There is something soothing about watching television made wholly for a foreign audience. Not a foreign audience+Netflix. Not a foreign audience+PBS. Not a foreign audience+global cult comedy and/or sci-fi fans. Just, television not made with American audiences (or critics, or trending topic hot takes) top of mind. Not only is all the baggage that accompanies watching television made for a native audience absent, the pressure to participate in any hashtag watercooler conversations about it is rendered moot. As much as I love being intellectually, ideologically invested in the art made for my American eyeballs, getting a chance to let that all go and just enjoy a good serial story can be such a relief.
Enter Acorn TV, one of two major subscription streaming services* available to international audiences explicitly interested in content from across the pond. Well, across several ponds—in addition to series from Ireland and the UK, Acorn TV also distributes content from elsewhere in the English-speaking world (Australia, New Zealand, Canada), as well as from elsewhere in Europe (Sweden, Spain, France).
(*BritBox, the international streamer officially from the BBC and ITV, is profiled here.)
With its roots planted more firmly on this side of the pond (i.e., in AMC Networks, whose portfolio also includes BBC America, IFC and Sundance Now), Acorn TV is, on the whole, less comprehensive than its BBC/ITV-backed rival—a fact its slightly lower monthly subscription cost reflects. But what it lacks in volume, comprehensive vault access, and next-day soap/news/panel show content, it makes up for in the specificity of its quirky comedy/cozy mystery/gritty thriller curation, the breadth of its international reach, and the speed with which it’s developing its slate of Acorn Originals. From complex longform murder mysteries to short, sharp sitcoms, Acorn TV has something for everyone who’s ever loved British(ish) television.
Cost: $6.99 per month (or $69.99 per year), with a 7-day introductory free trial period. (And yes, annual gift subscriptions are available.)
Pro-tip: It’s worth surfing over to the digital services section of your local public library’s website, as many libraries in the U.S. provide free access to Acorn TV for patrons through RBdigital. If your library isn’t among them, ask! Your libraries work for you; let them do their magic.
Available on: Roku, iTunes, Google Play, Android TV, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV (on supported devices), as well as online at acorn.tv, and through an Amazon add-on subscription (exclusively for Prime members).
What Makes It Unique: Calling all anglophiles! Well, anglophiles, but also Canada-philes, Aussie-philes, Kiwi-philes, plus all the folks forever casting about for their next gritty Scandi-inspired detective thriller. Scripted dramas—mostly mystery, mostly cozy—are king (er, queen) here, but so too are contemporary comedies, foreign language thrillers, and rambling, arty reality fare.
What You’ll Find on This List: As one of the niche streamers in regular rotation in Paste writers’ homes, we’ve got enough outright Acorn favorites to have made this list a classic Top 10er. That said, the entire Acorn TV catalog is still small enough that, like most other small streamers out there, it’s divided its content into a limited number of discrete (but richly populated) categories. To that end, please enjoy the lightning round we’ve tacked on after the main list, which highlights titles from the streamer’s major categories that may not have made our final Top 10, but are still important parts of the Acorn family.
Category: Mystery, Only on Acorn TV, Acorn TV Original
Hails from: Australia
Acorn bills Mystery Road as “Australia’s answer to True Detective,” but if anything, the multiple-award-winning series is even closer in spirit to Bosch, both featuring as it does 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 as it is with a cinematically breathtaking sense of sun-baked noir.
We would recommend Mystery Road regardless—just on a visual level, it has some of the most overwhelmingly gorgeous shots we’ve ever seen on the small screen. (Unsurprisingly, several of the series’ many awards nominations have come courtesy of cinematographer Mark Wareham.) That said, there’s even greater draw in the dual facts that both Pedersen and Jay Swan, the detective he plays, are Aboriginal, and that the rural crimes he ends up investigating are informed by generations of institutional racism and injustice: The murders in the first season center around the question of who has (or should have) rights to access a cattle station’s lone natural water source—a water source which, not incidentally, is also a sacred site for the local Aboriginal people—while the long-awaited second season, which premieres on October 12 and will air on a traditional one-a-week episode schedule through the fall, takes the question of colonialism’s brutal legacy to a fishing community up north. As will be obvious to anyone scanning the platform’s library, 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, is even more so.
Category: Mystery, Only on Acorn TV, Acorn TV Original
Hails from: Australia
Set just before Y2K in the wasted streets of Detective Jay Swan’s tiny mining hometown, Mystery Road: Origin stars Mark Coles Smith as a younger, greener version of the role Pedersen originated, adding not just emotional dimension to the canonically laconic solo investigator, but a knot of challenging family ties and childhood hurts. That all of this wraps around a pile of milestones and biographical details that don’t remotely fit in with the established facts of Pedersen’s Jay—including when and how he meets Mary (Tuuli Narkle), when and how he loses his dad (Kelton Pell), when and how (and where!) he starts his career as a detective, and where, in point of fact, he grew up in the first (i.e., where his ‘country’ is)—well, that’s beside the point. With an eye towards the most visually arresting Outback vistas and the kind of season-long mystery rooted in baked-in racism and the unquestioned legacy of settler colonialist abuse that have long put Mystery Road in a genre class of its own, Mystery Road: Origin is a more than worthy successor to the most viscerally gripping international mystery series that Americans are still sleeping on.
Category: Drama, Only on Acorn TV
Hails from: India
This BBC One series, gorgeously directed by Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding), is exclusively available on Acorn TV in the U.S. Running for six hourlong episodes, and building in both scope and emotional weight as it goes, A Suitable Boy is indeed filled with many suitable and unsuitable relationships throughout. Crossing class, religious, and prejudicial divides in 1950s India, the story introduces us to a number of interconnected families residing in Calcutta and a small village in the north. But the main focus is on Lata Mehra (Tanya Maniktala), a university student whose very Mrs. Bennett-esque mother Rupa (Mahira Kakkar) is determined to arrange a proper marriage for her.
As Lata works through her feelings for her three very different admirers alongside her feelings of duty to her family, she is surrounded by a dizzying number of plots that investigate the social hierarchies across India, in both cities and the country. The most fascinating is that of a playful son of a politician, Maan Kapoor (Ishaan Khatter), who falls in love with a beautiful singer (Saeeda Bai, played by Tabu) many years his senior. Banished to the hinterlands to work through his own feelings and obligations, the roguish Maan (the sort who casually teases his Urdu teacher reading the Quran by asking “any good?”) ends up learning important truths about himself and is forced to finally grow up.
This only dips a toe into A Suitable Boy’s engrossing stories, which do take a little while to get going (especially after introducing so many characters and so many disparate plots to start, which means not all of the land evenly). Despite its short run, though, the series takes its time. In many ways it’s a languid meditation on love, yet simultaneously full of bustling settings and possibilities. Nair has created an atmosphere that is both foreign and familiar, full of intimate spaces and period flourishes. It’s modern, but also bound by the custom of arranged marriage that makes every relationship about much more than just the couple. —Allison Keene
Category: Mystery, Acorn Original
Hails from: Britain (by way of Umbria)
The best thing about Signore Volpe is that it exists. I mean, Emilia Fox is playing a retired spy turned private sleuth while visiting her sister in—and then fully relocating to—the sunny, wine-laden hills of Umbria. Does she skulk around solving mysteries both recent and generations old? She does. Does she start a mature romantic fling with the distinguished captain of the local constabulary? She does! Does she do it all while one-upping her oil-slick MI5 ex (Jamie Bamber) from like three whole countries and a sea crossing away? She does.
The worst thing about Signora Volpe, then, is of course that there’s just three episodes of it. Three long episodes, to be sure, each clocking in over 80 minutes, but still: Emilia Fox is playing a retired spy turned private sleuth! In the sunny, wine-laden hills of Umbria!! And all we get is three episodes? Un orrore.
Category: Mystery, Acorn Original
Hails from: UK
A new period detective series, Dalgliesh follows the character of Detective Chief Inspector Adam Dalgliesh (Bertie Carvel). He’s the creation of critically beloved English novelist P.D. James, who spent a full 44 years of her career (from 1962 to 2008) walking in his shoes. Dalgliesh, in James’ rendering, is something of a paradox: An intensely private, quietly competent detective with London’s New Scotland Yard, he just so happens to also be a critically lauded poet who drives a Jaguar. Add to this the fact that he is, on top of all that, a still-grieving widower, and you’ve got what should amount to any detective-loving TV network’s prestige-adjacent dream.
The show is more work than a cozy British mystery usually is, though. And I’d argue that, despite sporting a plethora of fun early-’70s period details and not incorporating any of the gore and grim-dark elements native to the snow noir or prestige anti-hero models that have been the cozy mystery’s most popular foils these last several years, Dalgliesh isn’t aiming for cozy at all. If I had to draw a comparison to any detective series in television history, it would have to be that other beacon of 1970s police work: Columbo. Not because the audience is on the solution before Dalgliesh even gets to the scene, or because Dalgliesh plays the scruffy, meddlesome clown to trick his main suspect into revealing all, but because both detectives—and therefore, both series—take the lives of the people involved in their respective cases entirely in earnest. Where Columbo’s persistent cleverness ends up making Peter Falk’s series a study in catharsis, however, Dalgliesh’s enduring, preternatural stillness ends up making Bertie Carvel’s almost meditative. What I’m saying is, if you’re going to watch Dalgliesh, put down your phone, turn your subtitles on, and let yourself fall under the spell of television that trusts you to actually watch. [Full review here.]
Category: Drama, Acorn Original
Hails from: Ireland
It’s rare these days to come across an across-the-pond drama whose premise feels entirely fresh—rarer still to find one that doesn’t feature even one (1) depraved small-town murder, or the psychologically battered local detective set to investigate it. So imagine our delight when Acorn’s newest original series, the Carrigeen-set The South Westerlies, hit the streamer in 2020. Not even remotely murder-y, The South Westerlies stars Orla Brady (Into the Badlands, Star Trek: Picard) as Kate Ryan, an environmental consultant for a Norwegian wind energy company who’s been tasked with embedding in her tiny Irish hometown as an undercover lobbyist for a proposed wind farm the community is staunchly resisting. Nevermind the fact that she fled Carrigeen nearly two decades previous, after she got pregnant by her free-spirited ex, Baz (Steve Wall), whose heart was set on starting a pro-surfing career in Hawaii. And nevermind the fact that she cut every friend she had off when she left. As far as NorskVentus is concerned, she’s ideally suited for this extremely sneaky (if environmentally beneficial) role.
Naturally, all the lies Kate has to maintain to pull this job off start unraveling almost immediately, like when her now-grown son, Conor (Sam Barrett), strikes up a friendship with his absentee dad pretty much the minute he meets him. While this familiar, familial drama serves as a solid foundation for the series’ short, six-episode first season, it’s ultimately the ways the town works through their feelings about the proposed wind farm, as a community, that make The South Westerlies so compelling. There’s a strong Gilmore Girls vibe throughout, the town’s residents regularly coming together to lobby for NorskVentus for the installation of universal broadband, or a sponsorship of the local youth camogie team in the same breath as they air their concerns about the wind farm. Where Gilmore Girls really played up the quirkiness of its small-town personalities, though, The South Westerlies leans deeper into the idea that any change in the status quo—even good ones, like a new wind farm, in the middle of a global climate crisis—demands genuine community buy-in, which means talking to people one-on-one, and taking their concerns seriously.
Category: Acorn Original, Comedy
Hails from: Britain
Odd Couple pairings have so much comedic potential built into their DNA, you hardly need to tweak the formula to end up with something fun. Still, writers Holly Walsh (a frequent panelist on QI) and Pippa Brown reached for “a pair of diametrically opposite twentysomething women with the same name discover they’re secret half-sisters at their shared dad’s funeral” and just ran with it—and thank goodness they did. Starring Ellie White as Cathy, the uptight ‘legitimate’ sister who grew up comfortably middle class (think: private school, rowing team, music lessons, etc.) and has a posh adult job, and Lauren Socha as Cat, the cheerfully chill ‘secret’ sister who grew up lower class, has a ‘chavvy’ accent and delivers Postmates, The Other Ones does a good job avoiding the most obvious traps set by its premise—curdling resentment, both between the two Catherines and between their respective moms—and giving its characters instead plenty of common ground to want to work towards together. Cat and Cathy’s burgeoning friendship is the star of the show, but with the big twist in the last few minutes of the Season 1 finale, it also ends up being much closer to the kinds of mysteries shelved alongside it in Acorn’s digital library than anyone could possibly guess from the trailer alone. With Season 2 on the books and rare half-hour episodes, this is one of the most weekend-bingeable series on this list, so if for whatever reason you’re looking for a way to shut out the real world for a solid day (we have some reasons), this would be a great place to start.
Category: Mystery, Only on Acorn, Acorn Original
Hails from: Australia
Watch Miss Fisher Now
Watch Modern Mysteries Now
(Yes, this one is a bit of a cheat, but with such a close connection between the two generations of Ms. Fisher, we couldn’t not include them both.)
Premiering in Australia in early 2012 and reaching the American market via Acorn TV and PBS the following year, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries was the first of a particular subset of plucky lady detective procedurals to hit the small screen. Set in Melbourne in the late 1920s and featuring Essie Davis as Miss Phryne Fisher, international woman of intrigue, adventure and investigative nerve, the series immediately proved how whizbang successful such a specifically feminine take on the private detective business could be, and quickly became a cult hit.
Ms. Fisher’s Modern Mysteries, Acorn TV’s zippy Original spin-off series that recently returned for an even more raucous second season, has taken that cult-hit energy and run with it. Starring Geraldine Hakewill as Phryne’s long-lost niece, Peregrine, who inherits not just her aunt’s estate after Phryne goes missing in a plane accident in the mountains of Papua New Guinea, but also her calling as a private detective who just so happens to also be primed to butt romantic heads with her own handsome local detective (Joel Jackson, stepping charmingly into Page’s more serious shoes), Ms. Fisher’s Modern Mysteries have a slightly different flavor than Phryne’s, but one that’s more than charming enough to turn to Acorn to catch. I mean, as both a lady detective in historic Melbourne and a cozy mystery protagonist on Acorn TV, Miss Phryne Fisher set an impossibly high bar. How lucky are we all, then, that her fictional niece, one Ms. Peregrine Fisher, has found the legs (and go-go boots) to leap high enough to match it.
Category: Comedy, Only on Acorn
Hails from: Britain
One of the gentlest series on television, the wry and warm Detectorists follows two regular blokes (Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones, wonderfully atypical leading men) who find joy and meaning in their sleepy English village by metal detecting. It’s a cutthroat business, turns out, and Crook does a magnificent job of making the smallest details and triumphs and skirmishes feel extraordinary. Detectorists is an unhurried series, one that revels in the rolling hills the men traverse in the hope of finding ancient treasure (before giving up and heading to the pub). Not much happens over the course of three seasons objectively speaking, and yet, the show is wildly compelling and devastatingly lovely. Perhaps Johnny Flynn’s haunting theme song says it best: “Will you search through the lonely earth for me? Climb through the briar and bramble. I will be your treasure … I’m waiting for you.” With only 19 episodes over three seasons, it’s a gem well worth seeking out. —Allison Keene
Category: Cozy Mystery, Acorn Original
Hails from: UK
Newly starring Florence Hall as the platinum-fringed Detective Sergeant Matilda Stone, the series’ taciturn young investigative lead who’s recently taken a job back in her picturebook hometown, Queens of Mystery finally returned for its long awaited second season this past January, and immediately proved it wasn’t a one-hit wonder.
Narrated with arch charm by Juliet Stevenson and featuring idiosyncratic, almost Pushing Daisies-like aesthetics (a comparison only helped by the occasional break from reality), Queens of Mystery remains one of Acorn’s most tonally specific Originals to date. As much a family mystery as it is a “case of the week” procedural, Queens of Mystery derives both its verve and its mystery-solving power from Matilda’s three sharp-as-a-stiletto crime writer aunts, Cat, Jane and Beth Stone (Julie Graham, Siobhan Redmond, and Sarah Woodward, respectively), who raised Matilda after her mother’s mysterious disappearance when she was young. (And as Season 1 hinted at and Season 2 drew into sharper relief, the aunts’ knowledge about Mattie’s mom’s disappearance runs deeper than they’ve been letting on…)
While both Queens of Mystery seasons are tragically brief (just three 2-part mysteries each), what time it has it uses well. We want you to watch the whole series, of course, but if you only have time for one, make it the Season 1 two-parter, “Death by Vinyl,” which uses the reunion album of a fictional all-girl rock band, Volcanic Youth, to better get to know ex-rocker, bisexual graphic novelist Aunt Cat (Graham). Bonus? “Death by Vinyl” features a couple of killer original songs—“Strangled” and “Death by Vinyl”—commissioned especially for the episode. Double bonus? The recording studio the band gets terrorized in is set in Britain’s coolest piece of hidden architecture. We mean, nothing is perfect, but in terms of modern takes on the cozy British mystery? Queens of Mystery comes pretty dang close.
With that, we move on to the…
Doc Martin (the final season)
Paste logline: Martin Clunes returns for a final, grumpy country GP season. Sorry to that hemophobic man (Doc Martin), but almost certainly, there will be blood.
Paste logline: The anxiously awkward comedic mind behind W1A takes on French favorite Call My Agent!; a bevy of British stars including Hamish Patel, David Oyelowo, and Helena Bonham Carter follow.
Gritty Crime Drama:
Paste logline: Don’t be fooled by this seaside sleuther’s ostensible cozy tone—it’s a serious swing by Acorn TV at British Nordic noir, pearl-inducing grit and all. [Full Season 1 review here.]
Paste logline: One part Cotswolds cozy, one part Scooby-Doo, Agatha Raisin’s goofy pluck is a breath of fresh, slapstick air.
My Life is Murder
Paste logline: Lucy Lawless compulsively solves big city Antipodean crime, bakes bread. (Now in New Zealand!)
Escape to South Africa:
Recipes for Love and Murder
Paste logline: Maria Doyle Kennedy compulsively solves small town South African crimes, bakes everything under the sun.
Escape to Wales:
Paste logline: Well, at least SOME countries understand how devastating even a single gun can be to a community. (Bonus points for this one doing so bilingually, in both English and Welsh.)
Down Under Drama:
Darby and Joan
Paste logline: A mysteriously widowed retired nurse (British) literally runs into a mysteriously retired detective (Australian) and his possibly indestructible (also Aussie) sheepdog, spends a summer tootling around the Australian Outback solving mysteries, growing through grief.
Paste logline: Handsome Victorian Canadian detective invents forensics.
Slings & Arrows
Paste logline: The entertainingly heightened, darkly comic cult-favorite goings on of the fictional New Burbage Shakespearean Festival finally available to stream for North American audiences.
Raised by Wolves
Paste logline: No, not THAT Raised by Wolves. Think Stuck in the Middle, mixed with a little Raising Hope, mixed with a little Pete and Pete, but blue, blue, blue, blue. (Which, since the series comes from the minds of the Moran sisters, makes perfect sense.)
Paste logline: Anthony Horowitz makes the brazen suggestion that even as World War II raged on, Brits back home just kept doing crimes. [Full TV Rewind feature here.]
Okay, lightning round over. What are you waiting for? The American experiment is already crumbling. Go binge what’s come of Britain’s post-empire culture while you still can.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She can be found @AlexisKG.
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