‘Peacock’ Adds Some Espionage to Home Video Streaming

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Holliday Grainger and Callum Turner star in the espionage thriller series "The Capture." (Peacock)

NBC/Comcast just-launched streaming service Peacock arrives with two shows about espionage and tactical surveillance in the modern world.

The service, designed to compete with HBO Max, Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV+ and the dozens of other platforms asking for your time and money, launched Wednesday. It’s available on iOS, Android, Comcast boxes and Apple TV. You can’t get it yet on Roku or Amazon Fire devices, as both services are currently having the same financial dispute with Peacock that they’re having with HBO Max.

The good news is that Peacock is offering a free version that gives access to thousands of hours of older NBC shows. These shows include advertising but the service promises no more than five minutes of ads per hour, less than half of what you’re getting on cable or broadcast TV.

The complicated news is that the service comes with two more tiers. If you want access to Peacock’s Premium tier with a slate of original shows, a subscription is $4.99/month unless Comcast is throwing in Peacock with your cable subscription. Then it’s free.

You can also get rid of all advertising by subscribing at $9.99/month. If you’re one of those Comcast customers getting Peacock’s tier two for free, then you can upgrade to ad-free for $4.99/month.

Two new shows may be especially interesting to military audiences: “Intelligence” and “The Capture.”

“Intelligence”

“Intelligence” is a half-hour comedy set at London’s General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the successor agency of the World War II codebreakers at Bletchley Park. David Schwimmer is Jerry Bernstein, an NSA agent who fulfills every British stereotype of the arrogant, insecure take-charge American.

Co-starring and created by British comic Nick Mohammed, the show focuses on the developing working relationship between Berstein and Mohammed’s Joseph Harries, an office drone who’s impressed that he’s allowed to hang out with a real United States intelligence officer. Why was Bernstein sent to suburban London? Is it a punishment or reward?

Schwimmer is funny even if the show never does much more than scratch the surface of its premise. If you’re looking for spycraft, there’s none here. It’s already been renewed for season two in the U.K., so expect to see more “Intelligence” next year.

“The Capture”

“The Capture” is a far more interesting proposition. A British soldier named Shaun Emery (Callum Turner), convicted of murdering a civilian while serving in Afghanistan, is cleared when an expert convinces an appeals court that the audio on another soldier’s bodycam is subject to “drift” over time and that the footage used to convict him didn’t show events as they happened.

After a party to celebrate this release, Emery is captured on CCTV assaulting his lawyer Hannah Roberts (Laura Haddock) and DI Rachel Carey (Holliday Grainger) is assigned the case.

Emery didn’t actually assault Roberts and Carey slowly uncovers the complicated truth about the crime and how CCTV is being manipulated in the U.K. The truth even taints the biggest arrest of her career, a capture made possible by her discovery of a meeting of terrorists on CCTV.

It’s now almost impossible to move around a major city in the United Kingdom without being on a security camera and “The Capture” raised a huge debate when it aired on television there last fall. If you can’t believe what you see, then maybe surveillance or bodycams aren’t the answer to either crime or terror.

There’s also a thread involving the rush to diagnose soldier Shaun Emery with PTSD to explain his alleged actions. The government, the media and even his own lawyers are happy to blame war trauma for acts the soldier never committed. Shaun Emery is a warrior who carries a burden, but the show’s creators are sensitive enough to realize that not everyone who serves in combat is forced to deal with post-traumatic stress.

The story is intricate and complicated. The Americans are involved through mysterious agent Frank Napier (Ron Perlman), who’s running his own operations on U.K. soil and may or may not have the full backing of the country’s government. There’s an anti-CCTV activist group and British intelligence agencies looking to use cameras to support the war on terror.

It’s hard to identify heroes and villains in the story and the ending both shocks and leaves a lot of questions unanswered. The series would be a gem if it ended here and left the viewer to ponder what the characters choose to do going forward but the BBC has announced that they’ve ordered a season two.

“The Capture” is a winner, worth signing up for a month of premium at $4.99 just to stream its six episodes.

The Rest of Peacock

There’s a wide assortment of series available on the free tier, including “Downton Abbey,” “Murder She Wrote,” “The Rockford Files,” “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Monk,” “Friday Night Lights,” “21 Jump Street,” “Columbo,” “30 Rock,” season one of “Yellowstone” and a huge selection from the company’s vast reality show catalog.

Free movies include the Jurassic Park trilogy, the Bourne trilogy, the Matrix trilogy, popular Alfred Hitchcock movies, most of the classic Universal horror movies and “The Sting.”

If you’re using the free version of the service, you can’t hide what you can’t watch, so Peacock will always be tempting you to upgrade to watch some of its best material.

Premium tier shows include all three “Law & Order” series, “Everybody Loves Raymond,” season two of “Yellowstone,” “King of Queens,” “Cheers,” “Two and a Half Men” and “House.” The movies include “Lone Survivor,” “Shrek” and “Ted.”

NBC will be streaming its broadcast shows on the service one week after airing on the free tier and next day on the premium tier. Controversially (at least to local NBC affiliate stations), you’ll be able to watch “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” and “Late Night with Seth Myers” hours before they air on broadcast TV.

So, what else do you get with Peacock original programming? It’s kind of a weird assortment but, to be fair, there are most likely a few shows that didn’t get made when Hollywood production shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Going Deep With Ryan Lochte” is a documentary about Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte’s attempt to make a comeback and clean up his bad reputation.

“Lost Speedways” is a charming travel show from Dale Earnhart Jr. that aims to tell the stories of “ghost tracks,” abandoned speedways around the South.

“Psych 2: Lassie Come Home” is a sequel to the USA Network series about a fake mentalist who solves crimes in his hometown of Santa Barbara.

“Brave New World” is a 9-hour adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel about technology and totalitarianism. If you’re in a certain age range, you’ll have strong memories of reading it in high school and wondering how a book with this much sex was taught in public school. If you’re younger, you may know it as a banned book from your high school library.

The book has enough plot for either a 2-hour movie or maybe a two-part miniseries, so the creators of Peacock’s “Brave New World” have used the premise and wandered off in their own direction. The show stars Alden Ehrenreich (“Solo: A Star Wars Story”), Jessica Brown Findlay (“Downton Abbey”) and Harry Lloyd (“Game of Thrones”) and features spectacular effects for a television series.

“Brave New World” has run through the book’s storyline by the middle of episode three and you’ve got 6 1/2 hours left to go. Do viewers really need that much more?

Peacock also includes a wide selection of news clips from NBC and MSNBC and a live Premier League football on both the free and premium tiers.

It’s easy to see how exclusive Olympic programming would’ve been a huge draw for Peacock this summer. As it stands now, the service is offering a lot of shows and movies that haven’t been available for streaming recently (or ever). The free tier seems like a no-brainer and there may be a lot to like at $5/month.

One early viewing note. I’ve been streaming a variety of shows and movies since the service went live and I’ve seen far fewer commercials than I would’ve expected on both the free and premium tier. That doesn’t mean NBC won’t expand the advertising when the service gets more traction, but the current commercial load is far less than what you’re getting on cable or on another free service like Pluto TV.

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