Best British (Commonwealth) TV from Acorn Media in June 2015

Harry Acorn Media RLJ Entertainment

Harry Acorn Media RLJ Entertainment

By Kieran Kinsella

Acorn Media have long been known as the U.S. distributors of the finest British TV shows but in the last few years they’ve cast their net a little further to cover the former British Empire. Over the next few weeks they’ll be releasing some of the very best dramas from around the English speaking world. So without further ado, let me begin this week’s reviews with a saga from the ends of the Earth — literally!

Harry is a detective show from the land down under the land down under: New Zealand. As anyone who has seen Black Sheep or Lord of the Rings knows, New Zealand produces a wide variety of dramas ranging from the comically absurd to the brilliant. Harry is closer to the latter although it’s 21st century, metropolitan setting is far removed from the snow capped mountains of Peter Jackson’s Oscar winning trilogy.

The titular character is Harry Anglesea a Samoan born detective played by Oscar Kightley. He is a a conflicted character. Professionally, he is a psycho-analytical, tenacious investigator. At home he is an awkward, emotionally stunted single parent. His boss in the Major Crime Unit is Detective Senior Sergeant Jim Stockton, aka “Stocks” played by Sam Neill. Yes Sam Neill of Jurassic Park. This fellow gets around. He just finished a season of the Birmingham based UK crime drama Peaky Blinders, and here he is at the other end of the world in a New Zealand based cop drama. Well, even though he’s often mistaken for an American Sam was actually born in Northern Ireland to an English mother and a New Zealand born father. So I guess you could say he has come full circle. With that said he seems to have found his niche: a hard headed, foul mouthed police chief. That’s the role he played in Peaky Blinders and he he is again in familiar territory as the hard nosed Stokes. Despite his prickly nature he’s actually the ideal foil for Harry. When Harry gets caught up in Wallanderesque moments on introspection Harry is there to drag him back to Earth.

The bad news for those who wanted to emigrate to New Zealand after watching Lord of the Rings is that New Zealand’s inner cities are beset by the same kind of drug fueled crimes that tarnish English speaking cities ranging from Detroit to Manchester. The good news is that gritty scripts coupled with top notch acting equals great TV. As with the two Jacks (Irish and Taylor) in Harry Acorn have unearthed another gem from a former British colony. It’s not family friendly, but neither is Luther and that has never hurt its ratings. This would be a really good time to subscribe to Acorn TV so you can catch an episode of Harry for the next six weeks beginning on 1 June.

New Worlds Acorn Media RLJ Entertainment

New Worlds Acorn Media RLJ Entertainment

It’s been a little while since Channel Four caused enough ripples to catch the attention of Best British TV but the UK’s third network hit a home run with the period drama New Worlds. It’s the long awaited sequel to 2008’s The Devil’s Whore and is set in the 1680s as British settlers left Britain for a new life in Massachusetts. Despite the bawdy legends perpetuated by playwrights such as Sheridan, life in England under Charles II wasn’t a bowl of cherries. In fact, the mustachioed monarch was as much of a tyrant as his round head fearing predecessors.

The drama unfolds on both sides of the Atlantic and we witness most of the events from the perspective of the young protagonists. In the U.S. Joe is faced with the uncomfortable realization that his Dad is a “land pirate.” Legally speaking, his girlfriend is scarcely better as she is a monarch hating revolutionary. Meanwhile in the UK, Freya Mavor is kidnapped by an outlaw named Abe. Despite her initial misgivings, Stockholm syndrome takes ahold of her and she develops a strong rapport with her captor.

The love affairs of the central characters play out against a backdrop of political intrigue and violent conquest of native American lands. Sex and violence are plentiful but what would you expect from a show featuring 50 Shades of Grey star Jamie Dornan? Like Harry it’s not really family viewing but it is well worth watching especially if you’re a fan of historical epics like The Tudors and The White Queen. The 2 disc, four episode DVD boxset hits stores on 2 June. The recommended retail price is a very reasonable $39.99. Click below for a preview.

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