One of the worst parts of being a semi-professional reviewer is that you sometimes have to watch and talk about terrible movies and television shows. One of the nicer things about only being semi-professional is that I actually have some choice in what I review. At least I get a moment to watch a trailer or listen to the word of mouth before I throw my hand up and make a request to review something. Of course, trailers can be deceiving and word of mouth is sometimes wrong so I still wind up with my fair share of not very good things to watch and review.
This happened to me recently with the new Acorn TV series Straight Forward. The synopsis sounded interesting so I made my pitch and received my review copy. But while watching the pilot episode, I had that creeping feeling that this was a series that was going to be a slog to get through. Immediately, I started calculating how many episodes I really needed to watch before I could turn in a review. After each of the first few episodes, I had to force myself to watch the next one. I usually watched them after putting my daughter to bed and after watching one episode, there would be a quick internal debate about watching the next one or going to bed myself. Let's just say I got more sleep this week than I usually do.
But then something funny happened on the way to Disk 2. Rather than preferring sleep to watching another episode, I found myself staying up late wanting to see what happened next. Don’t misunderstand; Straight Forward is not a great or even a very good show. The writing is poor, and the story is nonsense, but it did get its hooks in me so that I wanted to see it through to find out what happens in the end.
Straight Forward is an eight-part drama that follows con artist/thief Sylvia (Cecilie Stenspil) as she tries to escape the clutches of crime boss Ravn (Mark Mitchinson). Sylvia is not only a crook but a family woman and in the first episode, we find her having a nice dinner with her father (who is also a thief, so I guess it is a family business), her mother Lisbeth (Vibeke Hastrup), and daughter Ida (Marie Hammer Boda). Everything seems hunky-dory until the meal is over and the father is shot dead in the street. Sylvia believes it was a hit ordered by Ravn for reasons I never quite understood.
She decides to hit Ravn where it hurts, mainly his bank account and steals several million kroner from him. Being a crook and all, she already has numerous fake passports (and different styles of wigs and modulating accents, making her a kind of low-rent Elizabeth Jennings from The Americans) so she gets as far away from Ravn as possible - New Zealand, leaving her daughter and mother to fend for themselves. Well, ok, she leaves them with her right-hand man Huss (Arlo Green), who is desperately trying to secure them fake passports, but it's still her leaving the country while her teenage daughter stays close to danger. Just one of the many bad decisions Sylvia will make along the way.
While Lisbeth and Ida are waiting for passports, the ex-husband/father Gillard (Owen Black) sells them out to Ravn. His intentions are to let the bad guys know where Lisbeth is which will lead them to Sylvia (neither of whom he cares for) while somehow keeping his daughter safe, which makes absolutely no sense since the Sylvia and Ida are together. It will be the first of many terrible decisions made by Gillard, who is not so much evil as selfish and dumb.
Ravn and his band of evildoers kidnap Ida in an attempt to force Sylvia out of hiding. But rather than rush to the aid of her only daughter, she gets a job at a local pub and flirts with the owner, Adam (Matthew Walker). Seriously. Sylvia is our main point of view character and the show clearly wants us to be on her side, but over and over, she proves to be such a colossally bad mother it is hard to root for her. As it turns out, some secretive person has slipped Huss a bunch of computer files about Ravn’s organization which they then use to get Ida back. Why they don’t send that information to the police who would presumably arrest Ravn and his gang and thus end this nightmare is a question best not asked.
The police, for their part, are actively, obsessively even, trying to find Sylvia due to them believing she can testify against Ravn and bring his evil criminal empire down, but they do such a poor job of it, it is hardly worth mentioning. It becomes a cat-and-mouse game from there on with several side stories involving Adam’s dad getting bamboozled by an Internet cheat, Ida getting kidnapped again, and Sylvia and Adam canoodling periodically.
Over and over again, characters make terrible decisions, and the story veers in ridiculous directions but it is anchored by some fine performances, which kept me interested enough to keep watching, and not just because I had to write this review. Or maybe I just enjoyed the beautiful, scenic location shots of New Zeland.