An Ordinary Woman (TVNZ On Demand)
It's one of the hottest dinner party conversations going at the moment. Don't you think it's weird, couples (it's always couples) will ask each other over their prosecco glasses, that the characters in Chernobyl speak in English accents?
Sort of is, now that you mention it. Always a bit jarring when a bunch of people who're meant to be Russian start being all "bugger it, the bloody reactor's gone and exploded".
But what do you want instead? The most popular alternative seems to involve getting the same actors to deliver their lines in Russian accents but I don't know. What if they just ended up sounding like Borat? ("My wife, radiation melt her face off, very nice NOT.")
The best and most obvious answer is also the one no one wants: subtitles. Suggest this at the dinner party and everyone starts screaming "if I wanted to READ I'd pick up a BOOK." Sorry! I just think subtitles, like books, aren't actually that bad.
I'm not even talking about authenticity, though that's a factor too. It's more about how subtitles force you to look at the screen instead of half-listening while scrolling on your phone, glancing up for 0.5 seconds every time you hear an auditory cue. Amazing how much more you enjoy a TV show when you actually watch it.
If you want to see for yourself what watching a Russian-with-English-subtitles series would be like, there's one on TVNZ On Demand right now. An Ordinary Woman is what we in the biz like to call a "hidden gem" – meaning "I completely overlooked it when it came out last month."
The ordinary woman in question is 39-year-old Muscovite Marina (Anna Mikhalkova), who looks a bit like if Amy Poehler was cast to play Adele. She's just your classic mum, juggling family (two daughters, baby on the way, doctor husband shagging a much younger colleague who is now pregnant too) and work (flower shop) with her secret life as a high-end underground pimp.
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Things start to spiral when she gets a phone call saying one of her girls is dead in a hotel room. "Shut the door, sit down and wait," she coolly tells the receptionist. "I'm on my way." A lot of the dialogue is written in this kind of blunt, economical, detective novel language. It's absolutely perfect for subtitles.
They need to move the body but the hotel is crawling with conference guests – the exact same under-the-pump scenario as Derren Brown's cooked Netflix special The Push. Marina thinks about it and tells the receptionist to just crank the air con – she'll be back in the morning to sort it out. When she gets home late, she tells her husband there was a problem with the flower delivery.
It's the same kind of stressful double-life set-up that made Breaking Bad so good, and it looks and feels as sharp as anything that's come off the BBC psychological thriller conveyor belt in recent years. On the other hand – subtitles. What are you gonna do?