Stream It Or Skip It?

Stream It Or Skip It?

Acorn TV has made its name via many, many series that we think of as light mysteries; there are murders, sure, but there’s a sense of humor, a sense of place and a sense of character. What we don’t often see in their shows is a season-long story arc. A new mystery series that takes place in a remote region of South Africa looks like a promising combination of the light-mystery format, with a season-long arc.

Opening Shot: A woman walks down the front stairs of her house, holding a rooster. She grabs an axis. We hear the rooster yell offscreen, but the ax isn’t for him; the woman is using it to chop down some fruit.

The Gist: Maria Purvis (Maria Doyle Kennedy) is living in a small town in the Karoo region in South Africa, and for the last seven years she’s written a recipe column for the local paper. But one morning, as she comes into work with an ostrich pie, her editor, Hattie Wilson (Jennifer Steyn), tells her that her column is going to be dropped in favor of an advice column. β€œHattie Maria,” as she’s known to her readers, offers to write the column, but has friendly competition in the newspaper’s young and daring reporter, Jessie September (Kylie Fisher).

In Karoo, the most heinous crime that usually happens is a drunk guy stealing a tractor, which Chief Detective Khaya Meyer (Tony Kgoroge) and Constable Piet (Elton Landrew) are currently investigating, along with Warrant Officer Arno Greeff (Regardt Snyman), who seems to have a thing for Jesse.

One of the letters Maria gets is by a woman (Tinarie van Wyk Loots) who talks about her abusive husband (Bennie Fourie), a new relationship she’s fostering with a female friend (Daneel Van Der Walt). When her husband purposely shoots the ducks she and her friend were feeding, she wonders if she should have a funeral for them. Maria’s response more or less tells her to bide her time until she can leave him, and also gives a recipe for a fantastic mutton curry.

Maria has some experience, as we see in a flashback to Scotland in 2008, where she’s serving dinner to her unappreciative husband. When she sees that the online version of the column has her last name on it, she insists it be changed to β€œHattie Maria,” but someone back in Scotland has already seen Maria Purvis’ name for the first time in many years.

Maria’s column more popular than Jessie’s, which means she has the advice column job. And a follow-up letter indicates that the original letter writer is going to take her advice. After Jessie trails an ambulance and finds the body of Martine Burger being carried out of her home, with her husband Dirk in distress, Maria makes the connection between this case and her letter writer.

Recipes for Love and Murder
Photo: Acorn TV

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Though the mystery being investigated in Recipes For Love And Murder is more of a continuous season-long arc, something a bit unusual for Acorn’s shows, the show’s lightly-dramatic, small-town feeling is similar to what we’ve seen in Acorn shows like Signora Volpe and Agatha Raisin.

Our Take: Recipes For Love And Murder is based on Sally Andrew’s novels that feature Tannie Maria solving mysteries while writing her popular recipe/advice column. It takes the light mystery format and shakes things up a little bit, not only by stretching the mystery over its ten-episode run but by integrating the letters she gets, showing the letter writer talking to the camera in the words he or she uses in the letter, and showing their situation playing in various scenes.

We’ve seen Maria Doyle Kennedy in many recent series β€” Kin, Outlander, Orphan Black β€” and she always gives a performance that makes her feel like we’ve known her character for a long time. Sometimes that warmth means, but other times it just means she gives her character an air of familiarity and relatability that connects with the viewer. That’s the feeling we get with Tannie Maria. She’s obviously an expat in Karoo, and we’re going to see enough bits from her past to find out why she decamped to South Africa after a life in Scotland. There’s obviously a dark element to it, but how dark is yet to be known.

But the version of Tannie Maria we see in Karoo is a warm, caring woman who very obviously uses her passion for food as her love language. As we see her making the curry that she used for her first advice column, Kennedy shows the attention and care that Tannie Maria puts into picking the ingredients and putting the dish together. That care and passion is her entryway into investigating Marine Burger’s death, and it’ll be interesting to see her team up with both Jessie and Chief Detective Meyer to get to the bottom of the murder, and any other murders that may occur while the investigation is going on.

It seems obvious that it might be Dirk, or perhaps her girlfriend Anna Pretorius, that did the deed. But that seems way too straightforward, and it’ll be intriguing to watch the small town secrets that get revealed as Maria unravels this and other mysteries.

Sex and Skin: Nothing in the first episode.

Parting Shot: Meyer comes into the newspaper office right after Pretorius does, looking for help for Maria. He wants Pretorius to come with him about the murder, but she head butts him and tries to resist before being subdued. Maria sheepishly eats a cookie she brought into the office.

Sleeper Star: Kylie Fisher brings a tiny bit of grit to the show as Jessie, who is trying to advance a serious journalism career in Karoo, where it seems that there isn’t any real news.

Most Pilot-y Line: The newspaper office is in the back of a butcher shop, so when Hattie’s young lunch date comes to pick her up, he claims he’s there to buy sausages. β€œLet’s go see if it’s good quality sausage,” she says. That’s actually about as dirty as things get in the whole episode.

Our Call: STREAM IT. Recipes For Love And Murder is carried by a warm performance from Kennedy and a surprisingly gritty turn by Fisher. But the story takes turns that involve the viewer in its season-long arc, even if the tone is similar to the light-drama, light-comedic one that we see with most of the mystery shows on Acorn.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon,, VanityFair.comFast Company and elsewhere.




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