Once upon a time, streaming used to be something your nose did in winter and your eyes did in summer. Today, it has an altogether more positive association, as we embrace the world of streaming TV services. Now, we can watch a dazzling array of films and TV series at the push of a button, particularly through subscription-based streaming giants like Amazon Prime and Netflix. But the problem with having a dazzling array of choices is picking the right things to watch. Fortunately, at Saga we have been able to draw up for you a list of the very best Amazon Prime has to offer, thanks to an exhaustive research process. Why have we done this? Because our dedication to the idea of serving you, our readership, knows no bounds. (Okay, also because we really, really like watching telly…)
The Marvelous Mrs Maisel
Rachel Brosnahan is Miriam ‘Midge’ Maisel, a Jewish housewife in 1950s New York who thinks she’s happily married – until she learns she isn’t. When her husband Joel runs off with his secretary, she goes and gets drunk, before finding herself onstage in a comedy club performing a hilarious impromptu set about her life. Pretty soon, she’s pursuing a bona fide comedy career, ably abetted by her manager Susie (Alex Borstein), while also trying to balance working in a department store and coping with her eccentric family. Both Brosnahan and Borstein are magnificent in this comedy-drama, and their odd couple relationship, combined with a gorgeously nostalgic 1950s feel, have contributed to a huge haul of awards and endless, richly-deserved plaudits.
The Man in the High Castle
If Mrs Maisel is shot through with bright colours and a big heart, The Man in the High Castle is its monochrome, cold-hearted alter-ego. A dystopian look at a world in which the Axis Powers (hell, I think we can safely Call them the ‘baddies’) won World War II, this darkly atmospheric thriller takes place in an America that has been divided up between a Nazi-ruled East and a Japanese-administered West. Based on the book by Philip K Dick, this nightmarish view of a fascist-controlled world features a brave resistance movement investigating the meaning of some old film reels that appear to show the impossible. In an outstanding cast, Rufus Sewell shines as the malign and traitorous Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith.
All or Nothing: Manchester City
It’s safe to say, Amazon Prime isn’t big on documentaries. And where it does do factual TV, it’s pretty much on one topic: Sport. The All or Nothing strand features cameras following some of the world’s most prominent sports teams over a season. Past iterations have followed the New Zealand All Blacks, the Dallas Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals, but the eight-part series following Manchester City will be of the most interest in the UK. A look at how things work behind the scenes of the most expensively assembled team in sports history, this is also a fascinating portrait of the club’s central figure, manager Pep Guardiola, and his meticulous determination and superhuman drive.
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A series based on a newspaper column sounds a bit iffy. A series based on a newspaper column about love and relationships sounds cringe-o-rama. But throw into the mix a stellar acting line-up including Anne Hathaway, Tina Fey, Andy Garcia, Dev Patel and Andrew Scott, and things look a little different. In fact, this eight-part anthology series is an absolute gem, a heart-warming triumph celebrating love in all of its forms, including romantic, platonic and familial. It’s based on a New York Times column of the same name, that has been charming readers for the past 15 years.
You might think that a time-travelling-historical-drama/romance sounds a bit daft. You would, of course, be entirely right. But that doesn’t mean it’s not also fabulous fun. Caitriona Balfe shines as Claire Randall, a nurse who is transported back from 1946 to 1743 via a close encounter with an ancient stone circle. She finds herself plunged into the midst of the Jacobite rebellion, where she falls for a lantern-jawed, bekilted rebel called Jamie Fraser (an excellent Sam Heughan). Tobias Menzies (the Duke of Edinburgh in The Crown) exudes menace as their nemesis, Black Jack Randall. As the various series progress, there are cameos from the likes of Bill Paterson, Simon Callow, Douglas Henshall and Frances de la Tour. All this, and the Scottish landscape has never looked better. Hoots, mon!
The Grand Tour
Perhaps above all others, this is Amazon Prime’s great televisual coup. When Jeremy Clarkson’s dinner-inspired dispute with the BBC led to the end of Top Gear as we knew it, Amazon execs sensed an opportunity and pounced. Along with Clarkson, they nabbed fellow presenters James May and Richard Hammond, and exec producer Andy Wilman, and created a brand new show for them. If, by new, you mean almost exactly the same as its predecessor. The Grand Tour features all of the things that made Top Gear so popular – absurd challenges, celebrity cameos, timed laps, witty car reviews, and oodles of (deep breath) banter. Still, why change a winning formula. If the proof is in the pudding, the fact that the first episode is the most-watched premiere in Amazon Prime history means this dessert is sweet as pie.
Billy Bob Thornton plays Billy McBride, once a brilliant and powerful lawyer, brought low by fate, who is now an ambulance-chasing alcoholic. McBride walked out of the firm bearing his name after a murderer he got acquitted on a technicality went and killed an entire family. Residing in an insalubrious long-stay hotel, Billy seems a hopeless case – until he takes on a hopeless case. Does the chance to battle a rich and powerful opponent in a court of law offer him a chance at redemption? William Hurt plays Donald Cooperman, Billy’s reclusive former business partner, Maria Bello his ex-wife. This is a legal drama with dark tendencies and a big heart.
Elizabeth and Philip Jennings are just your average all-American couple with a son, a daughter, and a gorgeous house with a white picket fence in a Washington DC suburb. They are living the American dream in the Reagan-led USA of the 1980s. Except for one teensy detail. They’re KGB spies. Oh, and there might very well be an FBI Agent living next door. And you thought the politics in your neighbourhood was complex?! The Americans ran for six glorious seasons, including an utterly nerve-shredding conclusion that saw it showered with long-overdue rewards. Keri Russell and Wales’ own Matthew Rhys are wonderfully charismatic as the Jennings’ – so much so, you’ll find yourself rooting for the KGB.
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