Ren Faire ★★★★

Cue up Nicholas Britell’s Succession theme, but performed with … lutes and harps? Set at a Texan medieval theme park, this three-part HBO documentary series is a wildly baroque tale of power and competition. Stylised for the screen and full of participants who can’t help giving their all to director Lance Oppenheim’s camera, even when they probably shouldn’t, the show is an oddball delight that nonetheless contains some crushing truths about human nature. If this story was told as fiction, it would be considered hilariously implausible.

A scene from the three-part HBO documentary <i>Ren Faire</i>.

A scene from the three-part HBO documentary Ren Faire.Credit: Binge

At the age of 86, the founder of the annual Texas Renaissance Fair, George Coulam, is thinking about the future. “King George”, as he prefers to be known, has a business worth hundreds of millions of dollars, no family or friends, and wants to focus on his art and share a relationship with a woman who has natural breasts. An ornery creator who demands deference, George has to decide what to do with a fiefdom he built over 50 years.

Over a topsy-turvy year, his lieutenants try to sway him. His veteran general manager, Jeffrey Baldwin, who came up through the entertainment side, wants George to stay, in part because he’s scared what the business-obsessed Louie Migliaccio, who runs the lucrative kettle corn franchise, will do if he finally buys George out. Then there’s vendor co-ordinator Darla, the dark horse trying to outflank them both. She got her start running an elephant ride, which seems about right for this mix of oversized risk and questionable entertainment.

From George’s rococo house, where Enya plays all day, to chance encounters with his subjects, most of whom live on the grounds, Ren Faire is an endless string of eccentricities. Crucially, Oppenheim enhances this to an operatic pitch at every turn. The score goes from the exultant to the eerie, and the characters are often shot like cinematic protagonists. Almost everyone here, in one way or another, is a performer, and it shows. When Jeffrey, whose ups and downs are vast, expresses himself with a song from Shrek the Musical it all makes sense.

The players, most notably George, are quite eccentric and amusing, but they’re never just punchlines. The deeply deployed access always gets at their motivations and feelings, no matter how bonkers it is watching George work with the young digital assistant who curates his profile on sugar-daddy websites. With George you understand who he is and how the past motivates his decisions, often for the worse. As with Succession, the power George bestows and withholds defines him. When the laughter stops, the cruelty continues.

Clipped ★★★

Jacki Weaver, Ed O’Neill and Cleopatra Coleman in <i>Clipped</i>.

Jacki Weaver, Ed O’Neill and Cleopatra Coleman in Clipped.Credit: Kelsey McNeal/FX

You don’t need to know who Donald Sterling was, or much about America’s men’s basketball league, the NBA, to follow along with this busy but shallow limited series. A mix of professional sports stars, entitled bigotry, public scandal, and vitriolic women will always be fluent for all. While it can feel like the highlights of a lowlife, this serialised scandal about the end of Sterling’s long and questionable ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014 rarely slows.