The accelerated rise of streaming services makes you think. You wonder, “Where is the service for me, just me? What is the service that’s worth my money?”
It’s stating the obvious that Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and now Apple TV+ and Disney+ exist to lure viewers from traditional TV, and it’s costing them a lot. Disney is expected to spend US$18.7-billion, AT&T, owners of the coming Warner Media platform, is expected to spend US$10-billion and Netflix’s budget is at about US$9-billion.
Yet some of you are thinking, “thanks for nothing.” Unless you want to channel the Force and consume more Star Wars spinoffs or unless the next season of The Crown is your idea of total happiness, you can be lost.
If you’re one of the lost and want adult, eclectic diversions, then the under-the-radar service Acorn TV might be for you. Earlier this week, in this space I was telling you about BritBox and what it offers for the holidays. Well, Acorn relies a lot on British content, but not exclusively. You want Scandinavian noir with subtitles? It’s there.
A hammy comedy from Australia that seems to be a familiar format, but isn’t? That too.
One of Acorn’s British gems is the one-off drama Care, written by Jimmy McGovern (Cracker, The Lakes) and Gillian Juckes. It’s a social-issue observational drama with enormous power. Essentially, it’s the story of a single mother, Jenny (Sheridan Smith), trying to look after her mother when Mom (Alison Steadman) has a stroke and develops dementia. Despite the melodrama, it remains anchored in the ordinary struggles of life in that situation. Anyone who has ever been ambushed by the car-parking fees at a hospital will recognize the texture of it.
The story is about failure, which isn’t uplifting, but formidably true. The hospital wants the patient out, the local authorities have few staff and everything in the struggle to get care for the parent is a bureaucratic nightmare of tests and waiting periods. Nothing goes right, but what’s captivating is the arresting, precise nature of the story.
Manhunt, one of the biggest hits in Britain this year, is also deeply sobering. It’s a murder mystery but with a unique perspective, being based on the memoirs of an ordinary English detective who handled one extraordinary case. Martin Clunes, familiar to British TV aficionados from the comedy series Doc Martin, plays Detective Colin Sutton with enormous grace and authenticity. What makes the miniseries distinctive is its ordinariness and deep connection to the reality of present-day Britain.
A young woman is found murdered in a public park. With painstaking work, the police connect the murder to two others. The tabloid press gets wind of the connections and the police face a moral quandary about using the press. The storyline is so moored in the real that you can practically smell the damp grass.
The Truth Will Out is far from British. It’s a Swedish crime drama that the producers have said it “breaks the traditional Nordic noir pattern and moves into the subgenre of the dominant traditional inspector/detective crime genre.” It is certainly hard to define and what links it by coincidence with Manhunt is that the lead detective is also played by a comedian.
Robert Gustafsson is considered Sweden’s best comic and here he plays a morose officer put in charge of a team that looks at cold cases. Nobody wants to join him, so he ends up with a ragtag team. Underlying the series is a dour dark humour, and all of it, in plot and attitude is about the elusiveness of truth. Its based on a real case in Sweden – a man who confessed to several crimes, was convicted and then released when it emerged he’d concocted everything.
In a similar but more starkly melancholy vein, there is Rebecka Martinsson, about a tax lawyer (Ida Engvoll) in Stockholm who reluctantly looks into the death of a childhood friend and finds herself examining a murder case that echoes back over decades of dark local history.
Not everything on the service us about life and death. Also on Acorn you’ll find The Moodys, a very offbeat Australian comedy series. (Recently remade for the Fox network in the United States) Low-key absurd, it’s about an extended family bent on crushing each other’s dreams even as they profess love and support and keep returning to the some family events, over and over.
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