Novel adaptations, limited series and international co-productions – these are the hottest trends in television for 2019. Here are 10 of the biggest new shows coming to our screens later this year to prove it.
The Luminaries (TVNZ)
Can you believe it's already six years since Eleanor Catton won the Man Booker Prize and every patriotic New Zealander spent the summer dutifully reading all 800-plus pages of The Luminaries? With a little foresight we could have just waited for the TV adaptation and saved ourselves so much time. Catton has adapted the screenplay for the six-part miniseries coming to TVNZ this year, which, like all the best modern TV dramas, is a big multinational co-production. The BBC, NBCUniversal, TVNZ and the New Zealand Film Commission are all involved, like some kind of elaborate John Key World Cup handshake.
The Bad Seed (TVNZ)
New Zealand is going all-in on the prestige drama book adaptation trend this year. TVNZ has the five-part miniseries The Bad Seed, based on a pair of Charlotte Grimshaw novels (The Night Book and Soon) and starring a veritable 90 per cent of recognisable local acting talent. Dean O'Gorman and Matt Minto are the two brothers at the centre of it all, whose lives take a dark turn after a murder – there's always a murder. Madeleine Sami also stars as the investigating detective and Xavier Horan as a Prime Ministerial candidate.
Honestly surprising it's taken so long to get around to making another adaptation of Joseph Heller's classic World War II black comedy – the last ones were a movie version in 1970 and a TV pilot in 1973. Now they're doing it ("they", in this case, is US streaming giant Hulu and Sky Italy) and they're doing it properly, with George Clooney directing and starring alongside a cast which also includes Kyle Chandler, Hugh Laurie and Christopher Abbott as the "artful dodger", John Yossarian himself. An absolute godsend for those of us who managed to get all the way through high school without reading the book.
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The Gulf (Three)
Very dark times in extremely beautiful places – a combination that worked so well for the first series of Top of the Lake – seems to be the philosophy behind Three's biggest, fanciest new local drama for 2019. A New Zealand-Germany co-production, The Gulf is set on and around Waiheke Island, where Kate Elliot is a detective investigating a trio of intriguing criminal cases while at the same time going a little bit out of her mind. Ido Drent and Pana Hema-Taylor also star in a series that should have psychological thriller aficionados on high alert.
How many actors in New Zealand have the looks and size – and the willingness to have the number 11 shaved into their eyebrow for a role – to play the late, great Jonah Lomu? Well, at least two: there was the guy who played him in the movie Invictus in 2009, and now Mosese Veaila. The nearly 2m tall, 21-year-old Toi Whakaari graduate will get his first major role in Jonah, a biopic miniseries set to screen on Three in the lead-up to the Rugby World Cup. No word yet on which stuntman they've cast to play Mike Catt.
What We Do In The Shadows (SoHo2 / Neon)
The first trailer for the TV adaptation of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi's 2014 vampire comedy classic was released this week, and it looks exactly as good as you hoped. Maybe even better – Matt Berry, Toast of London himself, is one of the vampires, alongside Natasia Demetriou, who was in one of the funniest series ever made (Stath Lets Flats), and Kayvan Novak, who was one of the hopeless terrorists in Four Lions. It's set in New York City, far from the Wellington of the film, but it seems vampire problems are pretty similar wherever you go.
Watchmen (SoHo / Neon)
There has already been a movie made of Alan Moore's groundbreaking comic book series, but it came out a full ten years ago now – no one has a memory that long these days. And while that movie was a fairly faithful adaptation of the subversive superhero books, this new TV series promises to be a bit more free and easy with the source material. All signs point to it being very, very good – Damon Lindelof, co-creator of Lost and The Leftovers, is behind the adaptation, which has a top-shelf cast and a soundtrack composed by Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails.
Good Omens (Amazon Prime Video)
If you didn't already use your month's free Amazon Prime Video trial to watch the behind-the-scenes All Blacks documentary last year, you're going to want to save it for this. The adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's 1990 novel, a comedy about angels and demons and the end of the world, has a frankly ridiculous list of names attached: David Tennant, John Hamm, Anna Maxwell Martin, Miranda Richardson, Nick Offerman … and Frances McDormand as the voice of God. The six-part series is a co-production or "co-pro" – very fashionable at the moment – between Amazon Prime Video and the BBC.
Our Planet (Netflix)
I have some theories about David Attenborough. One is that they've managed to clone him or upload his consciousness to the cloud or something, because the bloke seems to be busier than ever these days. Now he's even joined the likes of David Farrier and Marie Kondo and got his own Netflix series. Our Planet looks like being the kind of dazzling, high-spec natural history documentary series that has for so long been the specialty of the BBC – we'll find out if Netflix has managed to raise their already-very-high bar later this year.
The Witcher (Netflix)
At the moment, depending on what type of nerd you are, you either know The Witcher as a series of popular fantasy novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, or as the video game series that turns you into a literal hermit for a few weeks with every new instalment. By the end of this year everybody will probably know it as something else: a Netflix series, with Henry Cavill, the most recent Superman, cast as Geralt of Riviera. They're talking about The Witcher as potentially being "the new Game of Thrones". And it's not too hard to see why.