Category Archives: TV

What’s On TV – Happy Valley

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 248/501
Title: Happy Valley
Episodes Aired: 12 so far
Year(s): 2014-now
Country: UK

By the time this post goes up, it is likely that we’ll either know about the premiere date for the third season of Happy Valley – after more than a 5 year gap – or it could have even started. Knowing that a third season was being made and coming out soon, it felt like the right time to re-watch the first season and then make sure I am in a position to watch the new episodes as they air.

Not to mince words, but Sarah Lancashire is one of the greatest living actors to work in television. I am old enough to remember seeing her on Coronation Street, but have since seen her in other works like Clocking Off, Seeing Red and Lark Rise to Candleford. I even saw her in the short-lived stage production of Betty Blue Eyes alongside Reece Shearsmith.

So yes, big fan of her and I don’t know if I will see her topping this performance in Happy Valley. Then again, she has Sally Wainwright’s creative machine with her on this one – which does make me look forward to eventually getting around to Last Tango In Halifax.

The thing about Happy Valley that works so amazingly well is that it feels real. We have so many police dramas on television, that to see something that isn’t testosterone fuelled cliche. The characters and their problems are bleak, but normal. This is not a well to do area, the name Happy Valley being a nickname due to the areas huge drug problem.

So many of these characters are those that you root for and you can still feel incredibly angry at. Lancashire’s character makes so many bad choices, but is also a true hero does her job as a sergeant to the best of her abilities whilst still be incredibly affected by the things she sees and does. This show gets violent at times, yes, but it never feels gratuitous – instead shadows of things to come.

I am so looking forward to the third season now and, if anything, the prolonged break will be a great thing. A lot will have happened in the intervening years, but wow what stories Wainwright will be able to tell. Wish it was on right now.

What’s On TV – M*A*S*H

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 247/501
Title: M*A*S*H
Episodes Aired: 256
Year(s): 1972-1983
Country: USA

So it has been an awfully long time since I was last in a position to cross off a TV show. At the moment there are four on the go, so the remaining three will probably all come home to roost in the coming weeks. With M*A*S*H, this was very much my husband’s choice to watch as he’d grown up watching re-runs. We started watching this around his birthday and have continued on since then.

As part of his showing me M*A*S*H, the initial idea was that we would hop around as it went on for years and had a number of cast changes. However, much like with Cheers it became clear early on that this is something I will just want to keep watching until we finish off the 256 episodes at some point in 2029.

For those who don’t know about M*A*S*H, this is a sitcom that went on for a decade and depicts the working lives of a medical station during the Korean War. The show lasted longer than the war and already I have seen them completely ignore how time works – but that’s fine I get why they had to do this. 

So, one thing worth noting is that this is a show in the 1970s that is having to depict how people were in the 1950s. Given that, there are some things that haven’t aged well because they were put in the series to illustrate the attitudes of the 50s (like a certain slur used about Koreans that appears once in a blue moon out of the mouths of less than likable characters) which you would not put into a primetime series in the 2020s. So where they were meant to be put there as a wink to how backwards we were, they are now just… not something you’d expect to hear.

I feel that with that paragraph I am really selling this series short. M*A*S*H still works many years later as a really great comedy and, in later seasons, a comedy-drama. You really grow to love the characters and can enjoy watching the development of the likes of Father Mulcahy, Major Houlihan and Radar. 

I didn’t see as much of the later series, so can’t speak to those characters – but from what I saw, it’s admirable that this series managed to run for 11 years and find a way to stay fresh. The fact that it broke the mold of being a sitcom without a laughter track by the time the show ended (although it never did in the operating theatre scenes) and started to include more dramatic and experimental content shows how essential this show is to understanding modern dramedies. Definitely glad we got around to this show already.

What’s On TV – Midsomer Murders

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 246/501
Title: Midsomer Murders
Episodes Aired: 126+
Year(s): 1997-now
Country: UK

There is something to be said for a good cozy British murder drama. Especially when you are wrapped in a blanket because it is freezing cold outside and you want to not focus too much on something. This is what Midsomer Murders means to me and why I will be keeping this show on for the time being.

Given that an episode is 100 minutes long, I didn’t exactly watch a massive chunk of these before consisdering myself far enough in to cross it off for the sake of the blog. I pretty much stayed in the original era, figuring it would be good to see the episodes where they first adapt from the books that the series is based on and then seeing them venture into original content.

Honestly, I prefer the original content. Firstly, because they don’t all feature an LGBT character acting in a negative way – something that really began to leave a bad taste in my mouth during the first season. Also, the original content helped to properly flesh out the recurring characters and even begin to show some self-awareness at just how murderous this area of England is.

Seriously though, it is some sort of running joke that this rural county of Midsomer has the same murder rate as some of the most dangerous areas of America. Not that it’s all death by shooting… there was one episode where victims were burned alive, decapitated by an antique sword and even shot in the back with an arrow. Can’t say this is an area of the world I would want to live in, but at least it would be entertaining.

I know that, in it’s 20+ years there have been a lot of cast changes to the point where, like Silent Witnessit is probably a different show now compared to where it was in 1997. I’ll get to these later series eventually, but given their extreme length it may take me a good few years before I get anywhere close to up-to-date. Hopefully they’ll stay just as cozy.

What’s On TV – Lost

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 245/501
Title: Lost
Episodes Aired: 121
Year(s): 2004-2010
Country: USA

17 years ago, Lost first aired on Channel 4 in the UK as a simulcast with ABC in the USA. There was a rave review for it in the Metro, so I decided to start watching it. A few months later, I stopped watching because it just didn’t click for me – even though the pilot was excellent. In the years since, I started regretting this and so added it to my ‘to watch’ list which just kept growing and growing.

Well, the series has since ended. Like pretty much everyone on the internet, I know how it ended and how the whole resolution was a bit of a… well in the end it’s the kind of series where without the week-on-week mystery it becomes something that needs to be about ‘the friends we made along the way’.

Still though, there was a lot of pressure on this series and it was one of those on the 1001 list that I was most looking forward to seeing. Off the top of my head, Buffy is probably the main series that eclipsed it.

Now here I am, a second attempt under my belt and a second time where I have since given up on Lost. I lasted longer though and set a goal for what was meant to be the episode where the whole thing pivots. I mean, waiting for that episode worked for The Vampire Diaries… and I was really hoping it would again. It didn’t and it’s possibly the most disappointed I have been in my relationship to a TV show.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things about this show I liked. There are characters like Sun, Jin and Charlie that I really warmed to and I do like the idea of mysteries like the numbers, time travel and the alternate flash-sideways universe. However, it feels like for every moment that hits there are plenty more that miss and plenty of characters that I really wish didn’t get so much screen time – like Jack and Kate.

The pilot was still brilliant and this show had shining moments, but given how many other things I want to watch and how many hidden treasures I have yet to see (like how, recently, I binged and loved Wonder Showzen which was a random show to watch) life is too short. I feel that if a show like this doesn’t grab me on two attempts, it’s time to let it go.

What’s On TV – Marchlands

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 244/501
Title: Marchlands
Episodes Aired: 5
Year(s): 2011
Country: UK

So, it is Christmas Day and things haven’t worked out the way I’d hoped. Covid-19 hit the support bubble, I’ve probably been exposed and (as we had none of the Christmas food here in the flat) lunch was dim sum that I’ve had in the freezer since March in case of food shortages. Since I wanted to try and keep some Christmas alive, I thought it was the perfect time to find a miniseries to consume that was either period or spooky. We ended up with spooky.

Marchlands was a five-part miniseries from nearly a decade ago that follows three families that live in the same house in different times (1968, 1987 and 2010) – a house that features the spirit of a young girl called Alice. Over the course of four hours, we follow the three families as they experience the spirit of Alice in different ways. In the sixties, the girl just died and we follow the immediate family as they deal with her under-explained death; a family in the eighties are her first haunting and threaten to tear them apart; the most recent sees the elements come together and finally answer the questions.

This is one of those stories that was built for a mini-series. The fact that this was originally pitched as a full season drama on American TV boggles my mind, as I am not sure how many ridiculous twists and turns you would need to pile in to make it work for a 24 episode order. Just 5 episodes with just enough mystery to make you guess and some great character work to keep you watching.

With Jodie Whittaker, Alex Kingston, Denis Lawson and Anne Reid occupying major roles – you know that would are going to settle in and watch some good British television. Jodie Whittaker and Anne Reid – playing the same role in the 1968 and 2010 respectively – are especially brilliant as the mother of Alice trying to find out the truth behind their daughter’s death.

If you go into this and expect a full-on supernatural thriller, you are going to be really disappointed. However, if you are happier for a slower burn where it gets creepy and you are happy to enjoy a mystery, this may be the show for you. It certainly was the perfect show to keep spirits alive this Christmas.

It’s been nice to cross off something off of the television list for the first time in months. I’m still in the middle of my watch of another show, but I am being a lot less strict with my TV watching at the moment and making time for things like Schitt’s Creek and the many versions of Taskmaster. Maybe I’ll speed up again at some point, but that time isn’t now.

What’s On TV – Man V. Food

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 243/501
Title: Man V. Food
Episodes Aired: 85
Year(s): 2008-2012
Country: USA

It’s been a few years since we started watching Iron Chef, but we have finally finished all the episodes that we could find on YouTube. This left a hole in our (okay, my) lives where a food show needs to reside. Sure they are still making The Great British Bake Offbut sometimes you want to watch something that isn’t baked.

Man V. Food not only scratches that itch, but it also made me think something I thought inconceivable – I’m actually wondering if I could complete an eating challenge. As in, COVID-19 is probably the only thing stopping me from trying to get my husband to try a London-based challenge with me.

Okay backpedalling a bit. Man V. Food is a show taking you to restaurants around the USA that offer good food in extremely large portions, always ending in host Adam Richman trying one of the local ridiculous food challenge. In the episodes that I’ve seen so far, these challenges have included burgers, milkshakes, ridiculously hot wings, nuclear hot curry and a metre long bratwurst. I was a bit jealous of that last one.

In these times, Man V. Food is not only helping to scratch a food itch but also a travel itch. Sure, this show could be even better if I knew there were episodes coming where they travelled outside of the US – even if it was just over the border to Canada, Mexico or (dare I say) one of the dependencies like Guam or American Samoa. That aside, this is exactly the sort of show I needed at this time and I still have many episodes to go.

What’s On TV – The Young Ones

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 242/501
Title: The Young Ones
Episodes Aired: 12
Year(s): 1982-1984
Country: UK

So I am still ridiculously ahead when it comes to the proportion of comedies on the 1001 list, but since my husband has been really wanting to share this with me for over decade, I couldn’t exactly refuse him. Going into this I knew bits and pieces about The Young Ones because of how big an impact is had on the UK comedy scene. Sections like Vyvyan ripping down the beginning sequence of The Good Life or the entire parody of University Challenge make their way into clip shows and documentaries about British comedies.

Imagine my utter horror when, having finished the first episode, I wanted nothing more to do with this. Let alone 11 more episodes. I thought it was amateurish and that fake edginess you get with poorly attempted shock humour. The fact that my husband loved this show… well I felt just awful. A few episodes in and, for me, it began to find its feet and I started to enjoy it once we got into the second series.

This is the interesting thing with having comedy series so short in the UK. The first series of six episodes is so much seeing how it works and then, if you like a show, you hope enough others liked it that it gets a second series to work out the kinks. Same with Red Dwarf. At least in the US you have enough episodes in a half season order to try and divert course if something isn’t quite connecting.

The Young Ones works best for me when it just goes full throttle on the absurdity. Also when people like Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French turn up for a cameo – the star quality of those two really is something else. I also started to like it more when they transferred a lot of the bullying away from Neil and onto Rick. Made it feel less hostile because rather than just piling on someone helpless, they piled onto a prick.

It’s my pick for a show next and, after the Emmys, I am finally getting around to seeing Schitt’s Creek. Not a list show, but one I have been meaning to see for a number of years and it fills the comedy role rather nicely in our watchlist.

What’s On TV – The Quatermass Experiment

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 241/501
Title: The Quatermass Experiment
Episodes Aired: 6
Year(s): 1953
Country: UK

Well, much like Abigail’s Partythis was a very quick series to get through. Why? Because only two of the six episodes have not been lost to the mists of time. This is television so old that the BBC didn’t record and archive the show – instead it was live to air and that’s it. The reason we had the first two episodes was because they recorded it to tape off a television in case it could be sold to another market.

Being lost is a shame for most films and TV shows, but when you have a landmark of a genre that cannot be retrieved it is all the sadder. The Quatermass Experiment is one of the most influential shows ever made as it helped to spark science fiction on the television and whose presence can be felt in 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, I have to take a lot of people’s words on that because the bulk of the plot and the action happen in the episodes that I cannot see.

For the two episodes that I could see – The Quatermass Experiment has an interesting first episode (minus some sound issues) and then a bit of a downturn of a second episode. It’s not really the fault of the second episode, but you know how it goes – the first episode is to get you hooked and then the bulk of the set up is in episode two. Makes it a real shame that I never got to see the more sci-fi elements of plant monsters in the remaining episodes, but there’s a film remake of it that I am just itching to try out.


What’s On TV – Abigail’s Party

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 240/501
Title: Abigail’s Party
Episodes Aired: 1
Year(s): 1977
Country: UK

Rarely is a list of the best UK television ever made without Abigail’s Party sitting somewhere. Considering that, technically, this was a single episode in the long-running BBC Play for Today series such singular recognition is no mean feat. In fact this is the only episode to be featured in the 1001 series – although a case could have also been made for Nuts In May.

The Play for Today is exactly as it sounds, a televised adaptation of a stage play. For Abigail’s Party it is very much that with all scenes taking place in the same set, the majority of which happen around the sofa at the front. As someone who loved I, Claudius – which was essentially a play done for television – the style of filming didn’t bother me too much. However, I do wonder if this was produced as a straight single drama, rather than a Play for Today, whether I would have had problems.

Probably not, Abigail’s Party would still get the plaudits because of how brilliantly written and acted it is. This is one of those pieces that clearly comes from the British sensibilities around manners and class that I do wonder how those outside the UK would view it. It’s so quintessentially of my culture that, despite this being 40 years old, so much of the class conflict and the characters themselves still ring extremely true to this day.

Speaking of characters, there is no way you can talk about Abigail’s Party without discussing Beverly. She is the centrepiece of the drama and is the one that has invited her neighbours over to have drinks only for them to watch her snipe with her husband and lead everyone to get more and more drunk. She is such a complex character to watch because, in many ways, she is monstrous and in others is deeply deeply sad.

And yet, despite having one of the great monstrous characters in UK TV history, Abigail’s Party is an extremely successful cringe comedy. If you are not cringing at the characters and their actions, you are laughing out loud – not at the end though. I really need to watch more Mike Leigh works.

What’s On TV – The Chinese Detective

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 239/501
Title: The Chinese Detective
Episodes Aired: 14
Year(s): 1981-82
Country: UK

During the summer of hell, pretty much all the television I have been watching has been doing some heavy lifting of keeping me sane. This meant no chances being taken with new list shows and instead a lot of episodes of Cheers, Malcolm in the Middle and Taskmaster. Now that I am trying to get my brain back to normal, it is time to get back to the world of 1001 TV Shows – and The Chinese Detective got chosen at random.

So, The Chinese Detective earns it’s place on the list by being the first British drama series to feature a Chinese lead actor. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure if there has been a second show in UK TV history that has done this which just adds to the uniqueness of the show and demonstrates just how far we have to go when it comes to casting shows in my country.

Since I haven’t seen an episode of The Sweeney or Juliet Bravo, which both share a creator with The Chinese Detective, I had limited context as to what to expect from a crime show of this era. In face, the only comparison I can make is against Minder – and the less said about that show the better.

As a series that tries to give a different perspective on the detective show, by making the lead an ethnic minority, there was a chance to make something that was a really interesting time capsule. I mean, of course, they had to make him a maverick detective because we couldn’t just have him be a regular detective, could we?

One thing that this show has going for it is the attempt at having an ongoing storyline whilst there are some cases of the week. However, for me, the show didn’t exactly execute either as well as it good. The individual cases rarely have any sort of resolution and the ongoing storyline, although interesting, is hindered by a lot of repetition across multiple episodes.

In between this there is a lot of uncomfortable racism towards Detective Ho. This isn’t just the explicit bias of people constantly asking his origins, but a lot of him generally being treated like dirt by anyone who comes across him. Like, as a detective I get how working with him could get a bit annoying, but the reaction is incredibly disproportionate.

Between this treatment at work and some pretty bad interactions with his father, who really bares a grudge against a face his son pulled as a child, The Chinese Detective is not the easiest to watch sometimes. Couple that with poor case resolutions and this isn’t exactly a show I could say I enjoyed for anything other than David Yip as the lead.