There’s no getting around the fact that as a nation, we love to binge-watch TV shows. Some 70 per cent of all Australia has access to a video-on-demand service (as of Q1 2019), and it should come as no surprise to learn than Netflix is the most popular service. But you have to pay for Netflix – the monthly fee may be low, but it’s still an outgoing payment. For free content, you can always rely on SBS On Demand.
SBS is a publically-funded Australian TV network with on-demand service online where you can access a wide range of movies and TV shows for absolutely nothing. Content found on the SBS platform is specially curated by its editors, and you’re highly likely to find TV shows you’ve never heard of before, but ones that are of real quality. SBS wants people to keep coming back to it after all, so it’s not going to put out any old drivel.
With this in mind, it’s pretty easy to say that any TV show you find on SBS On Demand will be worth your investment, but to help you get up and running, we’ve picked out some of the very best to add to your watch list.
This crime black comedy drama has received widespread critical acclaim for each of its first three seasons, and we expect the fourth (which places Chris Rock in the lead role) to receive similar admiration. Based on the 1996 movie Fargo, a gem from the Coen brothers, this anthology series (each season is set in a different era with a new cast) is truly exceptional right from the off. Rather than go into detail about each season, we'll simply say: watch it.
This Italian drama series, based on a book of the same name, was only recently added to SBS' library. The main character – for want of a better phrase – is a shipment, with the show following its journey, all the way from its origin in South America, across the Atlantic Ocean and to its Italian buyers. Naturally, they're involved in a life of crime. Originally destined for the likes of Sky Atlantic and Amazon Prime Video, this series will come with high expectation to viewers on SBS, but with great reviews already flooding in, those expectations will be met.
This critically acclaimed French political thriller is based on real-life accounts of former spies and agents of the General Directorate of External Security. Agents that form this squad spend years working undercover and assuming false identities in order to scope out intelligence sources, and the series focuses on one officer who has to readjust to normal life having spent six years in Damascus.
The Joy Of Painting With Bob Ross
If ever you're in need of a TV show to de-stress you after a busy day at work, the US election or the global pandemic, then Bob Ross is the man you need to turn to. Originally airing in 1982, the American painter's soothing tones and incredibly painting skills will help while away the hours and separate you from everyday life.
Another drama TV series, this time, as the title suggests, set in Moscow. Specifically, 1999 and the height of the Wild East, this 2018 show follows Tom Blixen, a Swedish investment who makes a "risky deal". And risky is certainly a word we'd agree with since Tom finds himself caught up with millionaires, oligarchs and private armies.
Hollywood star Tom Hardy stars in this 2017 TV series produced by the BBC. Tom helped create the show, along with his dad and Engish screenwriter Steven Knight. Taboo is set in 1814, with Tom's character James Delaney returning to England after having spent 12 years in Africa. His return is shrouded in the fact his father has passed away, but he takes over the shipping business left to him nonetheless, only to find it doesn't come without its downsides in the form of several enemies.
It may have been cancelled after just one season, but Reprisal is still well worth your viewing time. In a similar vein to Kill Bill, Reprisal follows the story of a woman set on revenge against a gang who tried to kill her. Abigail Spencer takes on the lead role, and you may recognise her from Suits, where she portrayed one of Harvey Spectre's love interests Dana 'Scottie' Scott.
Medici is, perhaps unsurprisingly, an Italian TV series that premiered in 2016. The political drama follows The House of Medici, a real life banking family – and banker for the Pope – that became notorious in the early 15th century in Florence, Italy. This TV series follows that family, with each season focusing on a different yet specific event. The opening season follows the story of the head of the family dying and his son, Cosimo de Medici, succeeding him. In real life, Cosimo was the family member responsible for overseeing the first stages of the family's rise to prominence.
A crime drama from Norway now, and a lead character played by a very familiar face...if you watch Game of Thrones anyway. The ginger giant who plays Tormund in that series plays identical twin brothers in this series. Although, soon on, he only needs to take on the role of one brother, after the other is accidentally killed by his wife. Erik, the surviving brother, decides to take on the role of his dead brother Adam, to prevent the wife from being arrested for murder. Just how well he adapts to the role is what you'll have to find out.
The New Pope
This 2020 TV series follows on from The Young Pope (also available on SBS) and stars Hollywood heavyweights Jude Law and John Malkovich. Jude was the star of The Young Pope and reprises his role of Pope Pius XIII, while John plays 'the New Pope', Pope John Paul III, in this series. Although, it's claimed this isn't a second season but more of a limited series, however, with the same characters involved and it being set in the same period, we'll agree to disagree. Comedic at times and strangely alluring during others, The New Pope is a smartly-produced series that makes the very subject of the Church incredibly enticing.
This BBC-produced psychological crime drama is responsible for catapulting Idris Elba to stardom. The British actor portrays DCI John Luther in a miniseries that has been on the constant receiving end of positive reviews. Elba's Luther is an incredibly clever detective who is obsessed with his career, but, not wanting everything to be plain sailing, his character's strengths can also serve as his weaknesses. Be quick to watch this one on SBS, as episodes will start expiring from the 24th of August.
Hailing from Scandinavia, this Nordic noir crime drama follows Swedish detective Saga Norén through all four seasons, as she works together with detectives from Denmark following the discovery of a dead body directly in the centre of the Øresund Bridge which connects the two countries. It may be another crime drama, but the Scandinavian tone makes a refreshing change, and with consistently rave reviews and several remakes, this isn't a series you want to miss.
Australians may already recognise this 1995 TV mini-series based on true events. Blue Murder, set in Sydney, follows the story of Detective Sergeant Roger Rogerson and high-profile criminal Arthur "Neddy" Smith, with the latter, it's claimed, being given the green light to commit crimes and deal heroin by the former. It's a quick watch, with only two 90-minute episodes, but with real-life events being portrayed with a fair amount of accuracy on screen, it's one that will keep your eyes glued.
Mary And Mike
This Chilean mini-series follows two secret agents "Mary" and "Mike", real names, Mariana Loyola and Andres Rillon. Their mission, to eliminate anyone who opposes Augusto Pinochet, the dictator of Chile from 1973 to 1990, all while living out a 'normal' day to day life.
Call Me Bruna
Also from South America, Call Me Bruna hails from Brazil. This drama TV series follows the true story of former sex worker Bruna Surfistinha (pen name Raquel Pacheco), who became widely regarded as the most famous call girl in Brazil after publishing a blog regaling stories of her experiences with clients.