10 of the best TV shows of 2024 so far

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By Caryn James and Hugh Montgomery, 

Diana Mota/BBC (Credit: Diana Mota/BBC)Diana Mota/BBC

(Credit: Diana Mota/BBC)

From a brutal Japanese period epic to a controversial Netflix stalking drama and a hit video game adaptation, we pick the year’s greatest programmes to stream right now.

HBO (Credit: HBO)HBO

(Credit: HBO)

1. True Detective: Night Country

It would have been enough if the fourth season of True Detective had done nothing more than use the unforgettable word “corpsicles” for murder victims frozen in ice, but this revamped series did much more. Jodie Foster is galvanizing as the acerbic police chief in a small Alaska town, who leads the investigation into an increasingly creepy multiple murder case. Set at a time of year when the sun doesn’t rise for a fortnight, the show is beautifully shot in midnight blues that let you feel the chill and draw you into a world where high-tech scientists live side by side with locals with supernatural beliefs. You could spend hours teasing out the Easter eggs and connections to the original 2014 season of the show, as many have. But no need for that context. Writer and director Issa Lopez has reenergised the franchise in a way that makes it fresh and captivating from eerie start to jaw-dropping finish. (CJ)

Available on Max in the US and Now in the UK

FX (Credit: FX)FX

(Credit: FX)

2. Shogun

As soon as Game of Thrones ended in 2019, conversation turned to what could succeed it – cue many fantasy series, including Amazon’s Lord of the Rings spin-off and HBO’s own official Thrones prequel House of the Dragon, vying to take its place. But five years on, its most convincing successor has turned out to be a show without any fantasy credentials whatsoever – but rather a historical drama about real-life 17th Century Japan that nevertheless channels Thrones’ harsh worldview, epic visuals, and keen interest in the business of political manoeuvring. Based on the historical novel by James Clavell, which was already made into a hugely successful miniseries back in the 1980s, Shogun centres on John Blackthorne (played by the Richard Burton-esque Cosmo Jarvis), a British sailor who is shipwrecked on the Japanese coast and gets wrapped up in a battle for power between members of the country’s ruling council. What follows is at once gorgeously shot, brilliantly acted, and unflinchingly brutal, the characters’ various machinations occasionally erupting in violence that pulls no punches. The cast, too, are uniformly brilliant, from Hiroyuki Sanada as embattled council member Lord Yoshii Toranaga to Anna Sawai as Blackthorne’s translator, and lover, Mariko. And while it was originally intended as a limited series, such has been its success, FX has announced plans for two further seasons. Let’s hope they can live up to the standards set by this one. (HM)

Available on Hulu and Disney + in the US and Disney+ in the UK

Netflix (Credit: Netflix)Netflix

(Credit: Netflix)

3. Baby Reindeer

Richard Gadd’s autobiographical horror story seemed to land on Netflix out of nowhere yet has become, deservedly, one of the year’s biggest, most talked about and unsettling hits. Gadd created and plays a struggling comedian named Donny Dunn, who befriends Martha. She comes into the bar where he works, fantasises a relationship between them and goes on to harass him with emails and almost ruin his life. Jessica Gunning is amazing as she makes Martha both threatening and pitiable in her delusions. Tension builds to an excruciating point through the series. Donny is also repeatedly sexually assaulted, in stomach-churning detail, by a man who is a television producer promising to help his career. The show caused a controversy when viewers searched the internet and discovered Fiona Harvey,  who they alleged was Martha’s real-life counterpart; she has since given media interviews and is now suing Netflix for defamation, negligence and privacy violations. Putting aside those real-world aftershocks, Baby Reindeer is confessional art at its most captivating. (CJ)

Available on Netflix internationally

Amazon Prime Video (Credit: Amazon Prime Video)Amazon Prime Video

(Credit: Amazon Prime Video)

4. Fallout

Last year, HBO’s The Last of Us ended the tradition of sub-par video game adaptations with a gripping rendering of the bestselling action-adventure title. And now here’s another screen translation of a post-apocalyptic gaming franchise, which is arguably even more successful: an eye-poppingly stylish and slyly funny take on the Fallout series, which imagines a world devastated by nuclear war where some people now live in shiny underground vaults. British actress Ella Purnell leads the cast as a bright-eyed Vault 33 resident who is forced on an eye-opening mission up to the Earth’s surface to rescue her kidnapped father – where, in this future Wild West, she comes into contact with a nervy soldier (Aaron Moten) and a bounty-hunting “ghoul” (Walton Goggins) among others. Co-produced by Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, the makers of the inferior but not dissimilar Westworld, it is an impressively immersive experience which lives up to the source material while finding its own narrative groove. Meanwhile Purnell is a real star in the making, and Goggins is revelatory in a performance that stretches across two timelines. (HM)

Available on Amazon Prime internationally 

Netflix (Credit: Netflix)Netflix

(Credit: Netflix)

5. Ripley

Andrew Scott is spellbinding as the lethal con man Tom Ripley in this Hitchcockian version of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr Ripley. Set in Naples and Rome in the 1960s, the show’s dramatic black and white, shot by the Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit, perfectly captures the beautiful shadowy world Ripley inhabits as he ascends from a small-time grifter in New York to a denizen of la dolce vita. As Ripley usurps the identity of his idle rich friend Dickie Greenleaf (Johnny Flynn), a single shifting look on Scott’s face can reveal layers of the character’s deceptions. Flynn, Dakota Fanning and Eliot Sumner are all brilliant as the people Ripley feeds off. In a style far different from the sun-drenched, memorable 1999 film, Steven Zaillian has written and directed a series as enthralling and visually glorious as they come. (CJ)

Available on Netflix internationally

Netflix (Credit: Netflix)Netflix

(Credit: Netflix)

6. One Day 

No show has stirred the emotions more than this year than this adaptation of David Nicholls’ era-spanning British romance. It follows the up-and-down relationship of two friends, Dexter and Emma, from university onwards, by catching up with them on the same day, 15 July, every year for 20 years. Beginning in the 1980s, it makes for a glorious nostalgic trip for viewers of a certain age, complete with a winning, carefully curated soundtrack of period appropriate pop songs. But at heart what makes this work is the captivating performances of the two leads, individually and together: Leo Woodall, building on the promise he showed in season two of The White Lotus, makes the arrogant, upper-crust party boy Dexter convincingly irritating but also sympathetic, while Ambika Mod, who first came to attention in 2022 medical drama This is Going to Hurt, is on star-making form as the fiercely intelligent but vulnerable Emma. Be warned though: if you don’t know what happens, then be prepared for some tears. (HM)

Available on Netflix internationally

AMC (Credit: AMC)AMC

(Credit: AMC)

7. Monsieur Spade

One of the least likely premises for a series has led to one of the year’s most delightful surprises. Clive Owen is wry as the Sam Spade, the private investigator created by author Dashiell Hammett and now relocated from seedy 1940s San Francisco to 1960s small-town France. Instead of mimicking Humphrey Bogart’s celebrated tough-guy Spade from The Maltese Falcon (1941), Owen smartly delivers a character who is shrewd and emotionally cool but also sometimes befuddled, especially when trying to master the French language. There are intricate personal relationships ­– a glamorous lover (Chiara Mastroianni) and a young girl who becomes Spade’s ward – and of course murders he can’t help but investigate in a lush country town where unregenerate Nazis linger and scheme. Director Scott Frank (The Queen’s Gambit) makes the show crisp and suspenseful. Owen makes Spade his own, a man with a heart beneath his considerable sangfroid. (CJ)

Available on AMC+ in the US

ITV (Credit: ITV)ITV

(Credit: ITV)

8. Mr Bates vs the Post Office 

It’s rare that a TV show can be credited with having a tangible impact on government business – but such was the case earlier this year with this brilliant British miniseries, focusing on the national Post Office scandal, which saw more than 700 post office branch managers wrongly charged for false accounting, theft and fraud because of a failed computer system.  When it aired in the UK in January, it immediately caused huge reverberations, and prompted the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to announce he would bring in a new law to “swiftly exonerate and compensate victims”. What Gwyneth Hughes’ four-part drama does so brilliantly is to thread together the human stories of the many upstanding victims – among them the titular Alan Bates (Toby Jones), who became the postmasters’ leader in the fight for justice – and contrast that with the inhumane bureaucracy that they came up against. The show’s impact proves that, for all the value of documentaries, sometimes a dramatisation can bring a story into the cultural consciousness like nothing else. Will Mr Bates inspire more TV getting to grips with institutional scandals of our time? Let’s hope so. (HM)

Available on PBS in the US and ITVX in the UK 

HBO (Credit: HBO)HBO

(Credit: HBO)

9. The Regime

Kate Winslet is funny, chilling and on top form in this dark political comedy as Elena Vernham, dictator of a fictional Central European country. On the ludicrous side, Elena sings Santa Baby as part of her Christmas address to the nation, and calls its citizens “My Loves”. On the ominous side, she masquerades as a populist but is ruthless in her determination to hold on to power, invading a nearby country and imprisoning her political opponents. It’s as if she were the child of Eva Perón and Vladimir Putin. Winslet balances the character’s comic and evil parts beautifully and is surrounded by a stellar cast, including Matthias Schoenaerts as the sociopathic soldier who becomes her lover, Andrea Riseborough as her cowed servant, and Hugh Grant in a single episode as the Chancellor whom Elena deposed. The Regime’s tone is more absurdist than pointedly skewering, yet by the end its politically tumultuous world comes to mirror our own. (CJ)

Available on Max in the US and Now in the UK

Netflix (Credit: Netflix)Netflix

(Credit: Netflix)

10. 3 Body Problem

This sci-fi show arrived with considerable hype, being the next project from Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and DB Weiss. And while it may not have exactly become the phenomenon that the streamer might have hoped for, it deserved serious applause for its intelligence and creative ambition. Based on a Chinese novel, it tells the story of a group of scientist friends as they try and work out what is going on with a spate of suicides within their community – a story that involves flashbacks to the Chinese Cultural Revolution, a mysterious virtual reality game and much more besides. It’s an initially mind-boggling mix that nevertheless settles around a brilliantly compelling and timely premise: what would we do if we knew the human race was going to be destroyed, but not for 400 years? Plus it has the single most shocking TV sequence of the year, one up there with GoT’s infamous Red Wedding. Netflix have announced that it will return for a second and third season, and that will be it. Here’s praying it can stick the landing. (HM)

Available on Netflix internationally 

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