Wes Anderson, sinkholes and Murderville: 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.

Reacher (Amazon Prime Video)

Imagine a Venn diagram where one circle represents people who love Jack Reacher novels and the other represents those who have never read a Jack Reacher novel. Overlap those two circles almost completely and you get people who are still confused as to how Tom Cruise came to be cast in the movie adaptation as the towering ex-Army cop with fists famously “the size of supermarket chickens”.

The new TV version, on the other poultry-sized hand, has been cast to the letter of Lee Child’s phenomenally popular books. This Jack Reacher, played by Alan Ritchson, walks around like a video game character come to life, an animated collection of muscles with a big handsome face on top. When he single-handedly dusts up about a dozen criminals at once in a prison fight, you are inclined to accept this as a realistic outcome.

This eight-episode series is based on Killing Floor, the debut Jack Reacher novel published back in 1997, in which we first meet our wandering hero stepping off a Greyhound bus in Margrave, Georgia. He is there, he later explains to one of the cops who arrest him on suspicion of murder before he could take a bite of peach pie, because he wants to visit the town where obscure blues legend Blind Blake is believed to have died.

It is a preposterous-sounding excuse, but it’s also true. It is possible to be a highly-trained killing machine and appreciate rare blues recordings – Reacher contains masculine multitudes. But if he didn’t do this murder, who did?

There’s only one person in town with the intelligence, logic and reasoning skills to get to the bottom of this crime, and to the entire police force’s annoyance, his name is Jack Reacher. Even if you’ve never read a page of the novels, you’ll soon understand why they’re so popular.

La Brea (Neon, Wed 9)

When it comes to terrifying natural disasters to make TV shows and movies about, there is a couple that really hog the limelight. A great big sinkhole opening up and swallowing thousands of people isn’t really something that’s even been on our radar – until now, that is, with the arrival of new sinkhole thriller La Brea. Set in Los Angeles, it follows the plight of a family divided after a sinkhole appears in the middle of the city one day, leaving some members behind on the surface world and others in a freaky new upside-down dimension.

Rules of the Game (TVNZ OnDemand, from Tuesday)

It doesn’t get much more “BBC thriller” than a broken mirror reflecting a collage of faces staring intensely into the middle distance, which is the imagery they’ve chosen to go with Rules of the Game. The four-part miniseries is set in the human resources department of a medium-sized company with a deeply toxic (and probably bleakly recognisable) workplace culture, one built around the old “boys’ club” mentality. This particular company also happens to have some deadly secrets in its past, which begin to come to light when the newly appointed HR director starts doing some digging.

Murderville (Netflix)

Will Arnett is moustachioed detective Terry Seattle, who in each episode of Murderville investigates and solves a different murder. So far this sounds exactly like the type of show Netflix would put out in 2022. But here’s the twist: for each case, he’s joined by a celebrity assistant and they haven’t been given the script. Instead, guests including Sharon Stone, Conan O’Brien and notorious man-of-few-words former NFL star Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch will have to improvise their way through all the usual CSI cliches. Could be genius, could be really awful – either way it surely represents the peak of the current trend for comedy crime shows.

Movie of the Week: The French Dispatch (Disney Plus)

A startling new development for those of us who were thinking of going to the movies to see the new Wes Anderson but hadn’t got around to it yet: it’s now also available on Disney Plus. Described as a “love letter to journalists”, it’s set in the dying days of the French foreign bureau of an American newspaper. Its three separate storylines feature all the usual suspects (Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman), leaving no doubt that this is definitely a Wes Anderson movie.

From the Vault: Rushmore (1998) (Disney Plus)

This seems like as good a time as any to remember Disney Plus also carries the (nearly) complete Wes Anderson filmography (just missing his 1996 debut Bottle Rocket). His second (and arguably still best) feature, Rushmore stars Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray (who would go on to star in pretty much all his other films) as a wayward high school student with way too many hobbies and a wayward bachelor with not nearly enough hobbies respectively.

Podcast of the Week: Chameleon: Wild Boys

When Chameleon’s first season came out in 2020, scams were only just beginning to overtake murders as the dominant form of true-crime podcast. Two years later, there’s a new scam series every other day, and like the glut of murder series before them, most are repetitive, pointless and really just kind of bad.

But now into its third season, Chameleon has hit upon an exception to the rule in the story of the Wild Boys. This story begins in 2003, when two strange-looking teenage boys show up in the small holiday town of Vernon, British Columbia. They say their names are Will and Tom Green, but they have no documentation and appear on no official records, because, they claim, they were born and raised completely off the grid in the vast Canadian wilderness, and this is their first encounter with society. The locals – most of them, anyway – believe the boys and look out for them, offering them accommodation, food and money.

Host Sam Mullins grew up in Vernon and remembers the interest their story generated – first locally, then nationally, even internationally. But how much of it was true? The facts, as they say, are even stranger than the fiction, and Mullins’ storytelling makes for some hugely compelling listening.

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