No, sweetness is not dead. It simply lurks on streaming services, often unnoticed, while sinister dramas with a supernatural twist or a paranoid suspicion of technology garner all the attention. Especially if there’s murder involved. As a contrast, here are two sweet, good-natured and funny series with a poignant twist to lift your spirits.
Topline (streams on CBC Gem) may seem small in scale, but it aims big. In a suburb of Toronto, in a Filipino family, there is Tala (Cyrena Fiel), 16, a shy singer/songwriter who her family says will become a nurse, just like her late mother was. Already, she is volunteering at a hospital to learn the tricks of the trade. But music is her thing, and she has an online alter ego: Illisha, 18. What Illisha sings is mostly created in secret in Tala’s family bathroom.
Then one of his Illisha songs goes viral and catches the eye of Uriah (Daniel Keith Morrison), a music bigwig who heads up a famous production team that creates superstar hits. He thinks what he heard would be perfect for Elianna (Ginette Claudette, a real Brooklyn-based singer), who is on her way to becoming a superstar. But does he meet Tala or Illisha? The insecure teenager somehow manages to create something special, and it looks like she’s broken into the music industry.
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But, at home, she is just a teenager and her father (Nicco Lorenzo Garcia) is adamant that she will become a nurse. He organizes an internship for her in a hospital, and Tala struggles to juggle the musical part of her life and her other responsibilities. Even his sister is skeptical that the music industry 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 important in Toplinebut he’s lovable in his portrayal of family life, and the divide between suburban life and the music industry is handled well – Tala’s deeply emotional, empowering music is pulled from the reality, no superficial clichés about romance.
The series – 10 episodes of 10 to 15 minutes each – looks like a Degrassi dramatic, with its diverse and excellent cast and strong sense of being rooted in immigrant life. It may sound like a talented teenager, finding her own voice, but it’s certainly adult in its treatment of ambition, betrayals, and sources of emotional strength. It was created and directed by Romeo Candido from Toronto, who also wrote all the music. It’s a triumph, this gentle but firmly rooted spectacle, inspiring but not in an artificial sense, and amounts to a beautiful frenzy watch that’s relatable and vibrant with affection for its characters.
The Kennedys (streams on Prime Video) is an absolute comedy gem. The six-part comedy is based on the memoir of comedian and writer Emma Kennedy The tent, the bucket and me. The series ran for one season on BBC TV and was later cancelled, much to the dismay of a small but adoring audience.
It has a cheerful vibe even if it pokes fun at 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 what drives the show. Part of it is seen through the eyes of 10-year-old Emma (Lucy Hutchinson) and her focus on her mother, Brenda (Katherine Parkinson), and her father, Tony (Dan Skinner), ordinary, carefree people. The thing is, Brenda reads magazines and decides to throw a dinner party. No one has ever hosted a dinner party on the estate, so how to do it is a bit of a puzzle. Also, Brenda states that they will be serving lasagna. Not that she’s going to cook it. She has no idea about pasta that doesn’t come in a box. She leaves this role to her husband.
Meanwhile, neighbor Jenny (Emma Pierson) and her boyfriend, Tim (Harry Peacock), are having trouble. Jenny thinks she is pregnant and Tim has sex with many women on the estate. This leads to the kind of diversions rarely seen since the To pursue movies. And yet, for all well-acted slapstick, there’s something utterly charming about the humor and adorable tone.
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