Are we in the mood for a slightly bonkers mystery with a side-slice of the supernatural? Well, there’s something to suit that mood. It’s just four episodes and features fine acting, some overcooked dread and it takes only five words to kick-start the gripping gloom: “They’re digging up the woods.”
The Sister (Crave) is what I’m talking about. The first two episodes arrived last weekend and the concluding two are available from Friday. It’s a British production that went to Hulu in the United States recently and has satisfied many viewers in need of spine-tingling distraction.
The story proper starts on your average wet and windy night somewhere in England. An apparently ordinary, thirtysomething chap, Nathan (Russell Tovey), is at home alone reading a book. The doorbell rings. He opens the door to see a wet, bedraggled Bob (Bertie Carvel), a figure from his past, who just says “They’re digging up the woods.” This is enough to terrify Nathan.
Through flashbacks to a New Year’s Eve party years before, we learn that Nathan had met up with Elise (Simone Ashley), a charming young woman. While walking home they are offered a ride by Bob. The three go to the woods and do some drugs. Something happened, but we’re not sure what. We see a body being buried. After that night, what did Nathan do? Well, you’re not going to believe this, but he married Elise’s sister Holly (Amrita Acharia), who is unaware that Nathan was one of the last people to see Elise alive on the night she disappeared.
Got that? Yes it strains credulity but not so much that you’d abandon this mini-series. (It was written by Neil Cross, who created Luther.) What grips you is Nathan’s coming apart. He seems a very unlikely killer. Tovey is excellent at conveying the character’s sense of bewilderment, and you realize you’ve been tricked into sympathizing with a man who might be responsible for a woman’s death. See, he’s under the influence of Bob, who presents himself as an expert on the paranormal. Certainly he’s a cunning manipulator and a sadist who enjoys Nathan’s fear and pain.
What holds the mini-series on the right side of totally bonkers is the picture it delivers of day-to-day life in pain and anguish. Elise and Holly’s parents are still grieving their missing daughter and in a way that’s very plausible. Ordinary life carries on, in a way that’s separate from Nathan’s panicky dread and Bob’s increasing insistence that Elise is haunting them.
The Sister is far from a masterpiece but never dumb. Nathan and Bob are clearly two sides of the same male brain – one sincere and good-hearted, the other being capable of the egotism and lying that ruins women’s lives. It’s taut and gripping enough to beguile you for four hours of chilling fun.
Also airing this weekend
The Equalizer (Sunday, CBS, Global, 10 p.m.) is an action-laden reboot of the old 1980s CBS show that starred Edward Woodward and the 2014 movie starring Denzel Washington. So, yes, it’s about a “good” vigilante who solves people’s problems with a mixture of ferocity and wit. Here, the recipe is rejigged to reflect the times we live in. The central figure is a Black woman, Robyn (Queen Latifah, who is also an executive producer), a former CIA operative who rejects an offer to do violent and dodgy private security work. (The offer is made by a guy played as super-sleazy by Chris Noth.) Instead she sets up her own secret startup as a revenge figure. Latifah fills out the role with ease and there is nothing subtle about the show’s emphasis on a Black woman making things right for people who have been wronged. CBS has high hopes for this audacious concoction, giving it the post-Super Bowl slot to introduce it to viewers.
The post-Super Bowl slot in Canada goes to Holmes Family Effect (Sunday, CTV 10 p.m.) which is, oddly, its own kind of Equalizer. It features contractor Mike Holmes, his daughter Sherry and son Michael. They are called in to help on do-good construction and improvement projects as a “call to action.” The series will also air soon on the Fox network in the United States on Sunday nights.
A good alternative to this entire list is Hache, which returns with a second season on Netflix from Friday. The short synopsis doesn’t do justice to this multi-layered blend of crime drama and feminist revenge tale. The synopsis says, “Helena gains the love of a dangerous heroin cartel leader in 1960s Barcelona and she hones the skills she needs to rise up the ranks.” Fact is, Helena is more like a figure from a nineteenth-century novel drenched in naturalism, than a contemporary heroine. And the sense of distance from the contemporary is aided by being set in repressive, Franco-era Spain. It is made with stunning attention to period detail but that’s only the superficial part of the production. (Created by Veronica Fernandez, specifically for Netflix, in Spanish with English subtitles.) Mainly, it’s about a central figure moulded entirely by the society in which she exists.
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