Everybody loves a good, freakin’ weird mystery. Here are five of the best – picked by Craig Mathieson – and where you can stream them.
For decades television favoured the orderly and streamlined: everything was resolved by the end of the episode. But in the streaming age the inexplicable is addictive and it is chaos – not certainty – that flourishes. As the bounds of scripted drama have opened up, the weird and mysterious have taken hold. the search for answers has become a quest, sometimes hopeless, to merely comprehend the questions.
In that spirit, here are the five bizarrely best mystery series currently streaming that seek the true stranger things.
Black Spot (Netflix, two seasons)
Netflix’s EU-mandated European commissions have produced no shortage of pungent procedurals in which the extraordinary infringes on the everyday. This French series, set in an isolated mountain town where both the mobile signal and reason are at best intermittent, is one of the best.
Framed by walls of green trees that reach higher than the characters can see, Black Spot begins with the arrival of an outside prosecutor, Franck Siriani (Laurent Capulleto), tasked with clearing the backlog of cases drafted by the local police chief. She is Laurene Weiss (Sulianne Brahim), whose own teenage disappearance is part of the town’s lore. The verdant wilderness feels connected to the crimes they investigate, as if the wrongdoing has its very roots in the district’s soil.
Watch Black Spot on Netflix
Tasmanian noir – a heady stew of the sinister strands within a recognisable Australia – is now an international screen genre thanks to Victoria Madden. The co-creator of 2016’s The Kettering Incident followed it up with this supernatural-steeped procedural, about a murder investigation that tips over into the unknown.
With the island’s grim history seeping into the storylines like an unchecked contaminant, an initial grisly murder reunites former friends and now police detectives Molly McGee (Emma Booth) and Alex O’Connell (Ewen Leslie). Both investigators bring a burdened past to the case, which provides some of the relevant answers at the very start of the show so as to leave you wanting clarification on the deeper, darker motives hinted at. The result is a creepy yet instantly familiar immersion.
Watch The Gloaming on Stan
Homecoming (Amazon, one season)
Made with remarkable formal precision, right down to different screen ratios for separate strands of this heartbreaking mystery, by Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail, Homecoming is a quiet, even orderly, examination of what happened at a corporate facility contracted to help traumatised U.S. soldiers recover their mental health and re-enter society. It’s assembled with code-like precision through the action and inaction of the facility’s former therapist (Julia Roberts), a conniving executive defending his product (Bobby Cannavale) and a dogged bureaucratic investigator (Shea Whigham).
Visual clues and precursors punctuate the narrative, including god’s eye view shots that speak to the labyrinthine plot. But the impeccable technique only serves to enhance the emotional friction and buried tragedy. This is the best under-seen series of the streaming era.
Watch Homecoming on Amazon Prime
The OA (Netflix, two seasons)
Dimensional leaps through interpretative dance, possession by an ancient telepathic octopus, a house gamers compete to enter that defies the rules of space and time… the headline oddities from Netflix’s otherworldly drama are the embodiment of mind-bending. But what wins out is that the show’s creators, the independent filmmaking team of director Zal Batmanglij and lead actor Brit Marling, always root their wondrous science-fiction offshoot in a believable milieu that acknowledges and tries to understand these gambits.
Fittingly, for a show where plants are seen growing into human brains, this puzzle-box feels organic, maintaining genuine characters to fuel the metaphysical wonder and testing of personal faith. The show might throw you, but give it a chance by watching until the opening credits of the first episode (granted, they’re 57 minutes in).
Watch The OA on Netflix
The X-Files (SBS on Demand, nine seasons)
The originator of the ‘out there’. Initially airing for nine seasons between 1993 and 2002, the enquiries of FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) were the gateway drug for conspiracy theories, body horror creepiness, and various strange frequencies on television. What used to be pulpy filler on Chris Carter’s network hit now feels like a prediction of our current society’s weird, downwardly spiralling obsessions.
With a mammoth 202 episodes on offer, the show alternates – sometimes frustratingly – between creature of the week cases and the overriding narrative of Mulder’s obsessive search for answers about an insidious alien presence on Earth. What holds it together is the complementary performance of the two leads and a pithy, paranoid outlook. The narrative’s enduring villain was simply known as the Cigarette Smoking Man.
Watch The X-Files on SBS on Demand