What to Watch This Winter – Part Two

There’s so much out there, it’s a Sisyphean task to keep current. The more I push that rock up the hill, the more the streaming services rain down shows upon me making me reconsider what I’ve seen and starting all over again. I’m always behind but it doesn’t really matter because with streaming, most of these shows can be watched whenever you want. Trending or not, here are a few more shows to consider (or in some cases, not).


Siobhán Cullen in “Obituary”
Photos courtesy of APC/Hulu


Hulu seems to keep delivering more and more new product. Some of it is terrific and some not so good. In the category of terrific comes the Irish series “Obituary.” Well-written and darkly hilarious, “Obituary” tells the story of Elvira Clancy (Siobhán Cullen), a smart, unemotional young woman living a dead-end existence in small-town Ireland trying to keep her drunken father Ward (Michael Smiley) out of debt and away from temptation. Automatically you know that’s not going to happen. Elvira has managed to get a job at the local newspaper, a tiny rag with a marginal staff. A talented writer, she is relegated to writing obituaries. When cuts must be made, her editor will only pay her per obituary. But this is a very small town and the deaths are few and far between. What’s a girl to do but create some work for herself. And before you can say “Erin go bragh” (“Ireland till doomsday”), the dead bodies begin to pile up.


Michael Smiley in “Obituary”

While not dispatching those who deserve to die, Erin is struggling to maintain normal relationships. Her best friend, the very bosomy Mallory (Danielle Galligan), sets her sights on the one young man Erin fancies, Emerson Stafford (Ronan Raftery), a new hire at the paper who’s investigating the new rash of suspicious deaths.

Only two of the six episodes were released for review, I hunger for the rest. The humor is so dry it crackles, the acting is perfect with nary a wink wink, and the plots are inventive. I suppose the only thing to worry about is that eventually Elvira will run out of bodies. But then again, Oxford is still populated despite all the murders solved by Morse, Lewis and Endeavor.

Now streaming on Hulu.


The second season of this series based on the character created by Lee Child has arrived and none too soon. The first season established Jack Reacher, former Army Special Investigations, as a lone wolf out to track the murder of his brother, a hero in a white hat if there ever was one. Trapped in a corrupt Southern town, he gets to the bottom of the how of his brother’s murder but not so much the why. Enter season two and Reacher is called back to work with his original squad. Someone is killing them off, one by one, in brutal fashion. When one of the originals, missing but with his fingerprints on everything, is suspected of selling out the others, Reacher’s mission is not just to stop the killings but also to clear the name of his protégé.

Starring Alan Ritchson as Reacher, a compelling actor despite his cartoonish bodybuilder shape. Think Arnold Schwarzenegger if he could act. His sly sense of humor keeps the storyline from getting too melodramatic. He is ably supported by Maria Sten, his right hand Frances Neagley, and Serinda Swan as Shaun Sipos, his love interest. Robert Patrick, who deserves better than to always be cast as a villain, is, nevertheless, a juicy bad guy in the guise of Shane Langston, head of security for a private defense contractor. The fate of civilization rests in the hands of Reacher. Based on “Bad Luck and Trouble” by Lee Child, it has been brought to life on the screen by master storyteller Nick Santora, a favorite writer of mine for too many years to count.

Now streaming on Prime Video.


Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Maia Mitchell in “The Artful Dodger”
Photo courtesy of John Platt/Hulu

“The Artful Dodger” 

For those of you familiar with Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” you will remember the Artful Dodger, Fagin’s favorite pickpocket, hand trained to excel at the “art” of thievery. Young Oliver Twist was shanghaied into the criminal gang but was eventually rescued. Fagin was arrested and everyone else scattered to the four winds. In this creative reimagination, the Artful Dodger now lives in Port Victory, Australia under an assumed name, Dr. Jack Dawkins. He put those nimble fingers to better use when he apprenticed to a surgeon while on a ship crossing the ocean. He now practices his craft at a local hospital run by a dangerous quack.

Fagin, having escaped death by hanging in England, has landed in Australia and recognizes Jack right off the bat. He sees a world of glitter, money and jewels and is determined to continue his life of crime with his former protégé back at his side. Dr. Jack is less than willing and must find a way to extricate himself from the very sticky Fagin without endangering his present position. Making things more difficult for him is the arrival into his life of Lady Belle Fox, daughter of the Governor. Belle is an independent, determined young woman who has decided that she will be a doctor and that she will apprentice under Jack. There will be no arguing with her. Belle is extremely well-read and up on all the current medical research. Jack now finds himself between a rock (Belle) and a hard place (Fagin) and must navigate these treacherous waters.

“The Artful Dodger” is fanciful and often heart-stopping as concerns Jack’s future: fame or the gallows, no in between. The casting is as masterful as the writing is imaginative. Thomas Brodie-Sangster (“The Queen’s Gambit,”) is a charming and believable Jack. David Thewlis (Remus Lupin in the “Harry Potter” series) is the charmingly corrupt Fagin and Maia Mitchell (“The Fosters”) is a very charming Belle. Created and written by David Maher, David Taylor and James McNamara, they keep the dialogue crisp and moving.

Now streaming on Hulu.


Clive Owen in “Monsieur Spade”
Photo courtesy of Black Bear/AMC

“Monsieur Spade”

Sam Spade, you remember him, don’t you? He was Dashiell Hammett’s grizzled San Francisco detective in “The Maltese Falcon.” After a final meeting with Brigid O’Shaughnessy, the noir femme fatale of the above-mentioned caper, newly released from prison and on her deathbed, she makes him promise to protect her child, Teresa, a daughter who will inherit a not inconsiderable sum of money when she turns 18. He must also try to find her ex, Teresa’s ne’er-do-well French father.

Sam drops Teresa into a convent in the south of France, not far from where her father last lived. This being a sunny part of the world, he decides to stay, especially when he falls in love with Gabrielle, the beautiful owner of a vineyard.

Tom Fontana (“Homicide”) and Scott Frank (“The Wolverine”), a veritable dream team, have come up with one of the most imaginative “What Ifs?” Sam Spade was the very definition of the film noir anti-hero, so why not have him retire to Provence to escape the murder, mayhem and corruption of San Francisco only to be dropped into the middle of a deadly mystery?

Going backward and forward in time, we see his love affair blossom with Gabrielle and what happens when she dies and he’s left with her grand estate. Laconic, almost existential in attitude, Sam is totally self-focused. No matter, problems still find their way to his doorstep and none are more irritating than the attack on the convent where Teresa is living.  All the nuns were murdered when they would not reveal the location of a mysterious child in their care. Reluctantly, he is forced into the action. Teresa’s missing father, who may be hovering in the background to try to gain possession of his daughter’s recent inheritance, may be involved.

Clive Owen as Sam Spade is the personification of cool. Chiara Mastroianni is Gabrielle and Cara Bossom is the petulant Teresa. Adding to the potential appeal of the series is that it is a full mix of French and British actors, with dialogue in both languages.

The mystery at the root of this effectively noir atmosphere is a story that just doesn’t work. The pace is glacial, made even more so because it takes so long to get to its unsatisfying resolution. So much potential wasted with such a good cast. Truly a case of style over substance.

In French and English with English subtitles.

Streaming January 14, one episode per week, on AMC+ and Acorn TV.


Peter Capaldi and Cush Jumbo in “Criminal Record”
Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

“Criminal Record”

DC June Lenker is young, Black and trying to navigate her way up in the London police department; DCI Daniel Hegarty is white, powerful and soon to retire. An anonymous phone call from a terrorized woman claiming information about a man wrongly convicted of murder is about to change the lives of Lenker and Hegarty. The so-called innocent man was one of Hegarty’s cases from many years ago. Lenker is determined to open up the case; Hegarty will do everything in his power to prevent that. Intransigent, even in the face of new evidence, it’s his legacy being challenged.

Lenker finds more than enough indications that the suspect was railroaded without enough investigation because he was Black with a history of domestic violence. But there were others with similar backgrounds who were overlooked. Hegarty is adamant that race had nothing to do with it, despite indications to the contrary. He can’t have a young, aggressive woman digging into his files and he blocks her at every opportunity, something that makes her even more determined.

She has made a powerful enemy of Hegarty but fearlessly pushes ahead. He uses all of his connections to stall her upward path but still she goes on. Will justice be served? Or is that even in play when a case is closed and locked?

Creator Paul Rutman is interested in the disparity of power, racism and institutional failure. In many ways, he succeeds but often with a buzz saw rather than the scalpel that is needed. Luckily, “Criminal Record” stars Cush Jumbo as Lenker and Peter Capaldi as Hegarty, the Black and white of the scenario. Would that this interesting show had been more compelling. It’s not bad, it’s just not as subtle and interesting as it should have been.

Streaming now, one episode at a time, on Apple TV+.