Now that we’re deep into the dog days of summer, nearly five months into a quarantine that could go on for much longer and, following the launch of Peacock a few weeks ago, swimming in more streaming content than ever, platforms are getting creative about how they fill their schedules. In many cases, that means licensing shows from abroad—and especially from Anglophone countries like the UK, Canada and Australia. That can be a great thing; in fact, three of July 2020’s best new series come from outside the U.S. Read all about them below, and for more recommendations, check out last month’s top five.
The Baby-Sitters Club (Netflix)
The Baby-sitters Club doesn’t seem like a franchise that could survive these cataclysmic times, when the President calls people mean names on Twitter as young people face threats from racist policing to climate crisis—and, since March, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned even friendly bedroom communities like the BSC’s fictional Stoneybrook, Conn. into ghost towns. So it’s a wonderful surprise that the new Baby-sitters Club, a 10-episode Netflix series due out July 3, isn’t an anachronism so much as a tonic. Helmed by first-generation fans Rachel Shukert (Glow) and Lucia Aniello (Broad City), who honed their voices telling lighthearted stories about women who have each other’s backs, the show strikes a shrewd balance between earnestness and humor, freshness and nostalgia, fidelity to Ann M. Martin’s beloved characters and awareness of how much has changed since her books dominated girl culture at the end of the 20th century. [Read TIME’s full review.]
The Capture (Peacock)
The six-episode series moves at the breathless pace of 2018’s hit BBC/Netflix thriller Bodyguard, and there are hints of Homeland in a premise that has a female investigator trying to suss out a traumatized male soldier’s hard-to-read motivations. But on a thematic level, The Capture reminded me most of The Conversation, its surveillance anxiety updated for a contemporary world in the grips of social media hoaxes, the uncanny bottomless pit of deepfakes and other “fake news”—not to mention real news dismissed by self-interested authorities as fake news—where the notion of objective reality is under constant attack. Creator, writer and director Ben Chanan (The Missing) wisely complicates the story with an awareness of how class divisions feed tensions among an alphabet soup of British agencies. The show’s casting choices force the never-more-relevant question of whether the supposed adults in the room really have society’s best interests in mind. [Read the full review.]
In My Skin (Hulu)
“Speak from your heart,” a teacher exhorts 16-year-old aspiring writer Bethan Gwyndaf (Gabrielle Creevy) early in the BBC’s emotional Welsh dramedy In My Skin, which Hulu has imported for American audiences. That’s easier said than done. At school, Bethan pretends to be carefree and posh. In reality, her mom (Jo Hartley) struggles with a debilitating mental illness, her dad (Rhodri Meilir) is a mean, neglectful drunk, and the family lives in squalor. Bethan ghosts her misfit pals to hang out with a gorgeous, popular girl (Zadeiah Campbell-Davies) but doesn’t stop to confront the implications of her romantic fantasies about this new friend. Just when she seems bound for punishment, writer Kayleigh Llewellyn zags into fresher territory.
A combination of black humor, raw depictions of trauma and authentic performances—Creevy won a Welsh BAFTA, and Hartley is heartbreaking—mark the series as part of the same wave of British TV that includes auteurs like Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Michaela Coel. Llewellyn may not be the public face of her show, the way those women are, but she too is speaking from the heart—and her message resonates.
It takes a couple of episodes to understand what executive producer and showrunner Katori Hall is up to in P-Valley, a steamy, neon-lit noir that the award-winning dramatist (The Mountaintop, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical) adapted from her play Pussy Valley. The show centers around the Pynk, a strip club in the Mississippi Delta, and at first, it seems as though we’re in for merely another iteration of the plot that drives every stripper story from Hustlers to Showgirls: scrappy amateur (in this case, Elarica Johnson’s pseudonymous Autumn Night) wanders into the territory of a local legend (Brandee Evans’ Mercedes). But it turns out that’s just the basic setup. Autumn is fleeing a traumatic past whose details gradually start to unfold; Evans delivers a breathtaking performance as a talented, fiercely disciplined woman fueled by ambition and regret.
Although none of the four episodes provided for review skimp on sex, skin or soapy twists, P-Valley is in fact a carefully wrought study in character and setting—one leavened with humor and grounded in cultural specificity. More than just eye candy, the colorful costumes, dance routines and other set pieces are immersive; at the same time, the show never loses sight of the rural, Southern poverty beyond the Pynk’s walls. Race, colorism, money, power—and particularly the ways in which a business dominated by Black women offers the opportunity to transcend traditional hierarchies—become themes. And Hall patiently grows the cast of characters into a fleshed-out ensemble. The club’s gender-fluid proprietor Uncle Clifford (Nicco Annan, another standout) combines the tenderness of a den mother who genuinely cares for her dancers with the craftiness of a queer Black business owner who must be as ruthless as the bad guys to hold onto what’s hers. A post-prestige summer drama that rewards patience, P-Valley understands that profundity and fun don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Stateless is an emotional look at Australia’s similar human-rights crisis from creators Cate Blanchett, Tony Ayres and Elise McCredie that is inspired in part by the real scandal of Australian permanent resident Cornelia Rau’s unlawful detention in the early 2000s. What’s remarkable is how broad a picture the miniseries manages to create in just six episodes featuring a handful of characters. Stateless starts slow, and its earnestness may be off-putting to some. But it has something profound to say about how injustice can snowball into catastrophe. [Read the full review.]