Downton Abbey-esque drama, dating and The Tourist: Top TV picks for the week

Watch, listen and be inspired by Calum Henderson’s definitive list of what’s hot right now and from the vault.

The Gilded Age (Neon, from Tuesday)

They say to write what you know, and it’s quite likely no one in television knows high society better than Downton Abbey creator and literal Lord Julian Fellowes. His new series may be set on the other side of the Atlantic and a generation before Downton, but it’s cut from the same very expensive cloth. The familiar upstairs-downstairs dynamic is present here, but The Gilded Age also adds another dimension across the road – this is all about old money v new money in 1880s New York.

On the old money side of the street, we have sisters Agnes and Ada (The Good Fight’s Christine Baranski and Cynthia Nixon, whom it is difficult to fully separate from her other character’s recent exploits in the Sex and the City reboot), who spend most of their time glancing furtively from behind lace curtains at the extravagant house being built across the street by railroad tycoon George Russell (Morgan Spector) and his wife Bertha (Carrie Coon), who’s hell-bent on attaining the one thing their new money can’t buy: status.

Into all this, steps Agnes and Ada’s young adult niece Marian (Louisa Jacobson), who the pair take in after their estranged brother in Pennsylvania goes and dies with barely a penny left to his name. Eyebrow-raisingly for some, Marian also brings along a friend she made on the train – Peggy, a young Black aspiring writer whom Agnes hires as her secretary, is the most interesting character introduced in the first episode but is also probably afforded the least screen time.

One of the first things Agnes tells Marian upon her arrival: “We only receive the old people in this house, never the new”. Which, unfortunately for them, is a house rule that’s probably going to come under some pressure since Marian promptly goes and gets a huge crush on the Russells’ charming Harvard-graduate son.

For fans of Downton Abbey and period dramas with lavish costume departments more generally, The Gilded Age should be as well-received as an old money donation at a charity gala.

Archive 81 (Netflix)

In the podcast version of Archive 81, which came out in 2016, a young archivist is hired by a secretive agency to sort through a bunch of old cassette tapes and gets drawn into the dark mysteries they contain. Unlike a lot of other fiction podcasts, this is an easy one to adapt into a TV series – just swap out cassettes for videotapes (and the archivist for a museum conservator tasked with repairing them) and things get even spookier. The tapes in question were recorded in 1994, by a PhD student researching an unusual New York apartment building – research the conservator (Mamoudou Athie) feels compelled against his better judgment to continue all these years later.

Lodgers for Codgers (TVNZ OnDemand)

Much of the time it seems that British telly makers start with the title and work their way backwards until they’ve got a show. In Lodgers for Codgers that means taking Gen Z youths priced out of the rental market and using a shonky speed dating set-up to pair them up with old age pensioners with plenty of room to spare in the houses they bought for 20 quid back when they were that age. It’s not quite Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds, but there are still some heartstring-tugging moments mixed in with the cringe-worthy intergenerational exchanges.

The Tourist (TVNZ OnDemand)

Of the handful of indistinguishable-looking new British drama series that popped up on TVNZ OnDemand over the summer, The Tourist is probably the one you want to go with. The British-Australian-German co-production stars Fifty Shades’ Jamie Dornan as a British man who wakes up in an Australian hospital after we see him being run off an outback road by a truck – something he doesn’t remember because he has full-on Memento-style amnesia. Written by Harry and Jack Williams (The Missing, Liar), it’s a fast-paced, tense-in-a-fun-way, twisty thriller as The Man pieces together the puzzle to find out what got him in this predicament.

Movie of the Week: The Royal Treatment (Netflix)

Repeating the winning formula of A Christmas Prince, Netflix’s latest fantastical romance takes a sassy New York hairdresser and whisks her off to the magical kingdom of Lavania (aka Dunedin) to cut the hair of a handsome prince before his wedding at a castle (aka the genuinely haunted Larnach Castle). Shortland Street’s Teuila Blakely and Lotto’s Sonia Gray pop up among a cast fleshed out with local actors.

From the Vault: The Twilight Saga (2008) (Neon)

Should another lockdown keep us home for any length of time in 2022, we can at least take some small comfort in the fact the complete Twilight saga is now on Neon. A lockdown tradition for many (and highly recommended for others), the five-film vampiric romance series features some truly memorable performances from Robert Pattinson (Batman) and Kristen Stewart (Princess Diana) which get funnier and somehow also better with each subsequent viewing.

Podcast of the Week: This is Dating

A new season of Married At First Sight Australia will be here any moment, and although it may seem impossible for it to get any more toxic than last year, history has proven the show’s creators always manage to find a way. If you want a more genuine and earnest type of dating show, you might have to turn to your podcast app instead.

This is Dating is a new series from the studio behind Ether Perel’s acclaimed couples therapy podcast, Where Should We Begin, and shares some of that series’ voyeuristic yet educational appeal. Series producers Jesse Baker and Hiwote Getaneh act as the show’s hosts and matchmakers to a handful of singles who they set up on virtual (Zoom) dates, sending them occasional conversation prompts in the chat. Before each of these dates, though, each participant is set up with dating coach and behavioural psychologist Logan Ury to talk through what they might be doing wrong by always going for people who are emotionally unavailable etc. As with the Perel podcast, eavesdropping on these chats feels as close as you’re going to get to free therapy.

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