Tag Archives: 1001 tv shows

What’s On TV – The Water Margin

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 253/501
Title: The Water Margin
Episodes Aired: 26
Year(s): 1973-1974
Country: Japan

I was really looking forward to this. A Japanese historical drama based on one of the great Chinese historical novels, what could go wrong? How about the English language dub where they didn’t have the Japanese scripts to adapt, just a synopsis? How about white actors dubbing over with exaggerated ‘Asian’ accents? How about a huge cast where it becomes difficult very early on to get the list of names straight in your head?

With the last one, I had this issue with Game of Thrones, but the show was good enough for me to persevere and end up learning them through osmosis. With the other two on the list…  well that made The Water Margin pretty hard to watch to the point where some of it was more than a bit cringe. I guess this was done with good intentions, but now it just feels racist and incredibly misjudged. Shame how it seems to show that this wasn’t written using actual scripts, it just compounds some of the issues that I had.

Maybe the fact that, even with these problems removed, there is still a chance that The Water Margin would still not grab me. Like with movies, I am so used to modern television doing these big ensemble television shows well (even if Game of Thrones ended incredibly poorly) that this show just feels inferior. It is interesting to see a drama like this from another country, I just wish that 1970s Britain did more justice to it.

I know there is one more English dub I have from this list – Saiyuki which is based on Journey to the West. I am hoping that a decade of social progress and a smaller more concentrated cast list will make it more palatable than The Water Margin. This also hasn’t put me off, one day, reading the books or from playing the Suikoden computer games based on the same story. At least those won’t have the affected accents.


What’s On TV – The Donna Reed Show

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 252/501
Title: The Donna Reed Show
Episodes Aired: 275
Year(s): 1958-1966
Country: USA

Before watching The Donna Reed Show the only thing I knew about it, other than Donna Reed herself, was this clip from Gilmore Girls. It’s not exactly a complimentary take on the show, but now I’ve seen it – their lampooning isn’t too far from the truth. Then again we are talking about a TV sitcom from the late 1950s where everything is a bit too lightweight.

Donna Reed herself is a delight and it is clear how she was able to get a show with her name on it. However, her being the perfect housewife of the perfect family does not exactly mean you can get a lot of comedic leverage. So much of it has to be wholesome and back to the status quo at the end that many of the episodes just feel too thin to work completely.

Then you get the weird episodes. Every now and then the episodes go a bit wacky and this is when the show actually becomes funny, a bit more modern and feels like a point where TV comedy was actually going to progress from. Like there’s an episode where Donna gets too high on sleeping pills to make it through a conference or when the family devolves into making pickles in order to make up a charity shortfall. Pretty bizarre scenarios that go against the whole perfect nuclear family schtick and allow the actors to have fun and so we have fun with them.

However, this is the point of doing a list like this. The Donna Reed Show is incredibly dated with it’s views of gender roles and the fact that we didn’t see a single non-white face in any episode that we watched. This is the white middle-American ideal that I am going to be seeing a bunch of other comedies in this era and why it is part of a group of comedies that are so perfect for parody. Still, you cannot deny it’s place in TV history or how it was popular enough to stay on the screens for eight years.

What’s On TV – Africa

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 251/501
Title: Africa
Episodes Aired: 6
Year(s): 2013
Country: UK

These TV shows are a bit like buses. After a long period of nothing, there’s a lot of them being written up within a few weeks. Now I am half way through my goal to see half of the whole list – and I am glad that it was marked with a show like Africa rather than The Ed Sullivan ShowWhilst Ed Sullivan was a more influential show in the world of television, Africa is far more my kind of show. Just wish there were more of them on the list.

Africa is one of a group of shows on the list narrated by David Attenborough and produced by the BBC Natural History Unit. As the name would suggest, this is six episodes about the wildlife living in Africa. The first five each focus on a different ecological region in Africa such as the Kalahari and the Congo, the final on the conservation areas being made to protect the remaining African species and the many consequences of human encroachment from poaching to climate change.

Like any of the series produced by the BBC Natural History Unit, Africa is a fantastic series. The insight that is given into the behaviour of different animals, their future and how a series like this is shot is just what you have come to expect from a series like this. There is a feeling of hope at the end, which is refreshing but may also be a sign that this is 8 years old. I have yet to see his more recent series on climate change… but may hold off on that to just keep with the feeling.

What’s On TV – The Ed Sullivan Show

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 250/501
Title: The Ed Sullivan Show
Episodes Aired: 1068
Year(s): 1948-1971
Country: USA

Variety shows are shows that don’t age too well. So much of the sensibilities are dated and for every performance from someone who is still incredibly famous, like Sam Cooke or Elvis Presley, you have a number that no longer hit or are just a bit off. On the positive side though, you do have some interesting variety acts that don’t really get television time anymore – but I am not sure how many people would tune in to see a bongo player.

Whole episodes are hard to find streaming online, most of what you can find are clips – some of them not even the full musical performance. Now we are 50 years since the show came to a close, this is probably the best way to give it a go. Whole hour long episodes drag and it’s incredibly hit and miss. It’s pretty much how I felt about The Judy Garland Show – although that had the interest of it being hosted by Judy Garland where, at least in what I saw, I didn’t quite see Ed Sullivan oozing charisma.

There is no denying the importance of The Ed Sullivan Show though – even if it doesn’t have the impact 50-70 years later. This is the earliest show on the TV list and it featured so many cultural landmarks of the day. It was the show to be on and an appearance was a sign that you had made it. It debuted rock n roll into the world of television, it was a key part of the Beatles’ “British Invasion” and was part of the meteoric rise of Elvis Presley (where he was famously shot from the waist up as he was seen as too sexual).

Again, this is a show to see just to see where television and popular music owe a lot of allegiance to. However, unlike What’s My Line which I am still watching multiple times a week, I am happy yo leave this in the past.

What’s On TV – Moonlighting

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 249/501
Title: Moonlighting
Episodes Aired: 66
Year(s): 1985-1989
Country: USA

Moonlighting. This is a show I have been wanting to watch for years because of how highly regarded it is. Well, how highly regarded some of it is. Going into this, I knew there was a general decline in the final seasons – not that I really made it that far to notice that. I also went into this knowing that for a substantial portion of the show, Cybil Shephard and Bruce Willis just did not get on. So yes, really mixed stuff when I started my first watch.

Here’s the thing though, Moonlighting is impressive for its time. This is a show that really helped to pioneer the dramedy as a marketable show with audiences and critics alike. The writing can be quick and whip-smart like a 1940s comedy, they weren’t afraid to play with format and they went meta a lot. Like, so many shows we watch now and take for granted have Moonlighting to thank. Hell, one of the shows I am lining up for the next to watch is Ally McBeal and that would definitely not be around if not for Moonlighting.

However, for every flash of genius there are so many episodes which are fairly silly procedural. Like there was a really bad one with a woman who was certain she was a leprechaun. Then you get the brilliant ones like the incredibly famous ‘The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice’ and their take on The Taming of the Shrew in ‘Atomic Shakespeare’. In the end though, these episodes work so well because they are unusual in the span of the show – otherwise this just becomes way too gimmicky.

It’s a double-edged sword really. I think it also didn’t help that I really did not buy into the will-they-won’t-they of Maddie and David. As bickering private detectives that are just friends, I think I would have preferred this series. Like have them be platonic like in Elementary and it would be fine. However, for me, they just don’t work as a couple. The moments before they end up sleeping together is so toxic that it really helped with the decision to just ditch this show all together.

Moments of brilliance just aren’t worth watching the whole thing. Watching a selection after a bunch from Seasons 1 and 2 makes some sense as you get to see what this show was and how important it was. For now though, it’s a goodbye to Moonlighting.

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.