(Image credit: Prime Video)
Caryn James picks out the biggest offerings – from the return of action thriller hit Reacher to the finale of The Crown and Disney’s Percy Jackson series.
1. Slow Horses
Season three of today’s best spy series brings back the out-of-favour MI5 agents exiled to Slough House, earning them the derisive nickname Slow Horses. Gary Oldman is endlessly amusing as Jackson Lamb, the team’s brilliant, acerbic leader. Jack Lowden’s River Cartwright is charming, charismatic and smart, so why does he find himself in one scrape after another? Kristin Scott Thomas is a treat to watch as the shrewd head of MI5, Diana Taverner, tangling with Sophie Okonedo as Ingrid Tierney, her rival for power. This season’s story, based on Real Tigers in Mick Herron’s Slough House series of novels, begins with an incident in Istanbul that leads back to London and a kidnapping that sends the team into overdrive. Amidst shootouts, betrayals and hard truths revealed, the Slow Horses once again go rogue for all the right reasons. If you have to glance away whenever Jackson Lamb eats (like bathing and hair-washing, table manners aren’t his thing), it’s worth it.
Slow Horses season 3 premiered on 1 December on Apple TV+ internationally
2. Platform 7
Jasmine Jobson (Bafta-nominated for her role as Jaq in Top Boy) stars in this British psychological thriller, whose heroine is a ghost. Johnson plays Lisa, haunting the railway platform at Peterborough station, who witnesses another tragedy and begins to remember and explore the problems in her life that led to her demise. The series is based on the 2019 novel by Louise Doughty, who has said that if ghosts exist “they wouldn’t be just floating around in white nighties in stately homes”, so created a contemporary story that encompasses sexual abuse and domestic violence. The show’s executive producer Chris Carey has described the show as “part-revenge story, part-love story, part-murder mystery”. It was written by Paula Milne, whose many suspenseful series include The Politician’s Wife.
Platform 7 premieres on 7 December on ITVX in the UK
In the absorbing first series of Vigil, Suranne Jones’s (Gentleman Jack) brash, no-nonsense Scottish detective, Amy Silva, spent most of the time solving a murder on a Royal Navy submarine, getting everyone’s noses out of joint along the way. This season, she deals with drone warfare as she investigates deaths at a Royal Air Force base – a case involving less claustrophobia, but even more political intrigue. Romola Garai and Dougray Scott have joined the cast this time round, while Rose Leslie returns as Kirsten Longacre, Amy’s colleague on the force, who for most of the first season was her protective ex-girlfriend, until they decided to give their relationship another go in the season finale. Of course, that doesn’t mean anything will go smoothly in love or in finding more killers.
Vigil premieres on 10 December on BBC and iPlayer in the UK and in 2024 on Peacock in the US
4. The Crown
The six really, really final instalments of the hugely popular series about Queen Elizabeth II and her family are arriving. This season’s first four episodes, which took viewers through Princess Diana’s funeral, failed to improve on the abysmal fifth season before it, receiving a largely dismal response from most critics. Still, they landed at the top of Netflix’s most watched list, and these last episodes, good or bad, are likely to do the same. This time, William (Ed McVey) meets Kate (Meg Bellamy) at university and Charles (Dominic West) and Camilla (Olivia Williams) finally marry. The Crown’s story ends in 2005, but the show’s creator, Peter Morgan, has said that after the Queen’s death last year, he had to find a way to honour her memory. Reportedly Claire Foy and Olivia Colman, who played Elizabeth at earlier ages, will be seen again in flashback scenes, alongside Imelda Staunton as the older Queen, with Viola Prettejohn as a younger Princess Elizabeth also making an appearance. It sounds like a misty-eyed farewell to the real Elizabeth, her majestic fictional counterparts, and the series.
The Crown series six part two premieres on 14 December on Netflix internationally
5. Yu Yu Hakusho
In this stylish live-action version of the popular manga series from the 1990s, the troublemaking teenager Yusuke (Takumi Kitamura) dies while heroically trying to save a little boy from an oncoming car. He travels to the spirit world and is sent back to life as an Underworld Detective investigating demons. Apart from the misunderstood teen trope, he’s not the most relatable hero around, but no matter. It’s all an excuse for colourful, spectacular effects, explosions and martial arts battles. An animated Japanese television version from the 1990s aired on Cartoon Network in the early 2000s, and although the manga comic books ended 29 years ago, it continues to attract readers and has sold more than 78 million copies worldwide, making it among the bestselling ever. That suggests there is a timeless appeal to Yusuke’s adventures, bolstered here by cutting-edge visual effects and a dashing leading man.
Yu Yu Hakusho premieres on 14 December on Netflix internationally
Based on Lee Child’s bestselling series of novels, this Amazon series premiered last year and did so well that it was renewed almost instantly. Now Alan Ritchson returns as Jack Reacher, the tough-guy, justice-seeking drifter and former member of the US Army’s military police. Although Reacher says in the new season’s trailer that he is “someone who prefers not getting involved”, that’s a joke. Getting involved wherever he goes is all he does. This season’s plot has Reacher’s old Army special investigations team under attack, being hunted one by one, so they band together again to find the danger and eliminate it, or, as Reacher says, “put bad guys in jail”. Like the hulking Reacher himself, the series is sturdy and reliable, not flashy.
Reacher premieres on 15 December on Amazon Prime Video internationally
7. Carol and the End of the World
Animating the apocalypse may be one way to lessen the sting. This adult animated series is a deadpan comedy about a woman who, like the rest of the world, knows the end is coming, but unlike everyone else doesn’t think it’s time to let loose and live it up while you can. Carol is played by Martha Kelly, and even if you don’t recognise her name, you might know her face from many supporting roles: she was the drug-dealing Laurie in Euphoria and the social worker in the film Marriage Story. Her distinctive, slow delivery seems just right for the show. Its creator, Dan Guterman (a writer for Rick and Morty and Community) has called it “a love letter to routine” and a series about “the comforts of monotony”. Other voices include Bridget Everett and Michael Chernus. There are 10 episodes, so Carol still has time to change her mind.
Carol and the End of the World premieres on 15 December on Netflix internationally
8. Percy Jackson and the Olympians
Rick Riordan, author of the mega-selling YA novels this show is based on, co-created the series, which is a plus – at least for him, given his dislike for the previous movie adaptations of his work. Now Disney+ gives Percy another chance, with Walker Sobell as the 12-year-old demigod, son of a human mother (Virginia Kull) and the Greek God Poseidon (Toby Stephens). When Zeus (the late Lance Reddick in one of his last roles) has his lightning bolt stolen, Percy sets out to find it with the help of his friends from Camp Half Blood, Athena’s daughter Annabeth Chase (Leah Sava Jeffries) and the satyr Grover Underwood (Aryan Simhadri). Among the rest of the ensemble, Lin-Manuel Miranda plays a contemporary Hermes in a hoodie. The diverse casting, which caused some ugly online trolling that Riordan denounced, helps the fantasy look like real life, and Disney reportedly gave the series a big Mandalorian-level budget in the hope of a long run.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians premieres on 20 December on Disney+ internationally
9. What If…?
This animated alternate history returns with more Sliding Doors-style possibilities for some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most familiar characters. Jeffrey Wright is the voice of the narrator, called The Watcher, who sets up the stories in each of the half-hour episodes. Some of the voices differ from those in the films – Lake Bell (not Scarlett Johansson) is Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow – but many voices are the same, including Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, Josh Brolin as Thanos and Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, here Captain Carter, a version of Captain America. And the season adds an original MCU character, a Mohawk woman named Kahhori, in an instalment spoken in the Mohawk language. In a holiday programming stunt, the nine episodes will drop on nine consecutive days.
What If…? premieres on 22 December on Disney+ internationally
The 60th anniversary specials with David Tennant continue this month, with Wild Blue Yonder on 2 December and The Giggle on 9 December. But the most anticipated of all might be the holiday special, which introduces Ncuti Gatwa (Sex Education) as the 15th Doctor and Millie Gibson (Coronation Street) as his new sidekick, Ruby Sunday, in an episode with the winking title, The Church on Ruby Road. You were expecting plot details from writer and showrunner Russell T Davies and his team? Ha! Never. But there are photographs that tease the next season, premiering in 2024. Apparently the Tardis lands in the Victorian era, where the Doctor and Ruby meet a character played by Jonathan Groff, and in the 1960s and 70s. Apparently this Doctor is a fashion-forward dresser.
Doctor Who premieres on 25 December on BBC in the UK and Ireland and on Disney+ internationally
If you liked this story, sign up for The Essential List newsletter – a handpicked selection of features, videos and can’t-miss news delivered to your inbox every Friday.