Category Archives: TV

What’s On TV – Clocking Off

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 201/501
Title: Clocking Off
Episodes Aired: 27
Year(s): 2000-2003
Country: UK

At the moment it would appear that an increasing number of new shows on TV are following the anthology format. It’s weird, therefore, to think that when Clocking Off first aired it was pretty much unique. Whilst not a true anthology series it is at least anthology adjacent.

Clocking Off is a series set in a textile factory in Manchester with each episode focusing on a different worker in the factory. Some of these stories are completely self-contained whilst others have a direct impact on the main narrative. By constructing a series in this way Clocking Off is able to tackle a large number of subjects and bring in some of the top UK television acting talent due to the limited nature of their appearance.

When you consider this is a series that features the likes of Christopher Eccleston, Lesley Sharp, Philip Glenister, Marc Warren, David Morrissey, Sophie Okenedo and Sarah Lancashire it is little wonder that this show became a critical darling. Although, I think we could all agree, that any show that features Sarah Lancashire in something close to a leading role is worth every award it gets.

The main award this received was the BAFTA award for Best Drama Series. It won it for the first, and best, series with the latter all three series being nominated and ultimately missing out. It’s a fair shout because the first series is exceptional, varied in it’s scope and contains the best episode (Yvonne’s Story).

Whilst there are a number of heavy episodes there are still light moments, but these seem to disappear as the show went along it’s run – resulting in a lot of heavy episodes. Then again, the point of creating a pseudo-anthology series is to allow for the covering of a large number of topics such as racism, paedophilia, mental health and LGBT issues alongside the more mainstream stories.

There is no question that the first (and most of the second) series of Clocking Off was must watch television. With all things it appears that by series three the originality and the realism began to wain. Still it was an exceptional show at its peak.

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What’s On TV – Big Brother

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 200/501
Title: Big Brother
Episodes Aired: …countless
Year(s): 1999-2006 (original series)
Country: Netherlands (original series)

When I first started crossing things off for the TV list I had left shows like Big Brother uncrossed because I had only seen the British version. I’m now two years in and I’ve gotten to thinking. How likely is it that I’m not only going to be able to find the original Dutch version of Big Brother, let alone have it be with English subtitles. Not very likely.

So, from this point onward, I will be adding English-language versions of reality and game shows if I cannot find subtitled versions. Means that I might have a fighting chance at seeing Bauer sucht Frau… so hooray?

When it comes to Big Brother in the UK, I was one of the people watching the original series. Well, the latter half of the original series thanks to all the ‘Nasty Nick’ furore. I even remember voting for my favourite (Anna) only to have her lose to Craig. I would later go on to watch series 7 and 8 as well as the first and fifth editions of Celebrity Big Brother UK.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, back in the day, I was able to enjoy Big Brother. However, I have literally no desire to start up on a new series. Haven’t had that desire for the best part of a decade though. Still, I think I’ve watched enough to cross this off.

What’s On TV – Beckett on Film

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 199/501
Title: Beckett on Film
Episodes Aired: 19
Year(s): 2001
Country: Ireland/UK

To call Beckett on Film a TV series feels like somewhat of a stretch. A more accurate description would be that it is the result of a project to make cinematic versions of Samuel Beckett, some of which were then broadcast on television. Still, it is what it is and this was a series that won a South Bank Show award for Best TV Drama so what do I know.

Over the course of the 19 episodes I was given a crash course in the oeuvre of Samuel Beckett to the point that I have now seen more Beckett plays adapted than I have Shakespeare. I guess that’s a weird brag to unleash at some point upon some unsuspecting colleague at work…

Anyway. Whilst I would agree that it is a noble, and maybe even cool, idea to put all these plays on film (especially as some of these just aren’t performed too often) the results are a bit of a mixed bag. This is not necessarily because of the directors and actors involved, but because my own reactions to the plays themselves.

You have some like Happy Days, Play and Come and Go which are engaging because of their symbolism, weird staging or both. However, you also have the likes of That Game, which failed to engage, or Endgame, where words do not exist to explain just how bleak it was.

For most people going into watching Beckett on Film, the play that will attract their immediate attention. After all, this is the play people will have heard of and it is meant to be one of the most significant plays ever written. It, being Beckett’s magnum opus and the first play on the project list,  is also the perfect introduction into the remaining 18 plays you will see to complete series.

You have his nihilistic views, interesting take on staging (which, for me, reaches it’s peak in Come and Go), love of repetition and the nudge that everything you’re going to watch will be unlike anything you have see before. I mean, how do you explain the limited staging of Act Without Words II? I mean I’ve watched it and I’ve read the explanation on Wikipedia and I’m still not sure how to go about explaining it.

As a cultural education I cannot help but recommend watching Beckett on Film. In terms of it being an engaging TV series… I’m not so convinced.

What’s On TV – Minder

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 198/501
Title: Minder
Episodes Aired: 108
Year(s): 1979-1994
Country: UK

Considering that the last TV show I watched for this list was Broen we are talking about going from the sublime to ridiculous. Where Broen is an intelligent, thoughtful crime drama that deals with international relationships – Minder is a fairly mindless comedy drama about the criminal underworld of London.

There was a time where Minder was an extremely successful show in the UK. It pretty much takes place in a similar world to Only Fools and Horses with the exception that one of the characters actually has a fair bit of money. Both tapped into the mindset of Thatcher’s Britain where millions of viewers would tune in and root for the main characters to succeed in their get rich schemes and get one over on the authorities.

The thing is, we no longer live in Thatcher’s Britain – I grew up under Blair and Cameron – which means I have a thoroughly different mindset. Also, I am probably too middle class to properly enjoy it. There were times where we were watching episodes and I found myself actually wanting the police to win out. Now either that’s my overactive sense of authority or the show it just very much of its time (as is the abundance sexism and casual racism).

There are some positives to watching Minder. For one, the running gag from Little Britain about Dennis Waterman writing and singing the theme tune suddenly makes sense. Also, watching these old episodes lead to some interesting pieces of future celebrity spotting (Peter Capaldi and Jonny Lee Miller being two examples) as well as many actors of the time also taking on smaller roles. That’s how big a hit this show was.

Many point to George Cole and his character of mature con man Arthur as being the reason for the shows success. In earlier series he was sidelined in favour of the grittier Terry (played by Dennis Waterman), but they became equal partners once Cole’s appeal was realised. The show really was improved by the growth of Cole’s role with him delivering most of the comedy as he pisses off everyone with his self-centred antics to make money. Didn’t always work for me, but I did catch glimpses of something I could have enjoyed at the time.

One thing that Minder (and other shows like Knight Rider) has shown me is how these TV shows aren’t on list necessarily because they are most enjoyable, but because they capture a feeling of the time. From here it’s likely that we’ll go up in terms of intellectual viewing… I’m not sure what I’ll be watching next though. Depends what I draw from the pot. Exciting times.

What’s On TV – Bron / Broen

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 197/501
Title: Bron/Broen
Episodes Aired: 38
Year(s): 2011-2018
Country: Sweden/Denmark

After only 13 shows since Rejseholdet I am back in the world of Nordic Noir with The Bridge. Since this a co-production between Sweden and Denmark I will use the English name as I don’t really want to show favour to one name over the other.

Whilst the idea of an international TV co-production is nothing new, this is the first time I have come across one where international co-operation is a central part of the show. The setting of this show is the neighbouring cities of Copenhagen and Malmö, the titular bridge being the Øresund Bridge that connects these cities together.

It is on this bridge that we start on the first case of series – that of a woman who has been bisected and laid directly on the Swedish-Danish border. So begins the partnership of Saga Norén and Martin Rohde as they try to piece together the case as the two countries’ police forces have to work together.

Whilst I am sure that there are digs at each others countries that are lost to outsiders (although Danish cop Martin bringing Danish pastries to the Swedish team always makes me smile) this show is incredibly universal. One thing that continued to amaze me is how these characters are able to speak their own languages and yet still understand each other. Seriously, the mind boggles.

A downside of talking about a show like The Bridge is that pretty much everything is a spoiler. Within a single hour the cases develop so quickly that it can be easy to fall behind if you aren’t concentrating. The second series was especially like this because it starts out with so many parallel side-plots that only start to knit together in episode 7. Still, it’s a show worth the concentration because the emotional payoffs are never a disappointment.

Speaking of emotional payoff – I just have to say a quick word about Saga Noren. Don’t get me wrong, Kim Bodnia is excellent in his role as the likeable Danish policeman (and I would talk more if it wasn’t for spoilers)… but the show belongs to Sofia Helin. Her performance as the possibly-Aspergic Swedish detective is so magnetic that her sheer presence dominates any scene she is in. Saga is both the beating heart and the comic relief.

Now, I am writing this in August which means that the fourth and final season of The Bridge is yet to air. I have also only seen the first two seasons, which means I am unable to pass comment on the addition of Thure Lindhardt to the cast. By the time this post goes up I’m sure I’ll be completely up to date as The Bridge really is a truly exceptional series. I just hope the final series does just to wind together all the threads. I’m sure it will be.

What’s On TV – Northern Exposure

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 196/501
Title: Northern Exposure
Episodes Aired: 110
Year(s): 1990-1995
Country: USA

When the creators of Northern Exposure won the Emmy award for Best Drama Series back in 1992 they said, amongst their thank yous and their dedications, “but it’s a comedy”. As things stand right now Northern Exposure is one of two comedy-dramas to win a big award at the Emmys – the other being Ally McBeal which won for Best Comedy in 1999.

It’s weird to think that, when Northern Exposure first came onto the air in the summer of 1990 that, the dramedy had only been popular for 5 years. It’s one of the reasons that I am keen to see Moonlighting as it was the show that helped pioneer the genre. Without that, we might be without other award-winning shows like Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty, Orange Is The New Black, Pushing Daisies and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Aside from the dramedy side, there is nothing too unique to Northern Exposure when it starts out. It’s a fish out of water story of Joel, a Jewish doctor from New York who is made to work in the small town of Cicely, Alaska as a way to pay off his medical school bills. He comes across colourful small town characters and you can complete it from there.

As pilot’s and first seasons go Northern Exposure is fun enough, but it doesn’t quite seem like a show that would go on to be both award-winning and influential (although I would happily watch John Corbett as small town DJ Chris anytime). It’s only in the final episode of Season 1 that you start to see what this show is heading for… and it’s something they take and run with from the beginning of Season 2.

In effect, this show decides to embrace the madness and increase the involvement of the ensemble. Don’t get me wrong I think Rob Morrow does excellent work as Joel, but the first season felt like it was just forcing him to conflict and that was turning me off. With character like Chris and Shelley (a former beauty pageant winner who now lives with a bar owner many decades her senior) given more screen time and by allowing Janine Turner (who plays Joel’s will-they-won’t-they Maggie O’Connell) to embrace her comedic side Northern Exposure soars.

Also the fantasy sequences. This was something also done in Moonlighting and it works again here. Some of the funniest and most poignant parts of the series happen in dreams or in flashbacks. In Season 3 episode ‘Jules et Joel’ they take it to the extreme by staging the entire episode in the mind of Joel after he is whacked on the head. Similarly, the most famous episode, Season 3 closer ‘Cicely’, takes place in the past with the regular cast playing new roles.

It’s probably a show where it’s worth starting on Season 2 because that’s when it starts properly getting good. Then again, this is just a show that’s really worth watching and, eventually, I will finish this.

What’s On TV – RuPaul’s Drag Race

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 195/501
Title: RuPaul’s Drag Race
Episodes Aired: 117
Year(s): 2009 onwards
Country: USA

There is no better way of showing the difference in work colleagues between myself and my husband. Where I fast-tracked The Great British Bake Off to talk to some of mine, he asked to fast-track RuPaul’s Drag Race in order to share it with some of his. Yes, both are competitions and involve a great deal of innuendo – but that’s where the similarities stop.

For the uninitiated, RuPaul’s Drag Race is a competitive reality show between professional drag queens in order to be crowned “America’s Next Drag Superstar”. The challenges that the contestants face include photoshoots, acting, singing, lip-syncing and the infamous ‘Snatch Game’.

As someone who is afraid of drag queens (yes, I have been known to flee when one enters my personal space) I was really apprehensive about watching this. Over in the UK I have only really come across the more aggressive types of drag queens which has resulted in me viewing them all as scary gay clowns.

So let’s start the healing.

For the purposes of ticking this off we decided to watch two complete seasons: the first and fifth (the latter being recommended by the hub’s work colleagues). And we watched both of these incredibly quickly – especially the fifth season because I fell in love with this show.

I don’t really watch much reality television (especially with Bake Off switching channels), but what really got me with Drag Race is the cheer level of talent on display here. They have to make clothes, be witty, sing, act and do all of this whilst being pretty (or fierce depending on the persona). The level of respect that I now have for these drag artists is so high now – especially for the more accomplished ones that I saw.

This is where I probably should mention the performer who really helped me work through this fear of mine: Jinkx Monsoon. If I had watched the first season before the fifth I would have probably would have used a picture of Nina Flowers, but there you go.

In the two weeks since finishing off Season 5 I still catch myself looking for Jinkx Monsoon highlights on YouTube. They found new ways to make me smile and to soften towards the whole concept of drag artistry. It’s not something I would really want to go and see live (mainly because of the amount of alcohol consumption involved) but I think the number of times I have watched this clip on YouTube shows just how far I have come.

List item: Overcome a fear
Status: Completed

It may be a bit too soon to call this, but I think the healing has truly begun.

So yes. I will now be watching the rest of this show and it will be an utter delight to do so.

What’s On TV – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 194/501
Title: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Episodes Aired: 7
Year(s): 1979
Country: UK

The BBC makes the best miniseries. I mean, sure, HBO have made some amazing one and there’s always ITV’s Brideshead Revisitedbut the BBC really is the tops. Especially if you include documentary series like The Blue Planet and Planet Earth – then no channel can touch it.

Based on the 1974 novel of the same name – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the story of an experienced spy ferreting out a mole within the British Intelligence Community. The title itself coming from a nursery rhyme used to give code names to the main suspects.

Over the course of 7 episodes we watch the untangling of webs of intrigue as we dig deeper and deeper to the centre of the plot. My problem? I guessed who the mole was right away as I have more than a basic working knowledge of British TV actors – which probably didn’t detract too much from the reveal, but it made it feel that little bit cheaper.

Full phrase has to be given to Alec Guinness who is beyond brilliant in the lead role of George Smiley. He is surrounded by a fantastic ensemble (as was the fashion of the time) with Ian Richardson, Beryl Reid and Michael Jayston being stand-outs. However, even with this ensemble, there was a noticeable gap in most scenes without the presence of Alec Guinness.

Another slight criticism is how this sagged a bit in the middle. It’s one of those things that tends to happen with shows of this length. In the case of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy it was a mixture of a slightly over-complex spy plot and a lot of names of older white men. It cleared up eventually and, when it did, it was utterly riveting.

So yes, Whilst Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy doesn’t quite top Pride & Prejudice or I, Claudius, this was still a compelling watch.

What’s On TV – Fringe

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 193/501
Title: Fringe
Episodes Aired: 100
Year(s): 2008-2013
Country: USA

Good news: I have found a new thing to binge watch. Bad news: it’s another show to add to the pile.

Fringe is one of those cult shows that I have been meaning to start for years. It’s just that, as they said in the most reason of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidtyou know it’s a ridiculously good time for television when you don’t have time for a show like The Americans. For me, this was always the case with Fringe.

Now that I have done my minimum watch to cross this off the list, I am glad that I didn’t start watching this show when it first came on. Whilst the pilot is interesting – this is not a show that gets off to the best start. Thanks to some cross-referencing with The AV Club and IGN  I made sure that the episodes I saw were either good, part of the overarching storyline or (in most cases) both.

By the time I reached the end of this watch-through I still feel like I haven’t gone in depth into the shows mythology. I still have no idea who the Observers are and I haven’t met any of the main characters’ parallel universe counterparts.

For the uninitiated think of this as being The X-Files with a parallel Earth instead of aliens and a bit more of a goofy personality.  This feels like an undersell because it has fantastic performances from the central three and there is a lot of nuance to the conspiracy theories that underpin the show. Then again, this is a lab with a cow as a recurring character… so there’s that.

Honestly I don’t feel that after 20 episodes I know enough about the show to write about it. Yes it is a sci-fi show mixed in with a procedural, but there is a lot more to it than that. I just know that once I have cleared away some of my ‘non-blog’ backlog Fringe will be a show that is consumed very quickly. I just have to finish off Iron Chef, House, Eureka and a bunch of other shows first…

What’s On TV – Eureka

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 192/501
Title: Eureka
Episodes Aired: 77
Year(s): 2006-2012
Country: USA

Eureka is one of those TV shows that has been my long-term ‘to watch’ list for years. Mainly because the hub seemed very keen on it and, as with most things he wants to watch, I wanted to give it a go before I gave it a definitive yay or nay. Now that I have watched this for the list I really wish I had started this earlier. It was one of the most pleasant surprises that I have encountered so far for the TV show list.

Being a show that originally aired on the Sci-Fi channel (aka the home of Sharknado) my expectations weren’t too high. However, a few episodes in I was hooked. I had to make my way through the rather rickety pilot in order to get there, but I got there.

The premise of the show is interesting enough – a secret town in the US that houses residents of genius intellect who are the progenitors of all the major technical leaps in the last 50-60 years. Our way into this rather eccentric town is through the (initially relucant) new sheriff who isn’t book smart, but uses his layman knowledge to help solve the cases of the week.

Okay, so it feels like a riff on the standard fish out of water cliche, which it totally is, but Eureka plays with this by making the problems outlandish and firmly in the realms of science fiction. One week people are being flash-fossilized, the other sees the main characters being trapped by an artificial intelligence who is petrified of abandonment. Sure, the science can be a bit off, but that’s part of the fun.

The real thing that impressed me about this show, however, is what they did in Season 4. Between Seasons 1-3 we get to know the cast of characters incredibly well. They live and grow with decisions having lasting impacts for many episodes to come. Two characters in particular that benefited from this are deputy sheriff Jo Lupo and a geeky (and adorable) scientist called Fargo whose roles become greatly expanded from how they were initially introduced in the pilot.

Then everything changes. Where shows like Parks and Recreation and Desperate Housewives used a time jump to bring fresh storylines and inject new life into a show, Eureka does something more daring. They change timelines. This means that 5 of the main characters are transplanted into a alternative world and have to come to terms with the differences that this brings.

This could have been a catastrophic story decision since established relationships are effectively retconned and new relationships are introduced that are already in progress. I can see how, if done poorly, this would have led to an extreme backlash from fans who have lost their favourite shipping or just feel a sense of unease at no longer being able to make certain assumptions about the world of Eureka.

Amazingly, they pull this timeline jump off incredibly well. The show still remains a light sci-drama with a lot of the same beats, but it allows for a lot of development in a quick time as nearly all the major characters are now promoted to higher positions than those they had before they jump. Also, and this is more impressive, this shift is permanent rather than part of a smaller story arc.

It’s not a highbrow show, but it sure is an addictive one if you want an alternative sort of procedural. From what I’ve read this might just be the sci-fi/geeky alternative to Northern Exposure – which just makes me want to check out Northern Exposure all the more.