Broadly speaking, there are also two kinds of British murder-mystery series. One kind is so assiduously grim and dark that it makes you begin to wonder whether Britain’s brooding skies are in fact made of actual slate. The other kind is a cheerful sort of thing made for the dunking of digestive biscuits into nice cups of tea as the bodies turn up remarkably unbloodied in quaint cottage gardens full of riotously blooming floral borders.
Queens of Mystery is very much of the latter persuasion, and an agreeable little endeavour it is – not least for the fact that all the important roles are played by women of a certain age. Our heroine, or at least the first of them, is Detective Sergeant Matilda Stone (Olivia Vinall), a woman returning to the gorgeous little town where she was raised by her three aunts.
You see, Matilda’s mum disappeared when Matilda was three, and that provides a supplementary mystery running beneath these three feature-length whodunits. Supplementary snooping is supplied by the aforementioned aunts – all three of whom just happen to be crime novelists.
Cat (Julie Graham) is the slightly rock’n’roll one; Beth (Sarah Woodward) is the slightly mumsy one, and Jane (Siobhan Redmond) is the slightly spinstery one. As it happens, Cat is the only one of the sisters nominated for this year’s Golden Pickaxe award, a crime-fiction gong sponsored by Lady Hiddledean (Doc Martin‘s Selina Cardell), the ageing aristocrat who lives in the local stately manor.
Literary types are piling into town for the award ceremony, and it quickly becomes apparent that crime writing can be a deadly business. Series creator Julian Unthank (who has previously written a bunch of Doc Martin episodes) provides a solid cast of suspects and neat little web of motives while foreshadowing that the put-upon Matilda is also going to have to choose between a couple of potential love interests.
You wouldn’t subscribe to Acorn just for this fairly modest original production. But if you’re getting Acorn for its big library of British TV and movies (complemented by quite a bit of telly from the Australian ABC and North American networks) you might bung it on your watch list.
The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show
Amazon Prime Video
American country star Kacey Musgraves brings us the feel-good hit of the summer in this delightfully daggy Christmas special. Those who can’t cop James Corden in any setting needn’t be too alarmed; he’s only there to help open proceedings with a goofy slapstick duet on Let It Snow.
As Musgraves channels the spirit of Sonny and Cher, the guest who sticks around longest is Dan Levy (Schitt’s Creek), as a decidedly arch kind of elf. Others include Lana Del Rey, Fred Armisen, Camila Cabello and Australia’s own Troye Sivan.
The Movies That Made Us
Adopting the good-natured humour, the rich nostalgia and the incredibly informative format of the The Toys That Made Us (Netflix), this new series is an absolute hoot. It’s also a reminder that some of the movies that defined the ’80s and ’90s almost never came out at all – and that they were very different animals to the ones in the first drafts of the scripts. Ivan Reitman and Dan Aykroyd lead the look back at Ghostbusters, and we also get to go behind the scenes of Dirty Dancing, Die Hard and Home Alone.
Bible Writers’ Room
The Australian sketch enthusiasts of Cameralla Comedy hit upon a half-decent idea with the concept of a tent full of fractious first-century TV-writer types knocking out the Gospels for a deep-pocketed client.
Sadly, in the first batch of snack-sized episodes, they don’t do much with it. Troy Larkin, Nathan Strauss, Natalie Bond and David Gannon bring a great deal of brio to the key roles of Matthew, Mark, Luka and John, but it’s not a patch on the far more thoughtful Mr. Deity (also on YouTube).
Work in Progress
This poignant new half-hour series has a real heaviness to begin with. It could hardly not be heavy considering that it begins with middle-aged Chicagoan Abby (Abby McEnany) explaining her suicidal ideation to her therapist only to twig that her therapist has died half-way through that explanation. But as the early episodes of the series progress, there’s a kind of lubrication that allows the weight to travel more easily – a bit like the sweeping of the ice in Olympic curling.
“I’m 45, I’m fat, I’m this queer dyke who [hasn’t] done shit in her life,” Abby says by way of explaining part of her misery.
The semi-autobiographical series quickly makes clear that all is not lost. Abby has some amazing friends and relatives, a new shot at romance, and the ability to fend off impertinent questions by making clear that it’s not her job to explain anything that you can just Google.
There might even be a chance for redress from Saturday Night Live‘s Julia Sweeney.
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Ghosts of Sugar Land
A short but affecting documentary in which the young Muslim friends of American alleged ISIS member Warren Clark look back on their innocent relationships with him, and at his conversion to Islam and sudden radicalisation.
Though the friends shed a good deal of light on the alienation that contributed to Clark’s decision to allegedly join ISIS in Syria, they simultaneously provide insight into their own lives as Texas-born Muslims who have largely embraced the mainstream culture of their often hostile environment. Well worth checking out.
*Stan is owned by Nine, the publisher of this masthead.