Well it has been a while since I listed the television programs I thought were great, and why, and I thought it was time for an update, having seen some good stuff in the meantime.
Much of it on DVD I hasten to add, and some of it a very belated catching up of stuff I had missed years ago. I am so stubborn that I tend to see a lot of people saying something is good as a reason to avoid seeing it. What’s that old saying about noses and faces?
Anyway you will recall that I divided programs into comedy and drama, concluding that while British tv was far and away the best at comedy, and at short drama, the Americans had proved themselves masters at long drama series.
A year or so further on and I have confirmed my views (often happens, surprisingly). Some comedy series to add, all British:
The thick of it
Some hesitation on the last of those, not sure it (like Malcolm in the Middle) will stand the test of time, but something I have been known to laugh out loud at, frequently. The other four on the other hand are almost certainly classic material, all combining that wonderful mix of comedy and tragedy, humour and sadness, that is the mark of great comedy from Shakespeare to now.
And now four drama series to add to my list:
Millenium trilogy (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo etc)
The first two of these, somewhat surprisingly, are Scandinavian. Now for all I know the Scandinavian countries may have a rich heritage of crime drama. But if they did it wasn’t obvious to the outside world until the Millenium Trilogy books, by Stieg Larsson, became an astonishing worldwide hit just after the poor fellow died. Interesting books, combining as they did murder/crime mystery with media, contemporary politics and new technology, and then they made the film/tv series which were just as good, with interesting characters (including a unique female lead) and cliff-hanging horror set against the bland and sterile Swedish landscape. Well worth watching.
As was the “Forbrydelsen” series (the name translated as “The Killing” for English-speaking audiences but actually just meaning “The Crime”) from Denmark. Again a unique female strong lead, but this time walking the mean streets of Copenhagen, mostly at night. And again blending in politics and other contemporary issues, with many many cliff-hanger events and more false leads than in Agatha Christie’s entire oeuvre.
There is apparently another good Scandinavian series called “The Bridge” which I haven’t seen, and one called “Wallender” which was apparently much better in its Swedish version than the English one I’m now watching (there is also similarly a poor American version of Millenium). So quite a Scandinavian crime renaissance. I wouldn’t put any of it into my top five (because of limitation of the genre and the fact that they essentially represent single stories), but they certainly belong in the top twenty.
Which brings me to the final two. I was very late to Deadwood. Criminally late. Have only seen first series so far, but it is astonishingly good. I would say the best western series ever made, but that doesn’t cover it. That it is a western is almost irrelevant. Or only relevant in the way that Shakespeare being set among New York gangs, or 1930s fascists, is relevant. The setting, the acting, the plot are all excellent, the characters are good and evil, weak and strong, brutal and tender, greedy and generous, honest and crooked, mad, bad and dangerous to know. Be prepared for extreme bad language and a lot of violence but be prepared to be dazzled. The final episode of this first series is the best conclusion to any series I have seen in fifty years of television watching. Breathtakingly good. As good as Sopranos if not slightly better. It would be first or second on my all time list if not for the fact that I have also been watching Breaking Bad over recent months.
Ah, Breaking Bad, what can you say? Four series so far, fifth and final series to start broadcasting in America 15 July. Another astonishing achievement which is Shakespearian in quality. If Deadwood could be compared to history plays like Henry Fourth or Fifth, then Breaking Bad is more your Macbeth or Lear. The whole series begins with a chance event which leads to a bad decision. All else flows from that. Again acting and setting are amazing, and the compelling plot is character driven. The two incredibly good lead actors, two people who couldn’t be more different but have become through circumstance thrown together, are locked in an embrace which is driving them on through the nightmare world they have found themselves in.
As with Deadwood (and Sopranos) BB contains lots of extreme violence and bad language. Don’t let that deter you. From the first moments you will be enthralled. Vince Gilligan (like Ball, Sorkin, Milch, Chase) has that rare genius that lets you know you are in safe hands right from the start, and he never lets you down. This is a gem of rare quality. It is, quite simply, the best television drama ever made.