Late-summer and the pickings are slim.
Summer's batch of reality shows are in full swing and premium-cable dramas have returned – some to disappoint, and others to delight. But there is always new content to seek out on Netflix Canada, where oddities and rare gems are found. Herewith, a week's worth of recommendations.
Overshadowed by the similarly themed Orange Is the New Black, this Australian women's prison drama has developed a cult following wherever it airs. Unlike OITNB, Wentworth has no flights of fancy, no lightness. As a prison drama, it is much closer in tone to Oz than anything else. At first, the main character is Bea (Danielle Cormack), newly incarcerated for the attempted murder of her husband. She gets entangled with Franky (Nicole da Silva), the prison's queen, whose main interest is in seduction. A key presence is Liz (Celia Ireland), the seemingly benign older prisoner who tries to keep the peace. But all of these women are tough – they're criminals and brutal.
The series isn't about what the prison system does to women; it's about what violent women do in prison. It is at times formidably grim.
Less well-known than Netflix's other original programming, this magnificent-looking series offers hour-long profiles of six very different famous chefs – Dan Barber, Massimo Bottura, Francis Mallmann, Niki Nakayama, Magnus Nilsson and Ben Shewry. Nothing like it exists on other channels airing food programs. It's about how each chef was shaped by family and environment, and they prepare a signature dish. It's been called "food porn," but it is deeply illuminating about the career arcs of driven, obsessed chefs, and a highlight is the story behind
Magnus Nilsson's small restaurant in tiny Jarpen, Sweden, of all places.
This chilling, made-for-TV movie is about the real-life relationship between British serial killer Fred West and Janet Leach, a social worker in training who witnessed police interrogations of West in the role "appropriate adult" – an independent witness who safeguards the rights of people deemed vulnerable in police custody. Emily Watson plays Leach and Dominic West (from The Wire and The Affair) is the murderer who, along with his wife, killed at least 12 young women and girls. It's a disconcerting drama as West reveals details of his crimes to Leach, who was deeply unprepared for the experience. What Leach eventually brought to the circumstance was a sense of humanity utterly lacking in West. While absorbing, Appropriate Adult is far from easy viewing.
This short-run BBC series is a sly comedy, sending up the personal lives and political machinations of the British ambassador (David Mitchell), his wife Jennifer (Keeley Hawes) and various staff at an embassy in the fictional country of Tazbekistan. The slyness is in the satire of the pretensions of the embassy staff and the pressures put on them by the Foreign Office back in London. There's a running theme about the embassy's contacts with a group of rebels who wish to overthrow the authoritarian leader of Tazbekistan – a man embassy staff must be friendly with at all times.
This strange, true-crime documentary series is notable for its sideways exploration of murders – the emphasis is on the location and environment as clues to the murders covered. This is crime storytelling as TV art, with a twist of noir. There are dramatizations galore, but the focus is on the larger canvas, and it looks stunning. In one episode, a quiet Rocky Mountain community, a place that looks idyllic, is revealed as something else entirely when the body of a local mother is found beheaded. The series' telling tagline is: "Every place beautiful. Every place deadly."
A mini-series made for the Irish state broadcaster RTE, Amber is the about the investigation of a missing girl, Amber. What viewers see is the 14-year-old's father dropping her at a friend's house, and then Amber heading off somewhere else, never to be seen again. Her parents (Eva Birthistle and David Murray) are separated, and they are forced into an uneasy reunion. Each episode follows the case from the perspective of one character, amounting to a very non-linear narrative. Suburban Dublin is portrayed as a place of chilling banality. Fair warning – there was uproar when the series aired in Ireland, because it did not offer a clear conclusion and went instead for an elliptical ending. The journey there is suitably menacing, though.
Hit and Miss
This is a peculiar entry in the hit-man genre. Created by Paul Abbott, who also wrote Shameless and State of Play. Hit and Miss stars Chloë Sevigny as Mia, a "preoperative transgendered woman" who is also a cool assassin. She earns large fees for killing people, but suddenly becomes responsible for a bunch of kids following the death of her ex-girlfriend. All of this sounds highly strange, but the series has a calm beauty to it. Much of it is set in the English countryside, which looks breathtaking. Few actors would be brave enough to undertake this most challenging of roles, but Sevigny is game. As in Shameless, Abbott is toying with our idea of family – Mia is an unconventional mother with a bizarre source of income, but she and her work are vital to the family's continuance.