Amazon Prime Video has a lower profile than Netflix and Stan in Australia but it has gone on the offensive ahead of a looming battle for subscribers.
Australians have enthusiastically accepted the idea of subscription video on demand services. In August the research firm Telsyte reported that the global behemoth Netflix had approximately 2.9 million subscribers in this country, while local streaming service Stan (co-owned by Fairfax Media) had successfully passed the benchmark of 1 million subscribers. More and more we like clicking on that next episode button.
The question now is how many streaming services are consumers willing to embrace? As well as paying for Netflix and Stan, there’s also been a strong rise in the reach and exclusive programming of the ABC’s iview and SBS’s On Demand free platforms. A Ten/CBS service is due to launch before the end of the year, while next year is set to feature the launch of services from a tech giant in Apple and a cornerstone of the global entertainment industry in Disney. This looming congestion might explain why a lesser participant has gone on the offensive.
Amazon’s Prime Video was rolled out in Australia two years ago, basically to consolidate the worldwide reach of The Grand Tour, Amazon’s expensive capture of the BBC’s motoring show Top Gear. That would have done wonders for Jeremy Clarkson’s ego, but Amazon didn’t have the level of content Netflix did, and two of its best original series – Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle – had previously been licensed to Stan.
But in the past few months Amazon Prime Video has begun to showcase a slew of new series that range from the expensive but ultimately uninspiring global spy thriller Jack Ryan to the modest, moving comic jewel Forever. There have also been fresh seasons of its terrific alternate history drama The Man in the High Castle and the Billy Bob Thornton legal dama Goliath released, and now it has a pair of showcase first seasons making a splash – for different reasons – in Homecoming and The Romanoffs.
Adapted from a successful podcast, Homecoming marks the arrival of Julia Roberts on television screens. She plays Heidi Bergman, or rather two versions of Heidi Bergman: the first in 2018 is a dedicated counsellor providing therapy to US Army veterans looking to re-enter civilian life via the just opened Homecoming Transitional Support Centre; the second, several years later, is a withdrawn diner waitress who realises she can’t remember anything about her previous job.
Instead of trying to amplify Roberts’ star power, the show puts her deep inside a mystery that works with eerie calm as it unfolds from both ends of Heidi’s perspective; her trademark smile is seen in flashes , each of which hints at our capacity to be changed. With a dour, diligent Department of Defence investigator, Thomas Carrasco (Shea Whigham), pulling at threads the narrative is unnervingly suggestive.
‘‘ My whole job is to look at data and try to find a narrative,’’ Heidi’s oily supervisor, Colin Belfast (Bobby Cannavale), tells Carrasco, and the same could be said of director Sam Esmail. The creator of Mr. Robot has extended his feel for distorted realities, framing characters so as to turn their concerns into looming but inexplicable threats. Esmail uses long tracking shots and sequences looking down on the characters, so that they recall organisms under a microscope, to immerse you in the mounting paranoia.
With its background clues, references to ‘‘ medication’’ , hints of malfeasance and connection between Heidi and one of her ‘‘ clients’ ’ (not patients), Walter Cruz (Stephan James), Homecoming is a compelling thriller that’s been condensed down into half-hour episodes. It’s masterfully made, focusing you on what may or may not be at its centre. If it was on Netflix or Stan in Australia, instead of the thinly subscribed Amazon, it would be the show of the moment.
The Romanoffs also has an auspicious lineage: it’s the new series from Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner. But with its lengthy episode length and loose anthology structure – the contemporary show is bound together by perceived connections to Russia’s former royal family – it’s more an eclectic collection of short movies whose breadth suggests that Weiner wanted to experiment. It is frustratingly uneven and rarely gets beneath a curious clash of circumstances to actually capture telling truths.
The focus, ultimately, is Weiner himself. The creator also directed every episode, and one, Bright and High Circle, is a worryingly self-serving commentary on allegations of misconduct that can’t help but allude to claims made against Weiner by a former Mad Men collaborator. That series remains a modern classic, but where it’s stringent and moving The Romanoffs is too often shallow and expedient. It’s a misstep, but it’s prominence at least helps Amazon. With the coming logjam of streaming services, anything that attracts attention to one of the contenders is a bonus.
Source: The Age Digital Edition: Fresh heat in streaming battle