Modern life sometimes seems to consist entirely of browsing streaming services for something that engages us well enough that we no longer spend 20 minutes each night arguing with our couch partners about why none of the 12 series we have recently begun compels us.

In recent weeks, I've begun and then faded out from The Marvelous Mrs Maisel and You're The Worst. I've made a return to Better Things, which I had already faded out from once, and I've faded out from it again.

These are good shows, decent shows, nothing particularly wrong with them. If they had been around in the late 90s/early 2000s, they would definitely have warranted a swipe of the yellow highlighter in the TV Guide on a Tuesday or Wednesday morning.

But this is a new era. Shows like these are rarely instantly enticing. They ask you to invest time in order to grow love for their characters, at which point, you'll experience an emotional payoff. If you invest the time without getting the payoff, that feels like theft. We no longer have the attention spans for that. There are too many alternatives.


Counterpart, the new, highly-lauded, sci-fi-tinged, espionage-based psychodrama, the first episode of which aired on Soho last night and arrives on Neon on Monday, opens with an attention-grabbing scene of murder and dark intrigue and develops swiftly into cross-world infiltrations by odd and murky characters, one of whom, the deadliest, speaks not a word throughout the episode.

Genre series like Counterpart typically face the opposite issues to those of Mrs Maisel et al. They offer the instant viewer hooks of conflict, impending death and mystery, but they are also more likely to lend themselves to instant dismissal for lacking much beyond the questions of who's about to die and why.

At the centre of Counterpart is the excellent actor J.K. Simmons playing a guy called Howard, who exists twice - once in the real world and once in a parallel universe which has sprung out of some experimental Cold War carry-on. Or is the parallel universe actually the real world? At this stage, there is much we don't know.

The two Howards, who had the same childhood, but whose lives diverged at some as-yet unspecified point into their parallel universes, while still maintaining some identical elements like wives and wardrobe items, are now radically different people.

We're introduced, via a conversation between them, as to how they became so different. Howard tells Howard that that question is the way to madness, which means we are far from done with that question, and with related questions. For instance, does nice, pathetic, deadbeat-career Howard have the capacity to become more like alpha-warrior Howard? And if he does, should he exercise it? It's a question so many of us nice, pathetic deadbeats have considered.

It's full of hooks, and it at least promises to offer depth. On first watch, Counterpart demands more watching. That doesn't make it The Wire, but on a more practical, what-you-should-watch-tonight kind of level, nor does it make it The Marvelous Mrs Maisel.