Nine TV series to watch this February

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By Caryn JamesFeatures correspondent

Amazon (Credit: Amazon)Amazon

From Donald Glover and Maya Erskine in spy comedy Mr and Mrs Smith to Juliette Binoche in fashion world drama The New Look – and the final run of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.

National Geographic/Richard DuCree (Credit: National Geographic/Richard DuCree)National Geographic/Richard DuCree

1. Genius: MLK/X

The fourth instalment of the series that focuses on a different world-changing figure each time ­– Einstein, Picasso and Aretha Franklin so far – gives us two towering figures in the US Civil Rights movement. Kelvin Harrison Jr (Chevalier) plays Martin Luther King Jr and Aaron Pierre (The Underground Railroad) is Malcolm X. Each was assassinated at just 39 years old, but had already made an immense impact on the country. The men met only once, and the series follows parallel storylines. Their wives are played by Weruche Opia as Coretta Scott King and Jayme Lawson as Betty Shabazz, powerful women in their own right, whose points of view are included. The main actors have some tough acts to follow, including David Oyelowo as King in Ava Du Vernay’s Selma and Denzel Washington in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, but this series has been widely praised already. Variety said that its depiction of the main characters “highlights their full and colourful humanity as revolutionaries, fathers and husbands”.

Genius: MLK/X premieres 1 February on National Geographic Channel in the US and will stream from 2 February on Disney+ and Hulu; and premieres 3 February on National Geographic in the UK

Amazon (Credit: Amazon)Amazon

2. Mr and Mrs Smith 

It has been a twisty road leading to this action-comedy series, inspired by the fateful 2005 film that brought together Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt as married assassins hired to kill each other. Its co-creator Donald Glover was set to star in and write the show with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who dropped out for that classic reason, creative differences. Well, Glover and Waller-Bridge are both very creative. Maya Erskine (PEN15) now stars, and the plot is a bit different from the film’s. Here John and Jane Smith are strangers, spies working for the same agency, posing as a married couple to work on a case. The pretend Smiths do not get along. The supporting and guest cast is enormous and impressive, including Sarah Paulson as the marriage counsellor they desperately need, along with Michaela Coel, Parker Posey, John Turturro, Paul Dano, Sharon Horgan, Alexander Skarsgård and Ron Perlman.

Mr and Mrs Smith premieres 2 February on Amazon Prime Video internationally.

HBO (Credit: HBO)HBO

3. Curb Your Enthusiasm

How many times have artists announced their retirements or the end of a series, only to change their minds? Larry David might just be contrary enough to mean it though. The 12th season of the show in which he plays the crankiest man in show business, a fictional version of himself, will apparently be the last, according to David and HBO. The trailer says Larry has “one final act”, adding the kind of line that has given Curb its cult-like fandom: “Don’t be mad he’s leaving. Be mad he stayed so long”. The show’s core group will return, including Cheryl Hines as Larry’s now ex-wife, Cheryl, JB Smoove as his housemate, Leon, Jeff Garland as his manager, Jeff, and Susie Essman as Jeff’s wife, Susie, the person most likely to yell at Larry all the time. Jeff Schaffer, the series’ executive producer, has already tried to walk back the idea that it’s ending, telling Deadline, “Every season is the last season. It’s been this way forever.” David, he said, is “the only one who thinks he’s never going to have another good idea”.

Curb Your Enthusiasm premieres 4 February on HBO in the US and 5 February on Sky Comedy and Now in the UK.

Netflix (Credit: Netflix)Netflix

4. One Day

David Nicholls’ 2009 novel still exerts a romantic appeal, as Dexter and Emma hook up one night after graduating from university, then meet on the same day each year for the next 20 years, their attraction to each other simmering under the surface even as their lives diverge. She wants to change the world. He climbs the social ladder. Now the novel is the basis for a 14-part Netflix series, with two engaging stars. Emma is played by Ambika Mod, so memorable as Shruti, the stressed-out young doctor-in-training in This is Going to Hurt. Dexter is played by Leo Woodall, the sleazy nephew in season two of The White Lotus. The 2011 film version of the book, starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, was not well-received, but a series gives the characters more room to come to life. Nicholls teased out another major difference in an interview with EW, revealing: “There’s a lot more sex in this than there is in the novel.”

One Day premieres on 8 February on Netflix internationally.

Apple TV+ (Credit: Apple TV+)Apple TV+

5. The New Look

High fashion, history and wartime drama converge in this starry series, set and shot in Paris, with Ben Mendelsohn as the designer Christian Dior and Juliette Binoche as Coco Chanel. During the Nazi occupation of Paris, they take very different paths to survive. Post-war, Dior becomes the most influential designer in the world with what comes to be called his New Look – dresses with nipped-in waists and often voluminous skirts – but Chanel is determined to make a comeback. Maisie Williams (Arya Stark in Game of Thrones) plays Dior’s sister, Catherine, John Malkovich plays Lucien Lelong, the couturier who once employed Dior, and Glenn Close is Carmel Snow, the powerful editor of Harper’s Bazaar. In an intriguing touch, Jack Antonoff has curated the soundtrack, with new recordings of songs from the period, including Lana Del Rey singing Blue Skies and Nick Cave doing La Vie en Rose.

The New Look premieres 14 February on Apple TV+ internationally.

Apple TV+ (Credit: Apple TV+)Apple TV+

6. Constellation

This psychological thriller is the latest addition to the bad-stuff-happens-in-space genre. Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) plays Jo, an astronaut who is on a mission when a mysterious, explosive accident sends everyone reeling. When she arrives back on Planet Earth ­– or does she? – her entire life seems slightly off-kilter.  Her young daughter doesn’t even seem like her daughter. Maybe Jo is mad, or maybe there’s some body-switching going on, but there seems to be a dark conspiracy behind it all. This is the kind of series in which the less you know going in, the greater the shock and suspense, so Apple has kept more details under wraps. Jonathan Banks (Mike in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul) plays a former astronaut who has a suspicion about what’s happening. Michelle MacLaren, best known for her work on Breaking Bad, directs the first two episodes of the series, which was created and written by Peter Harness, whose credits include Doctor Who and Wallander.

Constellation premieres 21 February on Apple TV+ internationally.

Netflix (Credit: Netflix)Netflix

7. Avatar: The Last Airbender

There is martial arts action and fire flying through the air in this live-action variation on the hugely popular animated fantasy series that ran from 2005-2008. The premise is the same. The four nations of the world – Water, Earth, Fire and Air ­ – are at odds, with the belligerent Fire trying to take over. Only the “Avatar” – who can manipulate, or bend, all four elements after which the countries are named – can restore peace. That would be the young airbender Aang (Gordon Cormier) aided by his friends, the firebender Katara (Kiawentiio Tarbell) and her brother Sokka (Ian Ousley). Daniel Dae Kim joins the cast of young unknowns as the Fire Lord Ozai. Fans of the animated series may be watching sceptically, given the creators of that show left this project after having developed it for two years, complaining that they didn’t have enough creative control. Let’s hope it’s better than M Night Shyamalan’s 2010 live-action film, which now stands at an almost impossibly low 5% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Avatar: The Last Airbender premieres 22 February on Netflix internationally.

Amazon (Credit: Amazon)Amazon

8. The Second Best Hospital in the Galaxy

This adult animated comedy sounds like an echo of Futurama, but the cast and creators might make it loopy and different enough to work. Stephanie Hsu (Everything Everywhere All at Once) and Keke Palmer (Nope) play best friends and surgeons in the galaxy Ergulon. Hsu is the voice of Dr Sleech, who is purple and seems to perform surgery with a drill, and Palmer is Dr Klak, who is blue and has three eyes. Together, they are challenged to find a cure for anxiety, which apparently is still a problem in their day, the year 14,002. Other voices include Maya Rudolph as the robot Dr Vlam and Sam Smith as the red-faced Dr Azel, along with Natasha Lyonne and Kieran Culkin. Rudolph and Lyonne’s production company is behind the show, which was created by Cirocco Dunlap, a writer on Lyonne’s mind-bending romp Russian Doll. Any Russian Doll connection is enough to at least hint at a smart, skewed comic style.

The Second Best Hospital in the Galaxy premieres 23 February on Amazon Prime Video internationally.

FX (Credit: FX)FX

9. Shogun

Series don’t get much more epic than this 10-episode adaptation of James Clavell’s 1975 novel, set in feudal Japan, full of battles in opulent armour. In 1600, Lord Toranaga, played by Hiroyuki Sanada (John Wick: Chapter 4) is engaged in a civil war. John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis) a stranded British sailor, becomes his ally as they fight some common enemies, including Jesuits and Portuguese merchants. Anna Sawai (Monarch: Legacy of Monsters and Pachinko) is their translator, savvy in more than languages. The popular 1980 miniseries based on the book starred Richard Chamberlain and Toshiro Mifune, and won an Emmy, but a lot has changed since then. This version focuses on the Japanese characters, not the British intruder. And there seems to be plenty of 17th-Century violence. One of its trailers, which comes with a warning, includes two severed heads.

Shogun premieres 27 February on FX and Hulu in the US, Star+ in Latin America and Disney+ in all other countries.

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