An intimate documentary on the life of legendary Tina Turner from her early years with Ike Turner through to happiness and 30 years of marriage living in Zurich, Switzerland.

As an icon of a woman redefining herself in her late 40s having escaped a violent and abusive marriage, Tina Turner has few equals. As the first woman to sell out concerts in huge football stadiums (including 180,000 in Rio, a then world-record attendance), Tina Turner has no equal. She is also one of the best-selling recording artists of all time (approximately 150 million records). All was achieved after a rancorous split from Ike Turner.

Tina is an up close and personal exploration divided into chapters. Inevitably, time is spent on those early years but the majority of the documentary as directed by Daniel Lindsay & TJ Martin (Undefeated, LA92) focuses on her phoenix-like emergence from Las Vegas cabaret to rock superstardom. With archive footage and interviews with the likes of husband Erwin Bach, Oprah Winfrey, Angela Bassett, music critics alongside Tina herself, Tina may avoid recent health problems and some of the more personal controversies with the schism between her and four sons, but it remains a fascinating crowd pleaser of triumph over adversity.

Rating: 70%

‘The Leftovers’ (Seasons 1-3)

When 2% of the world’s population inexplicably disappear, one small town in the State of New York attempts to continue as normal as possible.

14 October 2014 – the day of the Sudden Departure. A crying baby in a car, a mother pushing a shopping trolley, a driver of a car wending its way through town – gone. Accidents worldwide, families torn apart. No explanation. Mapleton, New York is no different.

Three years later, attempted normality is a stop/start affair. But its an unstable world lacking understanding or acceptance of events linked to the Sudden Departure. Religious/spiritual cults and groups have risen – including The Guilty Remnant where its members have given up talking, taken up smoking and are ambivalent about life and survival. The Mapleton sect is led by Patti Levin (Ann Dowd, pre-The Handmaid’s Tale).

Over the next three seasons, Mapleton Police Chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) and Nora Durst (Carrie Coon), a woman who lost her husband and two children, grapple with understanding and finding answers. Their journey takes them beyond small town upstate New York to Texas (season two) and, finally, Melbourne and the Australian outback.

Character-driven, The Leftovers is at its best when it explores the emotional scars of the Sudden Departure: Garvey struggles not only with the loss of his wife Laurie (Amy Brenneman) to The Guilty Remnant but also an angry teenage daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley) and absent son, Tom (Chris Zylka). Durst is constantly looking for answers, expecting her brother Reverend Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) to provide.

It’s an intriguing if at times infuriating series that, as the narrative progresses, becomes increasingly obscure. From the rise of spiritual groups and cults to the Texan town of Jarden (now a place of pilgrimage that has resulted in access being seriously controlled) that remained unaffected by the Sudden Departure, The Leftovers flirts with religion and spirituality. But its ultimately a human interest story as characters come and go over the three seasons – with the Australian narrative drawing closer to the truth and the possibilities of finding and perhaps understanding what happened several years earlier. It’s undoubtedly weird as we experience the physical, emotional and spiritual responses of the Sudden Departure and its long-term ramifications but as a cerebral experience, The Leftovers over its 28 episodes has few competitors. But whether its ultimately satisfying is a different question.

Rating: 69%

‘Severance’ (Season 1)

A challenging, cerebral nine-episode season, Severance is a disturbing, dystopian narrative of conspiracy and social control.

A surgical procedure (severance) that divides the memories of work and home provides opportunity for high-security jobs. But what the purpose of this work is never clarified – small teams are isolated in their workplace with minimal interaction with colleagues outside direct team members. Mark (Adam Scott) is the leader of one such team identifying on-screen data patterns and codes.

None of the team would recognise each other outside of work and none of them know who and what they are in the outside world. The arrival of a new colleague, Helly (Britt Lower), sets in motion a series of, to the team, confusing and unexplained interactions that fail to follow the routine of their normalcy. Meanwhile, Mark, on the outside, is being discretely watched by his next door neighbour (Patricia Arquette) who also happens to be the head of the unit at Lumon.

It’s a slow build of a series as tension is gradually increased as it becomes increasingly apparent not everything is what it seems. As a procedure, severance is a controversial one: there’s ongoing protests about growing corporate control and abuse, human rights infringements and more. Yet Mark, a former history professor, chose the implant following the death of his wife in a car accident. An antiseptic workplace of endless, deserted, flourescent-lit corridors with unending unopened doors, vast underground empty office spaces with a team of four huddled around their small desks in the centre of the room: the outside world is the polar opposite – claustrophobic home spaces darkly lit, early winter mornings or nighttime external shots adding to the gloom.

Given time, Severance becomes an immersive, mesmerising series as its slow beginnings give way initially to a sense of uncertainty before quietly revealing another layer as, unexpectedly, the design team, led by Burt (Christopher Walken) is introduced as a possible threat to Mark’s team’s stability. Assuming, that is, it always was stable.

Rating: 70%

‘Only Murders in the Building’ (Season 1)

Light, quirky and entertaining murder mystery as three amateur sleuths attempt to identify the murderer of a dead body in their apartment building on the Upper West Side of New York.

Struggling to pay his bills, theatre producer Oliver (Martin Short) is desperate to identify income. Following the discovery of a dead body – initially believed to be suicide – Oliver, refusing to accept the police report, looks to the production of a truecrime podcast. Working with fellow residents Charles Haden-Savage (Steve Martin), a former star TV detective, and Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez), the sleuths look to finding the identity of the killer.

It’s 10 episodes of undemanding, 21st century Miss Marple chock full of expletives and red herrings as the three unearth any number of dodgy goings on, past and present, in their semi-exclusive building – as well as secrets each of the amateur sleuths prefer to keep quiet. Lots of theatrics and banter as various residents come under suspicion (including Sting!) – with the final seconds of the 10th episode providing the perfect segueway into season 2 and the next case.

Rating: 64%

‘This Is Us’ (all 6 seasons)

Six seasons, 106 episodes covering some five decades – life with the Pearson family demands considerable commitment in terms of time and emotions.

Non-linear storytelling sees the episodes swooping between time frames – from the courtship of Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) to Rebecca’s death some 60 years later, surrounded by her children and their children. In between, the viewer is taken through an emotional wringer as we share the joys and tragedies of the various family members. Overshadowing all the narratives of This Is Us is the single tragedy of the death of Jack when his kids are just 17.

It’s an extraordinary series enscapsulating many of the social issues of the last decades. But it’s no overtly politicised rant. Instead, we experience issues as experienced by family members. Rebecca gave birth to triplets – Kate, Kevin and the still born Kyle – in 1980 in Pittsburgh. A decision is made to adopt an abandoned African-American baby, Randall, born that same day. The Pearson family unit is complete. Over 106 episodes, their stories, individually and together, are revealed.

The three children grow up to be three very different people in the current day –
Randall (superbly played as an adult by Sterling K. Brown), brilliant minded but deadly serious and dealing with anxiety and abandonment issues. Married to Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), they have two daughters of their own and later adopt a third.
Pretty boy Kevin (Justin Hartley) is a disastisfied actor who fights alcohol addiction and wrecks an early marriage to Sophie, his childhood sweetheart. Throughout the series Kevin is referred to as the ‘man child’.
Haunted twin, Kate (Chrissy Metz), believes there’s a connection between the emotional trauma suffered as a teen and her serious weight problems. She finds her soulmate in husband Toby (Chris Sullivan).

Throw in the mix Vietnamese veteran Jack’s own problem upbringing (an alcoholic, wife-beating father), Rebecca marrying Jack’s best friend, Miguel (Jon Huertas) many years later, Randall searching for his birth father (Ron Cephas Jones) and the blight of Alzheimer’s along with ‘everyday’ family issues over decades and there you have This Is Us.

An overwrought, emotional cathartic family melodrama that grabs you by the throat. Characters and situations galore to invest (personal favourite – Beth and the near perfect Jack: favourite sibling – Randall) as it sweeps backwards and forwards through the decades (indicated by Jack notching up all 106 episodes, the three siblings at 17 are attributed to more than 80).

Admittedly, season six falls away and edges closer to bittersweet saccharine melodramatic finale with some very odd and unlikely narrative subplots that tie up virtually every loose end too neatly. Even Miguel – way too late – gets his moment. But too much time has ben invested in the Pearsons not to see it through to the bitter end.

Rating: 72%

‘Big Little Lies’ (Season 2)

The aftershock of events at the school fundraising event in season one continues to reverberate throughout the privilege of Monterey. (SPOILER ALERT for season one)

The Monterey five (as they have now become) band together in the aftermath of Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) falling to his death. We know, in order to protect Celeste (Nicole Kidman) from a severe beating, Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz) pushed Perry, resulting in him falling down the concrete steps. But a too quick ‘white lie’ from Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) to protect them all that he slipped and fell has repercussions.

Season two explores the psychological fallout from Perry’s death, the cover up to the police of full details – and Jane (Shailene Woodley) dealing with having identified, to her horror, the identity of her rapist and the father of son Ziggy (Iain Armitage).

Interspersed with the more ‘mundane’ narratives of Madeline dealing with Ed (Adam Scott) knowing about her affair with theatre director Joseph (Santiago Cabrera) and Renata Klein (Laura Dern) forced into bankruptcy by her profligate investor of a husband (Jeffrey Nordling), season two’s focus is Celeste, struggling without Perry, reliant on prescription drugs to get through the day/night. So much so mother-in-law Mary Louise (Meryl Streep) travels up from San Francisco to help look after her grandchildren. But Mary Louise is one unpleasant and mighty suspicious woman, refusing to believe any official accounts on the death of her saintly son.

It gets nasty and Mary Louise smells a rat. And not just in the luxurious home of Celeste. With so many truths out (except that elephant in the room of the white lie), each of the women are forced to deal with their demons, either together or alone. Like a caged animal, Dern stalks her huge, now empty, home awaiting its sale, the stunning view meaningless. Woodley looks to her son fearful he will turn out like his dad. And Celeste must now battle drug dependency and a crusading mother-in-law or face losing her children.

Big Little Lies (Season 2) expertly picks up where the first seven episodes left off. It may not have that sense of dread of the mood swings of Skarsgård (although there’s a few flashbacks to remind us) and, in some ways, initially at least, it’s hard to imagine the need for a follow up to the excellent first season. The fear there is an unneccesary fill-in melodrama cashing in on its success. But, fear not. Full of self contradictions, there’s plenty to the second set of seven episodes and that sense of sisterhood between the five. Once more, dialogue shines, Streep and, this time around, the more prominent Zoe Kravitz add a new depth to the storylines – and that cast simply excel.

Rating: 81%

‘Big Little Lies’ (Season 1)

With its A-league cast and an adaptation of the best selling novel by Liane Moriarty, Big Little Lies promised big – and does not disappoint. The seven part season one, set in the privilege of Californian coastal Monterey, encompasses entitlement, wealth, abuse, infidelity, small town politics and gossip, scandal – and lies. But what sets it apart from the average pot boiler is the quality of its dialogue, the well-thought out soundtrack, glorious cinematography, the storyline itself and the depth in its casting.

Life in Monterrey is unravelling from the opening scene of this wholly engrossing series as a death interrupts a school fundraiser. It will change the lives of all concerned. It will take seven episodes to reveal the identity of the body (no spoilers) and what happened as, set predominantly in the lead up to the fateful night, interspersed throughout the narrative are police interviews with parents revealing gossip and personal opinions to investigators. It makes for fabulous television.

Big Little Lies centres around five women. Pocket rocket Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) is involved in everything and takes to organising like a duck to water. On her second marriage (to Ed – Adam Scott), she has two daughters and her latest passion is the local arts centre and the forthcoming adult puppet show. Best friend Celeste (Nicole Kidman), former lawyer and stay-at-home mom lives in luxury along the coast in a seemingly perfect, passionate marriage to Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) and their twin boys.

As the new school year begins, the two take to new-in-town single mom with a past Jane (Shailene Woodley) and her son, Ziggy (Iain Armitage). With designer clothes and 4WD Porsche or Tesla de rigeur for Otter Bay Elementary, Jane stands out like a sore thumb. And that is to get worse by the end of the day – Ziggy is accused of bullying class mate Marabella. Mother and high-flying career woman Renata (Laura Dern) lets loose and lines are drawn. Refusing to be drawn into any camp is outsider Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz). A chilled yoga teacher, she struggles with being married to Madeline’s first husband, Nathan (James Tupper).

It’s a miasma of drama and melodrama, shocking reveals and a constant sense of dread. The veiled lives even among best friends are played out against the more public confrontations and, at times, petty responses as marriages are threatened, children (and adults) abused, secrets revealed.

Big Little Lies swept the board for a television drama series in 2017 – Primetime Emmys, Golden Globes, SAG Awards, Gold Derby Awards among many others for drama series, Kidman, Skarsgård and Dern in particular.

Rating: 84%

‘Dead To Me’ (Seasons 1-3)

A hugely entertaining black comedy spread over three series and 30 episodes, Dead To Me explores the intense friendship that evolves between two women in spite of both, at different points, withholding terrible secrets from each other.

Recently widowed from a nightttime hit and run, uptight realtor Jen (Christina Applegate) places increasing demands on the Laguna Beach police to find the culprit. Needing closure for her and two sons, she attends a church-based grief counselling group, where she meets Judy (Linda Cardellini). The two hit it off straight away, to the point the always-angry Jen invites Judy to stay at the family home, unaware of the reason why the ever-positive Judy is at the counselling sessions.

No spoilers, but over the next 29 episodes the two women encounter testing times and travel down some dark paths supported by an array of characters as plotline after plotline crossover and merge into a ‘beyond the pale’ narrative. As Jen confronts all before her (and particularly her 16/17 year old son, Charlie – Sam McCarthy) with a magnificent array of expletives, so she must deal with the dead body in the freezer, the lonely and sexually frustrated neighbour Karen (Suzy Nakamura) as well as an indifferent detective (Diana Maria Riva) who may or may not be getting a little too close for comfort. Judy, meanwhile, is being eaten alive by her secret – with ex-fiance Steve (James Marsden) no help whatsoever.

Dead To Me may push the boundaries of believability but such is the investment in Jen and Judy (and others), the series carries all before it. The chemistry between the two leads is palpable, there are more twists in the narrative than a plate of fusilli and the balance between comedy and drama is beautifully handled.

Rating: 79%

‘Angels in America’

Whilst an overblown miniseries adaptation of Tony Kushner’s visceral two-part stage play, Angels in America, directed by Mike Nichols, remains an angry, powerful commentary on the political, religious and personal responses to the HIV/AIDS crisis in 1980s US.

Disparate stories connected, some fictional, some factional. Infamous New York lawyer Roy Cohn (Al Pacino) refuses to acknowledge he has AIDS (it’s liver cancer, motherf*cker as Cohn threatens to discredit his doctor of more than 20 years). Republican Mormon lawyer Joe Pitt (Patrick Wilson) simply refuses to acknowledge he is gay – something his wife Harper (Mary-Louise Parker), trapped in a sexless marriage, is only too aware. Her escape is copious amounts of valium. And then there’s Prior (Justin Kirk) who’s just told his lover of four years, Louis (Ben Shenkman), that he’s HIV+. Ben panics and abandons Prior, leaving him to deal with the ravages of the disease and the slow emotional and physical breakdown.

Such narratives are interwoven into fantastical visions as Prior’s nurse (Emma Thompson) invites him as an angel to be a prophet in death: Harper simply ‘travels’ in her mind’s eye whilst Joe’s deeply religious mother (Meryl Streep) arrives to sort out her son – who is having a clandestine relationship with Louis.

Angels in America is no easy watch – a confronting melodrama of life and, more prevalent, death. Wholly committed performances from an extraordinary depth of a cast add to the impact. As a live experience stage play (Royal National Theatre, London production in the ’90s), Angels in America personally blew me away. The medium of television dilutes the impact of some of the more fantastical scenes involving the Angel of Death, but this miniseries remains a riveting six hours.

Winner of 11 Emmys in 2004.

Rating: 73%

‘Mare of Easttown’

A wholly engrossing seven part miniseries, Mare of Easttown sees a small town detective investigate the death of a local teenager whilst coping with the dramas of family life.

Grieving for the recent suicide of her son, Mare Sheehan (a fearless Kate Winslet) heads the case when the body of teenage single-mum, Erin McMenamin (Cailee Spaeny) turns up in the creek. In the small Pennsylvanian blue collar town, everyone and everything is seemingly related as families, friends, colleagues are linked in some way to the victim.

Mare’s best friend Lori (Julianne Nicholson) provides support both professionally and personally as the detective emotionally struggles with the loss of her drug-addict son, the break up of the marriage to Frank (David Denman) and a distance from both daughter and mother who live in the same home. When Frank moves into the house at the back and is linked to Erin in spite of a previous denial, Mare’s world spins dangerously close to out-of-control.

Establishing an eventual close working relationship with newcomer Detective Zabel (Evan Peters) creates a degree of stability, helped by potential love interest from visiting professor (Guy Pearce). But this is Mare’s story all the way as, taking no prisoners, she delves, pushes, forces truths to the surface – even if it means alienating friends and family members.

Involving from the off, Mare of Easttown never lets go over its seven episodes with its cracking script (Brad Inglesby) and an ensemble cast that more than delivers (three acting Emmys a pointer!).

Rating: 82%