Let’s give thanks for many things but in particular the array of non-English language TV that the streaming wars have brought us. It seemed that in the blink of an eye TV drama and comedy from around the world was available to us. What’s even better is that streaming series with subtitles are avidly consumed. Thumbs-up to that aspect of globalization.
There are other developments in the culture that arrived rapidly, were embraced and need to be condemned. Such as the descent of social media into hate-forums for attacking people who are entirely innocent. But first, the fun, frothy series that wouldn’t exist if viewers weren’t open to everything from the strangeness of Squid Game to the charm of Lupin.
Acapulco (streams on Apple TV+ from Friday) has a ton of heart, plenty of humour and looks stunning. Told in Spanish and English, this coming-of-age story doesn’t set out to break barriers or be scintillating. It anchors itself in seductive cuteness and succeeds.
The premise is an old-fashioned conceit. In the present day, multi-millionaire Maximo (played by Eugenio Derbez, who is the biggest Mexican movie star of the moment) has his nephew Hugo (Raphael Alejandro) over for a chat. On the splendid grounds of his Malibu estate he tells the kid how he got rich and how his life evolved. The kid just wants an expensive gift from the old guy. But Maximo wants to educate the boy on his Mexican heritage, saying “You can’t even speak Spanish without sounding like a spring breaker in Cancun!”
We are taken back to Acapulco in the 1980s, when that part of the world was safer than now, and when young Maximo (Enrique Arrizon) really wanted to work at the fabulous Las Colinas resort. Although poor and naive, he gets the job. His mom thinks he’s going to work at a den of vice and his sister sneers, “Have fun being another cog in the capitalist machine.” What follows is rather like a twist on How I Met Your Mother, but more like how-I-became-rich-without-losing-my-soul. We don’t know if the elder Maximo is a reliable narrator but his adventures amount to a charming fairy tale with oodles of gentle humour. The resort is filmed as a lavishly vivid stunningly colourful place – the colour palette is gorgeous – emphasizing the fairy tale quality. The series is excellent long weekend escapism (two episodes stream now), all innocence and rueful humour.
Also airing/streaming this weekend
15 Minutes of Shame (streams on Crave/HBO) is a serious documentary about the plague of public humiliation on social media. The executive producer is Monica Lewinsky, who describes herself as “patient zero” in the plague. It’s a fascinating, even-handed look at the phenomenon, how some people are deservedly shamed for their actions and how others, innocent of any wrongdoing, have had their lives destroyed. It looks at four specific cases but the meat of the doc is in what historian Tiffany Watt Smith says about “schadenfreude,” and the history of shaming via old-school media. You will think twice about enjoying social-media attacks on individuals and institutions, as you always should. The idea of “cancel culture” is dwelt upon but really it’s about locating when and where empathy was thrown out the window.
The Billion Dollar Code (streams on Netflix) is a new solid four-parter (in German with English subtitles) that’s based on a true story. In Berlin in 1993, two students had an idea for a new technology. With help from some dubious friends – hackers, mostly – they got the concept up and running. It was called Terra Vision and some local tech companies really got behind it. Then along came something called Google Earth, near-identical to Terra Vision. The drama is about patent infringement, but made entertaining by the cast of oddball characters.
Finally, Diana (Sunday, CNN 9 p.m.) is a new six-part doc-series that aims to bring “a fresh and modern context” to the story of Princess Diana’s life. It begins by presenting the young Diana as “The Girl from Norfolk.” Don’t expect much new or scandalous. For something scandalously bad, try Diana: The Musical on Netflix and prepare to be stunned.
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