The proliferation of television series covering every conceivable topic continues to feed a global appetite for binge-watchable content. Streaming platforms and production houses alike seem only too happy to serve it up, hot and fresh and on-demand. But sometimes the real stories, told by real people, are just as compelling. So what’s better, documentaries or dramas? Real-life recreations or scripted sci-fi? When it’s all on offer first and exclusive to Showmax, you don’t actually have to pick. Here are eight shows and documentaries you can choose between, or watch in quick succession, this November.
The magic of nature: The Magicians, S1-3 vs Judi Dench: My Passion for Trees
The Magicians tells the story of Quentin Coldwater and his group of endearing but unusual misfit friends at Brakebills University for Magical Pedagogy, who discover a world thought only to exist in story books. It’s a world both enthralling and empowering for them, and dangerous for humanity at large. Coldwater’s childhood friend Julia attempts to enroll into Brakebills as well, but is denied, prompting her to seek her own kind of magic elsewhere. This highly rated, three-season American fantasy, based on the novel by Lev Grossman, is full of young adult angst and magical creatures like celestial nymphs, dryads and naiads, all of whom are curators and carers of their mystical, magical lands and all of whom must learn to balance fantasy and reality.
As one of the most decorated and significant actresses of the past 50 years, Dame Judi Dench could narrate a show about cotton wool and people would probably watch it. But her documentary film, Judi Dench: My Passion for Trees, is a personal and charming homage to nature’s gentle giants. While getting to peek in on her rather magical life as resident of one of Britain’s historical manors, complete with its own forest, we also learn more about why trees are so important to her and to the health of the planet. Above all, she creates an argument for a seemingly magical world in which trees are sentient beings with ways of communicating, protecting and proliferating all their own.
Chilling: Channel Zero, S1-2 vs Beware the Slenderman
Channel Zero is a horror anthology series of two six-episode, self-contained seasons by novelist Nick Antosca that bring the realistic horror stories of internet forums to life in all their gorey, terrifying glory. “Creepypastas” are paranormal tales, urban legends and made-up horror stories that have been shared to the internet over the past decade, and curated into a website intended to scare. With names like No-End House, Butcher’s Block and Dream Door, each series of Channel Zero takes a Creepypasta story and reimagines it for the small screen. The seasons have been so popular with fans of horror that two more are in production.
Someone else took the horror of creepypastas even more to heart than Nick Antosca: a 2017 documentary, Beware the Slenderman, reveals how two 12-year-old girls from the Midwest tried to stab their best friend to death to appease a fictitious bogeyman. A tall, faceless, besuited man with tentacles, who was believed to offer sinister comfort to children, “Slenderman”, or “Slender”, was reportedly created in 2009 for a Photoshop art competition. The bogeyman quickly become a popular addition to modern online folklore, with terrifying results. The documentary reveals how and why Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier became obsessed with the character and wreaked havoc on their own lives and those of their victim.
Women’s dystopia: Handmaid’s Tale, S1-2 vs Birthright: A War Story
In the uncomfortably near future, fertility rates in a country clearly meant to be America collapse as a result of environmental distress and sexually transmitted diseases. Overnight, a totalitarian, theonomic religion is established; women are rounded up and brutally subjugated, and female society is split into those who can still have children and those who cannot. Those who can and who submit to being beaten into satisfactory submission become Handmaids, the sexual property of the ruling elite and their barren wives. June Osborn, renamed Offred after her owner, Fred Waterford, is captured as she tries to flee across the border, losing her husband and daughter in the process. Renowned novelist Margaret Atwood’s reimagined dystopia and Osborn’s plot to escape has received critical acclaim, and Season 2, which covers events beyond the scope of the novel, is even darker and more harrowing than the original.
“It is a very scary time in the United States for a woman to become pregnant,” states the documentary film, Birthright: A War Story. It investigates the rising power of the increasingly militant pro-life movement in the United States, which believes that the government has the right to intervene in the choices of women the moment they fall pregnant. Directed by Civia Tamarkin and written by Luchina Fisher, Birthright exposes how women across America are jailed, assaulted and put at serious risk in an effort to protect religious and political ideology.
For adults only: The Girlfriend Experience, S1-2 vs Naked SNCTM
Hailed by some critics as an arthouse film in episodes, the first season of The Girlfriend Experience follows law-firm intern and student Christine Reade (Riley Keough), who agrees to a lucrative job as a high-end escort to cover the bills. It’s a reboot of Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 film of the same name, starring porn star Sasha Grey. With Soderbergh as executive producer, it’s written, created and directed by Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz. In character as “Chelsea Rayne”, Christine provides for both the sexual and emotional needs of her wealthy, powerful clients. But things get complicated when her two lives begin to intersect in potentially dangerous ways.
Naked SNCTM is a documentary-style reality TV series about a “high-end” hedonists’ club in Los Angeles, created and run by businessman Damon Lawner. Over eight episodes, we learn how handpicked clients are charged up to $100 000 a year to indulge their darkest sexual fantasies at SNCTM (“sanctum”) parties, highly curated events touted as being fun, safe and sophisticated for those open-minded enough to indulge. But this “environment of exalted adult freedoms — a bona fide sensual utopia” is not without its complications and difficulties. Lawner learns he must sacrifice the conventional part of his life for the controversial.
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