Best TV shows of 2024 so far: From Mr & Mrs Smith to Shogun to Boy Swallows Universe

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
5 Min Read
Donald Glover with Maya Erskine in the small screen adaptation of Mr and Mrs Smith.
Donald Glover with Maya Erskine in the small screen adaptation of Mr and Mrs Smith. Credit: Supplied/David Lee/Prime Video

There’s nothing like the Easter long weekend to remind you that the year is already a quarter over, which is wild because New Year’s Eve feels like two weeks ago. You still remember the hangover and the well-intentioned resolutions.

The extended weekend is also a great time to slow down and catch up on some things you’ve been meaning to do, but forget about your taxes for another bit and watch any one of these nine shows that have distinguished themselves this year so far.

MR & MRS SMITH

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Lowkey, languid and mercurial are not words you would ever use to describe the 2005 action comedy Mr & Mrs Smith, which famously coupled up Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. But that is the tone for this sexy and charged TV remake with Donald Glover and Maya Erskine.

By moving away from its predecessor, the series ensures it stands on its own. It does that by being very, very cool. As two strangers posing as a married couple for dubious missions, Glover and Erskine pulse with sensual energy and indie chic.

Watch it: Amazon Prime Video

The Mr and Mrs Smith remake stars Donald Glover and Maya Erskine.
The Mr and Mrs Smith remake stars Donald Glover and Maya Erskine. Credit: David Lee/Prime Video

SHOGUN

Adapted from a 1975 novel by James Clavell, itself based on real-life historical events, Shogun has been the surprise hit of the year so far.

Set in the opening days of the 17th century, the story is centred on a power vacuum in feudal Japan.

The rush to fill it by clashing warlords trying to maintain an uneasy, forced coalition leads to lots of scheming and power plays.

When an Englishman arrives to challenge the Catholic Portuguese ambitions in Japan, it becomes a catalyst for a violent clash.

With grand themes, expensive production values and a compelling plot, Shogun begs to be seen.

Watch it: Disney+

Shogun is streaming now on Disney+
Shogun is streaming now on Disney+. Credit: Disney/FX

MARY & GEORGE

More irreverent than The Crown and not as soapy as The Tudors, the Julianne Moore-starring Mary & George is about ruthless ambition in the court of King James I, all based on historical fact with some fanciful speculation thrown in for fun.

Moore plays Mary, a woman born into modest circumstances who through advantageous marriages, has steadily climbed closer to the top of the aristocracy.

But the ultimate prize is the bed chambers of the horny monarch, which she wants not for herself but for her very pretty son.

Sumptuous, playful and engrossing, it’s always a delight to watch Moore do her thing.

Watch it: Binge

Mary & George is coming to Binge
All hail queen Julianne Moore. Credit: Supplied

MASTERS OF THE AIR

Calling something old-fashioned TV doesn’t have to be a knock.

Masters of the Air absolutely feels like a series out of the past with its earnest, heart-rending war drama about the young men of the US Air Force’s 100th Bomb Group during World War II.

Masterfully crafted to capture the deadly pandemonium in the air, as well as the emotional poignancy of the brotherhood camaraderie on the ground, the series is the third flank of the Steven Spielberg-produced war series which also includes Band of Brothers and The Pacific.

Plus, it stars Hot Young Things Austin Butler, Callum Turner and Barry Keoghan.

Watch it: Apple TV+

Masters of the Air.
2024 Apple TV+
Masters of the Air is set during World War II. Credit: Supplied/Apple TV+

EXPATS

With all six episodes directed by Lulu Wang, the filmmaker behind indie hit The Farewell, Expats is a lush character drama set in Hong Kong among the privileged expat community, particularly three women portrayed by Nicole Kidman, Sarayu Blue and Ji-young Woo.

While the show in general is well-crafted and admirable, its inclusion on this list is by virtue of episode five, a feature-length chapter which moves away from the main narrative to follow the peripheral characters in the story – the immigrant maids, the protesting students – to paint a vivid portrait of a city on the cusp of great change.

Watch it: Amazon Prime Video

Brian Tee and Nicole Kidman in Expats.
Brian Tee and Nicole Kidman in Expats. Credit: Amazon Studios Press

TRUE DETECTIVE S4

The first instalment of True Detective without creator Nic Pizzolatto (and he is salty about that), is also the first time the very grim crime anthology has given full voice to its female characters instead of reducing them, mostly, to poor victims.

The literally dark fourth season is set in a town in Alaska during its endless winter nights, where the mysterious deaths of a group of scientists opens a seam in a community forced to confront its demons.

Jodie Foster joins the cast as a prickly detective, bringing the same gravitas that she brings to every project, working with showrunner Issa Lopez, who has already been given the go-ahead to lead another season.

Watch it: Binge

True Detective returns this week with Jodie Foster
True Detective season four stars Jodie Foster and Kali Reis. Credit: Supplied

BOY SWALLOWS UNIVERSE

The harmony between darkness and levity is essential in a story about a 12-year-old with an addict mother, a drug dealing stepdad and an alcoholic dad. But the Netflix adaptation of Trent Dalton’s acclaimed novel captures the whimsy and innocence of the book, recreating the world of 1980s Brisbane with warmth and shaggy texture.

Despite the harrowing subjects, the tale sprinkles a little magic and key to that is the performance from Felix Cameron as the young Eli.

Cameron is so good, you miss him when the character time-jumps midway through.

Watch it: Netflix

Boy Swallows Universe S1. (L to R) Lee Halley as Gus Bell, Bryan Brown as Slim Halliday, Felix Cameron as Eli Bell in Boy Swallows Universe S1. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023
Boy Swallows Universe is adapted from Trent Dalton’s book. Credit: Kane Skennar/Netflix

3 BODY PROBLEM

When it comes to high-concept sci-fi shows, 3 Body Problem is not messing around.

The ambitious adaptation of Liu Cixin’s acclaimed trilogy of novels by the Game of Thrones guys, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, plus Alexander Woo, coheres a sprawling and dense story around a core group of scientists caught in a plot involving an alien civilisation’s future plans for our planet.

There are various subplots, including one set in Cultural Revolution-era China, but it never loses the balance between towering ideas and intimate human relationships.

The cast includes Benedict Wong, Liam Cunningham, Jess Hong and John Bradley.

Watch it: Netflix

Jess Hong as Jin Cheng, John Bradley as Jack Rooney in 3 Body Problem.
Jess Hong as Jin Cheng and John Bradley as Jack Rooney in 3 Body Problem. Credit: Ed Miller/Netflix

LOOT S2

OK, OK, technically the second season of Loot drops next week and you can’t watch it just yet, but it was worth flagging because this under-the-radar comedy is both sharper and warmer in its sophomore outing.

Starring Maya Rudolph as a billionaire divorcee looking for a new purpose, the series from Alan Yang (Master of None) and Matt Hubbard (30 Rock) is a cosy ensemble comedy that’s genuinely laugh-out-loud funny.

And it also challenges you to think about that all-important question: What does it mean to be a good person?

Watch it: Apple TV+

The second season of Loot is released on April 3.
The second season of Loot is released on April 3. Credit: Apple TV+

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