For the most entertaining, thrilling and compelling programmes, streaming service Lightbox NZ has arguably the best on offer. While you might have to rent movies on Lightbox, it still offers plenty of award-winning television series to freely binge-watch into the wee small hours. The streaming service is also a great free bonus if you’re with Spark NZ. So what are the shows on Lightbox in 2018? Here are the top-10 programmes, according to my humble opinion, writes Denise Piper.
The Handmaid’s Tale
In a dystopian future not too far from now, environmental disaster has decimated the fertility rate. In the fundamentalist state of Gilead, fertile women are treated as property – handmaids – forced to reproduce heirs for rich families. One of these women, Offred, vows to break out of this world, seemingly on her own, with a mission to find the daughter that was taken from her. This science fiction/drama is a powerful reimaging of Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same name. Dramatic cinematography and credible acting – led by Elisabeth Moss as Offred – creates a thrilling series impossible not to binge-watch.
- R16, two seasons, 10 episodes (new episodes each Thursday), about 50 mins per episode.
Lightbox New Zealand now offers Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul but if you haven’t seen Breaking Bad, it’s best to start with the original series which has earned 12 Emmys and two Golden Globe Awards. Bryan Cranston, from sitcom series Malcolm in the Middle, plays unassuming high school chemistry teacher Walter White who is unsuccessfully plodding through life barely able to make ends meet. Facing terminal cancer, he throws caution to the wind and decides to use his chemistry knowledge to earn his family some real money – by making meth. A clever plot, brilliant acting and solid characters are the recipe for an entertaining black comedy that really does live up to the hype.
- R16, five seasons, seven-16 episodes per season, about 47 mins per episode.
Downton Abbey lives up to its fame of being one of the most critically-acclaimed English-language television series, with a layering of plots and complex characters. This British period drama focuses on the family of the fictional Earl of Grantham in the 1910s to 1920s, when British aristocracy was at its height. This programme is loved for also bringing to life the family’s servants and their own inter-twined stories. Seasons have aired on Prime television in New Zealand but an intricate series such as this is best enjoyed by binge-watching. Rumours abound that a Downton Abbey movie will start production in 2018 – just another good reason to catch up on all the episodes in this favoured show. The stellar cast includes Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Maggie Smith and Jim Carter.
- M (mature audiences), six seasons, nine episodes per season, 50-98 mins per episode.
Claire Danes is really in her element in Homeland, an American spy thriller. Dane portrays Carrie Mathison, a CIA officer battling bipolar disorder. When US Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody returns home after eight years as an al-Qaeda prisoner of war, Mathison is convinced he was “turned” by the enemy and is connected to a terror threat planned to take place on US soil. With America’s national security at risk, she engages him in a dangerous cat-and-mouse game. The conspiracy theory behind the reluctant American hero proves to be a compelling hook for Homeland, and the brilliance of Danes’ acting, with Damian Lewis as her opposite, is an award-winning formula. A must-see programme, completely addictive watch.
- 16+, six seasons, 12 episodes per season, about 50 mins per episode.
At the end of World War II, British army nurse Claire Randall is carefree and enjoying a second honeymoon in Scotland with husband Frank. But all of a sudden she is inexplicably transported to the Scotland of 1743, where her freedom and life are threatened. To survive, she befriends the burly yet charming Highland warrior Jamie Fraser. Thrown into this strange world, Randall is enticed into the arms of Fraser – and finds herself torn between two very different men in two different times. This epic love tale is unique and strangely satisfying, with its look into two historical periods. Starring Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan, this programme is based on the historical time travel Outlander novels by Diana Gabaldon.
- 18+, three seasons, 13-16 episodes per season, 50-74 mins per episode.
Antonia Prebble is one of my favourite New Zealand actresses and Westside happily shows off her acting competency as she plays the matriarchal Rita West. The comedy/drama is a prequel to the beloved New Zealand series Outrageous Fortune, where Prebble first made her mark playing Rita’s granddaughter, Loretta West. In Westside, Rita and Ted West – played by David de Lautour – not only lead their lawless West Auckland family, they also head more than one criminal gang. The first season starts in 1974 and each episode covers a year, allowing the plot-writers to weave in historical events from the dawn raids to car-less days. But just when the pace of the series threatens to spin out of control, the second season anchors itself in the Springbok Tour of 1981. With a compelling plot and a good spread of lovable characters, this is compulsory watching.
- 16+, three seasons, six-10 episodes per season, about 45 mins per episode.
The Good Wife
American legal and political drama The Good Wife has a lot of strength by taking many of its cues from real-life scenarios. When a shameful political-corruption and sex scandal lands her husband, Peter, in prison, Alicia Florrick has more to do than just get over the disgrace. She must step up and take responsibility for her family, returning to her legal career that she gave up 13 years ago to have her two children. Love, bitterness, resentment and the uneven path of women in the workplace are key parts of this dramatic serial. The evolution of the story between seasons is key to The Good Wife’s watchability, as is the acting skills of Julianna Margulies.
- M (mature audience), six seasons, 22-23 episodes per season, about 45 mins per episode.
Michael Hirst’s creation The Tudors is an historical drama based on the true life and times of King Henry VIII, including his relationships with the likes of Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Sir Thomas More, Cardinal Wolsey and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Love, affairs and producing heirs is central to the plot, which has a background of everything from potential war with France, the influence of advisors, and the power of the Catholic Church over the Kingdom of England. There is enough intrigue in the storyline to keep it entertaining but the real appeal of this series is Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ sexy portrayal of a very alluring King Henry VIII. Also starring Natalie Dormer, Sarah Bolger, Henry Cavill and New Zealand’s own Sam Neill.
- R16, four seasons, eight to 10 episodes per season, about 54 mins per episode.
The Good Doctor
It is no surprise to me that David Shore, the creator of the Fox hit medical drama House, helped develop the series The Good Doctor, as there are a lot of similarities between the two. The Good Doctor is about Shaun Murphy, a brilliant young surgeon who has autism and savant syndrome. He gives up a quiet country life to work at the prestigious San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital, much to the scepticism of his colleagues. Balancing brilliant medical skills with a poor bedside manner, Murphy must use his intuition to help save lives. Starring Freddie Highmore as the underestimated anti-hero.
- M one season, 18 episodes, 43 mins per episode.
An entertaining and dark thriller, Chance centres on San Francisco forensic neuropsychiatrist Dr Eldon Chance, who has more than one secret to hide. After being enticed by a mentally unstable patient, Chance gets drawn into San Francisco’s mysterious underbelly, a perilous world of mistaken identity, manipulation and abuse, and dirty cops. The once mild-mannered Chance finds himself being drawn deeper into the world of violence, while also dealing with his daughter’s own battle with mental illness. Based on Kem Nunn’s acclaimed novel, Chance is a stimulating mystery/thriller buoyed by the brilliant acting of Hugh Laurie, Diane Farr and Lisa Gay Hamilton.
- R18, two seasons, 10 episodes, 40-56 mins per episode.
So there you have it, the best shows on Lightbox New Zealand offer plenty of entertainment and hours of enjoyable viewing.