The choice of what to watch from the wealth of offerings on streaming can be daunting. Here's our pick for the best of what to watch this week.
SBS On Demand
J.K. Simmons delivers not one but two spellbinding performances in this gripping, retro-contemporary spy-thriller series. And what a series it is.
Counterpart arrives on your screen fully formed, with its paranoid neo-Cold War Berlin, its opaque sci-fi underpinnings and its cross-hatching parallels all very snugly bedded in.
Simmons plays one Howard Silk – or, rather, two Howard Silks. The first is a lowly but conscientious civil servant who goes to work every day in modern-day Berlin, passing through strict security at his grim edifice of an office building, then sitting down in a cell-like room to exchange code phrases with another man behind a sheet of glass.
The viewer has no idea what Howard is doing, and neither does he. But that's about to change – and it's here that the reader who wants to immerse themselves in the intrigue unspoiled should stop reading.
Thirty years ago, a secret Cold War experiment somehow brought into being a new world identical to our own. As years and decades passed, the cumulative effect of people in one world making different choices to those of their doppelgangers in the other rendered those individuals and their societies very different indeed.
In each world the existence of the other is a closely guarded secret, and communication between them is minimal, deeply suspicious, highly regulated, thoroughly encrypted and conducted mostly through uncomprehending drones like Silk.
The status quo is shattered when an assassin (Sara Serraiocco) bursts from the other world into ours with a list of targets that might include Silk's comatose wife (Olivia Williams).
Silk's otherworldly counterpart comes through in pursuit, and that's where things start getting complicated for our Silk. Where our Silk is a meek, gentle sort whose rumpled features are about as threatening as those of a Shar-Pei pup, doppelganger Silk is a sardonic, deadly action-man.
The pair is thrown into an unwanted partnership, and it's testament to series creator Justin Marks – and more so to Simmons' Oscar-winning brilliance – that it works as well as it does.
Simmons layers the two Silks not merely with certain similarities, but also with gimlet-eyed assays of the other that combine yearning for some of what the other has made of their life with disdain for the man that the other has become.
It's compulsive, character-driven drama that, for all its atmosphere, moves at quite a clip.
Moving Stories with Andrew L. Urban
Andrew Urban's Front Up was a veritable fixture on SBS in the '90s. It was engrossing telly as the gentle, disarming Urban bowled up to passing pedestrians and got them cheerfully to volunteer intimate details of their personal histories and daily lives.
Everyone seemed happy to talk – though not in an unseemly, attention-seeking way – and the viewer was left with the impression that the average Australian on the street was a good deal more interesting, open and resilient than they might have suspected.
The secret of Front Up's success was its simple credo: no agenda, not judgemental, not a freak show.
That carries across to this new web series, in which each bite-sized episode has Urban engaging people about experiences at least tangentially related to moving house or moving a business.
While some stories are thoroughly mundane, others are very moving. If you fancy revisiting Front Up you can find plenty of episodes on YouTube, SBS On Demand, and SBS Viceland at about 1pm on weekends.
Amazon Prime Video
An engrossing Russian drama series following the exploits of an under-equipped Soviet fighter squadron taking the battle to the invading Nazis from a remote forest airstrip.
First in formation is a formidable, no-nonsense captain (Ekaterina Vilkova) whose cocky male underlings tend to put everyone's lives at risk – especially given that the embedded political officers can seemingly put anyone on trial for their life at any moment.
Intriguingly, it's a maligned scion of a pre-revolutionary aristocratic family who emerges as the conscience of the outfit.
Attack on Titan
One of Japan's best-selling manga series has become one of its most gobsmacking anime series. Attack on Titan takes place in a world resembling pre-industrial Europe, where almost all of humanity lives in a kind of mega-city behind 50m-high walls.
The walls are there to protect the people from the Titans, a mysterious race of nightmarish, sexless giants driven to eat people alive. It's deeply thought out, skilfully crafted and as utterly compelling as it is utterly bizarre. Animelab is streaming both seasons free.
Just Another Immigrant
An odd, unengaging, semi-scripted pseudo-reality series in which accomplished British comedian Romesh Ranganathan tries to conquer the US in the dumbest way possible. Before anyone in America even knows who he is he moves to Los Angeles, books out the 6,000-seat Greek Theatre and then tries to make fans with which to fill it.
It's difficult to tell which characters and interactions are real — if, indeed, any of them are — which leaves the whole thing in an annoying uncanny valley.
Andy Samberg is perfectly infuriating as Cuckoo, a sanctimonious American hippie that British teenager Rachel (Tamla Kari) married while backpacking in Thailand. Rachel has brought him home to live, much to the horror of her parents (Greg Davies and Helen Baxendale).
Mum, though, quickly warms to Cuckoo and admires the physique that his nudism keeps on display. Happily, the show doesn't slump into the kind of one-dimensionality where the goofy character just does goofy stuff and the hapless dad just gets dumped on.
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