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Romantic comedies, Japanese reality television and New Zealand true crime: the best of streaming this September

We have never been more spoilt for choice when it comes to what we can watch on (streaming) television. But the downside of this gluttony of riches is the sheer overwhelm that can come from having to choose your next show.

Have you found yourself reaching to rewatch an old favourite, just to make the choice easier? Us too.

But fear not, The Conversation’s writers are on the case. In this new series, our experts will be bringing you the best new shows, films and seasons to watch every month.

From comedy to reality television to crime drama, we hope you’ll find your next favourite here.

Glamorous

Netflix

Kim Cattrall showed considerable savvy when, rather than rejoin the cast of Sex and the City, she opted to play Madolyn Addison, the dynamic head of beauty brand Glamorous. The series revolves around a young gender-fluid assistant, Marco Mejia (Miss Benny), who inspires the company to break boundaries while exploring his own uncertainties around sexuality and gender.

On the surface this is even frothier than Sex and the City, and some critics have panned it. Angie Han in the Hollywood Reporter (a publication not known for its commitment to high art) saw it as:

A workplace comedy that has no grasp of how work works, a rom-com that fails to generate a single convincing spark, a Gen-Z coming-of-age saga with the cultural references of a geriatric Millennial.

These objections are like complaints that Midsomer Murders gives an unrealistic depiction of police procedure. I know little about the cosmetics industry, but I suspect it is more accurately portrayed here than the cringing improbabilities of the British royal court in Red, White and Royal Blue.

There is a taken-for-granted queerness of the program: here heterosexuals, led by Cattrall and her ever-faithful chauffeur, are in the minority. The series plays with stereotypes, from the A-list gay boys at Provincetown to the drag queens in Marco’s favourite club. And Han must have a heart of stone to have missed the ongoing heartbreak of Marco’s geeky workmate, Ben.

Glamorous is as camp as Barbie, but far cleverer and more subversive: without a spoiler, it’s worth comparing the way the two end.

– Dennis Altman


Read more: 'Gay guys can do missionary?' - how Red, White & Royal Blue brings queer intimacy to mainstream audiences


Starstruck season three

ABC iView (Australia) from September 6 and TVNZ+ (New Zealand) from September 2

The delightful romantic-comedy Starstruck follows the successes, failures and absurdities of an unexpected romance.

The two charismatic, neurotic non-white leads make this a far-from-standard rom-com: Nikesh Patel’s Tom Kapoor is a world-famous British movie star; Rose Matafeo’s Jessie is far more intense, obnoxious and funny than your average rom-com heroine.

Starstruck’s creator and star Matafeo has crafted a world that feels real with inside jokes that invite you in, an ironic sincerity that is sweet but not saccharine, and neurotic characters written with endearing specificity, warmth and humour.

Last season ended with a moment that was equal parts romantic and absurd, as Jessie and Tom reconcile and make out in a pond. But the new season opens with a montage tracing the subsequent two years of moving in together and then drifting apart.

Starstruck understands what makes Jessie and Tom interesting to watch: not domestic bliss, but their awkward banter and difficulty overcoming their mismatched quirks, despite their obvious chemistry and attraction. For those who love a smart, sizzling rom-com in the tradition of Hepburn and Tracy this is a must-watch.

The new season continues the excellent form of the first two seasons, as Tom and Jessie attend a very awkward wedding and end up back in each other’s orbit.
– Jessica Ford

Far North

ThreeNow (New Zealand) and Paramount+ (Australia)

The terrific new New Zealand dark comedy Far North dramatises a bizarre meth-smuggling case from 2016, in which a ridiculously inept gang nearly got half a ton of methamphetamine to market, only to be rumbled by the locals.

Veteran actors Temuera Morrison and Robyn Malcolm are excellent as decent Ahipara couple Ed and Heather, who become embroiled in the bungled plot when local criminals try to get their Chinese bosses out to sea off Ninety Mile Beach to intercept a stranded drug shipment.

If things can go wrong, they do – and events swiftly turn into a cascading comedy of errors.

Creator David White co-wrote a true crime book on the subject, and you can see his eye for detail throughout. The whole thing is run through with a mordant, deadpan sensibility that will have you spitting out your tea with laughter even as you are wincing at some of the more horrific elements of the case.

Impeccably shot, and featuring a wonderfully motley assortment of low-rent crims, desperate drug runners, cartel mobsters and salt-of-the-earth locals, Far North is easily one of the best (and funniest) New Zealand shows in years.

–Erin Harrington

Mother and Son

ABC iView

Mother and Son has long been regarded as one of Australia’s greatest sitcoms.

First airing in 1984, the tale of the ageing Maggie Beare and her hapless son, Arthur, was not only very funny, but revealed the pain, frustration and love that underpinned their relationship.


Read more: The Mother and Son reboot has fresh things to say about adult children and their ageing parents


For anyone who has cared for an ageing parent – or faced the diminution of their autonomy as they have aged – Mother and Son still strikes a nerve. Where the original series featured a baby boomer looking after his mother, in the revival, it’s a millennial looking after his boomer mum – a story being played out in homes across the nation.

In the 2023 Mother and Son, Maggie (Denise Scott) is a free-spirited eccentric who almost burned down the family home while cooking dinner for her grandchildren. Childless, unmarried Arthur (Matt Okine), meanwhile, is attempting to start a web business.

The new Mother and Son is likeable, gentle comedy. It has a diverse, multicultural cast and the writing is largely well-observed. Yet in remaking a much-loved classic comedy, the creators have set themselves an impossibly high bar: Scott and Okine, while charming, are no match for Ruth Cracknell and Garry McDonald.

– Michelle Arrow

Ai no Sato (Love Village)

Netflix

This year we have seen a new wave of interest in reality dating shows with older protagonists. In the US, Gerry Turner, aged 71, has just been announced as the first “Golden Bachelor”. In the UK, the upcoming show My Mum, Your Dad (an Australian version aired in 2022) is being billed as “middle-aged Love Island”.

Perhaps the best example, though, comes from Japan. Ai no Sato, or Love Village, is a take on the stalwart Japanese reality dating format Ainori (Love Wagon). In Ainori, contestants travel the world in a minibus and fall in love along the way. In Ai no Sato, by contrast, contestants (all aged over 35) renovate a house in rural Japan together … and fall in love along the way.

I love Ainori, but Ai no Sato takes things to a new level. Because its contestants are older, they have a deep well of life experience and relationship baggage, which makes for very compelling romance narratives – and, in particular, confessions of love that carry incredible emotional weight.

The vast majority of reality romance shows would treat a love triangle with a 60-year-old woman at its apex as jokey or gimmicky, but I defy anyone to watch this show and not be deeply hoping that Minane finds (in the show’s parlance) the last love of her life.

And if the romance aspect doesn’t interest you? There’s always the house renovation. This house is gorgeous.

– Jodi McAlister


Read more: The guilty pleasure of watching trashy TV


Unforgotten season five

Binge (Australia) and TVNZ+

There are a lot of British crime dramas out there. You only need to look at the back catalogue of BritBox to see just how extensive it is. There are a lot of excellent series out there (Broadchurch, Happy Valley and Karen Pirie are all exceptional). There is also a lot of chaff, where the premise is more formulaic. This is perhaps why it took me so long to give Unforgotten a go. I was, however, quickly hooked and proceeded to binge the series very quickly.

Each season begins with the discovery of a murder that the historical crimes unit must solve, led by DCI Cassie Stuart (the wonderful Nicola Walker) and DI Sunil Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar).

Initially, the subplots about miscellaneous suspects all seem unrelated and random. However, the investigation (very well plotted out) slowly pieces all these characters together. As the investigation develops, the suspects’ lives, and everyone close to them, are upended.

Season five sees the departure of Walker and new to the team is DCI Jessica James (Sinéad Keenan). The season’s central tension is around her gruffness and the resentment of her not being DCI Stuart, who everyone loved. DCI James must lead her team to investigate the human remains discovered up a chimney in a newly renovated London stately home, which leaves a diverse array of suspects somehow connected to the crime.

For those that love a gripping British crime drama, I highly recommend this series.

– Stuart Richards

Beautiful Disaster

Prime

If Beautiful Disaster, the new film from Cruel Intentions director Roger Kumble, had come out 20 years ago, no one would have paid it much attention. It’s an enjoyably formulaic girl-meets-boy rom-com, but it’s aesthetically drab, looking more like a telemovie (which it is) than a made-for-cinemas release.

However, streaming in 2023 – now the rom-com has disappeared as a mainstay of Hollywood cinema – there’s something refreshingly delightful about it.

Abby (Virginia Gardner) leaves her father, a hopeless gambler in Las Vegas, to set out for college in Sacramento. On her first night at an underground mixed martial arts fight, she bumps into – literally – beefy brawler Travis (Dylan Sprouse, better known as the teen star of Disney’s The Suite Life of Zack & Cody).

At first he comes off as an arrogant jerk – not to mention Abby is sprayed with blood when he knocks out his opponent – but, as their relationship develops, his sensitivity becomes evident.

After many expected shenanigans, sexual and otherwise, and following run-ins with gangsters back in Vegas (to which Abby has to return to help Daddy out of a bind), the pair finish up happily ever after.

There is nothing unexpected here, but the charming qualities of the leads and the film’s general good humour carry it, along with cameos from TV stars who had their heyday in teen fare in the 90s and 2000s, including Brian Austin Green and Michael Cudlitz from Beverly Hills 90210, Autumn Reeser from The O.C. and Rob Estes from Melrose Place.

At the same time, only sometimes effectively, Beautiful Disaster thinks through questions around erotic power dynamics in a post-#MeToo era, comically centring on the kind of guilt Abby feels regarding her attraction to Travis.

– Ari Mattes

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