Try TV on Us returns to blinkbox after its successful first run last year. The basic concept is this: to help you find your new next favourite TV show, we’re giving you the opportunity to sample the first episode of 28 great television shows… with no risk whatsoever! The titles in our offer are better than ever, covering amazing comedies and dramas from Britain and America.
To help you get started, we’ve taken the liberty of recommending some great programmes, many of which rank among our favourite shows of all time!
Better known as Matt Groening’s other animated creation, Futurama originally ran from 1999 to 2003. The show centres on Fry, a pizza delivery guy from our time who gets accidentally frozen, only to be thawed out in the year 3000. Looking to make a complete fresh start, he takes a job at an intergalactic delivery service alongside a crazed professor, a sexy Cyclops pilot, an alcoholic robot and an inept crustacean doctor. Skewering sci-fi tropes and parodying everything from Star Trek to Wall Street, this became one of TV’s best shows by the start of its second year.
With the exception of The Simpsons’ strongest seasons (4 to 6, if you really must know), there has never been a funnier animated comedy on television. What sets it apart from things like Family Guy and the more recent Simpsons is the fact the writers have crafted great stories populated by characters they obviously love. Give us Zapp Brannigan and Morbo over Mr Burns and Kent Brockman any day of the week.
At first glance, you might think that Spartacus: Blood and Sand looks like a 300 rip-off: the actors are all ripped to within an inch of their lives and they do battle in super-slow motion. You might also think that it’s packed full of gratuitous nudity and you’d be entirely correct: there’s more R-rated material in the first episode than an entire season of Game of Thrones. But if you think this makes it a bad show, you’re dead wrong.
Set at the time of the Roman Republic, Australian Andy Whitfield plays a Thracian warrior who’s enslaved and sold off to John Hannah, the owner of Rome’s finest stable of gladiators. Given the slave name Spartacus, he works his way up the ranks in the hopes of securing his freedom and the return of his wife. Shot in New Zealand with a mostly antipodean cast and crew, former Xena star Lucy Lawless plays a crucial role as the manipulative lady of the house.
Don’t be put off by the superficial stuff: in amongst the swinging breasts, severed limbs and gallons of blood is some of the best writing and acting we’ve ever seen on television.
Given only 9 episodes have ever been aired, it is remarkable how this BBC update of Sherlock Holmes has become such a worldwide phenomenon. Created by Stephen Moffatt and Mark Gatiss, two writers best known for their work on Doctor Who, it re-imagines Arthur Conon Doyle’s immortal detective as a misanthropic, modern-day forensic detective working alongside former Afghanistan vet Dr John Watson (Martin Freeman).
With its stunning visuals, humorous performances and easy charm, it’s no surprise that the show’s become such a giant global hit. If you’re one of the five dozen people in the UK who hasn’t seen Sherlock, watch the first episode on us!
Cruelly cancelled before its time, this show starred Jason Isaacs as a police detective with a twist. Having lost his wife in a car wreck some time before the start of the show, he now lives as a single dad, balancing his home life with his job catching crooks. But whenever he falls asleep, he wakes up next to his wife in a world where his son was killed in the accident instead. It’s probably best we let the title sequence explain it to you:
As a week-to-week cop show, this plot device works in interesting ways, allowing Isaacs to pursue the same case in both worlds. On another level, it’s also one of the most heart-breaking depictions of grief we’ve seen on television: Isaacs’ character understands that one of these realities must be taking place inside his head, but as long as he’s still able to see both his son and wife, he doesn’t want to get better and move on with his life.
Thankfully, the makers of this show were allowed to wrap up the story before it was cancelled, which means you shouldn’t be worried about any unresolved plotlines and cliff hangers. With only 13 episodes in total, you should totally check out Awake if you’re concerned about committing too much time to a new show.
Gosh: that Henry VIII was all fat and ugly, right? Wrong! As played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, the pickiest of all British monarchs is now a sexy beast with a tidy beard! Over the course of 4 seasons, his reign is tested by a series of historically accurate-ish diplomatic incidents. At the same time, his faith and fidelity are also brought into question as he puts a series of wives to the sword (both literally and figuratively).
Replete with steamy historical romances and political back-stabbing, fans of historical fiction will lap this up like a salty lamprey broth (or some other period-appropriate soup).
Friday Night Lights’ Connie Britton stars as Rayna James, a country music legend whose star is on the wane. Having seen her fortune squandered by her husband, she’s being forced to support a Taylor Swift-style teen star (Hayden Panattiere from Heroes) on tour. The two superstar personalities butt heads on the road, fighting over the services of Rayna’s guitarist (Charles Esten, who you might remember from Whose Line is it Anyway?). Adding to Rayna’s troubles is her odious father (Powers Boothe), an influential millionaire who plans to install her husband as Mayor of Nashville.
As you might expect from a show about the Country Western capitol, the real star of the show is its killer soundtrack, produced by music legend T-Bone Burnett. Putting together dozens of original songs and coaxing great vocal performances from his stars, Burnett has achieved something very tricky by turning Britton and Panattiere into credible country stars.
Jeremy Piven stars in this handsomely-made period drama from writer Andrew Davies (BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, Bridget Jones’ Diary). He plays Harry Gordon Selfridge, a charismatic American retailer who in 1909 opened the world’s largest department store on London’s Oxford Street. There’s certainly a Downton Abbey vibe to the programme, not only because of the upstairs/downstairs dynamic between Selfridge and his employees but also its 1910s setting and appreciation for soap opera plotlines: ambition, unrequited love, political chicanery and illicit affairs figure pretty heavily in the first series. There’s even a Dowager Countess figure in the form of Lady Mae, a former chorus girl who becomes one of the store’s major financial backers.
Despite his portrayal as a Don Draper-style cad, Piven’s Mr Selfridge is ultimately a very likeable, decent man: a commodity that’s increasingly rare in the modern TV landscape. Sure, the stakes are somewhat low (spoiler alert: Selfridges doesn’t go under!) but that doesn’t stop this from being an immensely enjoyable show.
One of the breakout hits of recent years, New Girl was developed as a vehicle for movie star Zooey Deschanel. She plays Jess, a quirky school teacher who moves into a loft with three men after she breaks up with her boyfriend. While the show is nominally about Deschanel’s character, over the course of the first season her male flatmates developed into three of the best sitcom characters on TV. There’s burnout bartender Nick with his frugal ways and secret attraction to Jess; Schmidt, a ladies’ man with a persona shaped by his past as a fat kid; and Winston, whose seemingly sensible façade often disappears in the face of his numerous obsessions (of which werewolves, fruity cocktails and Nick’s dad are just a few).
Now in its third season, the show has continued to thrive thanks to some sharp writing and a cast of well-defined, interesting characters. Making a sitcom isn’t rocket science but it still surprises how few comedies get it as consistently right as New Girl.
It’s Morse for the 21st century! Idris Elba plays DCI John Luther, a troubled copper with a lot on his plate. He’s been under investigation for putting a suspect in a coma, his estranged wife has struck up a relationship with her colleague, and in the very first episode he investigates a double murder. Without spoiling the first episode for you, we can say he makes an unusual ally in the form of a genius killer: a sociopath that serves as the Hannibal Lector to his Jodie Foster.
Working with some seriously smart writing, Elba delivers a compelling performance that elevates this above your average police show: his character is the emotional, street-smart antithesis of Sherlock Holmes. Having just completed its third series, Luther continues to go from strength to strength.
Watch the first episodes of many more shows by going to our Try TV on Us page!