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NPR Arts & Life

Peacock, NBC's New Streaming Service, Isn't Quite Must-See TV

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Another new streaming service launched this week. This one comes from NBCUniversal and is called Peacock. It premiered with thousands of hours of old programs, as well as a sampling of new ones. Our TV critic David Bianculli has this review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: As streaming TV services go, we already have a lot of options that weren't available a year ago - some wonderful ones, like Disney Plus, and some terrible ones, like Quibi. There's also Apple TV Plus and HBO Max. And now there's Peacock from NBCUniversal. You can get a basic package of Peacock for free, which includes TV series like "Frasier," movies like "Jurassic Park" and some new Peacock originals, which I'll get to in a minute.

But the Peacock folks aren't in this just to give out freebies. For a monthly fee of about $5, you can become a subscriber to Peacock Premium, which provides access to an even larger library of movies and TV shows and access to NBC's talk shows and some network sporting events. And if you double that fee, paying about 10 bucks a month, you get all that without any advertising.

As with any streaming service, the decision of whether Peacock is worth the money is up to you. For me, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Disney Plus, for starters, have enough inventory and quality originals that I consider them valuable enough to add to my monthly bills. And Peacock even in its free version has some excellent offerings, the movie "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial," for example, and the entire series run of "Friday Night Lights."

As for Peacock's original series, most of them are decidedly average. The programs for kids aren't even as good as the new ones on Disney Plus. And most of the new shows for adults aren't that good either, especially a new mini-series version of "Brave New World" that plays more like a dull remake of "Westworld." But there are two new Peacock programs that are worthwhile, one that I like and one that I love. And both, coincidentally, are all about the secret gathering of intelligence by government agencies.

The one I like is a comedy called "Intelligence," which is created and written by Nick Mohammed. He plays a low-level British spy whose agency makes room for a visiting American counterpart named Jerry Bernstein, played by David Schwimmer from "Friends." Schwimmer plays him as a cocky, ugly American, so sure of himself that he is oblivious to how irritating he is to many of those around him. That's the same basic approach another "Friends" star, Matt LeBlanc, took when he played an exaggerated version of himself in the hilarious Showtime sitcom called "Episodes." And in "Intelligence," Schwimmer displays this the most and the best when he clashes with his British counterpart and boss, Christine, played by Sylvestra Le Touzel.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INTELLIGENCE")

DAVID SCHWIMMER: (As Jerry Bernstein) All right, everyone, listen up. I am now your best-possible resource. I'm here for you. So I want you to use me, exploit me, punish me. I want to feel as if I've been uploaded into each and every one of you, even you guys.

SYLVESTRA LE TOUZEL: (As Christine Clark) What are you doing?

SCHWIMMER: (As Jerry) I'm just welcoming everyone. Can we get them to stop?

LE TOUZEL: (As Christine) No. We're in the middle of something. Bank of England - no American liaison required, sadly.

SCHWIMMER: (As Jerry) OK. Listen - I just want to say I'm really excited about this. I think we can learn a lot from each other, especially from me.

LE TOUZEL: (As Christine) It'll be a pleasure collaborating with one of our oldest and closest allies. Welcome to GCHQ.

SCHWIMMER: (As Jerry) Thank you. Back to work, everyone.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BIANCULLI: On the more serious side, there's a drama series called "The Capture," which has haunted me ever since I previewed it. It's set in England and is created, written and directed by Ben Chanan. It starts off as the story of Shaun Emery, a British soldier with a complicated past. He was imprisoned for war crimes after serving in Afghanistan, then released when video footage of the incident surfaced and exonerated him. The very night he was celebrating his release with his lawyers, he ended up in custody again, this time accused of murdering one of his attorneys, Hannah, who was last seen with him on London city surveillance cameras.

A detective inspector on the case played by Holliday Grainger interrogates him, and her initial theory is that he may have no memory of his own violent actions. Shaun is played by Callum Turner.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAPTURE")

HOLLIDAY GRAINGER: (As Rachel Carey) What do you remember, Shaun? Did you lose control?

CALLUM TURNER: (As Shaun Emery) I ain't speaking without my solicitor.

GRAINGER: (As Rachel) Mr. Hall's gone home.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TURNER: (As Shaun) I thought I had the right to a phone call.

GRAINGER: (As Rachel) Phone calls are at my discretion. So why don't we sit down together and try and figure out what happened between you and Hannah Roberts?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TURNER: (As Shaun) Get me a phone call.

BIANCULLI: For a while, that's how "The Capture" develops. But then it turns out that the video catching Shaun in the act may be a deepfake and, if so, made by whom? And if that video can't be trusted, what else and who else is being manipulated? Throughout "The Capture," scenes are photographed or punctuated from the points of view of remote cameras. It's a sinister perspective that keeps getting more threatening.

By the time the first season of "The Capture" is over, I realized the threat it was dramatizing - about what happens when people do or don't believe what they see on video - is even more potentially menacing in theory than it is in this particular miniseries. Watching "The Capture" on Peacock may not be a way to escape reality - for that, there are plenty of other TV shows and movies - but it sure is a thought-provoking new way to look at it.

DAVIES: David Bianculli is editor of the website TV Worth Watching and professor of TV studies at Rowan University. If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you've missed - like our interview with actor Matthew Rhys, who starred in the FX series "The Americans" and is now starring in the new "Perry Mason" series on HBO; or with Colin Jost, one of the head writers of "Saturday Night Live" and co-host of Weekend Update, who has a new memoir; or with New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer, who investigated conditions at a chicken processing plant owned by a major supporter of the Trump campaign - check out our podcast.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLES MINGUS' "PUSSY CAT DUES")

DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. We had additional engineering help from Charlie Kaier. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Thea Chaloner and Joel Wolfram. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Seth Kelley directed today's show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLES MINGUS' "PUSSY CAT DUES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.