Netflix: 10 of the best new shows and films to watch in January

New on Netflix: the pick of the shows and films for January

Here’s to forgoing reality for another month, with Nicolas Cage's History of Swear Words, the Irish-made Fate: The Winx Saga, Naomi Watts in Penguin Bloom and Carey Mulligan with Ralph Fiennes in The Dig among the highlights

The Circle

January 1st
January is the perfect time for reality TV. Watching strangers or past their sell by date celebs struggle not to have a breakdown on screen is the soothing Schadenfreude that viewers, stuffed to the gills with empty resolutions and pointless new year promises need.

This US version of this British franchise sees contestants living alone in an apartment building competing against each other in a bizarre personality contest.

The Circle: a special kind of hell that is strangely addictive. Photograph: Netflix
The Circle: a special kind of hell that is strangely addictive. Photograph: Netflix

They choose whether or not to catfish their fellow participants on a social media app and the person who eventually wins everyone over bags $100,000. Identity politics, trolling and isolation – The Circle is Twitter on telly – a special kind of hell that is strangely addictive.

History of Swear Words

Nicolas Cage presents the six-part History of Swear Words. Photograph: Adam Rose/Netflix
Nicolas Cage presents the six-part History of Swear Words. Photograph: Adam Rose/Netflix

January 5th
Netflix is giving everyone what they want in 2021 – Nicolas Cage bellowing obscenities into the sky. Who needs a January trying to be your “best self”? Forget meditation apps and food planning, the purge we all need is swearing our way through the entire month as Hollywood’s most intense actor guides us through the origins and etymology of these most potent of words in this six-episode series.

Cage is joined by experts including linguist Anne Charity Hudley and cognitive scientist Benjamin Bergin, as well as a whole host of comedians and actors from Nick Offerman to Sarah Silverman, who will examine the cultural impact of curse words and how we can’t live without the satisfying sensation of expletives.

Surviving Death

Surviving Death. Photograph: Netflix
Surviving Death. Photograph: Netflix

January 6th
Based on bestselling author and journalist Leslie Kean’s book, Surviving Death is a six-part docu-series that explores ideas about the afterlife. It is a journey through near-death experiences, the philosophy surrounding reincarnation, those that believe they can speak to the dead, those who have suffered loss and those who are in the presence of death on a daily basis. The show unravels societal beliefs about the nature of existence, how we deal with death and mourning and our inherent need to understand what happens to us when we die.

Pretend It’s a City

Cultural chronicler Fran Lebowitz explores a disappearing New York in Pretyend It's a City. Photograph: Netflix
Cultural chronicler Fran Lebowitz explores a disappearing New York in Pretyend It's a City. Photograph: Netflix

January 8th
This documentary follows the eternal raconteur, social commentator, cultural chronicler and general bon vivant, the legendary Fran Lebowitz, as she navigates her native New York and chats with longtime pal Martin Scorsese. The director, another great biographer of the changing metropolis, stokes the writer’s ire as Fran, the ever incisive humourist, pulls apart contemporary culture and the essence of city living. It’s an ode to a New York that is disappearing and a way of life that is rapidly fading. Fran Lebowitz, like Truman Capote, Andy Warhol and Bill Cunningham before her, is someone who is woven into the very fabric of Manhattan. As dry as a Martini from the Carlyle Hotel and as salty as a pretzel from a street vendor, her words and thoughts are something to be relished.

Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer

LA sheriff homicide detective Gil Carrillo in Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer. Photograph: Netflix
LA homicide detective Gil Carrillo in Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer. Photograph: Netflix

January 13th
This true-crime series delves into the case of the frenzied serial killer Richard Ramirez who terrorised the streets of LA and San Francisco from 1984-1985. Known as the “Night Stalker” for his tendency to prowl neighbourhoods for victims late at night, Ramirez crazed methods and attacks on various individuals didn’t seem to follow any kind of pattern, the randomness of the violent murders left these cities on high alert and left investigators in the dark. Combining first-person interviews from survivors, detectives and journalists and featuring archival news footage, the four-part story is a cohesive look at one of America’s most infamous, unknowable monsters.

Call My Agent! Season 4

Call My Agent! Back for a fourth and final season. Photograph: Netflix
Call My Agent! Back for a fourth and final season. Photograph: Netflix

January 21st
The delightful French sitcom about the relationships, backstabbing and ludicrous shenanigans at two top film agencies is back for its fourth and final season. Sharp, satirical, glamorous but also sweet and silly, Call My Agent! Is Entourage without the bloated sexism, Extras without the gnawing ego or 30 Rock without the cynicism and surrealism.

Creators Fanny Herrero and Dominique Besnehard have a genuine affection for the industry they are lampooning and this tenderness and desire for authenticity shines through past the manic circumstances and the incessant yaps of lapdog Jean Gabin. Known for featuring the best of French talent with guest spots from Juliette Binoche, Isabelle Huppert and Monica Bellucci playing amplified versions of themselves in previous episodes, all eyes will be on the cameos they have managed to snag for its fond farewell.

Fate: The Winx Saga

Fate: The Winx Saga: filmed in Ireland. Photograph: Netflix
Fate: The Winx Saga: filmed in Ireland. Photograph: Netflix

January 22nd
Filmed in Wicklow, Fate: The Winx Saga is a new teen fantasy drama about a group of wingless fairies attending Alfea, a prestigious magical boarding school. Learning to harness and master their powers as well as dealing with the usual trials of being a teenager, it’s a female-driven fairyland Harry Potter or a kind of ethereal version of Spanish high school series Elite. 

Adapted from the Italian children’s cartoon by Vampire Diaries writer Brian Young, he has attempted to centre this outlandish world into a relatable reality by establishing The Winx Saga as a coming-of-age drama. Starring Abigail Cowen (The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) as Bloom who along with her four roommates are trying to get to grips with their new surroundings. Unlike most teen dramas, The Winx Saga has a more gentle approach, it’s about forming friendships and uniting together rather than the usual hierarchical backbiting and Mean Girl behaviour. It’s a refreshing look at how difference and individuality are something to be celebrated.

The White Tiger

Adarsh Gourav and Priyanka Chopra star in Ramin Bahrani's The White Tiger. Photogrqaph: Tejinder Singh Khamkha/Netflix
Adarsh Gourav and Priyanka Chopra star in Ramin Bahrani's The White Tiger. Photogrqaph: Tejinder Singh Khamkha/Netflix

January 22nd
99 Homes director Ramin Bahrani returns with this savage tale of class conflict, ambition and excess. Based on the Booker Prize winning novel by Aravind Adiga, it’s the story of Balram (newcomer Adarsh Gourav) a chauffeur for a wealthy couple who grows tired of the substandard treatment he is subjected to by his employers, weary of being invisible to those around him and living out an existence where he is ridiculed and patronised he harbours a desire to move up in the world by any means possible. 

The White Tiger touches on familiar themes in Bahrani’s film work: institutionalised poverty, feudal culture, class and status all wrapped up in a vivid, cinematic thrill ride that explodes with life.

Penguin Bloom

Naomi Watts as Sam in Penguin Bloom. Photograph: Metflix
Naomi Watts as Sam in Penguin Bloom. Photograph: Metflix

January 27th
Naomi Watts and Andrew Lincoln star in this emotional drama based on a true story. Mother of three Sam (Watts) is paralysed after an accident in Thailand and is learning how to acclimate to this new life. As she pulls away from her husband worrying about how their family dynamic has irrevocably changed, her son becomes infatuated by an injured magpie he brings home and attempts to nurse back to full strength. While the film is heavy on the symbolism and without any real subtlety, Penguin Bloom’s presence in the house echoes the family’s new circumstances. The creature, by allowing itself to be vulnerable, exposes the fragility within Sam and unites the family in their will to care and to heal together.

The Dig

Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes star in The Dig. Photograph: Larry Horricks/Netflix
Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes star in The Dig. Photograph: Larry Horricks/Netflix

January 29th
This period drama set in the pre-war days of 1939 stars a mumbling, flat-cap-wearing Ralph Finnes (channeling Paul Whitehouse’s Ted) as amateur archaeologist Basil Brown who unearths a vast historic find on the land of wealthy widow Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan). As the excavation progresses and the threat of war looms, it encroaches on the lives of archaeologist Peggy Preston (Lily James) and land digger Stuart Piggott (Johnny Flynn) whose blossoming romance is tinged with the sour taste of reality. The Dig is a sombre look at the futility of war and the cyclical nature of history.