Little Fires Everywhere (Hulu/Amazon)

Hollywood actress Reese Witherspoon seems to have a knack for turning novels into television gold and Little Fires Everywhere is no exception. Starring Witherspoon and Kerry Washington (both of whom also executive produced the series), Little Fires Everywhere is a slow-burn drama along the lines of Big Little Lies — not surprising, given that the HBO series was also produced by Witherspoon.

Based on the eponymous novel by Celeste Ng, the show is set in the ’90s and explores themes of motherhood, racism and belonging. Elena Richardson (Witherspoon) is the wife of a lawyer and the matriarch of a typical WASPy (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) family living in the wealthy suburb of Shaker Heights, Ohio. Mia Warren (Washington) is a black, struggling artist who is fiercely independent and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. When Mia and her daughter Pearl (Lexi Underwood) become Elena’s tenants, the two mothers clash and their lives intertwine in unexpected ways, leaving both families torn, and exposing both Mia’s and Elena’s darkest secrets. The little dramas and mysteries shall keep you hooked till the explosive ending.

While the series originally aired on Hulu in the US, it will be released globally on Amazon on May 22.

Finding little reason to head out this Eidul Fitr as the lockdown see-saws between easing and becoming stricter, while politicians bicker amongst themselves? Then stay home and watch the following Icon picks

Dead To Me Season 2 (Netflix)

Dead to Me returns this May along with odd couple Jen Harding (Christina Applegate) and Judy Hale (Linda Cardellini). While, once again, a murder is central to the plot, it is the chemistry between the two leads which lifts this half-hour dramedy above other similar fare on Netflix. The bickering and camaraderie between the acerbic, sharp-tongued Harding and the free-spirited, soft-hearted Hale makes for an entertaining half-hour of television.

Plot-wise there are many similarities — while in the first season, it was Hale harbouring a secret that threatened their friendship, this time it’s Harding who is keeping one. Familiar faces return along with new characters: Ben Wood (James Marsden) as Hale’s ex-fiancé’s twin brother and Michelle Gutierrez (Natalie Morales) as the daughter of a new client at the nursing home Hale works at. As Hale is roped in by Harding to help cover up a murder with detective Ana Perez (Diana Maria Riva) close on their heels, their friendship is tested to the limit. The banter between the leads and the suspense shall keep you wanting more — an ideal show to binge over the weekend.

Picard (CBS All Access/Amazon)

There is much to love and much to hate in this spin-off of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG). For trekkie fans, the reappearance of Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard on the small screen is in itself a treat but, in their attempts to make the new series ‘edgier’ and darker, the writers and producers have left behind what made Star Trek appealing to many of its fans.

In TNG, each episode would bring some conflict or problem the crew of the Enterprise would solve through teamwork, diplomacy and efficient bureaucracy. With Picard, all that is gone. Instead we get a motley crew that spends more time brooding than adding anything to the story. While the plot is suspenseful enough to draw you in, Picard is serialised over 10 episodes — a Netflix formula that seems to plague all streaming shows now — which means some episodes are interesting while others are fillers, dragging the story down unnecessarily. It takes three episodes, for example, for Picard to get a crew together for the mission — something which could easily have been shown in the pilot.

The premise is interesting enough: the story takes place 20 years after Star Trek: Nemesis (2002). Picard is retired and still mourning the death of Data (Brent Spiner), a commander on the Enterprise and a close friend of the former captain. Romulus has been destroyed and, following the attack by synthetics on Mars, any form of AI/androids has been banned by the Federation. Picard is happily ensconced in his French villa until a mysterious girl, Dahj (Isa Briones), who has an unknown connection to Data, appears at his home, begging for his help. She drags a reluctant Picard out of retirement.

The show has been brilliantly shot: there are well-choreographed action sequences and superb special effects. While the pilot is a cinematic treat, the next few episodes crawl along till the plot picks up again towards the end of the series. The original cast of TNG is also sorely missed — the fact that one of the best episodes is the one featuring two of its fan favourites (Marina Sirtis as Deanna Troi and Jonathan Frakes as William Riker) is proof of that.

Nevertheless, the show’s central mystery and its cinematic quality more than make up for its shortcomings. Besides, as any trekkie fan will admit, a little Picard is better than none at all — and that is reason enough to watch it.

Noughts + Crosses (BBC)

Based on the YA alternate history book series by Malorie Blackman, this Romeo and Juliet-esque story between Callum McGregor (Jack Rowan) and Sephy Hadley (Masali Baduza) is endearing and heartbreaking. Noughts + Crosses takes places in 21st century Albion ruled over by Apricans since their conquest of Europe over 700 years ago. Blackman had re-imagined a world where blacks are the colonisers and the whites the colonised — a world where the racial hierarchies are reversed — and the BBC series has brilliantly captured the essence of her novels.

Beautifully shot with elements of Afro-futurism, Noughts + Crosses centres around Callum, Sephy and their families. Sephy is a privileged Cross whose father is the home secretary; Callum is a Nought whose mother works as a maid for Sephy’s family. When Callum helps out at a soiree at Sephy’s house, the former childhood friends hit it off again and fall in love.

The star-crossed lovers date in secret to avoid running afoul of Jim Crow-type laws that enforce segregation of the two races and forbid racial intermingling and marriage. The rise of an underground anti-Cross militia, the Liberation Militia, which Callum’s brother gets involved in, complicates matters further. As racial tensions escalate in Albion, Callum and Sephy find themselves in increasing danger, and their love is tested to the limit.

One of the book’s strong suits was an insight into Callum and Sephy inner thoughts. Some of that has been lost in its translation to the screen, but the attention to detail and the celebration of African culture more than makes up for it. Albion’s London looks like contemporary London but with an African twist, the casts’ wardrobes highlight gorgeous African-influenced designs, and the Noughts even wear their hair in locs and braids — a reminder of how, in real life, black minorities feel pressured by racism to wear their hair straight.

A must-watch, especially if you’ve ever thought to yourself, ‘what if the British had never colonised the subcontinent?’ With Noughts + Crosses you get a glimpse of the possibilities.

Published in Dawn, ICON, May 24th, 2020

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