TV across the pond: American and British TV shows

The British museum
The British museum

This one took a while to get to actually writing about what I had made up my mind for, a long, long time ago. I have indeed lived happily ever after, as far as what I watch on TV.  It took no one less than THE Doctor ( tenth incarnate: David Tennant) to finally help me locate the locus of my total partiality towards British TV shows, onto what I like to watch: real acting, real possibilities even though fantastical, real people: even if fictitious, real mystery: not always melodramatic in solution and most important, REALly great storytelling.

Anyone who has watched CSIs, or the other equally tragic-comical crime shows like ‘Criminal mind’, ‘Bones’ will tell you, albeit once they have watched ‘Wire in the blood’ (Robson Green) or ‘Sherlock’ (Cumberbatch) or even ‘Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple'(various), ‘Broadchurch’ (Tennant)  to name a few, not only are the former ridiculous hyperinterpretations of crimes that unite hyperbolic writing (hyperscience, timescales and what passes for philosophy) and terrible acting (by supporting and often Lead actors), but also once you watch them you feel like a worst waste of your time was not invented, then of course you watch the local news and change your mind.

I don’t mean to offend anyone, especially since some very talented actors work on American TV, but what can they do? The writing and the stories are so bad that there is nothing that can bring ‘it’ back. Not even Oscar nominated/ winning actors: Gary Sinise or Forest Whitaker. I don’t just mean drama either, despite Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey and Amy Poelher, American sitcoms are ridiculously tedious, if not poor copies of British sitcoms. Even while Parks and Rec is something I look forward to, it cannot hold a candle to anything with Ricky Gervais or Stephen Fry in it. Unfortunately Alec Baldwin never wrote anything and Tina Fey decided to try movies.

Not all British shows are that great, e.g., Luther is quite mediocre, but at least doesn’t last an hour and the stories are far less bizarre. A serious plus is that no one brandishes ten handguns every 10 seconds,  a SWAT team and twenty automatics are also rarely seen. Some mini series, despite a great cast are not as great, like Parade’s end (which had Cumberbatch). But for each of that there is Exile (John Simm) and The last enemy (Cumberbatch again). Even the dramatic dramas like The Tudors ( it is not a British production, an Irish one I think, but it is from across the pond and is well edited) are quite well made with eloquent performances.

America doesn’t even try science fiction (and NO, all those vampire shows are not science fiction and while Smallville or Roswell is or was, I will not waste one more word), the sorry sitcom ‘Big Bang theory’ just reasserts how little Americans actually understand (or want to understand) scientists with such horrific stereotypes that would repel most people who know scientists(or God forbid, are scientists themselves), well at least after the first two, reasonably good seasons, despite the dumb blonde being verily worshipped. My main problem is her, and till a point the rest of the cast  made up for her, until I simply got bored. I still know people who think it is funny and yes, they do have a legitimate PhD in their cast, but getting a degree never made a good scientist and all of the ones in BBT are supposedly iconic in their fields and yet, I have met several good (great?) scientists who maybe eccentric, but are nothing like Sheldon. Although, he is funny. It is one thing to expect us to laugh at ourselves, which we no doubt would if we could relate it to any aspect of our real life at all: read PhD comics if you are unfortunate enough to be one, have some brain cells and still want to laugh whether you are in or long-out of grad school. It will  never succeed as a sitcom here, because will an addict to BBT relate to that image of a real life and its absurdities as a graduate student/scientist?

Whereas, right across the pond Doctor Who, the ultimate- longest running science fiction series ever (according to me)  has been popular for decades, uses scientific jargon-simplified, without hesitation. It has its OWN dedicated magazine and literally nothing I say has not been said. Scientists (aliens or otherwise) are actually admired,  even if they are evil. I don’t know much about the spinoffs, but every episode of Doctor Who, and The Doctor himself as a character and his allies never ceases to please me. I would take the hope for an actual existing doctor over Santa Claus, Jesus and Ram, ANY DAY.  The doctor, despite his powers, is not the one who always saves the day (yes, not America, but also NOT Britain all the time, he saves many worlds and has a real interest in EARTH! the Ood and all secondary-tertiary planets and satellites humans establish themselves in the future). It is often someone quite ordinary, some times his companion, but sometimes, just another human being who is average in everything else, except in that one moment of stupendous courage, brilliance or both ( see the episode ‘Midnight’ when the doctor is nearly ousted by an unknown, mind bending being). It is a real celebration of the average human being, that time and again the Time Lord fawns over calling it the indubitable ‘human spirit’ of wonder and quest for answers and capacity to love and sacrifice. Each episode brilliantly brings together time and space with not a blip in story- telling or character development.  Whereas, the ‘quest’ is steadfastly focused towards finding the right husband or wife or lover in comedy or tragedy, in politics or hospitals, in reality shows or celebrity shows on US TV shows. Dysfunctional families with serious issues are often thought to be supremely hilarious, as idolized in ‘Arrested development’ without the undercurrent of poignancy that flows in comedies based on real life challenges like ‘Derek’ (Gervais). Even serious shows on families are terribly dramatized, but those are not my genre of TV anyway, but kill me before I am forced to watch Parenthood by aliens.

Mysteries, whether they are historical, like Foyle’s War (Michael Kitchen), Bletchley circle (Rachael Stirling, Julie Graham and Sophie Rundell), Oxbridge based: Endeavour (Shaun Evans) or Inspector Lewis (Kevin Whately) ( everyone agrees that Cambridge and Oxford are frozen in time) or contemporary (did I mention Sherlock yet?)  Broadchurch (Tennant), Prime Suspect (Helen Mirren), Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) actually get to the nitty gritty, everyday life of the detectives, the politics in a Police department, the actual possibilities and limitations of forensics and no one is shown like they walked out of a magazine cover after 48 sleepless hours. Instead of simply developing eccentricities of the main characters, they are actually given a three dimensional life, philosophy, history, beliefs. The story intricately allows a slow discovery  of the victims, the perpetrator and the investigator and how the characters of each define the possibility of a solution, after felling the blind spots and preexisting barriers that prevent even the most brilliant investigators to see clearly. Those characters actually appear to care about what they are doing, not just how they look while they are doing something that is supposed to be ‘it’! And again, did I mention, the (rarely) handsome police officials, especially the DCIs and the DSs do not carry guns. Neither does the Doctor.

There is a reason my heart skips a beat when Netflix suggests something that belongs to the Masterpiece series. The (anti) reason I cringe at How I met your mother ( no, even Barney couldn’t actually save the show). Don’t tell me that Breaking bad wasn’t bad.It wasn’t. Skyler White was the best character in the show according to me (and a Slate article). And it goes a long way to tell you the type of audience American TV shows have, when you see how many people, especially women, profess to hate the only half-decent, strong character that show had. The show was, however, 10 times longer than it needed to be. 5-6 episodes ‘creatively’ edited and directed ( same actors) would have told the story and actually kept it crisp and somewhat realistic. (All those ‘House’ fans.. Hugh Laurie is British and also, a far better comedian than one would imagine him to be and again, every good doctor or even genius is NOT an ass, and is certainly NOT required to be so . The same reason Netflix copied at least the basis, the ideas and the story of the ‘House of cards’ from the original British show. The reason is: they are just brilliantly envisioned and never miss a trick. We do indeed have the best of times on British TV (mostly with, but even without the doctor).

Save London again, I say, Doctor. Women actually want to be a part of something brilliant there and won’t look apologetic or sad for being smart! And that’s at the center of my locus. Women are essential in each of the shows and do not need saving, or salivating to feel good about themselves. All those who think Steven Moffat is a sexist are nuts. Irene Adler should give them an earful. Of course Russel T Davies was thankfully never accused of being one and he wrote most of the 10th doctor’s episodes. The women, have a personality, a functioning mind and they may be attracted to the Doctor, but seriously, any woman with half a brain should be, it is far better than running after the Bachelor or any other sports Jock. Additionally, they actually DO something in the show, and I loved them all. I am sure they will forgive if I have not mentioned them all by name here (saving that for a post on my favorite TV actresses). Although, must mention: Catherine Tate, Freema Agyeman (Doctor Who) and Honeysuckle Weeks (Foyle’s war), Olivia Colman (Broadchurch) just because they are awesome and Geraldine McEwan who made me love Miss Marple (I am not an Agatha Christie fan, but as the doctor predicts, she may be the best selling novelist of all of time. No one is perfect).

Before the list that follows, let me apologize to everyone for being so biased towards the tenth doctor (David Tennant) and what his personality was to explain Doctor Who, but he is the one I believe in and I don’t really think anyone will actually mind.

The exception that proves the rule (again), an American show: ‘The Killing’, an adaptation of a Danish TV show I believe, now in its fourth and last season, is worth watching, even twice!!  It was cancelled by AMC, twice too, so you know that *people* just don’t get it here ( OR I am just way off!) !!  It has been saved by Netflix as an ‘original’, has a strong female lead (Mireille Enos) and a most affable character played by the absolutely gorgeous Joel Kinnaman- the Swedish-American actor and my latest obsession. No one does once tweaked, yet sharp;  vulnerable but defiant to the end, detective, who, is most definitely not a chauvinist; not even a covert one, better. He admires Linden (Enos) and feels no regret or inferiority. His character (Holder) is even more endearing when he is so completely off the right path of investigation! Human and real. Yes, they finally got it.. too bad only the Netflix freaks like me watch it! As a footnote- there are places in season 1 that do drag, the oft mention foster home experience, is too oft ( if you ‘feel’ me) and some other typical American feels, do reverberate. Although, season 3 with the homeless young, more than makes up for everything.

I should list the shows available on Netflix online: Doctor Who (everything, almost); The last enemy, Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple (series), Foyle’s War (except the last season), Wallander(up to date), Endeavour (Episodes and movie), Derek (up to date), Wire in the blood (series), Exile (series) and The Tudors (series) and of course Sherlock (except last season).Broadchurch, Parade’s end can be bought per view to watch on Amazon and Inspector Lewis and Inspector Morse, Sherlock are free on Amazon prime.

Some other series recommendations, if you like Doctor Who (and any of the others mentioned above): The returned (French, with subtitles), Zen (Rufus Sewell and Caterina Murino, series on Hulu, set in Italy, but in English), Jeeves and Wooster (the original with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, on Hulu), Orphan Black (Tatiana Maslany, season one on Amazon prime, 2 is pay per view; not on par with any of the above, but still quite good), Kingdom ( Stephen Fry, Netflix), Whitechapel (Rupert Penry-Jones, Netflix and Amazon prime). I recently found Engrenages (Spiral): possibly the best crime show I have ever seen, because of its unique characterization and plot development, not to mention acting and storyline, it is in French but with English subtitles on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. 

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