by Larry Brody
I’ve been getting emails asking what I’m binge-watching on TV these days.
Interestingly, no one’s asking for recommendations as such, as in “I’ve got some time on my hands. What should I be binging on my big screen, iPad, Galaxy S8, et al.?”
Which is just as well because I feel awkward recommending any series to anyone these days, especially since the most recent PEOPLE’S PILOT, during the judging of which I learned that no matter how intelligent, talented, and perceptive any two people (or in the case of the judges, any 10 people) are, you can never be sure any of them will agree on what the simple phrase “good TV show” means.
So, with that in mind. I’m going to answer the question as asked. I’ve done more than my fair share of binging in recent years, so a lot of my favorites are no longer in use, you might say, and now that I’ve finished Supernatural (meh), New Tricks (fantastic for all but the last couple of years of its run), and Game of Thrones (sorry, but I couldn’t make it past the first season), here are the two series I’m binge-watching as we “speak.”
Created by Russell Lewis
This UK series on ITV is a prequel to the long-running (and mostly riveting so I recommend it as well) albeit now defunct police procedural/mystery series INSPECTOR MORSE shows how the Morse character, originally played by the touchingly irascible John Thaw, became the brilliant, cynical, lonely, and depressed crime solving genius he was in a series that lasted 13 years.
(SPOILER: He started out even more brilliant, cynical, lonely, and depressed, but younger and trimmer and better looking as played by Shaun Evans. So it goes.)
Currently, my binging coincides with where the series is right now – halfway through ENDEAVOUR’s 6th year on the air. Throughout the run, I’ve enjoyed the well-told and intelligently presented stories and characters, the great music (well, it’s basically the same music as on INSPECTOR MORSE, but greatness doesn’t wear out, you know?)
I’ve also enjoyed sense of time and place the show has had as it’s moved through the recreated 1960s, and the way the political turmoil of the day is presented with the multiple perspectives of past and present. Yesterday’s “radical” youth looks so innocent, and the entrenched establishment reacts with such shock over what today wouldn’t make anyone but John Pence even blink that I’m actually thinking of what I’m seeing as being part of the good old days…even though the crimes and the reactions are as serious as anything happening in the world now.
The best part of Endeavour though, is in the dynamics of the relationships between the characters, which are not merely understated but actually function entirely as subtext, via a look here, a twitch of the mouth there, showing a faith in the actors seldom seen on U.S. TV. Is Endeavor Morse in love with his boss’ daughter? Is that unrequited feeling the key to his later personality on the earlier Inspector Morse? Or, OMG!, am I just overreacting and completely wrong about the whole thing?
Will I ever know?
One more big positive about this series. And an admission:
The Anglophile in me is absolutely head over heels in love with the spelling of Endeavour’s name.
DEATH IN PARADISE
Created by Robert Thorogood
In many ways I find Endeavor sublime, and in just as many ways the most popular series on UK TV, BBC’s Death In Paradise, is its totally mundane opposite. Story-driven and having absolutely no intention of making any kind of statement about anything other than “Wow, we’re on a tropical island. Beautiful, yeah?” the series is insipid, banal, and loaded with clichés.
How loaded? Let me put it this way. Death in Paradise uses the “How the heck (and I mean ‘heck’ because the current protagonist would never even think of giving us a good ‘hell’) was this guy murdered when he was all alone in a room locked from the inside?” trope two out of every three times it’s on…and it just finished its seventh year.
It’s also structured so that in the last ten minutes of each episode the detective gathers all the subjects in a room and explains, with flashbacks that highlight every detail, exactly how he figured everything out, even though we just spent 40 minutes watching him do it.
As a binger, I’m only at the beginning of year 7 now, but I’ve already watched three different stars play the lead.
The first leader of the team on the mythical Caribbean paradise of Saint-Marie was played by Ben Miller as a transplanted London detective so uptight that he sweated his way through three seasons in a suit and tie before dying on the job. The second boss man, another London detective played by Kris Marshall, was a lot looser, a kind of party boy trapped in an unending Spring break for two and a half seasons, after which he left because, hey, he found a really hot babe back in the UK.
Everything about the show up to this point was so insipid that it fitted right into the “so bad it’s good” mold. I watched and watched and wondered and wondered, “How the hell – not heck – has this been such a hit?” Was it the all-pervasive ’70s telly feeling? The cultural insensitivity that either ignored the native population or relegated its members to comedy sidekick roles? The interchangeable gorgeous French-accented detective sergeants who nodded at the leads’ brilliant deductions while their eyes seemed to say, “Hold on, cheri, I’ll be in my bikini in a second,” but always remained fully dressed?
I never figured it out. But it stopped mattering last week because – wonder of wonders! – the third and current UK detective “stuck” on Saint-Marie is played by the most lovable actor since Peter Falk. His name is Ardal O’Hanlon, and UK TV aficionados may remember him as the perplexed priest star of Father Ted or the equally perplexed alien superhero star of My Hero. This time around, O’Hanlon does in fact play Peter Falk, and although he keeps his trademark perplexed attitude, it’s clear that he’s every bit as much in control as Columbo was.
Along with O’Hanlon came another couple of pluses. This year the writers are giving us a more grounded view of island life, exploring the supporting characters’ personal lives, giving them their own crime-solving moments, and the current beautiful French-accented sergeant actually looks and acts intelligently. She still isn’t a real person, but she’s almost a real TV cop, with no bikini-teasing in sight.
As for the Everyone Gathered in the Room So the Hero Can Screw with Them scene, it’s still a big part of the show. But thanks to O’Hanlon it’s now genuinely fun.
Because it’s absolutely clear that regardless of our hero’s befuddled facade he really is screwing with everyone, and, even better, enjoying every second of it.
I’m enjoying too, but I can’t help wondering. Will making the show better mean its ratings go down?