In the first of a new series, Alex Melvin makes the most of more time at home by exploring some interesting programmes to stream while under lockdown.

Ever since we’ve been holed up indoors, people keep telling me to make the most of all the extra time I have. If only it were true! Sadly, with a full-time job to fit in around educating and entertaining five-year-old and 18-month-old boys, there’s barely a spare second right now. Fortunately, most park home dwellers’ daily itineraries are hopefully a little freer. (Children? Been there, done that, got the t-shirt!) And while not currently being able to visit children and grandchildren is undoubtedly awful, there is an upside – no babysitting!

Why not make the most of this somewhat unexpected, enforced leisure time and start streaming those epic box-sets you’ve always promised yourself? Now the TV soaps are considerably thinner on the ground, there’s never been a better time to experiment with your viewing schedules and take a gamble on that quirky documentary or film either.

It’s in that spirit that I’ve decided to burn the midnight oil and comb the now plentiful online streaming services out there to find you some interesting options.

I’ll start with an American drama series from around a decade ago now, Mad Men (Netflix). All seven series are available on Nexflix, and each one is just as brilliant as the other. Based around the heady comings and goings at fictional ad agency, Sterling Cooper, in 1960s New York, Mad Men is acutely well observed and works on every level. It’s evocatively and stylishly shot, perfectly capturing an America in the grip of some turbulent societal changes. It’s prodigious length – seven seasons across a whopping 92 episodes – also provides plenty of space to comprehensively, and sensitively, draw in a raft of engaging characters. While ad man Don Draper (John Hamm) may be the central figure, virtually every other character is as equally well drawn. Expect lots of boozing, womanizing and glamorous panoramas of a golden era in US history. However, Mad Men also very much undercuts the ‘American dream’, regularly exposing its hollow core. Female characters like Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) and Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) skilfully depict the difficulties women faced in this period, and the different ways they faced them down.

The Virtues

Next up is director Shane Meadows’ gripping four-part mini-series, The Virtues (All4/Brit Box). I’m a huge fan of Shane Meadows’ work – the This Is England drama trilogy and 1999 film A Room For Romeo Brass are personal favourites. The Virtues is Meadows’ most recent work, appearing on Channel 4 last year. It follows jobbing builder, alcoholic and father-of-one, Joseph (Stephen Graham), whose life takes a dark turn when his young son and ex-wife emigrate to Australia.

Working at a pleasingly slow pace, this four-parter gradually reveals more and more details about Jospeh’s troubled past. There’s an ominous feeling of foreboding throughout, which builds to a crescendo at the series’ denouement. I won’t spoil things by giving away too much of the plot, suffice to say poor ol’ Joseph’s childhood has a big bearing on things.

Finally, I’ve plumped for sports documentary series Sunderland ‘Til I Die (Netflix). By turns heart-warming and surprisingly candid, this fly-on-the-wall style doc follows the fortunes of dysfunctional football club Sunderland across two series as the team lurches from one disaster to the next. Don’t worry, this one’s not just for the menfolk – there’s more than enough emotion and drama for everybody!