Wednesday saw a new entrant into the streaming world with the UK debut of Paramount+.
The launch event in London on Tuesday didn’t hold back on star power, with Kevin Costner, Sylvester Stallone, Gillian Anderson, Viola Davis, David Oyelowo, Michelle Pfeiffer, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Bill Nighy, Naomie Harris and Jessica Chastain all in attendance.
Unlike BritBox and Apple TV, who have built up content slowly, Paramount+ have decided to come out all guns blazing with their programming.
Apple TV+ boasted a limited slate of big-name originals when it kicked off in November 2019, but the likes of The Morning Show, See and For All Mankind were starry but not especially enthralling, as the service took time to find its feet with Ted Lasso, Severance, Mythic Quest, and Slow Horses.
BritBox lacked any original shows at launch (also November 2019), which made the UK-based streamer a less than compelling offering. When the new shows did eventually arrive, new dramas The Beast Must Die, Crime and Why Didn't They Ask Evans? disappeared into the ether, although Irish dramedy The Dry has picked up positive reviews.
The less said about BB’s undercooked revival of Spitting Image the better though. The future looks bleak for BritBox in the UK, as the streamer is due to be subsumed later this year into ITVX, the rejigged version of the ITV Hub.
ITVX have already began promoting the drama A Spy Among Friends (starring Damian Lewis and Guy Pearce) as part of their service, when it was formerly announced as a BritBox Original.
Rather than drip feeding original programming, Paramount+ has set out its stall from the get-go with the intent of making a strong entry in the market, muscling into Netflix’s territory. Even before the full launch of the streaming service Paramount was luring in audiences with big blockbuster exclusives such as Sandra Bullock's The Lost City, released on the platform shortly after its cinema debut.
Whether the probable momentum of the launch will be sustained is another matter, but it appears that the Paramount+ bosses have a war chest of shows to keep subscribers on the hook for their £6.99 monthly tithe.
The slate of original commissions is bolstered with around 8,000-hours of content including movies, TV shows, and older library titles – or ‘classics’ as marketers are wont to say.
Here are ten of my picks to keep an eye out for on Paramount+ - all available to watch now.
At one point it was rumoured that the big budget adaptation of vintage video game Halo was going to be on Sky Atlantic, but the advent of Paramount+ in the UK meant the show is now one of the crown jewels of the streamer.
Fans of Starship Troopers (1997) should enjoy this humans vs aliens in space shoot ‘em up, despite the apparent absence of anything resembling Paul Verhoeven’s black humour.
Reviews have been positive, and a second season has been greenlit, so the chances are that Halo is a step up from movie efforts such as Mortal Kombat, Assassin’s Creed and Wing Commander.
For sci-fi archivists, Keir Dullea (Dave Bowman/Starchild in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey) makes an appearance as Fleet Admiral Lord Terrence Hood.
Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan must be the hardest working showrunner in the business, as the huge success of the original show has led to a deluge of spin-offs.
No sign of Yellowstone fatigue, as viewers flocked to prequel 1883, as well as unrelated Sheridan projects (more of which later).
Sam Elliott (who recently caused a stir with his comments about Jane Campion’s Power of the Dog) plays grizzled (what else?) Pinkerton man Shea Brennan leading an expedition of settlers that includes James Dutton (country singer Tim McGraw), the founder of the Montana spread from the original series.
Guest stars include Tom Hanks and Billy Bob Thornton.
Strange Angel (2018-19)
This little-seen series deserves to find an audience, telling as it does the true-life story of Jack Parsons (1914-52), pioneering American rocket engineer and chemist who became the leading follower and disciple of occultist Aleister (‘The Wickedest Man in the World’) Crowley.
Irish actor Jack Reynor (Midsommar) plays Parsons, described as 'the Che Guevara of occultism' by writer George Pendle in Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons.
Angus Macfadyen stars as Aleister Crowley. Around the same time as Strange Angel the Magus was depicted in a more light-hearted fashion by Jonjo O'Neill (Mycroft Holmes from Netflix’s Irregulars) in Bat Man spin off Pennyworth.
A mini-series which may be a dream for cineastes, but might be a bore for others, this 8-parter details behind-the-scenes shenanigans surrounding the shooting of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972).
Fresh from his success in Top Gun: Maverick, Miles Teller plays Albert S. Ruddy; the UK’s typically upper crust thesp Matthew Goode takes the atypical role of flamboyant Paramount studio head Robert Evans.
Whether the intrigues and infighting involved in the making of the picture can sustain eight hours of TV is debatable, but I will certainly be giving The Offer a shot.
If the show whets your appetite for similar subject-matter, check out Mank (Citizen Kane), Fade to Black (Black Magic), My Week with Marilyn, Under the Rainbow, Shadow of the Vampire, and Hitchcock, all of which offer a backstage view of moviemaking.
Scream(2022) – Paramount+, Amazon Prime Rent/Buy
Unlike the frosty welcome accorded The Matrix Resurrection (2021), the fifth instalment in the Scream film series proved both a critical and box office hit.
The movie saw Sidney (Neve Campbell), Gale (Courteney Cox) and Dewey (David Arquette) return for the usual slasher meta hi-jinks, given a new lease of life by directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who helmed 2019s enjoyable horror-comedy Ready or Not.
The Man Who Fell to Earth
Some would say it’s a fool’s errand to attempt a follow up to Nic Roeg’s classic 1976 picture, but critics have generally been favourable.
Chiwetel Ejiofor has earned complimentary reviews as Faraday, an alien visitor to Earth following the footsteps of Bill Nighy’s Thomas Newton, an older version of the character memorably played by David Bowie in the movie.
To hammer home the connection with the late singer, each episode is named after a Bowie song (Cracked Actor, Changes, Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed etc), which struck me as slightly presumptuous.
Way back in 1987, MGM produced an ABC pilot for a Man Who Fell to Earth series, which is available to watch on YouTube.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
The deluge of Star Trek spin-offs continues apace with this prequel series starring Anson Mount (Hell on Wheels) as USS Enterprise Captain Christopher Pike, the officer who preceded William Shatner’s Kirk in the position.
Jeffrey (King of Kings) Hunter starred as Pike in the pilot episode of Star Trek, but he bailed on the show, to be replaced by Shatner’s Kirk.
Producers re-used footage from Hunter’s performance in ‘The Menagerie’, a two-episode arc in Star Trek’s first season (1966).
Retro fans get to enjoy an approximation of the original 60s Enterprise outfits and a more emotional Spock (Ethan Peck).
Mayor of Kingstown
Taylor Sheridan’s gritty crime drama proved a hit with viewers and gave Jeremy Renner a break from his bow-slinging activities as Marvel’s Hawkeye.
The actor plays the titular Mayor, powerbroker/enforcer of the McLusky family who controls and keeps a lid on criminal activity in the Michigan town of Kingstown.
On the horizon for showrunner Sheridan; Bass Reeves (starring David Oyelowo), Yellowstone 1923 (Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren reuniting for the first time since 1986’s Mosquito Coast), Stallone’s mob drama Tulsa King, CIA thriller Lioness (Nicole Kidman) and 6666, yet another part of the ‘Yellowstone-verse’.
Jerry & Marge Go Large (2022)
Based on a true story, this affable comedy follows Michigan’s Jerry and Marge Selbee (Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening), a couple on the verge of retirement who exploit an ambiguity in the Massachusetts WinFall lottery to cash in multiple times.
Rather than splurge the money just on themselves, family and friends, the Selbees spend much of their $27m winnings to revitalise their hometown by investing in the local community.
William Golding's Lord of the Flies (1954) meets Alive (1993) in this highly praised series from co-creators Ashely Lyle and Bart Nickerson (Narcos).
1996: when a New Jersey female high school soccer team's plane crashes on the way to a national tournament in Seattle, the survivors are stranded in the Canadian wilderness for 19 long months. Cannibalism (naturally), sex, amputations, rape, wolf pack attacks and extreme violence are all on the menu for the band.
Not for the faint-hearted.
Yellowjackets follows an elliptical path, following the groups time in wilds and their adult selves in 2021.
Christina Ricci is the older Misty, the team equipment manager played as a teenager by Sammi Hanratty.
Ricci can also be seen later this year in Tim Burton's Wednesday, Netflix's reboot of The Addams Family, playing an as yet unspecified role (she was Wednesday in the 1991 and 1993 movies).
The first season of Yellowjackets was shown on Sky Atlantic, but presumably season two will be exclusive to Paramount+.
What’s coming to Paramount+ that may be of particular interest to UK viewers? There’s a prequel series to the cult Brit crime thriller Sexy Beast (2000), and an adaptation of Amor Towles 2016 bestseller A Gentleman in Moscow starring Kenneth Branagh.