10 TV picks: big bold dramas

Big, bold drama is at the heart of the schedules and this week’s TV picks highlight 10 extraordinary stories, brilliantly told.

From the real-life to the fantastical, from contemporary to the 18th century, from rip-roaring to the utterly heart-breaking, here are 10 dramas that are getting the nation talking in 2021. Gripping stuff.

ZeroZeroZero - Sky Atlantic

Gabriel Byrne stars in this epic and hugely ambitious drug trafficking drama that takes place in multiple continents (and languages), spanning Mexico, Italy and the United States.

Airing on Sky Atlantic on Thursday nights, Roberto Saviano’s follow-up to his much acclaimed Gomorrah is an enthralling tale of rival cartels, mafias and corrupt businessmen.

An exploration of the global drugs trade and how it impacts on all of society, Byrne is at the centre of it all as the boss of a firm of shipping brokers he runs with his daughter (Andrea Riseborough).

What they say: ‘Grimy, juddering, effortlessly cool … If you like your crime dramas to come with sweaty palms, this one is irresistible.’ Daily Telegraph.

The Bay - ITV

It was a most welcome return for Morven Christie as police family liaison officer Lisa Armstrong in ITV crime drama, The Bay.

The second series of the seaside murder mystery, airing on ITV on Wednesday nights, opens with a bang - three of them, actually - and never lets up from there on.

Full of fascinating characters played by a fabulous cast including Daniel Ryan, James Cosmo, Sharon Small and Joe Absolom, a third series is due to be filmed in the summer.

What they say: ‘Morven Christie is excellent - focused and empathetic but with a definite chaotic streak … Engrossing.’ iNews

It’s A Sin - Channel 4

One of the most talked-about new dramas of the year, It’s A Sin charts the lives and loves of a group of friends growing up in the 1980s under the growing shadow of Aids.

Loosely based on writer Russell T Davie’s own real-life experiences, It’s A Sin stars Olly Alexander, Omari Douglas and Colin Morris-Jones as three 18-year-olds who rent a flat together (the ‘Pink Palace’) in London in 1981.

In a stellar career with so many acclaimed shows to his name, it may just be Davies’s masterpiece. Poignant, joyful, and heartbreaking.

What they say: ‘It’s A Sin is powerful, political, and highly emotional television from one of Britain's most talented television writers. You will laugh, you will cry, you will want to spend just one more night on the dance floor.’ Daily Mirror

The Drowning - Channel 5

Jill Halfpenny stars as grieving mother Jodie whose son Tom is missing, presumed drowned, after a tragedy at a park lake nine years ago.

But when she sees a teenage boy on his way to school who looks uncannily like her son, she starts to believe Tom may not be dead after all and will stop at nothing to find out.

An engrossing mystery and study of bereavement, The Drowning co-stars Jonas Armstrong as Jodie’s brother, Deborah Findlay as her mother and Rupert Penry-Jones.

What they say: ‘I found myself itching to know what would happen … Gripping.’ Radio Times

A Discovery of Witches - Sky One

Matthew Goode, Teresa Palmer and Alex Kingston star in this devilishly good drama about witches, vampires and daemons living and working unseen among us humans.

Based on Deborah Harkness’s best-selling fantasy series, the All Souls Trilogy, the second series (airing on Sky One on Friday nights) transfers the action from modern-day Oxford to Elizabethan times.

Beautifully acted and sumptuous to look at, a third series is already in production so it promises to weave its magical spell for some time to come.

What they say: ‘A glorious tale of boy-meets-girl, Matthew Goode and Teresa Palmer are eerily masterful … Tremendous.’ Observer

Marcella - ITV

Anna Friel’s Marcella is back but not as we know her for a third series of the moody and macabre crime noir on Tuesday nights on ITV.

The eponymous detective has taken on a new identity as she goes undercover as a ‘corrupt ex-cop’ to infiltrate a wealthy criminal family in Belfast.

But while some of the ingredients have changed, including the addition of Amanda Burton and Hugo Speer (briefly seen at the end of season two) to the cast, the flavour remains the same - dark, intense, and full of twists.

What they say: ‘A warped, head-spinning ride … the whirlwind distraction many of us need right now.’ Radio Times

Devils - Sky Atlantic

Devils is a conspiracy thriller set in the world of high finance in which a star trader is convinced that someone is out to sabotage him - but who?

The 10-part Sky Atlantic drama beginning on Wednesday stars Patrick Dempsey and Alessandro Borghi and is set in one of the world’s most important investment banks.

But while the investment bank is fictional, some of the issues it tackles are very much real world, set in 2011 just a few years after the 2008 financial crisis. Worth investing in.

What they say: ‘Full of interpersonal intrigues, betrayals and sexual sparking, it weaves actual economic events into its plotline … all of which makes for a bracing story.’ Wall Street Journal

Briarpatch - Alibi

Rosario Dawson and Alan Cumming star in this surreal murder mystery from the creator of Mr. Robot and executive producer of Homecoming.

Dawson plays Allegra Dill, an investigator returning to her hometown in Texas after her sister is killed in a bomb blast to find that anyone and everyone is a suspect in her murder.

It’s a wild ride - a break-in at the local zoo sends animals running amok all over the place - drawing comparisons with Fargo and Twin Peaks, but creates an explosive atmosphere all of its own.

What they say: ‘This slick, mildly surreal crime drama has bags of atmosphere …. It heaps on the curiosities and eccentric characters until plotlines and suspects pile up like a big plate of nachos. Plenty to enjoy.’ Radio Times

The Great - Channel 4

A period drama with a difference - a big difference - The Great is a rollicking ‘occasionally true story’ about the rise of Catherine the Great.

Elle Fanning stars as Catherine - before she was great - about to move to Russia to marry the emperor, Peter III, played by Nichola Hoult.

Airing on Sunday nights on Channel 4, it’s a lewd, riotous and deliberately anachronistic romp, an outrageous historical satire that is a feast for the eyes and ears.

What they say: ‘Funny, feminist, zinging, louche, and at least a bit true … a triumph.’ Observer

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