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Matilda Lawler and Himesh Patel play plague survivors in Station Eleven.Courtesy of HBO Max / Crave

So here we come to roost. It’s almost the end of the year and, remarkably, one of the very best series of 2021 has just landed. There’s a catch – the subject matter might not be something that everyone wants to embrace. It’s about a pandemic and its aftermath. But it is done with such beauty, sensitivity and assuredness that, really, it must be seen.

Station Eleven (streams Crave) shifts timelines, but not so much to deliberately confuse. It has many characters but concentrates on one core group, and is quite stunningly beautiful in look and, more importantly, in tone and theme. What’s it about? Although it begins with a situation of utter horror, it eventually becomes something transcendent about community, love, loyalty and the vital importance of storytelling, art and performance.

It’s the opening episode that might spook you. It’s Chicago, it’s the year 2020 and a famous actor is performing onstage in King Lear. He becomes ill, a man in the audience, Jeevan (Himesh Patel), tries to help, but cannot. In the confusion at the theatre, Jeevan realizes that a child actor, Kirsten (Matilda Lawler), has been forgotten and he offers to help her get home. On their journey there, Javeen hears from his sister, a nurse, that a brutally destructive strain of influenza has been discovered and is spreading rapidly, easily transmissible. Go into immediate lockdown, she tells him. He takes her seriously but he is obliged to take care of young Kirsten too.

Mackenzie Davis in Station Eleven.Courtesy of HBO Max / Crave

As this opening thread of the story plays out, we get flash-forward scenes of the world years later, a world in ruins and where there is still chaos. But this is not the commonplace post-apocalypse world of dire gloom and bitter survival struggles we’ve seen since The Walking Dead first aired. A phrase that becomes important, thematically, is this: “Survival is insufficient.”

Catch up on the best streaming TV of 2021 with our holiday binge-watching guide

In the future, the adult Kirsten (Mackenzie Davis) is the leader of the Traveling Symphony, a group of artists, actors and musicians who are bringing art and performance of the before-times, principally Shakespeare, to the pandemic’s survivors. They do this in a world where other, sinister forces are trying to dominate.

Three Identical Strangers remains CNN’s most-watched documentary.

Loosely based on the best-selling Emily St. John Mandel novel of the same title, adapted by Patrick Somerville, who worked on The Leftovers, and superbly directed by a small team that includes Canadians Jeremy Podeswa and Helen Shaver, the series is, in an unexpected way, uplifting and positive. Poignant, funny and at times plainly heartfelt, it has already been called a masterpiece by some reviewers. Not having seen the full season, I can’t be that certain – three episodes are available now with more arriving weekly – but I know this is a series of rare, thrilling excellence.

Also airing/streaming this weekend – Three Identical Strangers (Sunday, CNN, 9 p.m.) has been on before, and it remains CNN’s most-watched documentary for a reason. The story evolves from a quirk of fate to a mind boggling story about bioethics. The initial story was made famous in the 1980s. One Bobby Shafran, on his first day at college, starts to believe there’s someone who looks just like him in the same college. Sure enough, there emerges a new-found twin brother, Eddy. Immediately following a news report about that, a guy named David sees these guys who look just like him. Yes, identical triplets were adopted separately at birth. But why? The answer to that is the real meat of the documentary.

The King is a strange and wonderful exploration of the myths surrounding Elvis Presley and what it all means.Courtesy of PBS

Independent Lens: The King (Sunday, PBS, 10 p.m.) is a strange and wonderful exploration of the myths surrounding Elvis Presley and what it all means. Filmmaker Eugene Jarecki acquired a Rolls-Royce owned by Presley and takes various people, who have a lot to say about the meaning of Elvis, on a road trip. Is the story of Elvis the big American metaphor? Everyone – from scholar Greil Marcus, to TV writer David Simon (The Wire) to many musicians – has a lot to say, some of it angry.

Finally, a holiday-themed pick – A California Christmas: City Lights (streams Netflix) is a sequel to last year’s A California Christmas. Both are bonkers-silly. Joseph (General Hospital star Josh Swickard) is a businessman sent by his mom, the boss, to acquire the farmland owned by Callie (played by Swickard’s wife, Lauren Swickard), who mistakes him for the new hired help. Shenanigans ensue in a Christmas take without snow and featuring beautiful people showing off their beautiful bods. Enjoy.

A California Christmas: City Lights is a sequel to last year’s A California Christmas.Courtesy of Netflix

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