It’s easy to rely on Netflix’s algorithms to toss up TV that falls into your viewing wheelhouse. But in our streaming-glutted world, it’s also easy to forget that there are other sources for great shows that might get overlooked. So the Free Press has got your back, with a semi-regular feature highlighting noteworthy new shows and In Case You Missed It oldies.
An algorithm might not have put together Nazi hunters, Yakuza wars, makeshift families and magicians, but they’re all part of this edition of Don’t Sleep on This.
Now streaming on Amazon Prime
If you want a dose of ultra-violent, stylish wish fulfilment with a comic-book vibe, Prime’s new series Hunters delivers. Set in 1977, the drama features Al Pacino as Meyer Offerman, the leader of a ragtag band of Nazi hunters, tracking down war criminals who have reinvented themselves in America and dispatching them in appropriately gruesome ways.
Logan Lerman plays Jonah, a smart but rebellious 21-year-old whose grandmother, a concentration camp survivor, is murdered in their New York home. Convinced it wasn’t merely a robbery gone wrong, he finds her killer, a former member of the SS, masquerading as a kindly toy-store owner.
Offerman, who knew Jonah’s grandmother in the camps, lets him in on the clandestine war she was leading, which includes Canadian character actor Saul Rubinek, Carol Kane and Josh Radnor on the side of the vigilantes, and Lena Olin, Dylan Baker and a chilling Greg Austin on the side of the would-be Fourth Reich.
There are real problems here — the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum’s complaints about the show inventing circumstances of torture and murder at the notorious concentration camp are valid; the atrocities that took place are vile enough that embellishing them is distasteful — but watching real Big Bads get their comeuppance is endlessly satisfying.
Thursdays, 7:30 p.m., ABC Spark
Australian comedian Josh Thomas is best known for Please Like Me (streaming on Netflix), the semi-autobiographical series he wrote and starred in about a recently out 20-something man named Josh whose mother is clinically depressed. The show won critical praise for the pragmatic but sensitive way it dealt with depression and suicidal ideation, but also for its sweetly rambling storylines about dating and friendship.
Thomas’s new series, Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, is cut from the same cloth — it’s a sitcom without any tiresome sitcom tropes, relying on offbeat, character-driven humour and well-placed pathos.
Creator Thomas plays Nicholas, an Australian entomologist who is visiting with his father’s new family in California when his father reveals he has terminal cancer, and asks Nicholas to be the guardian of his half-sisters, Genevieve (Maeve Press) and Matilda (Kayla Cromer).
The show, which airs on Freeform in the U.S. and ABC Spark in Canada, is clearly part of the Disney-owned network’s shift into less traditional "family" territory (the show debuts with a prolonged makeout session between Nicholas and his boyfriend). Thomas takes issues that would otherwise be the subject of Very Special Episodes — death, grieving, autism, bullying — and approaches them in a way Esquire called "judgement-free and melodrama-averse." All the characters are flawed; Nicholas can go from having a triumphant parenting moment to being an insufferable brat in a single episode.
The young actors are lovely, without any child-actor precociousness. Press’s intense little face is surrounded by a cloud of black hair that looks like it belongs to an older woman; she’s simultaneously wise for her 15 years and a gawky child. Cromer, who is herself neuroatypical, gives Matilda a single-minded focus that can obscure her fragility.
Matilda is trying to methodically tick all the boxes that lead to adulthood — getting drunk, going to a rager, having sex — and an episode in which she loses her virginity is an example of all the things Everything… does well, handling the fraught issue of consent with necessary shades of grey. She’s 17, a bit drunk and autistic, so the experience is at first framed as an assault, though she initiated it. Nicholas is at a loss to explain to the rules-driven teen why he’s allowed to have sex drunk and she evidently isn’t. "I’m high-functioning!" she yells at him when he brings up her lack of ability to read social cues.
It airs weekly, and select episodes are available on-demand to stream.
Now streaming on Netflix
This BBC/Netflix co-production is a Japanese twist on the British police procedural — the title translates to Duty/Shame — that will appeal to viewers who enjoy Line of Duty, but with less focus on police work and more on the underworld.
A Tokyo detective, Kenzo Mori (the soulful Takehiro Hira), is sent to London to bring back his brother, Yuto (Yosuke Kubozuka), whom everyone thought was dead. Yuto has killed the nephew of a Yakuza boss using a sword belonging to a rival boss, inspiring a gang war.
It only gets more complicated from there: tie in a half-Japanese junkie rent boy (the scene-stealing Will Sharpe), a tormented Scottish cop (the always great Kelly Macdonald), a rebellious teenage daughter, a flamboyant but deadly British gang leader (Peaky Blinders’ Charlie Creed-Miles) and the Albanian mob, not to mention a lot of bloody revenge being wreaked in Tokyo, where Kenzo’s partner is working to end the war and his wife is taking care of his aging parents.
Torn between his duty to see justice served and his love for his brother — not to mention some unresolved daddy issues — Kenzo has to work out whether to deliver Yuto into the hands of the police or the Yakuza, or to let him go free, with the body count getting higher with every day he delays (this is not a show for anyone who’s squeamish about blood).
It sounds grim, but there’s a fair bit of levity — thanks mostly to Sharpe’s character, who hides his spiralling sadness with wisecracks — and occasional forays into animation for flashbacks (more of this would have been even better) and even an odd but affecting black-and-white modern dance segment.
Wednesdays, 10 p.m., Showcase
It would have been easy to dismiss this Syfy series when it premièred in 2015. Fans of the books by Lev Grossman were put off by the modifications to his trilogy about a group of students attending a high school for magicians. Making Brakebills a college instead, and populating it with a bunch of too-pretty actors was immediately off-putting. The special effects were often hokey and it often felt just like any WB-style fantasy-tinged show, but with more sex and swearing.
Except… at least once an episode, there would be something that elicited a gasp, either of wonder or fear, some glimmer of, well, magic. And as it’s progressed (it’s now in its fifth season), our attachment to the characters has deepened (they’re no longer the wrong representation of their namesakes in the books, but entirely their own people) and the members of the ensemble cast — each one a mess of unresolved issues — have a tetchy bond that fuels the almost weekly quests to save the world (which could be Earth or any of the worlds in the multiverse, including enchanted Fillory, a kind of bizarro Narnia).
It’s still overplotted and it can be glib, but can also be wildly inventive and hilarious, taking its obvious Harry Potter and Narnia influences and tweaking them mercilessly. It owes a debt to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, both in sassiness and style (there are musical episodes) and in unexpected emotional resonance — the tearjerker season 4 finale rivals Buffy’s final episode in that regard.
Full seasons are available on iTunes; season 5 is airing weekly, with streaming episodes available on Thursdays.
Senior copy editor
Jill Wilson writes about culture and the culinary arts for the Arts & Life section.
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