14 Jun 2023

What to watch when you've cut your streaming services

4:50 pm on 14 June 2023

Cut all your streaming services to offset other rising household costs, and now worried that you've got nothing to watch? Fear not, there are some gems out there in the world of free TV. Here are some hidden treasures you might have missed lurking in the depths of TVNZ+, Three Now and Māori Television.

TVNZ's streaming service is leading the way locally, though there are advertisements. After HBO's staggering Succession, the third series of Happy Valley is perhaps the best television drama thus far this year.

Sarah Lancashire as Catherine in the BBC's Happy Valley Photo: Supplied

Sarah Lancashire’s Sergeant Catherine Cawood is a great character, memorable like Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey in True Detective. Cawood is an admirable person, and Lancashire fulsomely portrays her diverse roles, professional and personal, challenging top brass and her kooky sister.

We are reintroduced to Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton), chilling recidivist crim, who Cawood’s got imprisoned at His Majesty’s Big House. Human remains have been discovered, and the police think it’s another Royce murder.  Happy Valley’s West Yorkshire’s locations are atmospherically shot, edited and scored.

Writer-creator Sally Wainwright introduces involving new characters and subplots through the six new episodes. They include Cawood's grandson Ryan's obnoxious soccer coach, his abused wife, Eastern European gangsters, a questionable local politician, and a misguided pharmacist. There is a lot of dark and confronting material, yet some genuine happiness and humour is organically and deftly worked in. Vernacular like grassin' engages. Dialogue is detailed, slathered in Yorkshire accents and swathed in moody tones.

The first season was so riveting I stayed up all night bingeing it. Happy Valley finishes on top form, jittery and considered, and so well put together.

Bupkis TV show promotional image

Photo: Screenshot

Bupkis is one of TVNZ+'s funnier new offerings. New York comedian Pete Davidson plays an alter-ego of the same name. Mafioso legend Joe Pesci is his crotchety granddad. Bobby Cannavale is ever-affable as Pete's Uncle Tommy.  In real life, Davidson's father was one of 343 firefighters who died in the World Trade Centre, trying to save people on 11 September, 2001. Uncle Tommy looked after his seven-year-old nephew then, and the duo maintain a close rapport.

Edie Falco from The Sopranos plays his panicky mum. She berates his manager Evan about his engagement plans. "Peter was engaged once. I don't know if you heard about how that turned out. Do you want a song written about you? The worst part is I like the song, it's kinda an earworm, it's got a catchy hook." Pete bombs at a drunken Al Gore climate change event, with Jon Stewart. Backstage, Stewart amusingly pokes fun at Jewish conspiracy theories. “I've got to go. I've got a world to run. We control a lot of this shit. Don't tell anyone that…." Albeit uneven, Bupkis is entertaining. "It's Bupkis."

John Kirwan

Photo: Screenshot

By the Balls is a compelling documentary about how the All Blacks' inaugural 1987 Rugby World Cup win and campaign, led by the anti-Springbok Tour duo John Kirwan and David Kirk, improved some of the nationwide divisions the tour wrought. Iconic images resonate anew with intriguing additional information.

Bob Marley in Aotearoa

Bob Marley in Aotearoa Photo: Murray Cammick

When Bob Came is a documentary series about Marley's influential visit to Auckland, agreeably narrated by James Rolleston.

Ten TVNZ + films I recommend watching (or rewatching) include The Orator, Once Were Warriors, The Dark Horse, The Road, Go, Groundhog Day, Erin Brockovich, Punch-Drunk Love, Rust and Bone and Slumdog Millionaire.

Over on Three Now, Match Fit season two is sharpened with some te reo translation. A group of overweight and unhealthy ex All Blacks are put on a big health kick by Sir Buck Shelford and robust trainer Alex Flint. Shelford let himself go, put on 40kg and battled cancer after hanging up his boots. He has turned things around, written a compelling book on men's health, and wants to help men, especially some fellow Polynesian wearers of the black jersey. "The Pākehā are living 10 years longer than us," Sir Buck says.

Trainer Alex Flint and former All Black Piri Weepu on the set of Match Fit.

Trainer Alex Flint and former All Black Piri Weepu on the set of Match Fit. Photo: Supplied

Stars of the series include Piri Weepu, 2011 Rugby World Cup gamechanger, who is struggling through a sleep and exercise deficit with a new baby.  The preternaturally good-natured Eroni Clarke and "raging bull" prop Kees Meeuws talk about getting back in shape for family. “Our mokos," Meeuws exclaims, passionately. "Cut out the booze" is Flint’s top tip to trim waist centimetres. Sir 'Ted' Henry finds it tough giving up his wines.

Between the series being shot and released, Inga Tuigamala passed away, aged just 52. The OG blockbusting 11 is an extraordinary and charismatic presence on and off the field. Amid the laughs and good humour about the group's diminished situation, 'Inga the Winger' talks emotionally. "I knocked the ball on." He confides about his embarrassment and loss of confidence when his post-rugby work went badly. "Sorry. I’m crying."

Despite the Delta lockdown, the series and support continue, and the players' health and statistics improve. Inga shows big progress. He loses heaps of weight and 20cm from his waist, boxes with David Tua, charges around the field ball in hand, pep in his step. "It's OK to ask for help, and it's OK to cry." Match Fit's last words go to Inga, ever heroic. "It doesn't matter how bad your situation, how dark it may seem: There's always hope." 

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Photo: David Bostock Photography Ltd 2016

21 Day Body Turnaround follows related turf. Dr Michael Mosley, British author of a useful series of books on diet and sleep, is the guide. He helps out five Brits whose lifestyles worsened during the pandemic’s restrictions. Mosley points out too much vegan food is synthetic, highly processed and not nutritious. The good doctor's prescription includes 14 hours fasting daily; high-protein, fermented food, and greens intake; and lots of exercise, including cold water showers. The ending, Mosley's charges happy with their progress, delivers a warm fuzzy feeling. 

Moana Maniapoto sits next to her son Hikurangi Jackson, who is holding his dog, Rocky.

Photo: Stephanie Soh

Finally, a Māori Television favourite is Te Ao with Moana. Moana Maniapoto and Hikurangi Jackson are reliable and insightful interviewers. Jackson lands Sydney-side with Sonny Bill Williams: "Father's the best job in the world." And scores with his interview of modest Auckland crown prosecutor, Brian Dickey, who seems traumatised by the three decades of violent cases he's prosecuted.

Maniapoto records Marlon Williams' Kai Tahu voyage, and further highlights include barefoot Supreme Court Justice Joe Williams, the most rigorous te reo champion Timoti Karetu, and a tribute to Whaea Georgina Beyer. Some Pākehā allies, such as lilting singer Don McGlashan, feature strikingly too. 

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