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From Welcome to Earth to The Great: the seven best shows to stream this week

·4 min read

Hollywood mega star Will Smith squeals his way through an epic new documentary, while the racy, irreverent drama returns … with added Gillian Anderson. Plus! Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special


Pick of the week

Welcome to Earth

Will Smith inWelcome to Earth.
Will Smith inWelcome to Earth. Photograph: Disney

Will Smith’s grandmother used to tell him: “All the best things live on the other side of fear.” It’s not the kind of quote you’d get from a David Attenborough documentary but this series, in which the actor explores the Earth’s extremities, isn’t without charm. In the opening episode, the source of Smith’s disquiet is a journey to the bottom of the ocean in a submersible. What he finds down there is magnificently strange: naturally occurring psychedelia such as the sea cucumber (AKA the headless chicken monster) and bioluminescence. Smith’s insights basically consist of gasps of awe and squeals of delight but, in the circumstances, that’s understandable.
Disney+, from Wednesday 8 December

***

The Great

Elle Fanning in The Great.
Elle Fanning in The Great. Photograph: Gareth Gatrell/Hulu

The scurrilous and irreverent historical drama returns for a second season. Newly empowered and pregnant Catherine (Elle Fanning) is grappling with both her new responsibilities and her old domestic quandaries. “You honestly can’t think that you can run Russia without bloodshed?” asks her recently deposed husband Peter (Nicholas Hoult). It’s the question set to dominate the season and it’s doubtful that Catherine’s cause will be helped by the breezy arrival of her scheming mother Joanna Elisabeth (the reliably brilliant Gillian Anderson). Great fun.
StarzPlay, from Sunday 4 December

***

Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special

Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special.
Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special. Photograph: Apple

There are tastefully understated ways of doing festive TV – but don’t expect to see any of them on display in the Queen of Christmas’ maximalist extravaganza. Instead, a loose narrative about saving Christmas spirit is the pretext for lashings of tinsel, snow, famous friends, chestnuts roasting over open fires and a spot of product placement, too – Carey launches her new single Fall in Love at Christmas with collaborators Khalid and Kirk Franklin. Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson and Snoop Dogg also make cameos. Festive, to a frankly exhausting degree.
Apple TV+, from Saturday 4 December

***

Voir

Director David Fincher has found a productive home on Netflix, allowing him to branch out into TV with Mindhunter and hosting his Oscar-nominated celebration of cinema, Mank. This new series sees him – and an elite group of fellow cineastes including Walter Chaw, Drew McWeeny, Taylor Ramos, Sasha Stone and Tony Zhou – going deep on the art of film. Over the course of six very personal episodes, Voir aims to offer an emotional treatise on cinematic appreciation – more a love letter to its enduring power than a linear history of the medium.
Netflix, from Monday 6 December

***

Canada’s Drag Race Anniversary Extravaganza

The Drag Race universe continues to expand. This hour-long celebration looks back on an exciting year as all 12 contestants from the contest return to recall the triumphs, the traumas, the laughs and the tears. Presiding over it all will be the reigning queen Priyanka and under her guidance expect an informal awards ceremony. Who brought the greatest looks? Which was the most memorable elimination? And who did the best lip-syncing? All will be revealed. Everyone, as the saying goes, is staying “true, north, strong and fierce”.
BBC iPlayer, from Friday 10 December

***

The Expanse

Shohreh Aghdashloo in The Expanse.
Shohreh Aghdashloo in The Expanse. Photograph: Shane Mahood/Amazon

A concluding season for the sci-fi epic in which humans have colonised the solar system. The show has never been short of ambition and its themes of resource depletion and the limits of expansion feel more relevant than ever. It also manages smaller, more intimate narratives; for example, the revived relationship between Holden and Naomi. Human and Martian relations are explored, too, via Bobbie and Avasarala. And the colonisers’ dilemma – whether to subjugate or collaborate – will remain a central thread.
Amazon Prime Video, from Friday 10 December

***

How to Ruin Christmas

The lively South African comedy returns for more festive antics. Rebellious Tumi Sello has plans for Christmas and they don’t particularly involve spending time with her family. However, an untimely death sees her caught in the middle of two factions and guilt-tripped into arranging a funeral. Unfortunately, it clashes with an important wedding anniversary and the festive season. The bad-taste comedy potential of funerals is milked mercilessly but it crackles with madcap energy and Busi Lurayi as Sello is dryly funny and a star in the making.

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