All the emotions!

Melt your frozen heart this winter with shows that’ll move you

Sometimes after a tough day of coping with 2020, all we want is mindless entertainment, explosions, jokes and plots we won’t have to remember for more than 20 minutes. But once we’ve caught our breath, we need more. If you’re feeling dead to the world and you’re looking for something to make you feel joy, compassion, wonder, grief and all the emotions, there’s a show for that.

I Know This Much Is True: compassion

Mark Ruffalo plays Dominick Birdsey and his schizophrenic identical twin brother, Thomas, in this mini-series based on Wally Lamb’s 1998 novel of the same name.

On paper it seems relentlessly gruelling, covering topics like self-mutilation, mental illness, sexual abuse, child abuse, rape, living with PTSD, death from HIV, suicide, infant death and family secrets. One reviewer called it “the saddest story ever told”. All these incidents are things that happen to the characters, though. The real story lies beyond that, in how and why these things happen and, above all, how the characters respond and have the resilience to survive.

When Mark read the book in 2015, he believed that it was talking about issues that mainstream American society is only really getting to grips with now. “We were having a real discussion about immigration and what it is to be an American. Because of the conversation, we were having about mental illness, because of the conversation we were having about immigration and the conversation we were having about masculinity, it just seemed this was the time. You couldn't tell this story 16 years ago,” he insists.

As gruelling as the series is, director Derek Cianfrance believes that addressing these issues and experiencing them with the characters onscreen can also be emotionally rewarding. “Tragedy is as extreme as it is common. I always understood that to experience a tragedy – to witness, watch, or read a tragedy – it can be a harrowing experience to go through. But the point of tragedy is to purge your emotions, through pity and fear, that leads to catharsis. So that’s also where my imagination has always taken me because, at the end of it, it’s a release,” he says. 


Watch I Know This Much Is True S1 on Wednesdays on M-Net at 22:00 or see it on Catch Up


Housekeepers: vengeance & resilience

Linda Ndlovu (Thando Thabethe) had every reason to strike back at the evil Zwides in S1 – starting with the fact that they framed her hardworking mother June (Clementine Mosimane) for murder, leading to her death in prison. But after she murdered them in the Housekeepers S1 finale and dodged the cops at the start of S2, Linda knows that it’ll be a tough story to sell. So much for her dreams of a brilliant legal career.

Linda finds her past tied to her future in S2 as she is blackmailed into going undercover to work as a housekeeper for a new batch of the rich & ruthless: Clive Ngubane (Lindani Nkosi) and his wife, Noli (Xolile Tshabalala), who run a funeral parlour… and were owed a big chunk of cash by the Zwide family in exchange for certain favours that might horrify Linda. Under the table, the Ngubanes run a crime scene clean-up service for criminals.

There are two traps in this show: The messes Linda gets herself into, and the poverty that she and her fellow housekeepers come from, which forces them to struggle on despite the daily emotional battery, sexual harassment and casual contempt they suffer from their corrupt bosses.

While Housekeepers tells a big, dramatic story, it’s grounded in everyday South African realities that make you feel every blow. Thando, in particular, brings out all Linda’s rage, fear and determination, with help from her touching narration of the show. If you were cut up by June’s death, wait ’til Linda finds love, only to discover that she’s given her heart to a monster this season. An episode of Housekeepers will have you feeling wrung out and collapsed on your couch from the injustice of life and Linda’s survival in the face of it.

Watch Housekeepers S2 on Mondays on Mzansi Magic (DStv 161) at 20:00 and on Catch Up


Outlander: love & trauma

From the very first season, historical time-travel romance Outlander, based on the novels by Diana Gabaldon, has been underpinned by the complex, passionate, mature and funny love between lead characters Claire (Caitriona Balfe), a nurse from the 1940s and her husband, Jamie (Sam Heughan), a highland Scotsman from the year 1743. As S5 begins, Jamie and Claire are still in the 1700s United States, and the American Revolutionary war of 1775-1783 is looming. But before they get there, Claire and Jamie will continue to explore and enjoy their relationship. “We see a lot more of the intimacy and the passion of Claire and Jamie, because we have that luxury of them being in one place a lot of the time, and it’s so nice. Sam and I have been talking a lot about this today, that we get to see how they work together as a couple, the strains and the pressures of these outside things, but they’re able to come together and touch base with each other and support each other. It’s really lovely to see them just converse as a couple in this supportive and emotionally supportive way,” says Caitriona. 

That relationship needs to be strong enough to keep pulling viewers back, because Outlander can pole vault from love and joy to treachery and horror in the space of a few scenes – as it does in the first episode this season, which goes from a beautiful wedding scene where we’ve come to know the characters so well that they could be family, into rape flashbacks following the news of a death.

Throughout the series, Outlander digs into the emotional depths of the trauma inflicted by war and violence on both men and women, particularly through the use of sexual violence as a tool to destroy and punish. But it balances that reality with showing the healing power of love, patience, time and family – and an acceptance of the fact that rape does lasting harm despite all those things. “It seems important to show that strength isn’t about an ability to get over something, or an ability to fight your way through every situation. You don’t go through something like this without it changing you deeply,” says Caitriona.

Watch Outlander S5 from Saturday, 25 July on M-Net (DStv 101) at 22:00


Perry Mason: misery & determination

Perry Mason, based on the criminal defence lawyer character Perry from Erle Stanley Gardner’s detective novels (1933-1973) has been brought to TV in the US before in the late 1950s. The 2020 version, with The America’s Matthew Rhys in the title role, is a different beast, thanks to the show's executive producers, Iron Man star Robert Downey Jr and his wife Susan. Its examination of racism and corruption in the LAPD and local politics could not be timelier. But it is really a character-driven piece about a hopeless man who becomes driven by a thirst for justice.

“It’s an origin story. When the Downeys said, ‘We want to redo Perry Mason, but we wanna start with the origin story,’ I genuinely went, ‘Oh, yeah, that would be interesting. How did he become a defence attorney?’ And then the big interest for me was in his reluctance and reticence of becoming a defence attorney, and once he does, how did he then become a good one? How do you build to believably thinking, ‘Yes, I can see why this person is a good defence attorney?’” reveals Matthew.

Perry is now a down-at-heel Depression-era detective, and the series takes a much more personal view of his life and work than the books ever did, including his traumatic flashbacks to his days as a soldier during WW1. “When I met with the writers, they said, ‘Look, our hope is that we’ve loaded this guy’s bases and that he’s cracked.’ That’s certainly part of the large attraction for me – seeing someone with some very real universal issues that you can relate to. Certainly, his time as a veteran and through the war has informed enormously who he is when we find him. His family, both his own immediate family and his generational family problems, on top of everything else, there were just a number of things I could relate to, or I could see that would be interesting to watch and certainly play,” adds Matthew.

The Perry we first meet is a man battling with his emotions. Every day and every case just seem to inflict more damage, and you can see it in his eyes as he stares down at a tiny kidnapping victim on the coroner’s table. Perry’s doggedness in the face of misery, horror and his personal poverty is contrasted by one of the show’s other leads, glamorous, charismatic radio evangelist Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany), who rails out at the sinners of 1930s Los Angeles – many of which wind up as the subjects of Perry’s investigations. “They’re kind of caught in their own set of circumstances, looking out. They’ve had a number of impositions placed upon them, constraints in a way. And, ultimately, they’re very free-thinking, strong-willed people. They’re just very intrigued with each other, which I think is great,” hints Matthew. 

Watch Perry Mason S1 from Tuesday, 28 July on M-Net (DStv 101) at 22:00


The Bachelor Presents: Listen To Your Heart: Crazy, stupid love!

This show sounds absurd. You know it, we know it, and host Chris Harrison knows it. That does not make it less watchable, or less likely to move you when some genuine emotions come into play. Admittedly those emotions aren’t always accompanied by doves and roses. There’re some pretty amazing scenes of humiliation, mortification, embarrassment that will have you squirming in your seat like it’s a new fitness craze. In the first episode, when one contestant cringes so hard that she crouches down out of the screen, you’ll feel it with her.

The premise? 20 men and women who’re real life musicians serenade one another or work on duets together as they look for love. They then perform their songs in front of judges. Along the way, the lyrics they write could become something meaningful as they look into one another’s eyes and sing.

"It was an aspect that I didn’t expect or see coming, which is what music does to the soul, and how one connects to the other. How great music can come out of love and how love comes out of great music. It was really interesting to have that added level of intimacy in the musical performances. You have to trust, you have to believe and you can’t shake that. It was really evident when people were onstage, who the real couples were and who were just going through the motions," admits Chris. “I think people are going to feel good watching it and overall, it’s really positive."

If that sounds cheesy, serve us the extra cheese please. We want to feel all the emotions!

Watch The Bachelor Presents: Listen To Your Heart S1 from Friday, 17 July on 1Magic (DStv 103) at 20:30

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