Scrolling Acorn TV: 10 Under-the-Radar Series to Stream Right Now

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Scrolling Acorn TV: 10 Under-the-Radar Series to Stream Right Now

There is something soothing about watching television made wholly for a foreign audience. Not a foreign audience plus Netflix. Not a foreign audience plus PBS. Not a foreign audience plus global cult comedy and/or sci-fi fans. Just, television not made with American viewers (or critics, or trending-topic hot takes) in mind. Not only is all the baggage that accompanies watching TV made for Americans absent, so is the pressure to participate in any #watercooler conversations about it. As much as I love being intellectually, ideologically invested in the art made for my American eyeballs, getting a chance to let that go and just enjoy a good serial story can be such a relief.

Enter: Acorn TV, one of two major subscription streaming services (along with BritBox) available to international audiences interested in watching content from across the pond. Well, across several ponds—in addition to series from Ireland and the U.K., Acorn TV also distributes content from Commonwealth countries (Australia, New Zealand, Canada), as well as a handful of series from elsewhere in Europe (Sweden, Spain, France).

For those ready to pay for it, access to the Acorn TV library is remarkably reasonable: $4.99 per month, or $49.99 per year. [Editor’s note: As of April 3, 2019, the monthly rate will increase to $5.99 per month. The yearly rate will remain the same.] However, if you happen to be a member of your local public library, you may be able to gain access for even cheaper—as in, free. Acorn TV’s inclusion in your library system’s digital services package may vary (my Maryland libraries have it, my Wyoming libraries don’t), but it is absolutely worth looking into if Acorn TV is something you’re interested in but can’t afford to pay for out of pocket. And if your local library doesn’t have Acorn TV, it is equally worth you asking them to get it. Your libraries work for you! Let them do their magic.

That bit of service journalism complete, let’s dive into some of the best bets for you to start with once you get your subscription (or 7-day free trial) set up.

Less whimsical in its organizational philosophy than, say, Netflix or VRV, Acorn TV limits its categories to Most Popular, Staff Picks, Only on Acorn TV, Drama, Mystery, Comedy, Documentary, Foreign Language and Feature Film. A lot of the big-name series can be found in multiple categories, including Detectorists, Foyle’s War, Vera, Murdoch Mysteries, Doc Martin, Midsomer Murders, Agatha Christie’s Marple and The Hour, but I am going to operate under the assumption that none of these series need our help to bring in audiences. Instead, I’ve picked 10 worthwhile series you might flick past on the way to those more well-known ones, not realizing what you’re missing out on. From complex longform murder mysteries to brief, sharp sitcoms, this list has something for everyone.

1. Mystery Road
Category: Mystery, Only on Acorn TV, Acorn TV Original
Country of Origin: Australia

The trailer calls Mystery Road “Australia’s answer to True Detective,” but if anything, it’s much nearer in spirit to Bosch, featuring a sharp, stoic detective (Aaron Pedersen) so driven by a sense of moral righteousness that he ends up a lone wolf in a sea of institutional and cultural corruption, and shot with a cinematically breathtaking sense of sun-baked noir. I would recommend Mystery Road regardless, but the fact that Pedersen, and the detective he plays, are both Aboriginal, and that his detective, Jay Swan, is investigating crimes deeply informed by generations of institutional racism and injustice is a significant draw: The first season of Mystery Road takes place on and around an enormous cattle station that contains the only natural source of water for miles, and has been owned by a local white family for more than a century despite that water source being a sacred site to the local Aboriginal people. As will be obvious to anyone scanning the queue, Acorn TV is a pretty white place; for a show like Mystery Road to be made available, and for it to treat the Aboriginal people of Australia with nuance and respect, is important. For it to be a model for more, similarly diverse and complex shows to come, even more so.

2. Raised by Wolves
Category: Comedy, Only on Acorn TV
Country of Origin: U.K.

Raised by Wolves, a family comedy created by sisters Caitlin and Caroline Moran (the former of How to Be a Girl YA fame), is its own beast, but if you were looking for American analogues, the best you could probably manage is some kind of cross between Stuck in the Middle, Raising Hope and Pete and Pete—except blue, blue, blue, blue. Starring Spy’s Rebekah Staton as Wolverhampton single mum Della, raising her six kids (three teen girls and three “babbies” too young to have meaningful plot arcs) on a mix of brassiness, secondhand smoke and fuck-the-man self-sufficiency, Raised by Wolves is doing SO MUCH, and I am SO HERE for it. One possible analogue from that side of the pond might be Chris O’Dowd’s Moone Boy (available on Hulu), but that series has an inherent sweetness that Raised by Wolves completely eschews. Just watch Raised by Wolves. You will love it.

3. Agatha Raisin
Category: Mystery, Comedy, Only on Acorn TV, Acorn TV Original
Country of Origin: U.K.

Maybe you know her from Ugly Betty. Maybe you know her from Catastrophe. Maybe you know her from The Lobster (although I can’t imagine you know her from The Lobster). Wherever you know her from, once you’ve watched the first 10 minutes of Agatha Raisin, Scottish actress Ashley Jensen will be forever tied in your imagination to M.C. Beaton’s infamous PR guru-turned-amateur-Cotswolds-sleuth. Jensen is excellent in this zippy series, which recently rolled out a three-part second season—and not just because she’s mastered the dark art of skipping around cobblestone streets and plush lawns in towering stiletto heels. She’s excellent because she’s so deeply believable as a sharp businesswoman whose PR acumen has masked her debilitating inability to fit in with everyday people, a genius/outsider combination that is killer for any young retiree looking to take up unmasking, well, killers. In a streaming landscape so full of murder investigations framed only in the grimmest, most visually washed-out ways possible, Agatha Raisin is a bright breath of fresh Cotswolds air.

4. The Art Detectives
Category: Documentary
Country of Origin: U.K.

The documentary section may not be Acorn TV’s biggest draw, but it has plenty of gems to offer those looking for a break from widowed Brits discovering dark secrets about their recently murdered spouses—like, for example, The Art Detectives, whose three seasons follow art dealer Dr. Bendor Grosvenor, art historian Jacky Klein and social historian Emma Dabiri as the traverse the British countryside seeking out lost treasures and delving into the histories and mysteries behind each piece. Anglophiles and art lovers alike will get a lot out of this series, as will people who dig the vibe of Antiques Roadshow but wish it had the range for deeper focus.

5. Finding Joy
Category: Comedy, Only on Acorn TV, Acorn TV Original
Country of Origin: Ireland

Don’t be fooled by the eerily familiar details that open this awkwardly excellent Irish single-cam sitcom from comedian Amy Huberman. Despite being about a single, (“talking”) dog-owning woman stumbling into a professional renaissance even as she is still reeling from a recent breakup, Finding Joy is not an Irish version of the late, great Downward Dog. It is, rather, an investigation of Joy (Huberman) undergoing significant growing pains both as an adult and as an anxious person who feels trapped by her brain’s inability to let her be in the world in the same way as other “normal” people are. (Honestly, the talking dog is an irritating, poorly executed distraction.) It is a deep, funny show that you’ll eat up before you’ve realized it, and it will send you looking for more of Huberman’s stuff the moment the final episode ends. Which, luckily, Acorn TV has all ready for you.

6. The Level
Category: Mystery, Only on Acorn TV, Acorn TV Original
Country of Origin: U.K.

There are more original mysteries/thrillers available on Acorn TV than any brief primer could do justice to—including a disturbing number of mystery-thriller series about people who, after their spouses disappear and/or die, learn that those same spouses were in actuality strangers harboring major secrets. (Amazon Prime has its own share of U.K. imports with this same premise premiering in the first half of 2019; at this point, I am seriously considering sending up SOS flares for all married Brits.) But as one of the few series on the entire service to feature a non-white lead, The Level is a good one to start with. Starring Karla Crome (of You, Me and the Apocalypse and late-era Misfits) as a celebrated young detective from the National Crime Division assigned to Brighton CID to help investigate the murder of a suspected drug trafficker who she has a deep, secret family-like tie to—and who she was with the night he was murdered—The Level is as gripping and suspenseful as any gritty British crime thriller about an idyllic community’s deadly secrets. As an added bonus, it co-stars Doctor Who’s Noel Clarke and Downton Abbey’s Robert James-Collier playing way off-type from whatever fans of either cult favorite might expect. And, at only six episodes, it’s a series you can get through well before your trial period is up.

7. 800 Words
Category: Drama, Comedy, Only on Acorn TV
Country of Origin: Australia/New Zealand

If you can get past the uncanny valley of star Erik Thomson looking exactly like an AI-generated cross between Kiefer Sutherland and Jack Coleman, 800 Words may be the sweet, surf-happy family dramedy you’ve been looking for. Following the lives of widower George Turner (Thomson) and his two teen children (Melina Vidler and Benson Jack Anthony) as they transplant themselves from bustling Sydney to tiny Weld, New Zealand after the death of George’s wife, 800 Words is both more and less substantial than you might expect. Despite being about a family struggling to come back from a very deep grief, the show is warm and lighthearted, with sharp comedy beats and more romantic possibilities established in the pilot alone than might seem reasonable. (These are, nevertheless, developed in good taste.) And despite introducing the Turner family to Weld by rolling a giant spherical sculpture into the nose of their rental car and then sinking the entirety of their possessions to the bottom of the ocean as the freight ship Titania collapses mid-sail, the weight of the loss the whole family carries is never brushed aside. The title card Acorn TV has chosen for this series imparts none of this, unfortunately. I implore you to click on it anyway.

8. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries / Miss Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries
Category: Mystery
Country of Origin: Australia

This selection is a bit of a cheat, as the first three seasons of this Australian corker have been available on Netflix for several years, but as was just announced at the Television Critics Association’s biannual press tour, Acorn TV that will be the exclusive streaming home for both the feature film return of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries as well as its 1960s-set follow-up, Miss Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries (featuring Phryne’s niece, Peregrine). So, if you haven’t yet hopped aboard Phryne Fisher’s glamorous-lady-adventurer bandwagon, now’s as good a time as any. You will still need access to Netflix to watch the third season, which is not currently available on Acorn TV, but once that sweet, sweet Adelaide jazz club/observatory/natural history museum/airfield feminist murder mystery content hits later this year, Acorn will be the place to be.

9. Restless
Category: Drama, Staff Pick
Country of Origin: U.K.

For those who miss having Hayley Atwell on their screens as a World War II-era Jill-of-all-Trades, the 2012 spy thriller Restless is for you. Also starring Michelle Dockery, Charlotte Rampling, Rufus Sewell and Michael Gambon, this two-parter about two generations of women confronting the complicated nightmare of war, and all the debris it leaves in its wake, is tense and dramatic and just exactly what you want to watch on a long weekend night in. We may never get Agent Carter back, but at least there’s this.

10. Walks with my Dog
Category: Documentary, Only on Acorn TV
Country of Origin: UK

There are any number of thrilling mysteries, dry comedies, or on-brand period dramas I could have slotted into this last spot, but Walks with my Dog, a laid back nature walk reality series that features moderately famous British celebrities rambling the countryside with their beloved beagles, bulldogs and black labrador retrievers, is exactly the kind of show that, were you creating a fictional British streaming service from scratch, you would have to include. Jauntier than Netflix’s import of Secrets of Great British Castles, chiller than PBS’ import of Great British Bake Off, breezier than Acorn’s own The Art Detectives, Walks with my Dog is the ultimate comfort watch for even the mildest of Anglophiles. If you learn something about Britain’s natural history? Great! If you zen out? No problem. If you get inspired to get up off the couch and take your own pup out for a country ramble, all the better. Acorn TV will be waiting for you both whenever you get back.

Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She can be found @AlexisKG.

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