I’ve been watching episodes of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries on Acorn TV with a friend recently, a weekly ritual of comforting programming that has been a balm in These Times. Last week as we flipped over to the latest 1920s-set Australian detecting adventure, she asked, “so what else is good on Acorn?” My sincere reply was “I think you’d like anything on it.” (We have a more detailed answer here). Acorn TV is like an expanded version of what used to be primarily the domain of PBS: British import shows (although there are also Canadian, Australian, and general European series). For the most part they’re fairly light and short, a placidly pleasant mix of crime dramas and comedies and primarily character-driven series. It doesn’t house zeitgeist titles, but all the same, the catalogue is unified by a general tone of TV shows that calmly wash over you. If you like one or more of its series, you’ll probably like the rest.
This same vibe is shared by one of its latest acquisitions, the ITV series Finding Alice. The impeccable Keeley Hawes stars as Alice, whose husband dies in an accident the very night they’ve moved into a tech-savvy house that he dreamed up and built for them and their daughter Charlotte (Isabella Pappas). This doesn’t sound particularly light or pleasant, but Finding Alice focuses on the absurd moments that follow such an event, flirting with a few genres without every really settling on one.
Alice is not tech-savvy at all, and the new house (with its voice commands and tablet-controlled ambience) is a challenge for her. But it’s also Harry’s legacy to her family, one that becomes exceptionally complicated once she discovers he actually left it to his parents to protect it from his shambolic business—and they want to sell. The business, which produces a silent partner Alice had not been aware of, also doesn’t give her any financial relief. So after losing her husband suddenly and horribly, Alice finds herself penniless and mired in tax law that she has no idea how to navigate.
If Finding Alice had stayed there, with Alice’s appropriately glib responses to the absurdity and, frankly, indignity that comes in the wake of a death, it might have landed in a stronger place. But the six-episode series wanders into other personal dramas that are, for now, not given time to develop or deepen into anything particularly gripping (though the strength of the cast mitigates that some). Further, the series seems to have aspirations as a thriller without actually delivering, like including the “deceased had secrets!” trope. But things resolve quickly in the series, keeping the stakes low and simmering rather than ever becoming too intense or anxiety-inducing (for us or them).
While Hawes is magnetic as Alice, who sets herself to put things to rights however she must, the series misses the opportunity to lean in more with the rest of its excellent cast, including Joanna Lumley and Nigel Havers as Alice’s parents, and Sharon Rooney as Harry’s sister. Even Charlotte is left without much of a storyline to call her own. The six episode season (the show has already been renewed for a second) is juggling a lot of different ideas and themes, but they don’t come together as compellingly as another, similar kitchen drama series like Last Tango in Halifax. While Hawes is fantastic, the series would benefit from a more balanced ensemble.
Nevertheless, it’s rare that a show that begins with grief and doesn’t just stay mired there. From the start, Alice and Charlotte’s reactions to Harry’s death and how they want to celebrate his life are unique and even whimsical. Finding Alice is glib, but it also takes death seriously and remains respectful; it just also acknowledges that death—and what it leaves in its wake—is strange and ugly and confusing and changes every day for those left to mourn, and that can have a strange, dark humor to it. The fact that Finding Alice dives in so deeply to things like probate, not having access to bank accounts in the partner’s name, real estate disputes, and questions left lingering that only the person who isn’t there can answer is admirable, and speak to the real-life frustrations that most shows would skip over.
Though the pacing of these six episodes isn’t particularly even in terms of its drama and revelations, the show’s overall take on this particularly tricky topic is enough to warrant wading in, especially for fans of Hawes (and really, who isn’t?) The finale sets up the second season well in terms of more family feuding, and perhaps at that point Finding Alice will coalesce a little more. For now, it remains on brand for Acorn TV: a series with a lighter take on darker subject matter that comes and goes as easily as a pleasant beach read. It’s also a good reminder to make a will.
Finding Alice is now streaming on Acorn TV.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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