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Colin Farrell dressed as a smelly Arctic whaler.
Colin Farrell as Henry Drax in The North Water. (Photo: Supplied / Design: Tina Tiller)

Pop CultureApril 21, 2023

The must-see TV show that took two years to reach NZ streaming services

Colin Farrell dressed as a smelly Arctic whaler.
Colin Farrell as Henry Drax in The North Water. (Photo: Supplied / Design: Tina Tiller)

Why we’re only just getting the chance to stream Colin Farrell’s excellent and intense performance in The North Water now.

This is an excerpt from The Spinoff’s weekly TV-focused newsletter Rec Room. Sign up to have it delivered into your inbox every Friday.

Yes, that really is Colin Farrell up there, squinting his eyes, smoking a pipe and looking all surly, with greasy hair smeared across his forehead, a thick black beard smothering his chin and streaks of oil blackening his face and ears. When you look at this photo you can imagine exactly how he smells: a potent stench of Brylcreem, tobacco, musty sweat and rancid BO.

Farrell really went for it in The North Water. That’s not a fat suit. There is no padding. “I ate a lot and lifted some heavy weights,” he told The Guardian about his approach for adopting the look of a psychotic Arctic whaler in the 1850s. “It was not done under the supervision of medical professionals at all and was really ill-advised.”

A pack of whalers in Antarctica depicted in the TV show The North Water.
Colin Farrell, left, in The North Water. (Photo: Supplied)

But he didn’t stop there. To tell the story of Henry Drax, Farrell went full method. “Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, I was inhabiting this very different physical space,” he told Radio Times. The Irish actor went so hard, he says he won’t do it again. “I had a few little health things … and I was just like, fuck, this acting thing ain’t this important,’ he told ET. For his upcoming performance in The Penguin, he chose to wear the fat suit.

Farrell’s performance in The North Water might be the most extreme thing he’s ever done. Showrunner Andrew Haigh made his cast and crew go to the North Pole to make this show. It’s an intense watch. “This has blood, seal and whale killings, murder, rape, mayhem,” Farrell told The Guardian. “The vastness was extreme, the danger was extreme, the proximity was extreme. It was life-changing.”

You might have already heard about The North Water, because it came out way back in 2021. It received rave reviews at the time, with many comparing it to The Terror, another chilly exercise in grim boating mishaps. So why are we talking about it now? This week, two years after everyone else got to see it, The North Water finally makes its debut on a New Zealand streaming service – TVNZ+. (It did air on Sky TV’s Rialto channel over five weeks last year, but how many of us saw that?)

If you haven’t seen The North Water, I implore you to do so: it is a hard, glorious, troubling show with a killer ending. All those difficulties they had making it? All those pounds Farrell packed on? All that ice they had to deal with? Totally worth it. “Frightening,” is how a critic for The Age describes Farrell’s performance, and they’re not wrong.

Yet, in an era when we have access to a dozen streaming services, you can’t help but wonder why these delays keep happening. In some ways, things have changed since TVNZ held back four episodes of The Sopranos and we all found a way to watch them anyway. In other ways, they have not. If you’re a TV addict and want more than whatever the Netflix algorithm serves up, sometimes you need to find workarounds.

It happens often. I’m a Survivor diehard, yet I can’t stream a single one of the 44 seasons of the popular American reality show. Where’s Gomorrah, the brilliant Sicilian mob drug drama? (Neon has one season, but five have been made.) Where’s The Bureau, the incredible Parisian spy caper, or Les Revenants, the French ghost story? Ramy, supposedly one of the best TV comedies of the past five years, is nowhere to be found. Same deal with People Just Do Nothing, Los Espookys and The Detectorists, including last year’s Christmas special. (Some of these shows have appeared on local streaming services, but aren’t currently available.)

Many are praising Paul T Goldman as one of the year’s funniest TV shows – I found out about it through David Farrier’s Webworm newsletter, and he admitted passing around his Paramount+ password so friends could see it. As of right now, the only way anyone’s been able to watch that one here was at a one-off movie screening featuring all six episodes and a Q&A with Farrier and the show’s director afterwards.

Don’t get me started on Utopia, the violent, sadistic, torturous series splashed in cartoon colours and circus music that delivered two seasons of stunning television and then disappeared, leaving fans quivering wrecks. (Many years later I tracked down the creator Dennis Kelly for one of my favourite ever interviews.) You can watch the shit 2020 reboot on Prime Video, cancelled after one season, if you want to. Just this week, Mrs Davis, the new show from The Leftovers and Lost’s Damon Lindelof, debuted to rave reviews. Right now, there’s no way of streaming it here.

If you’re wondering why this keeps happening, the details are buried in layers of murky contracts and legal documents relating to streaming rights and regional variations of different international media conglomerates. As the streaming market gets more fragmented and squeezed, things only seem to get more complicated. (At some point, once the Warner Bros. Discovery service Max arrives here next year, Sky TV is likely going to lose access to all its HBO shows.)

These days, opening up apps and searching relentlessly for the shows and movies you want to stream, as I’ve done constantly while researching this piece, is becoming more and more commonplace. You almost need an Excel spreadsheet to make sure you’re doing your savvy switching right.

I get it: streaming services like TVNZ+ are balancing the cost of buying the rights for a show against the payoff they’ll get from them. Do shows like Stath Lets Flats and The North Water deliver eyeballs for TVNZ+? The answer is probably not. So as strange as it may seem to have to wait two years to stream Colin Farrell’s finest performance, it’s still better late than never.

The North Water is streaming now on TVNZ+.

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