Sunderland ’Til I Die (Netflix) Sunderland Association Football Club might seem an unlikely saviour for fans pining for the beautiful game during lockdown, but documentary Sunderland ’Til I Die ’s eight instalments are just the tonic as they pick unflinchingly through the hope and despair – mostly despair – of fans fed a decades-long diet of financial blunders, bad signings, embarrassing defeats and the ultimate ignominy: exile from the promised land of the English Premier League. At curtain-up, it’s all hands on deck for a tilt at promotion back into the sport’s top echelon, which soon goes belly-up after a preseason infamously punctuated by midfielder Darron Gibson’s misjudged, drunken and gleefully publicised tirade against his teammates. The show’s visceral, no-narrator (and therefore no filter) style follows the tribulations of a still-proud club through its ups and mostly downs, but it’s the fans you have to feel for, ever disappointed yet ever hopeful supporters of a forlorn club that remains the heartbeat of another economically fading British city. Invisible Stories (HBO Go) All of human life can be found in this archetypal Singapore housing estate, according to Invisible Stories , HBO Asia’s ambitious six-part drama series in English, Mandarin, Hokkien and beyond, and with a regional cast representing Taiwan, Thailand, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia as well as the “home team” Singaporeans. One of these self-contained slices of Housing & Development Board life depicts three prostitutes operating a brothel; in another flat, in another story, a taxi driver is being driven insane by his night “job” as a spirit medium. Elsewhere, an autistic teenager descends into violent attacks on his single-parent mother; a social media “influencer” begins to confuse reality with pixels on a screen; migrant workers embark on an obstacle-ridden relationship; and a financial-sector employee is led by his secret self down a path that threatens his career and family. Invisible Stories is saying the affluent, shimmering Singapore is not the full picture: many multicultural strata also make up the place but, for want of looking, remain unseen. Food Lore (HBO Go) Nothing evokes the Asia-wide experience in quite the same way as a food show. Food Lore , an HBO Asia original executive-produced by Singaporean filmmaker Eric Khoo, presents a specials board stuffed with the cuisines of Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. With one instalment per country, each adopts a different narrative style to tell the story of a grumpy chef (Malaysia); a wrestler and an illustrator (Japan); a hawker and a French chef with a famous father (Singapore); a mysterious newcomer and her secret recipe (Indonesia); and more. Every episode is served up with a twist: this isn’t really a food show at all, but a drama series that uses the existential centrality of food to examine emotions, passions, motivations, memories and ambitions. Better Call Saul (Netflix) Be it forerunner or follow-up, Better Call Saul , now in its fifth season, remains a high point in television history, with its annual awards haul delivered by truck. Arriving after Breaking Bad , but as its prequel, Better Call Saul has arguably eclipsed its source in critical acclaim and audience devotion. Small-fry lawyer Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) edges into respectability as he fights for liberty and justice for all, but finds legal waters run deep and murky when he becomes embroiled in the affairs of a New Mexico drug cartel. Cue his transformation into his alter ego, Saul Goodman, a sleazy, smooth-talking criminal lawyer. Because this is the penultimate season, the storylines for Better Call Saul are starting to converge with those of Breaking Bad , resolving questions of plot development and character evolution (and no doubt providing endless continuity headaches for the writers). Fans of both series have plenty in which to revel here: Odenkirk especially, but also the understated performance of Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler, Jimmy’s conflicted girlfriend and conscience, always ready to interject when he’s about to veer further off-track or implode. Although even she seems powerless to temper his appalling taste in ties. The Silk Road (Amazon Prime) History buffs, and all those who can recall pre-virus long-distance travel, should enjoy tagging along with decorated French war correspondent and documentary director Alfred de Montesquiou. Landing on Amazon Prime late last year, his informed and atmospherically shot 15-parter, The Silk Road , takes us from a shimmering Venice eastward to those perennial adventurers’ staging posts, Samarkand and Tashkent, across the steppes of central Asia and into China via Kashgar, and on to Lanzhou and Xian. Yes, it’s Marco Polo resurrected, yet again. But how much of an excuse do you need to retrace one of the most magically haunting routes through history, never mind geography – especially now, post Belt and Road, that it comes loaded with even greater political significance? Having said that, the series adheres strictly to history, omitting negative comments about current governments – notably Iran and China – which can be cloying, but hey, how else would the crew get their visas? The World Between Us (HBO Go) This tense, 10-part Taiwanese thriller begins in the aftermath of a rampage, but as the trail of circumstance and fate unfolds, impossibly twisted personal affiliations emerge. The victims, their families, the lawyers, reporters and even the killer are all revealed to be weaving a tangled web that snares anyone trying to pick through the strands of cause, effect and responsibility. Throw in questions of human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law, and a plot that begins intriguingly and blossoms into a meditation on democracy. James Wen Sheng-hao (a former reporter himself) and Alyssa Chia are among the stars of director Lin Chun-yang’s tour de force, which surprised nobody when it bagged several international and domestic awards in various 2019 TV honours lists. Giri/Haji (Netflix) Are you in the mood for some serious contemplation about the nature of criminality, poor lifestyle choices and economic and social pressures? Anglo-Japanese crime drama Giri/Haji (“Duty/Shame”) tours the scenic highlights of Tokyo yakuza turf and London mob territory. Tokyo police detective Kenzo Mori (Takehiro Hira) is in Britain to find his missing thug of a brother. He is accompanied by Metropolitan Police detective constable Sarah Weitzmann (Kelly Macdonald), who realises she’s on the hit list of a former colleague with an axe to grind – perhaps in more than just the poetic sense. Stir in a ghost story, some romance, mob violence and a sparkling turn from a campy Will Sharpe as a London rent boy and you have, if not quite something for the whole family, then a successful attempt to move past the buddy-cop formula without succumbing to cliché. Howl’s Moving Castle (Netflix) Directed by manga artist Hayao Miyazaki – a giant of the animation genre – this Studio Ghibli gem tells the story of how industrious, Cinderella-like Sophie, who works in a milliner’s shop in a prosperous-looking town, is cursed by a witch and transformed into an elderly woman. The wizard Howl, however, has plans for her and enlists Sophie in his campaign of disobedience towards the king. Departing significantly in at least one respect from the eponymous novel on which it is based, is an anti-war protest scene, influenced by Miyazaki’s condemnation of the United States’ 2003 invasion of Iraq. But that’s a family discussion for another day. Better perhaps to gather the brood and delight in these delicate, largely hand-drawn scenes and their irresistible atmosphere of innocence and magic. The Teenage Psychic (HBO Go) A couple of rungs up the age-appropriate ladder is The Teenage Psychic , HBO Asia’s tale of a Taipei medium increasingly exploited by the guardian of her “home” temple for her fortunetelling (read “moneymaking”) skills, which are in great demand. Starring Kuo Shu-yao as the Holy Maiden, the show is a feel-good adolescent drama in some ways and a heartfelt appreciation of Taiwanese temple tradition in others. The incense, Chinese lanterns and parades of painted gods appear more than just set decoration: they seem a riposte to a modern world that comes crashing into the story in the form of a nightmare new arrival on the Taipei temple scene. More is explored in the “making of” documentary The World Behind The Teenage Psychic , also streaming on HBO Go and a treat for viewers with a penchant for the supernatural. Ronny Chieng: Asian Comedian Destroys America! (Netflix) “How much worse can it get? Let’s bring back measles … organic, small-batch diseases!” rages Ronny Chieng at the start of his 2019 stand-up routine, a mock-serious rant against American vaccine sceptics. Did he foresee something we didn’t? If he’s smart, he’ll say yes. And with that, the Malaysian-born Crazy Rich Asians actor (now New York-based) is on his vituperative way, tearing into consumerism, same-day delivery, choking traffic, racial stereotypes, excessive packaging, Asian parenting, Latino voting patterns and even the possibilities of an Asian-American president. Performed in Los Angeles, Chieng’s routine mercilessly bashes his adopted country while betraying his affection for it. Probably a smart insurance policy in a time of swelling intolerance, and as he should be telling people right now, prescient, too. Panchayat (Amazon Prime) Wet-behind-the-ears graduate and city boy Abhishek Tripathi (Jitendra Kumar) finds himself out of his comfort zone and severely out of his depth in gentle but pointed comedy-drama Panchayat . From his air-conditioned Delhi existence to the badlands of rural Uttar Pradesh, Abhishek takes up the only job available to him, a government posting to the flyspeck village of Phulera. As secretary to the village chief, he must deal with power cuts, water shortages and being locked out of his new home office. The suspicion is that Abhishek will warm to his baffling acquaintances soon enough … but his sulkiness may prove insurmountable, along with the resistance to change that permeates the seemingly monotonous village life. Hong Kong West Side Stories (Netflix) Wry comedy is the default setting of surprisingly wise Netflix series Hong Kong West Side Stories , whose single season (so far) withstands multiple viewings. Space constraints in overcrowded, tiny flats (now feeling smaller than ever), working days long enough to rival those in Japan, finding a significant other, keeping up social appearances, having enough money to subsist … all these joys of Hong Kong life are considered in 12 evenly paced instalments, each with an unforeseen connection to the next. The practical difficulties associated with trying to conceive in bunk beds for two people, but occupied by four, offer, for example, an amusing but trenchant comment on the trials of extended family life.