Six of the Best: John McKay

Six of the Best: John McKay

August 1, 2023


The International Emmy-winning director, who is also the founder of Glasgow-based Compact Pictures, picks half-a-dozen shows that blend mystery, comedy, murder… and puppets.

Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons
Beating out Jon Pertwee in Doctor Who, and even the original cardboard-sets Star Trek, my first TV crush was on an indestructible puppet. The plots were forgettable, but the cars, planes and floating Cloudbase hangout – plus the absolutely on-point 1960s Courréges team uniforms – were a delirious dream of an expanded story universe, long before we started talking that way. I still can’t describe a rapid intercut sequence to a picture editor without saying, “You know, just like: bum-bam-bum da-da-da-bum!”

When you encounter a show made from a completely different perspective than your own, it can be startling and head-spinning. This wildly divergent murder-spree drama from Donald Glover, of Atlanta fame, and Janine Nabers had me binge-watching past three in the morning at first contact, slack-jawed with admiration and tension.

It’s rare that TV can do rock music with any authority – it’s like a whale trying to tap dance, as Daisy Jones can only attest – but Danny Boyle’s chunky, punky reimagining of 1976 London makes deft work of re-casting the familiar faces of the new-wave scene as variously young, likeable, in love and stupid, via the master stroke of riding in on Steve Jones, the famously non-famous Sex Pistol.

My wife is German, so half of my evening watch is from the Bundesrepublik, whose dramatic chops are often underrated in the wider market. Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese’s existential mystery – half science-fiction, half family mystery, ultimately a prog rock album of endlessly spiralling fractal timelines – turned me on to the powerful new talents breaking through the conformity of Euro TV. Don’t go in the cave, kids!

Toast of London
Now a staple of the comedy world, Matt Berry’s solo outing is a tour-de-force of ‘What were they on when they locked themselves in a room and scripted this?’ Also featuring perfect turns from Robert Bathurst and Doon Mackichan – not a supporting cast combination you see every day – season one is a permanent download for me, and still makes me laugh until my nose runs.

Fleishman is in Trouble
Novelistic and absolutely TV-doing-NY-indie-drama, this midlife crisis series became essential in my home because of the unsung side-stage performance of Lizzy Caplan – a true example of unshowy, detailed brilliance that creates a relationship of trust and friendship with the viewer that keeps you coming back for more.

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