Picture: Supplied

"My Brilliant Friend," the captivating drama series based on Elena Ferrante’s bestselling Neapolitan Novels, is now streaming on Showmax.

Here are five reasons to add the hit Italian series to your watchlist:

#1. It’s about a 60-year friendship

"My Brilliant Friend" is the story of Elena ‘Lenù’ Greco and Raffaella ‘Lila’ Cerullo, who begin a lifelong friendship in their first year of school in Naples. The first season follows them from six years old to around 16.

“A story of a friendship is a story that everyone understands,” says Saverio Costanzo, the multi-award-winning director and co-writer of My Brilliant Friend. “It’s even more moving and emotional than a love story.”

Friendships are notoriously more complicated than romances. “Lila has this wild brilliance and she’s always pushing Elena out into the wider world,” says executive producer Jennifer Schuur (a producer on Hannibal and a writer on "Big Love"). "It’s not always just fun and laughter. There’s actually competition and rivalry.”

#2. It’s based on one of the most popular novels of this decade

Elena Ferrante’s four Neapolitan Novels - "My Brilliant Friend (2012)," "The Story Of A New Name (2013)," "Those Who Leave And Those Who Stay (2014)," and "The Story Of The Lost Child (2015)" - have been literary sensations, selling over 10m copies and seeing Ferrante named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2016 - despite being a pseudonym who never does public interviews.

"The Story Of The Lost Child" was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize and won a Gold Independent Publisher Book award in 2016. "Ferrante’s novel is like an addiction,” says Costanzo. “Once you start reading, you cannot stop."

#3. The performances are bellissimo

The producers auditioned almost 9 000 children in Southern Italy looking for the child leads, finally settling on Elisa del Genio and Ludovica Nasti as the young Elena and Lila, and Margherita Mazzuco and Gaia Girace as their teenage selves. 

None of them had any professional acting experience but the extensive casting process paid off: as the Rotten Tomatoes critics consensus puts it, “My Brilliant Friend is an expansive epic that gleans rapturous beauty from the most desolate of circumstances, but it is the intimacy between the central duo - and the remarkable performances that bring them to life - that audiences will remember most vividly."

#4. It’s a different side of Italy

My Brilliant Friend is set in post-World War II Naples, but it’s far from the postcard view of Italy we’re accustomed to. “They are kids coming from the Rione, a suburb of Naples full of new houses built in the middle of nothing,” says Constanza. “So it’s a very different perception from what we know about Naples.”

"This neighbourhood shapes the way they see the world,” says Schuur. “It is violent, rough, and scary at times."

It’s also "deeply patriarchal," she adds, set during a time when “women were expected to hew to those basic roles: you will be a mother, a wife, and a housekeeper.” Much of the story is about the friends’ desire to go to school and change their place in society - or as Schuur puts it, their “unwillingness to be treated the way at that time men were allowed to treat women.”

#5. It’s been renewed for a second season after rave reviews

Halfway through its first season, HBO announced they were renewing "My Brilliant Friend" for another season, which will be based on the second book of the series, "The Story Of A New Name." No real surprise there, since "My Brilliant Friend" currently has a 94% critics rating and 93% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes, having featured in Best Of 2018 lists in the likes of The Hollywood Reporter, Rolling Stone, Time, Vox and The Wall Street Journal.