Last year’s Super Bowl, featuring the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots, drew 98.2 million TV viewers in the United States. That was low, as the big game often sees more than 100 million and peaked at 114.5 million in 2015. Low or not, it’s still a formidable figure. It means that by instinct, most broadcasters get out of the way and offer little to compete.
The instinct doesn’t apply to streaming services, nor does it apply to public broadcasters. While this year’s Super Bowl (Sunday, Fox, CTV, 6:30 p.m.) scoops up attention, if you’re not interested, you have options.
For instance, most PBS stations are running a marathon of the excellent adaptation of Howards End – about love, class, property and hypocrisy in Edwardian England – starting at 5 p.m. on Sunday. See, there’s a ton of entertaining content unrelated to the NFL’s big day. There’s more drama, fashion, a gripping nature special and a music special. Herewith, still more competition to Super Bowl conformity.
Next in Fashion (streaming on Netflix) is a new competitive fashion-creation series. You think those NFL players are show-offs and divas? One of Netflix’s odd and, frankly, ill-advised forays into reality TV, the show features 18 contestants broken into nine teams of two, competing for a US$250,000 investment in their brand. None are amateurs, you see, and some have already launched clothing lines or worked for big designers. Hosts Alexa Chung (a British “model and muse” and designer) and Queer Eye’s Tan France try to keep it witty and light, mostly by trying too hard. It’s pretty déclassé competitive TV, but all 10 episodes can be binge-watched, and you might get suckered into the drama. Canadian designer Charles Lu, from Hamilton, is a strong contender from the start.
Miss Americana (streaming on Netflix) might be more Taylor Swift than non-fans can take, but it amounts to an odd coming-of-age story. As filmmaker Lana Wilson and Swift – who is very much in control – structure the narrative, it’s about the singer’s progression from a teen star who craved attention and praise to an adult who cares less about what others think. As such, it’s not high drama. In fact, the main tension is rooted in Swift’s hesitation to make a political statement. There is lots of music, mind you.
The Nature of Things: Nature’s Cleanup Crew (Saturday, CBC NN, 7 p.m. and CBC Gem) takes what would be, for many viewers, an eccentric view of ants, opossums, vultures and foxes. These critters are our friends, apparently. They are the “unsung heroes” in major urban areas, recycling the waste we leave behind. For spectacle, you can see pavement ants at work in New York City, where there are 2,000 for every human. Watch them take care of discarded potato chips, and you’ll have seen something more impressive than anything on High Arctic Haulers. The in-praise-of-scavengers story also goes to Berlin to look at how foxes operate and to Bulgaria and Ethiopia to examine the benign work of vultures.
The Stranger (streams on Netflix) is an eight-part thriller based on Harlan Coben’s novel but transferred in setting from the United States to Britain – specifically, Manchester. Reasons for the change might be many – and possibly financial – but it adds some authenticity to the often low-grade suspense and characterization in Coben’s stories.
A female stranger approaches people and reveals a dark secret about their lives. First up is lawyer Adam Price (Richard Armitage), an ordinary middle-class guy with with two kids and a loving wife named Corrine (Dervla Kirwan). Adam is minding his own business after a kids’ soccer game when the woman sidles up and tells him that two years earlier, Corrine faked a pregnancy and miscarriage. She also suggests he check the DNA of his two sons. He’s astonished. The strange woman says, “Think of me as a stranger who knows, think of me as a stranger who released you from prison.” Soon, the woman is doing the same to others. It is established that everybody has a dark secret to hide, and some of the stranger’s provocations are uncannily correct. There’s not a lot of depth to the series, but it has solid acting – it also features Stephen Rea and Jennifer Saunders in a rare dramatic role – and a genuine air of gloom.
After the Super Bowl, the prestige post-game slot is given to a new episode of The Masked Singer, which will be avoided by many of you, by instinct.
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