Summer viewing

Top television recommendations for the summer from Adam LeBor

On Television

Apple TV

Idris Elba is now so famous, with such a strong screen persona, that no matter which tough guy he is playing, I think “Oh look, it’s Idris Elba.” He delivers once again in Hijack as Sam Nelson, a broody negotiator flying from the Gulf to London on a hijacked airplane.

The show deftly switches between the drama 35,000 feet up and the unfolding story on the ground as the authorities realise that the hijackers have taken control and move into international crisis mode. Cue much staring by nerve-wracked officials at enormous screens tracking the airplane’s progress and frantic telephone calls.

Meanwhile, back on board, Sam is masterminding the fightback with a series of clever moves, aided by brave air crew members and a team of heroic schoolgirls. Some scenes are ludicrous as when the captain — having an affair with a stewardess, naturally — violently attacks his female co-pilot after she refuses to open the cabin door and let the motley crew of hijackers in. But even minor characters are well developed with a decent backstory. I’ll be watching until the end.

Still available for those who missed them on release: Slow Horses, the evocative adaption of Mick Herron’s novels about failed spies exiled to Slough House; Liaison, a big-budget international espionage series starring Eva Green and Vincent Cassell staring moodily at each other between taking down the bad guys and Tehran, a high-tension adventure about a female Mossad agent infiltrating the Iranian elite.

Channel 4 Walter Presents

The Marnow Murders is the kind of series tailor-made for Walter Presents, Channel 4’s sub-channel devoted to foreign-language crime and thrillers. The layered story unfolds in the small lakeside city of Schwerin, in the former German Democratic Republic. Two gruesome murders loop back to the bad old days of the Stasi, and the detectives on the trail of the killer soon find themselves stalled by a corrupt Federal Police investigator.

The Marnow Murders is intelligent viewing with strong, complex characters that carefully picks apart the dream of German unity. The GDR, it’s clear, still casts a long, dark shadow, especially when it comes to asking unwelcome questions.

Still available: The Devil’s Throat, one of my all-time favourites, set in Bulgaria during the recent refugee crisis and the 1989 mass expulsions of ethnic Turks, and four strangers, a gritty, fast-paced Croatian drama showing the dark side of present-day Zagreb.


Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror returns for its sixth season of sharp, intriguing and sometimes bonkers takes on modern digital life, our surveillance society and the commodification of everything — most of all, us. The opening episode, “Joan is Awful”, has the added bonus of Selma Hayek as it loops in and out of a Moebius strip of competing realities.

Two promising new Netflix original series from Kuwait are more down to earth, with tough and determined female protagonists. Devil’s Advocate recounts the story of a lawyer defending a footballer accused of murdering his wife, while workplace drama The Exchange, set in 1987, has two women traders making their way in the very male-dominated world of the Kuwait Stock Exchange.

Still available: Rough Diamonds, set in the world of ultra-Orthodox Jewish diamond traders in Antwerp; the undercover Israeli operatives of Fauda on their dangerous forays into the occupied West Bank and Suburra: Blood on Rome, a stylish, bloody crime series venturing deep into murder and corruption in the Italian capital and the Vatican.

Amazon Prime

In Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, the tough, adaptable and always honourable CIA operative is promoted to deputy director in this fourth and final season. But not all of his colleagues are on the right side.

Ryan is on the trail of a sinister conspiracy that reaches from the highest levels of the agency to international terrorists and uber-rich murderous drug cartels — with potentially catastrophic consequences.

The show moves confidently and seamlessly from inside the Washington Beltway to Geneva, some nicely shot action scenes in Dubrovnik and remote, menacing Asian hideouts. Season three saw Ryan stop nuclear war breaking out between America and Russia.

Disrupting the dark forces’ new alliance seems an even more demanding assignment. Will he succeed? Watch it and see (but probably, yes).

Still available: El Candidato, enthralling mix of espionage, crime and high politics in Mexico City and The Hunted — eight years old but still an engaging tale of a private espionage agency and international intrigue.

BBC iPlayer

The dark Danish crime series Those Who Kill is now in its third season. Natalie Madueño gives a bravura performance as Louise Bergstein, a psychological profiler for the Copenhagen police, tracking murderers and serial killers.

Her job, to get inside a killer’s head, sends her to some dark places. She is the anti-Jack Ryan: nervous, twitchy, suffering from PTSD and seeing a therapist to process the things she has seen.

The series is comparatively slow-paced and laced through with Scandinavian gloom — and the gruesome murders do little to leaven the mix.

Yet the strong characterisation, Bergstein’s all-too-human vulnerability and the creators’ confidence that viewers want a complex, even demanding story takes Those who Kill to a different level than many crime dramas. Murders exact a high toll, not just from the victims’ loved ones but also from those tasked with solving them.

Still available: Blue Lights, a smart, layered police series set in Belfast, weaving in the Troubles and also pitting the police against sinister MI5 operatives, and SAS Rogue Heroes — boy’s-own true-life adventures in the north African desert during the Second World War, with a pounding contemporary soundtrack.

This article is taken from the August-September 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

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