Great drama doesn’t flinch from the world we live in. These series may not have all the answers, but they’re definitely asking the right questions.
20 Jun 2019 - 10:57 AM  UPDATED 20 Jun 2019 - 11:10 AM

It’s easy to make a series about a hard-hitting issue. The difficult part is to make that issue entertaining. These eight series all push drama’s boundaries and tackle real-world issues without losing sight of the human stories behind them. Today’s world faces a lot of problems; it’s dramas like these that help us make sense of them.

Mary Kills People

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Doctor Mary Harris (Caroline Dhavernas) has an interesting side job: she kills people. Only people who actually want to die, mind you, and while this crime drama contains plenty of plot twists and an occasionally dark sense of humour, the idea of euthanasia – and the suffering of those who come to her looking for help – is always taken seriously. The show maintains dignity for those dying.


Eleven-year-old Max (Callum Booth-Ford) wants to live as Maxine, and it’s tearing her family apart. Mum Vicky (Anna Friel) is confused but supportive, while dad Stephen (Emmett J Scanlan) can’t cope. But Maxine is the one who’s really suffering here, and when the bullying and isolation – plus the pressure to act the way her father wants – become too much, the family has to pull together and try to find a way forward. Sensitive and insightful, Butterfly is ground-breaking but never gimmicky or sensational.

The Handmaid’s Tale

The truly shocking thing about the repression and torture that’s the backbone of the fictional future America known as Gilead is that all the brutality of the religious regime is real. Author Margaret Atwood notoriously based the horrors in her original novel on the real-life actions of actual religious regimes, giving this grim future an edge most dystopias lack – and making it all the more stirring when the oppressed find ways to fight back.

The Good Fight

Civil society in the US has gone off a cliff under Trump. What better way to explore the divide in society than a show about lawyers, the people whose very jobs rely on arguing? The way the series reflects and reacts to the spiralling insanity of the news cycle is often thrilling (Is it okay to hit a Nazi? How badly is the American media in thrall to China?), but under it all lies a very big question: how should people respond to a government seemingly committed to trashing the very idea of compromise and respect?


Fake news might seem like a 21st century development, and the opening to this series where photojournalist Lee Berger (Alessandro Nivola) fakes a picture to try and get America to pay attention to a forgotten war certainly backs that up. But as the focus shifts to China and Berger’s attempts to clear his name by tracking down the notorious ‘Tank Man’ of Tiananmen Square, it becomes clear that the truth has always been fragile, and that at least one world power is happy to bury it to achieve their own ends, no matter what the human cost.

8 Days

What would you do if you had to flee your home and the life you’d made for an uncertain future in a strange land? This German drama series flips the refugee script by making Europeans the refugees, forced to pack what they can and flee to the east when a meteor is set to wipe out all life on the continent in (you guessed it) eight days. It’s a disaster series with a real-world sting in the tale.


Cults promise sanctuary but too often deliver slavery; Harem is an unflinching look at the damage they inflict on their members and the loved ones they leave behind. When a young Israeli cult member gets in touch with her family after two years of silence, they think she’s finally ready to leave. The reality is much worse; she wants her sister to join her. The parents fight back, but the daughters have a story to tell about their father – and the cult’s charismatic male leader has his own plans for the young women.


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