon Valley.
The cast also includes Nigerian-born BAFTA nominee Nikki Amuka-Bird (Luther), Teen Choice nominee Himesh Patel (Yesterday), and BAFTA winners Rebecca Front (The Thick of It) and Daisy May Cooper (This Country). Avenue 5 won Best Production Design at the British Film Designs Guild Awards last year.
Available from today, season one of Normal People is on my watch list. The BBC limited series follows the forbidden relationship between Marianne and Connell, two young people with different backgrounds from the same small town in Ireland, as they weave in and out of each other’s romantic lives.Earlier this year, Daisy Edgar-Jones (War Of The Worlds) was nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for her role as Marianne, and Paul Mescal won a BAFTA for his breakout role as Connell. New York Times-bestselling Irish novelist Sally Rooney (Conversations With Friends) and BAFTA-nominated scriptwriter Alice Birch (Succession, Lady Macbeth) were nominated for a 2020 Emmy for the script.
With an 8.5/10 score on IMDb and a 91% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the series picked up three further Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Lead Actor for Mescal, and Outstanding Directing for the Oscar nominee Lenny Abrahamson (Room), who directed alongside BAFTA winner Hettie Macdonald (Howard’s End, Doctor Who).
Globe and Mail calls the series “beautifully made… an achingly powerful story of intimacy, affection, power-dynamics, class division and money.” Washington Post’s Hank Stuever says it’s “one of the best works of TV I’ve watched so far this year, and the rare show during this pandemic stay-at-home saga that made me forget everything else.” And New York Times calls Normal People “moving and emotionally wrecking, in the best way.”
Painting With John looks like a good laugh; it arrives on July 19: “I was hoping this show would be educational, but I really don’t know what the f*ck I’m doing,” says John Lurie, co-founder of musical group The Lounge Lizards.The unscripted series is written and directed by and stars Lurie, and is described as “part meditative tutorial, part fireside chat”. Each episode has Lurie at his worktable at his home in the Caribbean, honing his watercolour techniques and sharing what he’s learned about life. With images of Lurie’s paintings, original music and his point of view all rolled into one, the series strikes an irreverent tone while reminding us to prioritise some time every day for creativity, fun and a bit of mischief. A Bob Ross for our times, perhaps.
Painting With John has a 100% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where the consensus says, “A celebration of art and life through the eyes of a delightful curmudgeon, Painting With John is a surprising, intimate feat of TV joy.”
On the movie side of things, Parasite – considered one of the best films of the century so far – is available to stream now. The South Korean black comedy thriller won more than 300 awards worldwide, including the Cannes Palme d’Or, a Golden Globe, two BAFTAs, and four 2020 Oscars: Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best International Feature Film and – a first for a non-English language film – Best Picture.
Co-written and directed by Bong Joon Ho (Snowpiercer, The Host, Mother, Okja), Parasite weaves a tale of class discrimination and greed as a poor family schemes to infiltrate a wealthy household by posing as highly qualified, unrelated individuals.
Vulture calls Parasite “a nerve-racking masterpiece,” saying, “You expect Parasite to be one thing, but it mutates into something else,” while New York Times says it’s “Bong at his best” in “an urgent story of class, told in the most sensationally entertaining way.”
You can also watch Joker, Joaquin Phoenixe’s tour de force which is IMDb’s 65th highest-rated film of all time, and the sixth biggest box office hit of 2019. Joker won Oscars, Golden Globes, BAFTAs and Critics Choice Awards in 2020 for Phoenix (Best Actor) and Hildur Guðnadóttir (Best Score), as well as more than 100 other awards around the world.
Joker centres on Arthur Fleck, a man struggling to find his way in Gotham’s fractured society. A clown-for-hire by day, he aspires to be a stand-up comic at night… but finds the joke always seems to be on him. Caught in a cyclical existence between apathy and cruelty, Arthur makes one bad decision that brings about a chain reaction of escalating events in this gritty character study of the iconic arch nemesis.
It’s violent and disturbing but ultimately brilliant and tragic as the film explores the deep darkness of mental health in turmoil.
Directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover), Joker also stars Oscar winner Robert De Niro (Raging Bull,The Godfather: Part II), Emmy nominees Zazie Beetz (Deadpool 2, Atlanta) and Bill Camp (The Queen’s Gambit, The Night Of), Golden Globe winner Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under, American Horror Story), and three-time Screen Actors Guild Award winner Shea Whigham (Boardwalk Empire, American Hustle).
On the subject of mental health, legendary Oscar-winning comedian Robin Williams would have turned 70 on July 21 but instead he took his own life in 2014. The documentary Robin’s Wish tells the story of what really happened to one of the greatest entertainers of all time – and the devastating disease his mind was fighting in the lead up to his tragic suicide.
Featuring interviews with the people who knew and loved Robin, from his widow, Susan Williams, to the many directors who worked with him, the documentary holds an 89% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where the critics consensus says, “Robin’s Wish offers an emotional look at the end of a life suddenly cut short – and pays warm tribute to the brilliant legacy that was left behind.”
Wall Street Journal says Robin’s Wish “offers a portrait in unfathomable courage. It’s a horror story shackled to a hero’s journey in which a man with a surpassingly fertile mind feels himself – his deepest, essential self – coming inexorably, inexplicably undone.”
Watch it from July 16.
Also watch the award-winning HBO documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind on Showmax.