Category Archives: TV

What’s On TV – Doctor Who (Classic Era)

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 212/501
Title: Doctor Who
Episodes Aired: 695
Year(s): 1963-1989
Country: UK

Because of the way it was revived (and that the revival took a very different tactic to how stories were structured) Doctor Who appears twice on the 1001 list in both its classic and revived incarnations. As I have been watching the revived Doctor Who since it was brought back to the screen with Christoper Eccleston, I crossed off the later incarnation many years ago. However, I hadn’t seen too many episodes of the original era… that is until now.

Since my husband is a proper Whovian, I left the task of picking my sample of episodes. This left me with five episodes from the First Doctor (including the first ever episode) and four episodes each from the Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Doctors. The chosen serials weren’t necessarily the best ones, but those that would give be an idea of some of the breadth of the classic era.

Now, obviously, I enjoyed some of the serials more than the others – and apparently that follows the general line of actual Doctor Who fans. Of the five doctors I saw (and yes, I know there are three more in the classic era) I think I have found a favourite in Patrick Troughton (aka The Second Doctor) and gained some respect for the original series over the reboot.

I am someone that, if it was not for my husband, I would have stopped watching the new Doctor Who a few years ago. There’s a number of reasons for this, but one of them is something that the original series got right – longer story arcs. The thing is, I get how difficult it is for them to come up with different concepts for an episode, then expand and resolve it within 50 minutes – which is what the serials do so much better.

Sure, in some of the serials there is some filler material. Then again, you try getting out 30-40 episodes a year without some filler. On the whole, however, I found myself enjoying the classic Doctor Who more than the revived series. I like having multiple companions who may be from different time periods in Earth’s history or from alien worlds. I like having time for a story to take it’s course rather than being rushed at the end.

Will I return to this later? Certainly – and not just because it makes my husband happy, but because it feels like there is a lot more to explore here.

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What’s On TV – Twin Peaks

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 211/501
Title: Twin Peaks
Episodes Aired: 30 (+18 in the revival)
Year(s): 1990-91 (2017 revival)
Country: USA

A book containing 1001 TV shows is likely to contain shows that have been on the ‘to watch’ list for many years. For me, there are fewer shows that have been on this list longer than Twin Peaks (Buffy the Vampire Slayer predates it by a few years). I cannot count how many people have recommended this show to me over the years, especially since my screen name comes from Dynch’s later film Mulholland Drive – so here goes.

Twin Peaks is one of those shows where it felt like I would really do it a disservice if I did my write up at episode 20, like I do with other shows. Thanks to other people helping to manage my expectations, I was aware of the dip in quality part way through season two. So I watched the entire original run of Twin Peaks and was left with so many questions and a newfound respect who  can learn how to speak backwards.

So many books and articles have been written about Twin Peaks, more than the average TV show. For a show that only had an original run of 30 episodes it really has been a constant source of inspiration and interpretations.

At its peak Twin Peaks is some of the best TV I have ever seen. There are many stand outs, but there really was something truly magical Episode 14 (also known as ‘Lonely Souls’) where we find out the identity of Laura Palmer’s killer and the reveal is far more satisfying than I could ever have hoped for

Anyway, let’s back up a bit. For the uninitiated, Twin Peaks is a mystery series from the early 1990s that has a incredibly strong supernatural presence. It all begins when the body of Twin Peaks resident Laura Palmer is found murder… but this is not a procedural. In fact, this is as far away from a murder procedural that you can get, whilst also being a show that solves the mystery of someone’s murder.

Like it’s contemporary Northern ExposureTwin Peaks is set in a remote town in the northern U.S. that contains a large number of eccentrics (including the weird and wonderful Log Lady). Usually in shows like this there is an audience surrogate who arrives into town in order to remark on the weirdness (like Joel in Northern Exposure) we get Agent Cooper. This is someone who not only delights in the weirdness of the town, but brings his own relentless optimism and his leanings towards Eastern mysticism.

It’s hard to overstate just how exceptionally good Kyle MacLachlan is as Agent Cooper. To think that he came into this off of Blue Velvet and Dune and was able to give such a different role must have been a huge surprise to Lynchian fans of the time. You can see shades of Agent Cooper in MacLachlan’s later recurring role as the Mayor of Portland in Portlandia, but it’s nothing compared to this excellent performance.

In fact, with a few notable exceptions, there are so many outstanding people in Twin Peaks in both major and minor roles. Like the seeming majority of the internet, I absolutely adored Sherilyn Fenn as Audrey Horne – the complex daughter of local business magnate Ben Horne. Truly, every scene was made better with her inclusion. I also want to highlight deputy Andy Brennan, whose character could have been exhausting but ending up being an utter delight.

The storylines and settings too, one the whole, are well executed and a source of surprise and many a satisfying twist. Sure one or two of these around the middle of season two didn’t quite live up to what came before (which was nearly any plotline involving the increasingly wet James) but I never felt the urge to stop watching. Now that I have finished season two, I wish I had paced myself a bit more.

So, that’s another one of the big series crossed off – plus there’s still the revived third season, a movie and a whole bunch of other assorted extras to keep me occupied for a while. I was going to say that they’d help me get some answers after that complete mindscrew of a second season finale… but this is David Lynch and he’s never been one for offering closure.

What’s On TV – Thunderbirds

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 210/501
Title: Thunderbirds
Episodes Aired: 32
Year(s): 1965-66
Country: UK

When I was about 5 or 6 years old the big Christmas toy was a Tracey Island playset from Thunderbirds. I remember this toy being so in demand that the children’s magazine show Blue Peter even did a segment on how to make your own Tracey Island, which I actually saw when it was first aired. However, I somehow managed to have not seen a full episode of Thunderbirds until nearly two years ago. It’s not like I was avoiding it, but it was a lack of exposure since the only Gerry Anderson shows I remember being on the TV were Stingray and Captain Scarlet.

This is in stark contrast with my husband who is a bit of a Thunderbirds fan, which is how we ended up watching this as our first non-random TV pick in years. I think both of us were expecting me to think that Thunderbirds was just okay, but would be happy enough to abandon it once I’d seen our required number of episodes. On the contrary, I actually started to properly enjoy it.

One thing that I really did not expect is that, other than the shortened second series, these were hour long episodes. Since this is a family show made with marionettes I had expected this to be shorter and a lot more childish – instead there were a lot of adult themes and, at times, fairly complex storylines. I mean, I cannot imagine a family show being made now that features smoking, gambling and an interesting espionage storyline.

Another misconception that I had going in, considering that this is a show about secret rescue agency with a lot of cool equipment, is how human it was. Similarly, I was also expecting the characters of Lady Penelope and Parker to have featured in more episodes – turns out they were more like breakout characters that started out as a comic relief and became beloved characters.

So yea, I actually really enjoyed watching this show and will likely be completing the rest of the episodes before starting on the next one. It’s weird how this became one of the better discoveries from the 1001 TV Shows list.

What’s On TV – The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 209/501
Title: The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show
Episodes Aired: 291
Year(s): 1950-58
Country: USA

You really can’t get that much older than the progenitor of the television sitcom. Without The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show we wouldn’t have had I Love Lucy (which was pitched as Lucille Ball doing her own version of The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show) and the snowball of influence just carries on from there.

I’m not overstating it when I call this the mother of sitcoms, The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show was one of the first comedy shows on television that had a running narrative rather than being a collection of skits or sketches. It’s also interesting to see a sitcom from this time period that interweaves the main narrative with meta pieces of stand-up – much like in the early seasons of Seinfeld and in the one season wonder Mulaney. 

When watching this, it is worth remembering that this was written in the 1950s with all the civil rights issues that might entail. I mean, I haven’t seen anything in this that is even remotely racist but it’s very much: man goes to work, wife maintains the home. However, even with this handicap (when it comes to modern viewings) I still found it laugh out loud funny thanks to Gracie Allen.

It should be enough to make you cringe a little bit, having Gracie Allen play a ditzy housewife, but she is excellent. She is able to play someone who is logically challenged and yet you never leave the show thinking that she’s stupid. Her portrayal of the fictional version of Gracie is incredibly knowing and the logical leaps that the character makes are usually quite intelligent, just not always intelligible.

Most of the episodes of The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show are currently on YouTube and it’s worth giving this a go if you’re at all interested in seeing where a lot of modern day sitcoms are rooted. It’s slightly dated, but it’s still funny and that’s all you can ask for in a sitcom.

 

What’s On TV – The Price Is Right

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 208/501
Title: The Price Is Right
Episodes Aired: 8000+
Year(s): 1956 onwards
Country: USA

Well, this is a world away from the cranial exertions of Only Connect (the last game show I did for this list). It’s always interesting to have to tackle such a long running show with so many versions around the world. In this case I stuck mainly with Bob Barker episodes, but I also watched one by Drew Carey and one episode of the UK version (compered by Bruce Forsyth).

If you have never seen an episode of The Price Is Right, just go on YouTube and watch an episode now. Preferably the US Version as it is, by far, more fun than the UK version. Not only are the people whipped up into far more of a frenzy, but the prices are a lot more varied (then again, the episode of the UK version I saw had a suit of armour as a prize).

The concept of The Price Is Right is remarkably simple: people win prizes by playing various price-based mini-games and everything is very loud. What really makes it is the host, and for a show like this you couldn’t find someone better than Bob Barker. He’s able to help keep things structured whilst also bouncing off the energy of the guests.

If I was American and was at home in the day I could see myself becoming a regular viewer of this show. There is enough variation in the games and enough joy to be mined from people winning (which is rare for me, because I’m a sour git) to keep this fresh for a long time. Don’t think I could watch this every day though…

What’s On TV – Zorro

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 207/501
Title: Zorro
Episodes Aired: 78
Year(s): 1957-59
Country: USA

Am I the only person who had a VHS or two from the Disney Sing-Along Songs when they were younger? I ask because I had an incredible hit of nostalgia as the theme music started to play and I was taken back to a simpler time when I would just watch these old videos on repeat.

So yes, weirdly enough, Zorro is actually a live-action series made by the Disney company. It’s a swashbuckling action series that starts out in 1820 in the state of California. We follow the exploits of Diego de la Vega who fights injustice as the mask-wearing, sword-wielding vigilante known as Zorro.

Since this this the 1950s, family-friendly and made by Disney there isn’t a lot of bit to this series. There is a lot of moustache-twirling and casual 1950s racism, but there’s never any real stakes to any thing involved. Still though this makes for a decent mindless watch.

Why? Well Guy Williams, who plays the titular Zorro, is an incredibly charismatic performer. You can enjoy watching him swing from ropes, play guitars and fence like a champion for 78 episodes. The show would have gone on for longer if not for a financial dispute between Disney and ABC over who owned the rights… which is ironic since ABC is now owned by Disney.

Another show down. We picked a show I have already seen out of the hat, which means I probably won’t do another TV write-up for a long while. Maybe this will encourage me to actually get my skates on with the album list? Who knows!

What’s On TV – Veronica Mars

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 206/501
Title: Veronica Mars
Episodes Aired: 64
Year(s): 2004-2007
Country: USA

The thing that I am loving most about the 1001 TV Shows list is that it has given me a greater sense of agency when it comes to watching the criminally long list of recommended shows. Veronica Mars has been on this list for a decade and, for whatever reason, I have never gotten around it. I guess this is the issue with living in this incredible age of television – unless you spend all day every day watching television, there is no way you can catch-up.

Well, I am glad that fate (and the random picking hat) gifted me the pick of Veronica Mars as this has been one of the more enjoyable watches I have done for this blog. That says a lot considering the number of things I have watched, read and listened to for the first time as part of my obsessive list completionism. Guess this speaks for the quality of Veronica Mars.

I’ve spoken in the past about something I expected to tick certain boxes and was left wanting (Middlemarch is something that immediately slips to mind). Going into Veronica Mars I had equally high expectations. You see – I love good neo-noir, TV series with a season long mystery and Kristen Bell… so I was expecting something that was a good bit of fun, but was somewhat hesitant because, after all, this is a show made by The WB.

Having finished the first season for this blog, I realise that I should have had more faith. A show like this (which is a teen procedural with a long-running plot thread) requires smart writing, good performance and twists that you don’t always see coming in order to break it out of the teenage audience and give it wider appeal. Veronica Mars succeeds on all counts and then some.

Whilst the whole show does not hang purely on Kristen Bell’s shoulders (as her father and Logan are both excellent), but it would have likely not have done anywhere near as well without her front and centre. Watching this it is little wonder that she has become the star she is not, nor is it surprising that her role get bigger and more interesting as the series goes on. They knew what they had and they were going to use it for all they got as, who knows, each season could have been their last.

So this adds yet another show to the backlog to be watched. Who knows when I’ll have time to finish this Cheers, Fringe, Roseanne, Eureka, As Time Goes By, The Bridge and Unit One.

What’s On TV – The Tractate Middoth / The Signalman

On Christmas Eve 2017 the good people at BBC Four decided to show a whole bunch of episodes of A Ghost Story for Christmas. I previously watched A Warning to the Curious as part of the 1001 TV list and now, thanks to this marathon, I have been able to watch the remaining two from the list.

I’m going to miss these easy crossings off.

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 204/501
Title: The Tractate Middoth
Episodes Aired: 1
Year(s): 2013
Country: UK

The first one that I saw was the final episode of the revival series for A Ghost Story for Christmas. As with most of these, The Tractate Middoth is based off of a short story by M.R. James. By this point I think they’ve used all of the best stories as, in terms of pure storytelling, The Tractate Middoth is pretty useless as a ghost story.

I don’t want this to come off as a criticism of Mark Gatiss as a director or of Sacha Dhawan in his leading role. It’s just that the actual story of The Tractate Middoth is pretty lame. It feels as if there a beginning, a middle and that’s about it. You feel as if there is meant to be this big climax to make up for the cheer about of serendipity, but it just ends. We were literally sad in front of the TV looking each other at the end asking, ‘wait, that’s it?’

So yes, if the reason for the inclusion of The Tractate Middoth is because it is an example of a revival of the A Ghost Story for Christmas then they probably should have gone for Whistle and I’ll Come to You.

Progress: 205/501
Title: The Signalman
Episodes Aired: 1
Year(s): 1976
Country: UK

The second that we watched was an oddity in the A Ghost Story for Christmas series in that it is not based on an M.R. James story. I know I don’t have a lot to compare it to, but this is the best of the three Christmas ghost stories on the 1001 TV list. Maybe because this is a story written by Charles Dickens and he knew how to construct a good narrative.

Now, I know that I am overly critical when it comes to depictions of horror on television. It’s not that it is impossible for me to be creeped out by a television show (unlike video games where a surprise encounter in Fallout 3 can make be scream), but it’s far from a guarantee. The Signalman, regrettably, didn’t get me there.

However, I did enjoy this short. The story was interesting and it really worked to have a limited cast and few locations in order to ratchet up the tension. However, the tension wasn’t great enough to make me feel unsettled. It was still a fun ride while it lasted.

What’s On TV – The Good Old Days

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 203/501
Title: The Good Old Days
Episodes Aired: 245
Year(s): 1953-83
Country: UK

I could have been finally watching The Sopranos or The Wire or Orphan Black. But no, the bucket decreed that the next show to be watched was The Good Old Days – one of the oldest entries on the list… which is also a variety show based on the traditions of the Edwardian music hall.

The idea of music hall and variety shows is pretty universal in Western countries, but I can’t imagine many other countries having a show like this on the television when punk and prog rock was ruling the airwaves. Then again, Britain has always been a country that hearkens back to the ‘good old days’ to an unhealthy degree. I guess it’s the whole thing about being an island whose empire crumbled and then never quite getting over it.

So yes, this was an hour where traditional Victorian and Edwardian music hall performances were created by contemporary performers. I imagine that, at the time, a lot of these people well known (or at least were regulars on the circuit). As someone born many years after this show ended, my recognition was patchy. Other than appearances by John Inman, Sandie Shaw, Eartha Kitt, Bernard Cribbins and Keith Harris & Orville I was lost.

I went into this not expecting this, but at least hoping that I could enjoy enough of the acts to make this, in the very least, amusing. By the end of this I would say that the hit to miss ratio was 1 in 10, which left me with entire hours where I just found the whole thing tedious.

As an artifcact The Good Old Days is an interesting entry on the list. Given what it represents and that there really are not many shows like this I can see why it was included. It’s just that, at least for me, it really did not stand up to modern scrutiny in the same way that Green Acres or The Prisoner did.

What’s On TV – Green Acres

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 202/501
Title: Green Acres
Episodes Aired: 170
Year(s): 1965-71
Country: USA

Every now and then one of these lists produces a surprise completely out of left-field. From the TV Shows list alone I have started on the path to cure my phobia of drag queens (RuPaul’s Drag Race) and found a new favourite game show (Only Connect). Now, whilst it might be a far reach to say that the random pick of Green Acres has given me something truly amazing, it has provided something truly binge-worthy.

It is incredibly easy to look over a show like Green Acres. The premise alone, where a well-to-do couple move away from New York in order to set up a farm, feels a bit cringe-worthy. A lot of the jokes are a bit obvious or are based on running gags that have begun to pile up. The supporting cast is primarily composed of country folk who embody a number of stereotypes and act as foils to the city folk.

However, this show is far far more than the sum of its parts. It has real heart and a lot of affection to everyone it is sending up. With the exception of the slippery Mr Haney, everyone in this show is well intentioned. They have their quirks, but that’s what makes them lovable – especially Eva Gabor, who I fell for right away.

Being a sitcom set in a farming town there’s no escaping the animal cast who had their very own breakout star: Arnold Ziffel the pig. Within the show he introduced as the ‘son’ of the Ziffels and everyone in the valley accepts this situation. Probably helps that this is a pig that loves watching John Wayne on TV, can’t sleep without his electric blanket and helped the police capture bank robbers.

The character of Arnold helps to typify the slightly weird sense of humour found in Green Acres. During Season 2 this show starts to dabble in a bit of metahumour. Examples of this include Eva Gabor’s character addressing the audience and characters who begin to notice the presence of subtitles on the screen.

At the centre of everything is Oliver and Lisa Douglas – i.e. the couple who moved to set up a farm. A lot of the fun is watching how their characters develop as a farming couple and fit in with their new surroundings. Where Oliver struggles to become part of the community, in part because of the way he continually eulogises the farming life whilst also seeing himself as better as the rest of them, it is Lisa who really shines as the series progresses.

Despite the fact that she is upper class, foreign and starts the series having never washed a dish – it is her who adapts and becomes a member of the community just by being herself. She also finds a way to order eggs from chickens… but that’s another story. I’m sure there’s a lesson in how their experiences differ – and quite a positive one at that.

So yes, from the initial reaction that this would be a bit of fluff that we could ditch once we’d seen enough episodes, Green Acres has become a show that is part of the rotation. Having seen the next show that’s out of the hat, I can already say with some degree of certainty that I won’t be as positive.