It’s been a long lockdown. But you may finally get a bit of time to yourself over half-term – and sadly, with almost everything shut, that means more time with the TV.
But thankfully, this is a golden age for quality new TV shows and films.
Here, the Tes team has picked 10 boxsets and films that are worth seeking out on various platforms to while away a few hours this half-term, or indeed, any time.
1. The Dig (Netflix)
This beautifully filmed drama about the uncovering of the Sutton Hoo treasure in the late 1930s is a lovely escape from current times.
There are fantastic performances by Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes as the leads but perhaps the real star is child actor Archie Barnes as the son of Mrs Petty – the landowner where the ship is found – who mixes raw emotion and childlike wonder in equal measure.
There’s a scene set at night towards the end that is utterly captivating.
An unnecessary subplot slows things down but nonetheless this is a lovely way to while away a couple of hours and forget you’re living through a pandemic.
2. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix)
You know where you are with Aaron Sorkin. There will be snappy, rapid-fire dialogue: you’ll need to rewind at least twice to appreciate it fully. There’s the starry cast, this time including Mark Rylance and Sacha Baron Cohen, the latter complete with Bostonian accent and hippy hair.
And there’s political resonance: though this film is set in the late 1960s, it is about contemporary politics – racism, police brutality, political corruption – as much as if it had been set in the present day.
Mostly, though, this is real edge-of-your-seat drama: watch it with your mouth hanging open.
3. It’s a Sin (Channel 4, All4)
You know, at the start of the first episode of It’s a Sin, that not all the characters will make it through to the end. It’s a drama about AIDS in the 1980s; there will be tears.
But, even though you might tell yourself that you mustn’t get too attached to the characters, they draw you in: you laugh with them, you cry with them, you want them to live. For that, alone, It’s a Sin qualifies as excellent drama.
But it does something else, too: it forces the viewer to take a long, hard look at attitudes towards gay people that were widespread only a few decades ago.
It’s a Sin shows how AIDS can destroy the body but it also shows how homophobia can ravage the soul.
4. RuPaul’s Drag Race UK (BBC)
If you’re already a fan of Drag Race, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting – though with slightly different accents.
If this is your first introduction to Drag Race, don’t be put off by all the “Awright, guv'nor” gurning and references to the Queen in the first episode.
By episode two, we see what really matters: the relationships between the contestants. This is basically a soap opera in competition form. With possibly the best outfits you’ve ever seen.
5. Night Stalker (Netflix)
If you’re a true crime fan, you’ll most likely already know the name Richard Ramirez. Nicknamed the Night Stalker, Ramirez terrorised California in the mid 1980s with a string of grisly murders and home invasions.
Netflix documentary series Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer charts the investigation into the attacks, through interviews with survivors and the detectives who worked the case – all set to a banging Eighties soundtrack.
It’s not one for the squeamish but, if true crime is your thing, this series won’t disappoint.
6. Bridgerton (Netflix)
The most-watched Netflix original show of all time is Jane Austen on steroids: complex love matches, scandalous social faux pas, outrageous costumes and plenty of, er, intimate moments all make for a sumptuous feast of self-indulgent telly.
And if you're still not convinced that a Regency-based drama is your thing, we’ll add that the production levels are superb, the plot moves along at a fair old pace and the actors are cast perfectly, ranging from up-and-coming stars to seasoned pros, which means there’s rarely a dud scene throughout. It just works.
Still not convinced? Well, 82 million people can’t be wrong, can they?
7. Lupin (Netflix)
This French drama is on Netflix and focuses on a “gentleman burglar”, who has perfected the art of the perfect crime – partly for glory and riches but also to help him find the answer to why his father was framed for a crime that occurred during his childhood.
Paris is the backdrop but don’t go expecting an Emily in Paris vibe – it’s more gritty than that. But it’s not some endlessly dark thriller either; there is a playful lightness that makes it an easy watch. There are a few plot holes that jar slightly but actor Omar Sy is a brilliant lead and carries the whole thing with real panache.
The only downside? Unless you speak French, you’ll need to read the subtitles, which means no looking at your phone as you watch. Maybe that’s a good thing, actually.
8. The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)
Another hugely popular Netflix hit – and perhaps a surprise one as, on the surface, it’s about a young chess prodigy who rises through the ranks to become the world’s best.
But there’s so much more to it than that: her strange upbringing in a child’s institution, the adoption by the absent father and self-destructive mother, the somewhat-unwanted attentions of the male chess players, and all the time the knowledge she must beat the great Russian grandmaster Borgov to truly take her place at the top of the chess hierarchy.
What ties all this together as a must-watch series is fantastic attention to detail on set design, costume, locations and music – a pure televisual treat.
And it may inspire you to dig out the chessboard as a new lockdown hobby.
9. The Serpent (BBC iPlayer)
This real-life story of the hidden darkness of Asia’s hippie trail in the 1970s leaves you mesmerised and aghast, and perhaps a little grateful for the ubiquity and advances in technology.
The eight-part series tells the story of the thief, fraudster and serial killer Charles Sobhraj – who preyed on unwary tourists and evaded the authorities for decades – and the Dutch diplomat who became instrumental in bringing him to justice.
It makes for chilling and compulsive viewing.
10. Ted Lasso (Apple TV)
If you’re suffering from withdrawal symptoms after Schitt’s Creek, divert your attention to Ted Lasso – where the titular character’s old-school chivalry and constant wide-eyed bafflement could make him a cousin of Johnny Rose.
The premise is delicious: the owner of a fictional Premier League football team (played by Hannah Waddingham, who terrified as Septa Unella in Game of Thrones) hires an American football coach with zero experience of “soccer”, in an attempt to sabotage the club’s chances and spite her villainous ex-husband (Anthony Head, of the old Gold Blend ads).
Ted (Jason Sudeikis) is a fantastic throwback. His aw-shucks ingenuousness in the macho dressing room plays a bit like James Stewart walking into the Queen Vic and attempting to order a root beer.
It’s the warm blanket of good-natured comedy we need in these difficult times, with just enough dramatic bite to keep up the momentum when Ted’s bewilderment at British eccentricity starts to wear thin.