Isaac Asimov’s Foundation is worth the 80-year wait for a TV series

It’s too easy to miss brilliant streaming shows, movies and documentaries. Here are the ones to hit play on or skip.

Foundation ★★★★
Apple TV+

It seems strange that this is the first screen adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s celebrated Foundation stories – the first of which went to press way back in the 1940s. But perhaps it’s best that we had to wait until modern visual-effects technology could really do them justice. And that’s the first thing you’ll notice about Foundation – how good it looks. Whether it’s a vast, silent vista of stars and planets, a sprawling futuristic cityscape or the moving pigments in the propaganda murals of a galactic empire on the brink of collapse, it’s all very striking.

Maths whiz Gaal Dornick played by Lou Llobell in Foundation, on Apple TV+.

But series creators David S. Goyer (Da Vinci’s Demons) and Josh Friedman (who developed Snowpiercer for TV) know that you need texture at all levels, and even the fabrics and designs of the most utilitarian children’s wear look just as gorgeous in their own way. And while Asimov might initially have been inspired by the fall of Rome, the resonances for contemporary viewers are abundant, to say the least.

So what’s happening? Maths genius Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) has done a spot of population-behaviour modelling that suggests that the galactic empire will collapse within 500 years, ushering in a dark age that will last for millennia. The very thought is treason to the emperor (Lee Pace), so Seldon’s head and shoulders might soon part.

The only person thought capable of assessing the reliability of Seldon’s work is young maths whiz Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell), who has emerged, improbably enough, from an insanely religious planet where maths and science are considered heresy and anyone who tries them is put to death by drowning.

Complicating matters is a spot of unrest in the outer rim (it’s always the outer rim!) and a shocking terrorist attack on the imperial capital that reads as 9/11, but on an incomparably huge scale. Will Seldon get the chance to preserve the galaxy’s most important scientific and mathematical knowledge in a giant Wikipedia that can serve as a foundation for post-cataclysmic civilisations? Or will he end up just another head on a pike? Tune in, as they say, to find out.

As with all good sci-fi, Foundation gives you plenty to chew on – and the chewing has only just begun. Goyer, who had previously declined to take on Foundation as a feature film and even a series of feature films, is already talking about unpacking this version over the course of six to eight seasons. Tuck in.

One of Us Is Lying ★★★

Imagine Gossip Girl crashing into The Breakfast Club and then turning into a paranoid teenage murder mystery. Even this series’ actual gossip guy, Simon Kelleher (Mark McKenna), knows what’s going on at his high school. “This place is such a cliche,” he says. “It’s like everyone is here to audition for a reboot of a John Hughes movie.”

Cooper van Grootel as Nate, Chibuikem Uche as Cooper, Mark McKenna as Simon, Annalisa Cochrane as Addy, Marianly Tejada as Bronwyn in One Of Us Is Lying.Credit:Nicola Dove/Peacock

And you’d better believe that Simon has those ’80s pastels and surly, sensitive antihero looks going on something serious. But when Simon teases a bunch of upcoming reveals on his scurrilous gossip blog, something very bad happens – and a bunch of his classmates might have had motives to do it. Did the straight-A student cheat on her chemistry exam? Did the cheerleader cheat on her boyfriend? Has the school’s sensitive drug dealer (emerging Australian heartthrob Cooper van Grootel) done something that could send him to jail?

The story, based on the wildly popular young-adult novel by Karen M. McManus, deftly tweaks its balance of suspicions to keep things interesting, but it’s McKenna (who was so good in Amazon Prime Video’s Wayne) and Van Grootel who really pull focus.

Hating Peter Tatchell

The amount of violence and hatred that Australian human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell endured was brutal – even before he left for Britain in 1971 to embark upon half a century of activism on behalf of LGBT people and other groups. This affecting documentary by Australian filmmaker Christopher Amos (executive-produced by Elton John) provides a compelling chronology and human portrait while giving some of Tatchell’s critics opportunity to air their criticisms and Tatchell the chance to address them. Highly recommended.

Peter Tatchell’s half-century of activism in Hating Peter Tatchell.

Days of Our Lives: Beyond Salem

How do you get into a soap as old as Days of Our Lives (est. 1965)? Start with this mad miniseries, which has Days stars old and new chasing stolen jewels across the stock-footage capitals of Miami, Zurich, New Orleans and, er, Phoenix, Arizona.

The highlight of the early episodes is Lisa Rinner wearing a tiara because she’s a secret agent undercover posing as European royalty trying to get a gander at one of the jewels, and then dancing a spontaneous public tango.

Eileen Davidson as Kristen DiMera in Days of Our Lives: Beyond Salem.

Rhys Darby: Big in Japan

Yes, it’s another comedian off to do another travel series in Japan, but – hey! – it’s Rhys Darby, that loveable Kiwi from Flight of the Conchords and the Jumanji movies. He doesn’t seem immediately comfortable in the format, trying a little too hard for laughs when he could just soak things up.

Kiwi comedian Rhys Darby’s travel series Big in Japan.

But Japan isn’t always a comfortable place – as Darby finds at an eerie hotel staffed entirely by robots. His observation on the wild popularity of mascot costumes as something you can hug in a no-hugging culture is poignant.

The Kill Point
Amazon Prime Video

The tragic death of Michael K. Williams has got people back into The Wire, Boardwalk Empire and Hap and Leonard (all of which are on Binge and Foxtel). Completists can also check out this smartly plotted thriller series, which slightly wastes Williams as a philosophy-spouting sniper taking part in the police siege of a bank in Philadelphia. Live-wire John Leguizamo is the Iraq War veteran turned bank robber taking a bunch of hostages, and Donnie Wahlberg the police negotiator trying to get them out.

*Stan is owned by Nine, the owner of this masthead.

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