No, sweetness is not dead. It’s merely hiding on streaming services, often unnoticed, while grim dramas with a supernatural twist or paranoid suspicion of technology get all the attention. Especially if there’s murder involved. By way of contrast, here are two sweet, good-natured and funny series with a touch of poignancy to cheer you up.
Topline (streams on CBC Gem) may seem small-scale but it aims big. In a Toronto suburb, in a Filipino family, there’s 16-year-old Tala (Cyrena Fiel), a shy singer/songwriter who, her family expects, is going to be a nurse, just like her late mother was. Already, she’s volunteering at a hospital to learn the ropes. But music is her thing, and she’s got an online alter ego: 18-year-old Illisha. What Illisha sings is mostly created in secret in Tala’s family bathroom.
Then one of her Illisha songs goes viral and attracts the attention of Uriah (Daniel Keith Morrison) a music big-shot who leads a famous production team that creates hits for superstars. He thinks that what he’s heard would be perfect for Elianna (Ginette Claudette, a real Brooklyn-based singer), who is on the verge of superstardom. But is he meeting Tala or Illisha? The uncertain teenager somehow manages to create something special, and it looks like she’s broken into the music industry.
But, at home, she’s just a teenage girl, and her dad (Nicco Lorenzo Garcia) is adamant that she’s going to be a nurse. He arranges a work placement at a hospital for her, and Tala struggles to juggle the music part of her life with her other responsibilities. Even her sister is skeptical that the music business is anything but a fantasy and says, “Who said life was fun?”
What unfolds here is a delicate little family drama, with a ton of music, that becomes a coming-of-age story about Tala. There is nothing of deep import In Topline, but it is adorable in its portrait of family life, and the gulf between suburban living and the music business is nicely handled – Tala’s deeply emotional music, the thing that gives her power, is mined from reality, not superficial clichés about romance.
The series – 10 episodes, each 10 to 15 minutes long – has the feel of a Degrassi drama, with its diverse, excellent cast and strong sense of being rooted in immigrant life. It may seem to be about a teenager with talent, finding her own, true voice, but it is most certainly adult in its treatment of ambition, betrayals and the sources of emotional strength. It was created and directed by Toronto’s Romeo Candido, who also wrote all the music. It’s a triumph, this gentle but firmly rooted show, inspirational but not in any contrived sense, and amounts to a lovely binge-watch that’s relatable and vibrant with affection for its characters.
The Kennedys (streams on Prime Video) is an absolute comedy gem. The six-episode comedy is based on comedian and writer Emma Kennedy’s memoir The Tent, the Bucket and Me. The series ran for one season on BBC TV and was then cancelled, to the great consternation of a small but adoring audience.
It has a cheerful vibe even as it mocks its setting, a new housing estate in the 1970s. Those were aspirational times. People were trying to be middle-class and sophisticated, and that’s the engine of the series. Some of it is seen through the eyes of 10-year-old Emma (Lucy Hutchinson) and her focus on her mom, Brenda (Katherine Parkinson), and dad, Tony (Dan Skinner), ordinary and happy-go-lucky people. Thing is, Brenda’s been reading magazines and decides to throw a dinner party. No one has ever had a dinner party on the estate, so how to do it is a bit of a puzzler. Also, Brenda declares they will serve lasagna. Not that she’s going to cook it. She hasn’t a clue about pasta that doesn’t come in a tin. So she leaves that part to her husband.
Meanwhile, neighbour Jenny (Emma Pierson) and her live-in boyfriend, Tim (Harry Peacock), are having a spot of bother. Jenny thinks she’s pregnant, and Tim is having sex with many women on the estate. This leads to the sort of hijinks rarely seen since the Carry On movies. And yet for all the nicely staged slapstick, there’s something utterly charming about the humour and the lovable tone.
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