What’s New to Amazon in May 2018
"Two new shows take audiences to Oceania"
Amazon Prime, the streaming television network you probably didn't realize you had, has been lagging behind both Netflix and Hulu in terms of splashy shows and awards buzz (while Amazon has managed to snag some awards with their now troubled comedy Transparent
, they've yet to achieve the zeitgeisty buzz of a Handmaid's Tale
or House of Cards
). The network tends to release only a handful of programming a year (unlike the insane amount of television released weekly by Netflix), and it tends to rely heavily on international collaborations to flesh out their smaller independent output.
The two new shows being released on the site this month are both international collaborations, drawing from programming that has already aired or is currently airing in its home country. That being said, both programs offer an interesting look at two very non-American stories, one far more interesting and successful than the other.
Picnic at Hanging Rock
Despite majoring in English literature, I have to admit that I had never heard of Picnic at Hanging Rock,
widely considered to be one of the best pieces of modern Australian literature. While this six-part mini-series, which stars Game of Thrones
's Natalie Dormer, might satisfy fans of the novel, it's not as accessible to those not familiar with the tale. Watching each episode, I found it difficult to suss out what exactly was going on and where, specifically, within the twisting timeline events were occurring. Some of this was certainly the design of Beatrix Christian and Alice Addison, who adapted Joan Lindsey's novel in this iteration. But it doesn't work as a narrative technique and serves to muddy an already complex story even more.
The centerpiece of the story is the titular picnic at Hanging Rock, where the students and teachers of Appleyard College (a conservatory for upper class girl in 1900 Australia) spend the day relaxing. It is on this picnic that four students (Miranda, who is new to the school, Irma, the school's queen bee, Marion, who is half-Indigenous which sets her apart from her classmates, and Edith, who tags along with the cool kids) and Miss McCraw, the school's maths and geography teacher, head up Hanging Rock with only one returning. The mystery surrounding their disappearance is played out over the course of the six episodes, with the adaptation choosing to offer several possible explanations for what exactly happened on the mount that summer day. And that's where the problem with the miniseries lies.
The source novel never officially copped to a reason for the disappearances, choosing to let readers decide for themselves exactly what happened. While that tactic worked well for the novel, it's much less successful for a six-part miniseries. There's a lot of empty space to fill and character beats to flesh out, and the series attempts to do so by offering a likely explanation for the disappearance, yet refusing to commit to it by series end. The series also adds a great deal more meat to Dormer's Hester Appleyard, shoehorning in a complex backstory that, frankly, takes away from the heart of the story: the relationship between Miranda, Irma, and Marion. I found myself disinterested in Dormer's performance, not because it wasn't good, but because Appleyard's arc was far less interesting than that of the three central students. I would have gladly watched a series just about them. But, Picnic at Hanging Rock
doesn't give all its story to the young women, and suffers greatly for it.
All or Nothing: New Zealand All Blacks
Like most Americans, I'm not particularly well-versed in rugby. But unlike most Americans, I am well-aware that the New Zealand All Blacks are the best rugby team in the world. So, I'm not the target audience for this series. But I absolutely loved it. After spending six hours watching the All Blacks in all aspects of their lives (including some really great sequences on the pitch), I came away with a much greater understanding of the sport of rugby and a real love for the game. If you're someone who enjoys a great sports documentary, this is a must see. If you are someone who already follows rugby closely, you'll probably already know the outcomes of the matches within the series (it was filmed in 2017), but getting to know the newer players on the All Blacks is a nice bonus. And if you're like me, and didn't really know too much about the game of rugby, I recommend this documentary as well.
Yes, the US has a rugby team, but we're not all that great. If you're a new comer to the sport, getting to watch the best of the best duke it out allows you to understand the speed and skill level needed to play rugby. I walked away from the series a real fan of rugby and of the All Blacks (although, my favorite team continues to be Ireland). I'm excited to catch some matches this summer in my local rugby pub (yes, we have a couple here in Chicago), and continue to grow in my knowledge of the game. So, give this show a try- you might come out of it a rugby fan as well.