In blockbusters like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom,” Toby Jones makes a terrific villain. (If the James Bond series ever rebooted Goldfinger, Jones should be the first person they call.)
But the British actor’s stock in trade is playing sweet sad sacks, ordinary guys who are used to disappointment and yet still yearn for more out of life. He played such a guy in the beloved BBC comedy “Detectorists,” and the new series “Don’t Forget the Driver” works the same vein of crestfallen humanity. The series premiered Tuesday on the streaming site BritBox.
Jones plays Peter Green, a tour bus driver living in a quaint, slightly dingy seaside town. Peter’s life is defined by his routines — the lunch he packs in the morning, the same songs on the radio on the way to work, the little tip jar he puts on the dashboard with the sad, hand-lettered sign, “Don’t Forget the Driver.”
The truth is, of course, that life has pretty much forgotten the quiet, middle-aged man. His teenage daughter (Erin Kellyman) is a mystery to him, and his housebound elderly mother (Marcia Warren) has dementia and doesn’t recognize him. He has a twin brother, Barry (also played by Jones) who seems to be living the happy, successful life that’s been denied to Peter.
That changes when, after a day trip taking elderly Brits to visit the war memorials at Dunkirk, Peter finds a stowaway in the baggage compartment of his bus. It’s a terrified, exhausted Etritean woman named Rita (Luwam Teklizgi) who has smuggled herself into Britain. She’s met at the bus depot by a nasty-looking thug, and Peter literally collapses at the thought that he’s been an unwitting accessory to human trafficking.
How Peter rallies and tries to protect Rita provides the arc of the six-episode first season, created by Jones and playwright Tim Crouch. He’s a reluctant, unlikely hero whose essential decency wins out over his desire to cling to the familiarity of his ordinary life.
The show touches on some tougher themes about immigration and Brexit while never losing its flair for gentle, wry comedy. In its own quiet way, “Don’t Forget the Driver” is a special series that’s hard to forget.
Also on streaming: I love “Better Call Saul,” but it seems to have unleashed a lot of prequel shows that attempt to chart the backstory of a familiar villain. The latest is “Ratched,” an unlikely prequel to “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” that premieres Friday on Netflix.
Sarah Paulson plays the younger version of Nurse Ratched, who tormented the patients in a mental health facility in “Cuckoo’s Nest.” It looks like “Ratched” completely misunderstands the true evil of the character. In the movie, she’s the embodiment of a cold, unfeeling bureaucracy that enforces the rules even at the expense of the patients she’s supposed to be helping. In the show, she’s just another antihero using unorthodox (and often violent) methods to care for her patients, like an extreme version of “House.”
One of my favorite shows returns Friday with the second season of “PEN15” on Hulu. Creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle drew on their experiences to create this riotous, painfully honest look at middle school life. The hook is that both actresses, in their early 30s, play the tween girls on the show, which only heightens their hilarious awkwardness.
The show also has a lot to say about the messages about body image and self-worth that girls are bombarded with in pop culture, making for a show that’s as poignant and empathetic as it is funny.