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patrick freynes favourite tv shows of 2024 an irish national treasure bickering hitfolk and the best actor of her generation
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Patrick Freyne’s favourite TV shows of 2024: An Irish national treasure, bickering hitfolk and the best actor of her generation

Here we are at the start of April – or, as The Irish Times’ ABC1 readership and my terrible nephews prefer to call it, Q2. It feels like a good time to look at the best television thus far in 2024. It is a troubling time for the sector. The small-screen auteurs are shifting their goggle-eyed focus back to the big screen, and there’s some fear that the golden age of telly might be at an end. This is largely because streaming doesn’t lead to the megabucks promised by Mr Netflix when he started his eye-ball-collection company years before. Many of the TV streamers are therefore in a period of retrenchment. But let’s see if The Irish Times/Skibbereen Eagle can’t affect the various share prices with some television boosterism. Here are my favourite programmes of the past three months. Mr & Mrs Smith Amazon Prime My favourite pop-cultural couples are the childfree, crime-fighting millionaires Jonathan and Jennifer Hart (still my model for married life), Arthur Daly and Her Indoors, Nico and him in Doors (Jim Morrison), Ernie and Bert and, now, Mr and Mrs Smith, aka Donald Glover and Maya Erskine, a couple of stylish newly-weds who also work as hitfolk for a mysterious, nefarious organisation. A previous, cheesier film of the same title was so potent that its stars, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, became a portmanteau word. And this is much, much better. Somehow Glover and Erskine’s earthier characters, with all their bickering, stubbornness and insecurity, develop into one of the most tenderly believable married couples I’ve seen on screen. Then they go off and kill people in panoramic, acrobatic set pieces while wearing very nice clothes. The Curse Paramount It says a lot about how unpleasant The Curse’s creators, Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie, have made their yuppie reality-television gentrifiers, Whitney (Emma Stone) and Asher (Fielder), that I would far rather spend time with Mr and Mrs Smith, even though they might shoot me in the face. The Curse is about a shallow, self-centred couple steamrollering over those with less privilege that probably spends a bit too much time with those shallow, self-centred people at the expense of characters with less privilege. On the plus side, Stone is the best actor of her generation, and the show does a number of things I’ve never seen before in a television programme. It’s trippily shot, woozily paced and has a final episode that makes no sense whatsoever and is still my favourite thing about the whole misanthropic show. The truth is that I’m not sure I even like The Curse, but I’m still glad it got made – if only as a warning to people not do it again. The Dry RTÉ Player/ITVX It’s probably some clause of the Belfast Agreement that means we have to share Nancy Harris’s recovery dramedy with ITVX and that, in fact, it gets to air the second season before RTÉ. (I feel a sudden urge to sing Come Out Ye Black and Tans.) But The Dry is great, a grounded, funny story of a family coping with grief, addiction, denial, betrayal, depression, lapsed religiosity and notions – all the good stuff we do so well in this country. One Day Netflix The nostalgia-inflected structure of this adaptation of David Nicholls’s novel made me feel pre-emptively emotional before I even saw it. We follow the relationship between two people across 20 years by dropping in on them on July 15th every year. (The production design as it goes from year to year is incredible.) It’s touching, funny and often very sad. It’s helped enormously by its incredibly likable leads, Ambika Mod and Leo Woodall. There’s added melancholy for me in the fact that if you checked in on me every July 15th I would probably be sitting on this couch typing about television. [ In One Day, Em and Dex’s extended mixtapes tell you everything you need to know about their worlds ] Extraordinary Disney I know you’re sick of superhero projects, with their Nietzschean will-to-power obnoxiousness, B-list children’s characters and half-finished special effects (Marvel’s current motto is “We’re not even trying”), but Extraordinary is, beneath a superheroic concept (a girl with no powers in a world of superpowers), a hilariously grotty flat-share comedy with a subtext of unresolved grief. The writing by Emma Moran is brilliant. ’Twas far from Disney streaming sites she was reared (Fermanagh). [ Extraordinary star Máiréad Tyers: ‘It freaks me out when there are people in their mid-20s who seem to have it sorted’ ] Ripley Netflix A moody black-and-white fly-on-the-wall docudrama about Andrew Scott, who has taken it upon himself to infiltrate the life of a wealthy shipping heir, Dickie Greenleaf. Or possibly it’s an expressionistic adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novels about a dangerous liar, Tom Ripley, starring Andrew Scott (and created by Steven Zaillian). Same thing, says you, for what is acting but the commission of “face lies”? And Scott does his face-lying (acting) very well. So if, in his spare time, Scott wants to take over the life of an American toff, I’m saying here that he should have the right to do so. The man’s a national treasure. Mary & George Sky Atlantic The trueish story of how the wily faux aristocrat Mary Villiers (Babs Windsor) sent her second son (Charles Hawtrey) to sex-training camp in France (France) so he can better seduce the king of England and Scotland, James VI and I (Sid James), and show his bum a lot. I have the actors’ names wrong; it’s actually the excellent Julianne Moore, Nicholas Galitzine and Tony Curran. I really like Mary & George. It’s smart, darkly funny, earthy and, in its refusal to take things too seriously, slightly redolent of Tony McNamara’s The Great, and, also, Carry on Henry VIII. It’s one for fans of irreverent historical drama but, also, bums. Fargo Now TV The Fargo TV franchise isn’t a straight sequel to the Cohen brothers’ film but an opportunity for its showrunner, Noah Hawley, to remix a selection of Cohen brothers tropes into familiar yet surprising new forms. The very satisfying recent fifth season is built on a succession of Home Alone/Assault on Precinct 13-style home invasions. It involves an underestimated underdog (Juno Temple), a well-meaning Everycop (Lamorne Morris), a violent religious nut (Don Draper), a predatory loan-company chief executive who talks like a 1950s femme fatale (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and a mystical thug with a bowl cut who speaks in the third person (Sam Spruell, though we all have a friend from school like this). It also features a dash of magical realism, unlikely twists and all the comedically blunt ultraviolence your blackened heart desires. Gladiators BBC One A reboot of the 1990s classic in which athletic members of the public perform feats of strength on a bouncy obstacle course, all the time being waylaid by hunks in Day-Glo armless onesies who swing on ropes or batter them with too-large cotton buds. It’s the greatest story ever told, an adaptation of the Bible, probably.

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