This is your sign to close Netflix for once and actually venture into your living room.
We’re still in the middle of lockdown, finding ourselves continuously reliant on the arts, in particular TV, for both entertainment and escapism. Many of us have spent much of the last year binging countless series on various streaming services; the stages of the pandemic appear to have been marked by the latest Netflix phenomenon, from Tiger King to the recent Bridgerton. But if you’re stuck for what to watch next, why not consider the somewhat ‘old-school’ joy of terrestrial TV? Here is a selection of shows from the main channels that I recommend you check out, if you need a television-shaped distraction right now.
1. Taskmaster (Channel 4)
I bitterly regret only properly discovering Taskmaster in the autumn of last year, but it provided, and continues to provide, a hilarious diversion during an uncertain time. The concept of this panel show is simple: Greg Davies dons the role of the ‘Taskmaster’, with the show’s creator Alex Horne as his dedicated sidekick. In each series, five comedians compete in a host of weird and wonderful tasks, with the Taskmaster awarding points when the various attempts are watched back in the studio. The victor of each episode wins a collection of prizes brought in by the contestants themselves, and an overall champion is crowned at the end of the series. There is no show quite like Taskmaster: where else would you see Noel Fielding camouflaging himself as a banana, or Mawaan Rizwan attempting to inflate an egg with helium? Not even the recent move from Dave to Channel 4 and the limitations of social distancing have been able to stunt the shows’ consistent brilliance (or its ability to make me cry with laughter). What’s more, there’s ten whole series to gorge on, with more on the way this year. Enjoy!
2. RuPaul’s Drag Race UK (BBC Three)
There isn’t a lot of structure to our weeks at the moment, but my Friday afternoons are currently dedicated to catching up with the new episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK. The reality competition series has firmed its place in contemporary culture, and the UK version – now in its second series – has already made its own mark. It separates itself from the American original by leaning into its inherent Britishness: the queens receive a ‘RuPeter Badge’ for winning the weekly challenges, and RuPaul and Michelle Visage are joined by a host of UK icons on the judging panel, including Graham Norton and Alan Carr on alternating weeks. As well as hilarious challenges and killer runway looks, there are also some incredibly candid moments in the work room, as the queens share their personal stories, including an emotional discussion in a recent episode about identifying as non-binary. Fiercely competitive whilst never taking itself too seriously, Drag Race makes for perfect lockdown viewing.
3. Race Across the World (BBC Two)
We might not be able to go anywhere at the moment, but Race Across the World allows us to travel the globe without having to leave the sofa! This reality show follows five pairs of competitors in a race around a section of the world, with the winning team receiving a £50,000 prize. The catch is that air travel is banned; instead, the teams are each given money, equivalent to a one-way plane ticket to their final destination, which they can use to travel by land or sea – as well as to pay for their food and accommodation. In series 1, the teams had to get from London to Singapore, whilst in series 2, the race covers the length of South America. Along the way, the pairs can work to earn extra money, whilst finding the quickest and cheapest route to the various checkpoints. Race Across the World is a remarkable show that I couldn’t recommend more. It brings the wonders of the world to our living rooms, plus the emotional journeys of the teams are incredibly compelling.
4. Inside No. 9 (BBC Two)
To me, the best examples of lockdown TV allow us to escape into the world they have created – and Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have created 31 of these worlds, in the form of Inside No. 9. This is an anthology series where each 30-minute episode is a self-contained story with new characters (played by a treasure trove of guest stars) and new settings, with the only continuities being the number ‘9’ and the appearances of writers Shearsmith and Pemberton in some form. At its core, Inside No. 9 is a dark comedy, but it transcends genre like no other show, with the inclusion of horror, slapstick, psychodrama and even a musical episode within the series. This seems like ideal viewing for the present moment: you don’t need to watch the episodes in order, and there is no commitment to remember plots and characters as each story is a clean slate – perfect for our dwindling attention spans. You never know what you’re going to get when you press play on an episode of Inside No. 9. The only certainty is that it’ll be a treat.
5. Derry Girls (Channel 4)
Perhaps comedy is the best genre of TV to see us through this difficult time, and I could make endless recommendations, but Channel 4’s Derry Girls is a show that I don’t think enough people have seen. If you liked Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington in Bridgerton, prepare to fall in love with her as schoolgirl Clare, one of the loveable characters we are introduced to in Lisa McGee’s comedy Derry Girls. The show is set in Northern Ireland during the 1990s, and follows the teenage drama of Erin Quinn and her friends. The show is as poignant as it is hilarious (and it is VERY funny). With only 12 episodes over 2 series, Derry Girls makes for a quick and easy binge watch, particularly before the upcoming third series is filmed later this year. It’s a comedy that is made with a lot of heart; it might make you cry, but, most importantly at the moment, it will definitely make you laugh.