GARY STEEL has taken a long hard look at streaming TV options and finds himself perpetually stuck on Neon.
I live in the middle of nowhere, more or less. There’s a wonderful cinema in the country town just 15 minutes away, but with two wee monsters under the age of 10, it’s just not practical to go to the movies regularly. Streaming television, therefore, has become my salvation.
But there’s a problem. With a variety of streaming service popping up (and more on the way) there’s now not only a surplus of content, but the monthly subscription costs are piling up.
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At last glance, my streaming TV subscriptions included Amazon Prime, Disney+, Mubi, DocPlay, Neon, Shudder and Acorn, with the obligatory Netflix thrown in by my broadband service provider.
Most of my friends subscribe only to Netflix, which I guess on the face of it seems like a safe bet and a great one-stop-shop for not only a wide variety of content but a huge selection. It’s true that there’s great stuff on Netflix for those with the time to search endlessly, but every time I try to spend a night with the service I find that I’m getting increasingly anxious as I flip through the selections their digital robots send my way in the name of New Releases. And most of the time, after 20 minutes or so of furtive searching, I quit the Netflix app and head elsewhere for a quicker fix.
Increasingly, that somewhere else has been Neon, the homegrown streaming TV service run by Sky. Now, the appointment viewing of Sky TV isn’t my style and there are a few flaws in Neon that I’ll mention later, but you know what? If I had to give up every television streaming service except for one, Neon would be the keeper. In fact, despite the plethora of streaming apps on my Apple 4K TV gizmo, nine and a half times out of 10 I’ll go straight for Neon.
It’s fairly simple, really. While there’s less content on Neon than there is on Netflix, there’s still more than you could ever hope to watch, a much better strike rate in terms of quality, and the My List of shows I want to see keeps expanding at a rate much, much faster than I can ever hope to watch them.
Then there’s the fact that the content on Neon is generally of a far higher standard than that on Netflix. Its exclusive access to quality productions from the likes of HBO and Showtime means that it’s far less hit-or-miss than mega-corps like Netflix or Amazon Prime, both of whom are prone to invest huge sums in shows that turn out to be unwatchably awful. I’m finding that whether I’m catching up on quality dramas, looking for a mainstream flick to eat popcorn to, or searching for shows suitable for the kids (2 and 6 respectively), Neon does the business.
While it’s hard to go past Disney+ for shows that no self-respecting wee monster could do without, there’s an ample supply of quality animated films and TV shows on Neon and in fact, they’ve got Paw Patrol and Monster Trucks, the only two shows that the 2-year-old ever wants to see (over and over and over and over).
It does get a bit tiring, however, when friends ask what you’ve seen on streaming TV lately that you really like and you wax ecstatic about a show like Mare Of Easttown only to get an exasperated response because they don’t subscribe to Neon.
So anyway, without any further ado, here are 9 great reasons to subscribe to Neon. (And I should point out at this point that Neon/Sky are not paying me for this story. I’m writing it because I hope the service doesn’t go away any time soon!)
- Mare Of Easttown
The best drama I’ve seen in ages, this stars a middle-aged Kate Winslet who in no way resembles the gorgeous vixen of Titanic. Winslet is incredible as Mare Sheehan, a disenchanted detective from a dull and disenfranchised suburban area of Philadelphia. All of the performances are superb, but it’s the tone of the thing and the way it plays out that differentiates it from all the other police procedurals. Yes, there are multiple murders and abductions and ODs and a few chases, but a fair amount of the time we’re following Mare’s private life, which intersects with that of her job in often difficult ways. The most special aspect of Mare Of Easttown is the way it lets us into astonishingly authentic scenes with family and the wider community. We feel like a privileged fly on the wall watching the characters develop in front of our eyes, in real time. This is astoundingly refreshing and reinforces how manipulated we are by so many TV dramas into accepting shallow characterisations and plotlines that are just plain stupid. As for Winslet, hers is a bravura performance that will surely end with an award. Gossips will find it interesting that Guy Pearce reprises a role as her love interest 10 years after they both starred in Mildred Pearce (also screening on Neon and worth a look).
- The Nevers
There are quite a few fantasy/science fiction shows about people with supernatural abilities at the moment, several of them set in Victorian London, for some reason. The Nevers is easily the best of them, and though flawed, its mix of great characters and surprising action scenes make it an entertaining viewing experience. The fact that the excellent cast is dominated by women known as ‘the Touched’ is a bonus, as is the surprisingly inventive technology manifested by these individuals. Laura Donnelly is splendid in her lead role as the raunchy (and very violent) Amalia True, and if the narrative gets a little confusing towards the end, at least it’s never boring. This unfinished series – which was halted by Covid-19 – is supposed to get more episodes, but its creator Joss Whedon has been sacked over abuse allegations, so who knows what’s ahead.
- Your Honour
I don’t know how a 10-episode series can still be called a miniseries, but whatever, Your Honour makes for compelling viewing. Like Mare Of Easttown, this Showtime production features some great acting and a naturalistic style that makes the characters seem real. If there’s a weakness it’s that Bryan Cranston gets to repeat the “nice guy faced with a life-threatening dilemma” issue played out in Breaking Bad. This time, rather than a struggling high school teacher he’s a high court judge whose son is in a hit and run. To complicate matters, his victim’s Dad is a dangerous and powerful criminal. Naturally, Michael Desiato (Cranston) opts to cover up for his son and the series becomes a fingernail-biting cat and mouse game.
To be honest, I found this multiple award-winning film to be drawn-out and rather flat, for the most part, but it’s certainly different. Starring the brilliant Frances McDormand as an older woman who has ended up living in a house truck after the death of her husband and the closure of her town’s only factory, it feels like a documentary and I gather that many of its characters are, indeed, real-life drifters. Nomadland is certainly worth a watch, as it’s an insight into a new class of Americans displaced by the times in which we live, living day to day but still, amazingly, finding solace in a new community of those in the same predicament.
- Allen v. Farrow
Neon’s documentary section is small but perfectly proportioned, and while I can’t see myself giving up my DocPlay subscription any time soon, exclusive documentaries like Allen v. Farrow are unmissable. If you’ve ever watched and enjoyed a Woody Allen movie or followed the acting career of Mia Farrow, this detailed, four-part examination will be revelatory. It’s a blow-by-blow account of the allegations of sexual abuse made by their daughter (who said she was 7 when the abuse took place) and the subsequent complex wranglings, and regardless of whether it’s all true, what we witness is still extremely disturbing. Made with Farrow’s full cooperation but without Allen’s, the film obviously takes her side and is therefore somewhat unbalanced. But viewed with that information to hand, Allen – at the very least – comes across as a warped character.
- A Decent ‘Homegrown’ Selection.
One weakness of all the international megacorp streaming TV companies is the profound lack of New Zealand content. Okay, so Disney+ did a Te Reo version of Moana and parts of Avatar and Mulan were filmed here, but so what? Neon, on the other hand, has a selection of actual dramas and comedies set in Aotearoa. Their ‘Homegrown Hits’ roster includes the classic Flight Of The Conchords, The Brokenwood Mysteries, Top Of The Lake and many more, including documenties like Anthems: New Zealand’s Iconic Hits.
- Classic comedies.
While the big television streaming companies have some old comedies if you dig into their back pages, Neon has ‘box sets’ of real classics. This means entire seasons of all-time greats like Seinfeld, Californication, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Shameless. Any time I need a chuckle with a bit of familiarity, I know exactly what to do.
- The Shows That People Talk About.
If nothing else, it’s worth signing up to Neon – even if you intend not to stay long – if you’ve never quite gotten around to watching must-see dramas like Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones, Handmaid’s Tale, Westworld and many more. And speaking of Breaking Bad, I’m just getting into a rather fascinating drama called The Path starring Breaking Bad’s no good kid Aaron Pool as member of a mysterious cult-like commune. Spooky!
- Kids & Family.
Disney+ might have the goods when it comes to children’s entertainment, but there’s more than enough fun time for wee monsters on Neon. As mentioned, the toddler is perpetually happy with Paw Patrol and Monster Trucks. Then there’s new favourite Bluey and old perennial Peppa Pig, which the 6-year-old couldn’t get enough of when she was three. Peppa Pig fans should also watch the similarly witty Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom, which is fun for grown-up kids, too! There are plenty of great animated films (check out Trolls World Tour) and for the older kids, there’s every single Harry Potter movie ever made (aside from the two spinoffs).
I suppose you’ve got the idea. I like Neon. I can’t finish up with pointing out that the service does have a few flaws. There’s no sign of any 4K resolution as yet, that you can’t decide to watch films with subtitles if you can’t understand the thick accents, and the fairly regular middle-of-night “scheduled maintenance” (with annoying pop-up announcements) can get a bit tiresome. I guess these things are down to the fact that Neon doesn’t have the operational budgets the really big overseas streaming companies do. But I hasten to add that none of these factors are deal breakers for me.
All I am saying is give Neon a chance.