Better TV

He's happier when the women don't have balloons on them. No balloons in the Old Country.

He’s happier when the women don’t have balloons on them.

Nobody wanted to talk about my subversive TV nominations. So I’ll try to be a good citizen instead and talk about some shows worth seeing if you can find them.

These are available on-demand or on Netflix. Mostly they’re Canadian or Brit. Wish WE could do better, but we insist on spoiling even the good ones we have by extending them indefinitely until they expire from boredom and repetition. Really liked Suits, but it should have been a single 12 episode season. Can’t watch it anymore. Same with Rescue Me. And The Killing. Which taints the memory.

Whitechapel. Present day Oxbridge detective suffering from OCD encounters crimes reminiscent of the Ripper murders and other old cases. Clever, compelling, and well acted. Seasons last about three episodes or so.

Luther. Idris Elba, fine actor, is a tormented London detective who plays fast and loose with the law while solving bizarre crimes no one else can solve. His most revealing relationship is with a female serial killer beyond the reach of the law who possibly loves him, and who knows what Luther is thinking? A couple of three episode seasons. Very intense. Outstanding.

Ripper Street. Fascinating but slow-developing six-episode series set in the precinct of the Ripper murders in their immediate aftermath. Stars Matthew McFaydden of MI-5 fame and keeps getting deeper and more involved. Every character gets fleshed out eventually, and eventually you discover you care about everyone from thug cops to prostitutes. Also a great American character — a gunfighter medical examiner in Victorian London.

The Hour. A superior Brit variation on Mad Men. Two seasons of six episodes, each self-contained. A post-war BBC precursor of 60 minutes (but broadcast live) is launched and runs into the hellish web of Whitehall politics. Extraordinary performances by Ben Whishaw and Dominic West. Reminiscent of the ill-fated AMC series Rubicon. Also one of the Chaplin granddaughters doing a splendid turn as a betrayed wife who actually wants her husband back.

The Murdoch Mysteries. Some of the whimsy of the Midsomer Murders but a more compelling central character, a brilliant Jesuit prodigy of forensic science in 1890s Toronto. In the first season, he meets and works with both Nikola Tesla and Arthur Conan Doyle, whom he at one point throws in jail. The science is researched and fun, and the tone is serious but never as mean as it seems it might be in other hands.

Bramwell. Jemma Redgrave. You know, the Redgraves really can act. Bramwell is a female Victorian doctor trying to run a free clinic in London. The first season is definitely worth watching. She’s an angel of mercy but no saint. Prejudice against women isn’t the only thing she’s fighting. She’s fighting her own prejudices and judgments too.

Vera. An eccentric old broad of a detective chief inspector. Brenda Blethyn. She’s not good at the people thing. She lives in a bleak remote place like the place Jesse Stone lives in in his somewhat ponderous movie series. But the mysteries are good, even if she’s about the only character with any lines on the police force.

Blue Murder. A series that shouldn’t be as entertaining as it is. She’s a Brit cliche, a detective inspector in working class Manchester going through a separation and divorce while trying to raise two teenagers. It’s engaging nonetheless. She’s sweet on her much younger junior partner, and she runs out of breath trying to chase suspects. But she figures things out despite the fact that she also screws up on a regular basis, at home and at work.

Rosemary and Thyme. An old-fashioned soufflĂ© of a mystery series. Two, er, mature women are running a gardening service and keep running also into murder among the upper classes. They trip over bodies among the boxwoods, overhear scandalous whispers at the local pub, and get caught sneaking into the clients’ bedrooms looking for clues. Great fun.

Murder in Suburbia. Two more female detectives. Both of them attractive and horny. They solve their cases in neighborhoods that look like developments in Ohio. In case you didn’t know it, Britain ain’t all picturesque Midsomer villages. But they’re clever these girls. And they don’t always end their cases in bed. They just wish they did.

The Da Vinci Files. An actual long-running series from Canada. Da Vinci is the coroner, a divorcee, and a recovering alcoholic with a sweet daughter. He keeps trying to do the right thing. It all works somehow.

Rectify. Aha. One of ours, I’m almost sure. A Sundance Channel limited series. Six episodes they promise. (But The Killing made promises too.) A man is freed from Death Row in Georgia after 19 years and 5 stays of execution. The DNA evidence, finally analyzed, casts his guilt in doubt. Have only seen Episode 1, but the writing and acting are stellar, even if the action is almost nonexistent. The central character is riveting, lost in the Death Row time of right now and nothing more. (Reminded me almost at once of Faulkner’s first novel, Soldier’s Pay.) A truly gifted actor I’ve never seen before. His sister is almost as compelling. People still want to try him again, and there must be reasons, but we don’t know what they are. The first episode ends with a shocking development. Now you know as much as I do.

You’ve got all weekend to cruise through these offerings. I expect prompt reviews.

Ell Oh Ell.

5 thoughts on “Better TV

  1. How exciting… I’ve seen none of those. Will have to check them out.

    I recall reading once that five seasons is the magic number for a show to reach after which it becomes profitable to put it in syndication, or something to that effect. So there’s lots of pressure to run any successful show out to at least that length. Nobody wants to do a really good show that is only intended to run 13 eps. Funding is different in the UK (and I presume Canada), so you can get more one-offs, or short-run high quality stuff like “Sherlock”.

  2. Looked them up on Netflix. About half are available for streaming: Luther, Murdoch Mysteries, Bramwell, Vera, Blue Murder, and Rosemary and Thyme. That ought to keep me busy a while.

    Not long ago I watched a few episodes of The Murdoch Mysteries and liked it enough that I plan to watch the rest.

    My dad has recommended “White Collar” to me but I haven’t checked it out yet. Anybody know anything about it?

  3. Watched all of Luther and the first Vera movie. Both were good recommendations. Planning to watch the other Vera movies in time.

    My favorite, though, is the Murdoch Mysteries; I’ve gotten back into it and I’m finding that I like it more and more with each show. Just finished Season 1. All four main characters are fun to watch. Interesting to see elements of religion and the supernatural peppered throughout the show so far.

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