Wed
Feb 27 2013 10:00am

Don’t Touch That Dial: Midseason Thrillers and Historical Dramas

Hey there, ho there, TV fanatics! Welcome back to Don’t Touch That Dial, a seasonal column where I, your trusty reviewer, slog through all the premieres then tell you what to watch. Because I can. And because I have no life. Seriously. It’s pretty depressing, actually. Anyway...this post covers period dramas and the hot new subgenre this midseason, serial killer thrillers. Justified is also in there because there’s absolutely no way in Hades I’m not covering it. So there.

Now for the requisite SPOILER warning. There’s nothing worse than what you’d get by checking out the show’s summary on its network site, but still, don’t come into this expecting to keep your televisual virginity intact.

 

The Americans

The Road So Far: The Americans (FX, Wed 10p - new show) is set in the early 1980s at the height of the Cold War. Ronald Reagan has just been elected, and the Soviet Union is freaking out over the “mad man” now running the most powerful nation in the world. In public, Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings are the perfect American family, but they’re Soviet spies living deep undercover—16 years, two kids, and a house in the ‘burbs deep. One botched mission to capture a spy-turned-defector and a nosy new neighbor sets in motion a chain of events that threaten their espionage and their lives. And their shaky and rapidly unraveling marriage isn’t helping matters any.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: This show has more in common with Justified than you might think. More than Graham Yost at the helm and Margo Martindale (last season’s chilling villain Mags Bennett) unnerving the leads, The Americans is about a very specific group of people in very specific circumstances; in this case, 1980s KGB spies. But both shows are also about more universal themes. Justified is really about family, just as The Americans is really about marriage. Elizabeth and Phillip were shoved together by the Powers That Be. Phillip gave up the woman he loved, and Elizabeth gave up the chance to find her own true love. Phillip loves his wife more than he’s willing to admit, and Elizabeth wants to love him more than she’s willing to admit. Ultimately, they’re like any other couple who have stayed together for the kids and professional reasons. They have to decide whether to give love a chance or to accept that their marriage is a failure and learn to deal with it. The hard part is dealing with all those personal issues while staying on the good side of the Soviet government—not an easy thing to do, as Joyce found out in episode 3.

“Make another joke about my wig, I dare you.”That being said, the spy stuff is pretty entertaining in and of itself. The action is tense and vicious, and the fight scenes are surprisingly realistic. There’s no flair or fancy footwork here, just hard, cold violence, most of which is up close and personal and extremely physical. They’ve managed to handle the period details well. These are very much characters living in the 1980s. There’s no modern meta-commentary or anachronisms here. Story-wise, the writers are obviously struggling. Several of the most important story milestones are also glaring plot contrivances. (The FBI agent in charge of investigating undercover KGB operatives just so happens to move in across the street. Granted, this leads to a closing scene in the Jennings’ garage, one of my favorite scenes of any show this season. But still.) The only other thing that seriously bothers me about this show was how pilot established Elizabeth as a character. Her first scene was a blowjob, and the first major bit of character development stems from her rape. It’s 2013. Surely by now we’ve learned to create female characters who aren’t defined by their sexuality.

TL;DR: Between this and Justified, FX is kicking serious cable ass. HBO and Showtime have some heavy competition.

 

Cult

The Road So Far: Cult (CW, Tues 9p - new show) is a show and a show within a show. FBI agents Kelly and Paz (yeah, I don’t know either) investigate the disappearance of Kelly’s sister and nephew. She believes the villain behind the kidnappings is Billy Grimm, a charismatic cult leader—think Hannibal Lecter if he had a Facebook account. But all that’s on the TV show Cult, which airs on the TV show Cult. Bear with me a little longer. Failed reporter Jeff and Skye, a “researcher” for Cult, go looking for Jeff’s younger brother Nate. Nate—and apparently a huge online community of super-fans—believes there are secret messages within the show, and people get together to LARP out those coded messages because that’s what people do in Cult’s world. Two bodies turn up, a corrupt cop sets up a plan to blame Jeff, and Skye, whose job it is to research this crap, thinks the phrase is “blood splatter” instead of “blood spatter.”

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Honestly, I don’t know what happened this season. Between Cult, Do No Harm, The Following, and Zero Hour, it’s like network execs lost their damn minds. Do No Harm was bad in a “I don’t know what’s happening, someone please make it stop” kinda way, while Zero Hour was almost compelling in its sheer terribleness, as in “how is it even possible that a show that bad ever made it to air” bad. The Following I’ll get to in a tick, but Cult, Jesus H. Particular Christ, it’s such a crappy show. I watched the pilot twice trying to figure out if what makes it so bad was intentional or simply the result of a bad script, bad acting, and bad directing. I’m leaning hard to the latter.

This is the face of a man who has suddenly realized he’s starring in In the show, fans don’t take to Tumblr or Twitter to talk about how much they love the show. Instead they create secret hidden websites you have to “follow links” to find and go to underground clubs to sit on bulky desktops and communicate via AOL-in-1996-esque chat rooms. Cops willingly ignore evidence like a lack of gun residue and signs of struggle and just throw out random accusations, or just leave stacks of possible evidence at the crime scene because why bother carting all that stuff back to the station when Jeff will just have to go through it anyway in the next scene so he can find the clue his brother had time to hide in between stabbings. None of the actors, producers, or the mysterious showrunner ever go to cons, do interviews, or even AMAs. The creator has never been seen and writes every script himself entirely alone and without any assistance from a writing staff (which “begs the question” as to why they even need a “researcher” on staff in the first place), despite the fact that such a situation means disregarding everything about how the television industry actually works. Between the stilted acting, ridiculous dialogue, and ludicrous concept, there’s no way this show could ever be anything other than terrible.

TL;DR: Zero Hour is spectacularly bad. It’s so bad that it’s actually transcended the meaning of the word “bad” and become mesmerizing, like watching a car crash in slow motion. Perhaps if Cult had demon babies and Nazi clocks, it might also reach similar lows, but all it has is stupidity. Piles and piles of stupidity. Do No Harm levels of stupidity.

 

The Following

The Road So Far: The Following (FOX, Mon 9p - new show), um, follows ex-FBI agent Ryan Hardy, a hot-headed drunk suffering the ill effects of a bad breakup, a dicky heart, and probably PTSD, gets sucked back into the force when serial killer Joe Carroll escapes from prison. He surrenders at the end of the first episode, but it soon becomes clear it was all part of some vast, Machiavellian plot to tear Ryan’s world apart. Part revenge for sleeping with his wife, part sadistic desire to watch the world burn, Carroll turns his followers’ cultish devotion into a cruel megaphone for his message of beauty through death in this blood-soaked thriller.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The day after this show’s premiere, I found myself embroiled in a heated debate with a man in his seventies about violence in entertainment. It was just over a month from Sandy Hook, making the conversation particularly intense. His premise was that all the blood and gore in media was to blame, that we celebrate deviancy and are reaping what we sow. My argument has always been that there is an important and necessary place for debauchery, perversion, and violence in entertainment, and that it is misleading, wrong-headed, and ultimately more toxic to the cultural atmosphere to pretend the world is Leave It to Beaver and ignore the destructive side of life. From a creative standpoint, violence—when not overused or misused—can be a vital storytelling tool.

Whee! Glitter bomb!But I never got to say any of that because the man started talking about some horrible show he had watched the night before, where 20 minutes into it a woman stripped naked at a police station and shoved an icepick in her eye. He and his wife were so upset by it that they turned to TV Land and watched Happy Days for the rest of the night. We need Fight Club and Pulp Fiction as much as Norman Rockwell and Shirley Temple, but The Following is not the show to prove that case. It does the exact opposite. The Following is hollow, gratuitous, and gruesome, and lacks the depth or philosophy have any meaning.

I like a lot of the people working on this show. Kevin Williamson (and Joss Whedon) were a major part of my formative years; Dawson’s Creek pretty much defined my entire existence as a teenager. Kevin Bacon is awesome, even when he isn’t. James Purefoy, Shawn Ashmore, and Natalie Zea are great actors who always pique my interest. But the whole show is like Criminal Minds cranked to 11. It’s violent for the sake of being violent, and shock has no value when there isn’t anything to support it. The characters are just so...stock. Ryan is a loose cannon who doesn’t play by the rules, Carroll is the discount bin cross between John Doe from Se7en and Hannibal Lecter, Weston the excitable geek fawning all over his mentor, Claire the gorgeous victim with the hots for Ryan, blah blah blah. And don’t even get me started on Carroll’s acolytes. They aren’t nearly charismatic enough to sustain full episodes, which looks like where the show is headed. Look, I know my deep obsession with Criminal Minds makes me sound like a hypocrite, but the characters and their interpersonal relationships are what draw me in again and again. I care about what happens to Reid and Penelope. The characters in The Following spout out paint-by-numbers dialogue to such an extent that personalities and quirks are overrun.

TL;DR: Clichés only serve to make the pointless horror-porn tropes stand out even worse. There’s a teensy kernel of good-ness here (if you can stand all the wrong-ness of the Poe nonsense), but they’re going to have to shed a ton of excess baggage to get to it. If the ratings continue to be strong, they’ll either keep the drudgery going or use it as an excuse to live up to higher standards.

 

Justified

The Road So Far: Season 4 of Justified (FX, Tues 10p) digs deeper into Detroit mafia kingpin Theo Tonin, introduced last season via his psychotic wannabe lieutenant Robert Quarles. Decades earlier, Arlo Givens and Bo Crowder were involved in hiding a drug runner named Drew Thompson—as well as his massive stash of cocaine—from Tonin. Now Raylan, Boyd, several US law enforcement agencies, and Tonin are on the hunt for Thompson, and it’s only a matter of time before they all spectacularly and violently collide. And all this with a baby on the way.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Justified stars the awesome Timothy Olyphant as US Marshal Raylan Givens, the fantastic Walton Goggins as crime boss Boyd Crowder, and about a dozen of television’s best “not nearly famous enough” actors. A pleasant side effect of this is the unofficial Deadwood reunion going on: so far W. Earl Brown (Dan Dority—also in Bates Motel), Jim Beaver (Ellsworth), Gerald McRaney (George Hearst). If they can convince Brad Dourif, Garret Dillahunt, and Kim Dickens to do guest stints, my life will be complete. Fortunately, this season is also addressing the previous seasons’ biggest failure, that of not managing to adequately flesh out the secondary and tertiary characters. Raylan isn’t just an anti-hero, he’s also a mountain of dicks with a Stetson fetish, while Boyd is more than just a villain, he’s also romantic and funny and out of his gorram mind. But in a good way.

Someone please direct me to the nearest Raylan/Boyd slash, STAT.Like The Americans, this isn’t a perfect show, but even it’s B-grade stories are miles above most of the dreck on TV. It’s one of the wittiest, cleverest, darkly comic shows on air. But the best thing about this show? The hilarious and terrifying chaos that is Raylan and Boyd’s tempestuous relationship. The writers have very wisely kept Raylan and Boyd apart for much of this season, for as great as it is watching them spark off each other, their scenes pack an even higher punch when they’ve circled each other for several episodes. The higher the stakes, the more built up tension boiling between the lines, the more trouble they get into and the more troublesome they become, the more explosive their inevitable collisions become. It ain’t SFF, but if you were annoyed that Firefly wasn’t Western enough, then you definitely need to pick up Justified.

TL;DR: Raylan: “The S.S. Quarles is going under. You best swim like hell to get clear or the whirlpool will take you down with it.” Wynn: “I believe they disproved that on Mythbusters.”

Raylan: “I got mad ninja skills, buddy.” Tim: “Yeah, you know karate?” Raylan: “And two other Japanese words.”

 

Honorable Mentions
Bates Motel (A&E, Mon 10p - series premiere Mar 18): On one hand, Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates. On the other hand, it’s a serialized prequel of Psycho where the characters solve a bunch of mysteries. Anyone wanna take bets on how long this show lasts?

Call the Midwife (PBS, Sun 8p - season 2 premiere Mar 31): Honestly, I have no idea what this show is about. Is it a drama about beekeeping in ancient Greece or a sitcom about a cop who doesn’t play by the rules going undercover at The Gap? Who knows. With a title that vague and unspecific, the show could be about anything.

Downton Abbey (PBS, Wed 9p - season 3 premiere Jan 6): Here are two reasons to watch this show: 1) It’s a historical soap opera. Think Dynasty but with more tweed and bowler caps. 2) Maggie Smith is the world’s greatest everything, and her character is endlessly quotable. When I get old, I want to be her. Still seems silly to me that PBS waits so long between the UK and US airdates, but given how high the ratings for the US premiere was, it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll adopt the Doctor Who model.

Hannibal (NBC, Thurs 10p - series premiere Feb 14): Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies, The Munsters reboot) is the tasty brains behind this prequel. Like Bates Motel, there are a lot of great talents off and on camera (hello, Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, Caroline Dhavernas, Laurence Fishburne, and Scott Thompson), but the whole concept fills me with an overwhelming sense of “Ugh.”

Mad Men (AMC, Sun 10p - season 6 premiere Apr 7): Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes! Out of all the shows returning this year, this is the one I’m most excited for. Mad Men will go down in history as one of the greatest shows ever created, and the sooner everyone realizes that the better off we’ll all be. Pick a weekend and marathon the heck out of it. Trust me, you won’t regret it. Creator/showrunner Matthew Weiner is a master wordsmith. He is to television what Neil Gaiman is to literature.

Ripper Street (BBC America, Sat 10p - series premiere Jan 19): Do you like procedurals? Do you like Victorian London? Do you like Matthew Macfadyen? Then welcome to your new favorite show.

Zero Hour (ABC, Thurs 8p - series premiere Feb 14): Nazi clocks? Nazi clocks. NAZI FRAKKING CLOCKS. Seriously? How the hell did that ever make it past the treatment stage? How did no one—crew, actors, producers, extras, caterers, security guards, ANYONE AT ALL—stop this abomination from hitting the airwaves? Sweet zombie Jesus. And I thought Beauty and the Beast was bad.


Alex Brown is an archivist, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

21 comments
treeandleaf
1. treeandleaf
"Call the Midwife" is a cracking little show - good scripts, well acted, an interesting ensemble of female characters, and a well-judged evocation of a vanished world. It's a fascinating look at 'women's work' and women's lives at a time of great social change, and it handles religion well. And despite its (not unfair) reputation of being feel-good telly, it touches on some pretty dark themes - deprivation, epidemic disease, incest, abortion and doesn't idealise the past. Oh, and it passes the Bechdel Test every time without even trying.

And all you've got is a sneer at the title? Maybe it's not the most excitingly named show out there. It's still the highlight of my televisual week.
Chris Nelly
2. Aeryl
The Following is nothing more than 15 hour miniseries, I truly do not believe anybody involved has any intention of trying to carry this story beyond that(especially since most of the main cast has other work), so I think critiquing it as continuing series, like Justified or Breaking Bad, is a mistake.

I enjoy the hell out of it, I think it's the most frightening show on television, not for the gore, but for its good use of tension. The only complaint I have with it, is that I don't like mysteries the viewer is incapable of solving, because the show withholds information for "shock value". For example, Monday night I figured the blonde local cop assigned to Iceman was in on it, because there were enough indications that somebody local was feeding info to this Roderick. But the two tactical guys came from nowhere, with no possibility previously established, and I hate stuff like that.

I find Purefoy's performance the BEST part of the show, IMO. His natural charisma makes his scenes terrifying to watch. I'm meh on the love story between Ryan and Claire, I could've done without that, but Anna's storyline is becoming very gripping. My boss suspects Anna is in on it, but I feel its a fakeout, though so far only cult members have gotten backstory as she did this week. I am completely into Jacob's story and I cannot wait for the episode with backstory to flesh him out, this guy who desires to belong so bad he will allow it to override his innate good nature.

To me the series is just a murder mystery without any longevity, which is why I enjoy the breakneck plot speeds and shallow characterization of The Followers, because this show has so many better things to do with the time it has.
Alex Brown
3. AlexBrown
@treeandleaf: Yep, sadly, all I've got is a sneer at the title. I knocked it down to Honorable Mention specifically because I've not seen it nor heard anything about it. I couldn't critique it, but I did think the show was worth mentioning because I figured a fan would turn up in the comments to sing its praises. Based on your comment it sounds interesting enough, if still a little dull, so I'll give it a chance eventually, just probably not for a while.

@Aeryl: Your premise about the length of The Following disregards how American television actually works. Kevin Bacon may personally regret signing on, but he's most likely contractuallyby now so he's stuck regardless. The show has to be critiqued like a series because that's precisely what it is. Besides, unless something drastic happens, the ratings have been solid enough that it's pretty much a lock for renewal. FOX wouldn't spend millions on something they didn't think had a chance to pull in enough for syndication, no matter how terrible the mess that ends up on screen is. Unless you were being sarcastic, in which case, funny.
Chris Nelly
4. Aeryl
I'm not disregarding how American television works, I am regarding everything I've read about it newswise, which claims it's special event tv, not a show intended for syndication, as it would have to go seven seasons for that, and I don't care how many Scream movies you've written, you can't stretch out this story for that long.

And that's why The Following works, IMO, because it's not trying to stretch out storylines(cough*Bones*cough). It's lean and tight and ramps through the story. It doesn't waste time fleshing out characters who are going to irrelevant to the overall story by the end of the episode(cough*Once Upon a Time*cough) It does not feel like a show that intends to stretch this out. YMMV, and obviously yours does. You feel the characters are rote, I see them as archetypal. The lack of charisma in the acolytes bothers you, to me that is their defining characteristic and why they are so vulnerable to someone like Carroll and that characteristic is the ultimate driver of the story.

And perhaps you're correct, and they are going to squeeze this story for everything it's worth. I would hope not, as it would take away from what makes this story so compelling to me, mainly that it has an endpoint that we are quickly approaching and that endpoint also makes every character fair game.
Constance Sublette
5. Zorra
Are you sure you don't know what the title means? Surely you know what a midwife is and what a midwife does.

Call the Midwife says exactly what it is: a series (based on the memoir by Jennifer Worth, who received her midwife training in the early 50's, in a very poor part of London) built around stories and events involving pregnancies and deliveries. Additionally there are the personal stories of the young women and some of their other friends and relatives, as well as the stories of the people in the community they serve.

It's a woman-centered series. The young and old midwives consciously attempt to 'be good and do good,' while not judging others. They struggle to stay on the paths of virtue, rather than succumb to self-centered, solitary gratifications. It's very old-fashioned in that way.

Call the Midwife is old-fashioned in another way. It's about growing into maturity, meaning becoming fully functional, useful members of a community.

It wouldn't appeal to audiences that include, for instance, the politicians who recently revealed their entire ignorance about women and where babies come from. Yet, oddly, these same fellows believe they are qualified to forbid all late-term abortions because, well such things are never needed to save the mother's life. Too bad they wouldn't watch such a series -- they could learn what they're criminally ignorant of.

One of the elements I most enjoy about the series is how well it uses popular songs of the day as source music. The songs are inserted naturally into a scene from the radio, from records, people singing together, while providing another comment on the scene.


So, it's a BBC - PBS show. You'd never see it on any broadcast or cable network in this U.S. And though it is as much a period series as Downton Abbey, Downton Abbey shares more of the contemporary sensibilities than it does with the post-WWII Call the Midwife.

Love, C.
treeandleaf
6. DRickard
Alex--on Call the Midwife: I'll grant, if you haven't seen it, you're not really in a position to critique it. But there are these amazing new tools called Google and Wikipedia where you could learn something about it.
Alex Brown
7. AlexBrown
@Aeryl: The showrunner may have intended it to have a shorter run (see Kripke and Supernatural for a prime example), but that doesn't mean FOX wants anything to do with it. But as I said in the review, I think there's some good stuff in the show (love the actors, interesting premise, some well-shot scenes, etc.), but I think there's a lot more that needs to go before it ever rises above a C grade, IMO. Not that there's anything wrong with being average...I watch a lot of average TV (hello, Hawaii Five-O), but I personally won't be watching The Following until they up/change their game.

@Zorra: Um, the mini-review was a joke...yes, I know what the show is about in concept, but I don't know what it's like in practise. There's a difference. Again, what you and tree have described sounds perfectly pleasant, and I'm more curious about it than I was before, but it still doesn't hook me in personally.

@DRickard: I could rely on Wikipedia and Google, but then that'd be more of a book report than a review. I can't review something if I haven't seen it, and, frankly, I simply didn't have the time. If it's still around next midseason, I'll give it a more thorough review then.
Steven Halter
8. stevenhalter
I've been enjoying the following. As you said the actors are pretty good and I'm rather liking the pacing so far.
I'm looking at the main serial killer--Carroll, as someone who deeply misunderstands Poe but just isn't able to admit that he might be wrong. Kinder of the ultimate Poe troll. That and you know, being insane/evil.
The followers are somewhat vague but they are followers. The storyline is using some stock characters and we'll have to see how it goes, but I guess I would give it a B so far.
Constance Sublette
9. Zorra
Alex -- Would you mind telling why you think Call The Midwife wouldn't be a show you'd enjoy?

Would it be because it's so old-fashioned? Because it's so much about average every-day women and the lives most women share, no matter who they are: pregnancy, childbirth, childcare, running the domestic sphere? Because it isn't an action show? Because of some other reason?

This isn't a gotcha or judgmental question, but genuine curiosity. Part of what I'm curious about is how many people I run into who honestly cannot understand that a story can be something that isn't about good guys vs. bad guys -- or at least good bad guys vs the bad bad guys -- and it must have a murder that must solved and lots of guns and car chases. it's got to be action.

They really are unware there are other kinds of stories -- you see this mystification a lot particularly around the HBO series, Treme. People wanted The Wire redux: But all this business with the musicians -- how can that be a story -- and all that attention to construction on top of it? What kind of a story is a guy hammering?

You aren't one of those guys, of course!

Love, C.
Alex Brown
10. AlexBrown
@steven: I really want to like The Following more, and I'll pop in for the couple of episodes before the finale to see how/if it's turned around.

@Zorra: Since you politely asked an honest question, I'll return the kindness by giving you a polite and honest answer. (Side note: this is exactly the kind of discussion I was hoping for with these posts, so thanks for participating! This is a great way for you to draw in more viewers to your beloved shows.)

I watch all kinds of shows. Love Treme...one of my top 10 favorite shows of all time. I could watch Antoine spend an hour at the Piggly Wiggly and love it. There's a place for quiet dramas and a place for loud thrillers, and I thoroughly enjoy both. Call the Midwife sounds pleasant enough, and I'm sure I'd enjoy whatever time I spent on it, but with all the other television and books currently begging for my attention, it's a low priority. I'm an everyday woman, yet childcare, childbirth, running the domestic sphere, and pregnancy have absolutely no relevance in my life (but then again neither do vampires or shirtless Hawaiian cops), nor do they hold any personal interest.

There's got to be more to the show than just popping out babies and staying on the path of virtue, and no one has given me any indication of what that might be. Are there fascinating characters with intriguing interpersonal relationships? Is it well-shot, well-directed, and well-acted? Is it serialized or is there an overarching plot? Are the stories more than just ladies doing lady things? As it stands, the whole thing sounds very Ya-Ya Sisterhood, and I'd much rather spend my time doing anything else. While I appreciate what the Bechdel Test does, I don't define my media experience by it. And, honestly, a story about a bunch of good people doing good things is very old-fashioned, but more importantly, it also sounds incredibly boring to me. Where's the drama, the tension, the internal conflict, the difficult relationships? But I love to be proven wrong. As I said, I'll give it a go next fall/winter (got a lot on my television plate at the moment), and if it gets renewed then I'll do a full review next midseason.
Steven Halter
11. stevenhalter
It also occurs to me that, if one were so inclined, a fine drinking game could be made with The Following. New follower--drink. Follower killed--drink, spot a follower before anyone else, everyone else drinks, ...
Constance Sublette
12. Zorra
Thank you!

There is a lot more going on than how you described it. As I said previously the stories are built around what the midwives do, their personal relationships, relationships among the members of the community they serve.

Whatever class or background you may be, if you're a woman of childbearing years you will come to their women's health and neo-natal clinic and encounter each other; in that senses it's much like the still very popular All Creatures Great and Small. It is nicely shot -- and I did mention how they do sound and incorporate the period's popular music. All period parts are impeccably re-created.

As well, there are episodes that take place outside that sphere -- and at least once, out in the country.

It's a full life, filled with all varieties of tensions and conflicts. It's definitely not Ya-Ya anything, and it's not goody-goody either. It can't be, because the community is mostly poor, and some are desperate, and there are criminals and the mad. But these are members of the medical profession, and doing good is part of their job description.

As well, the War ... everyone who isn't a young child was personally touched by the war, and even at this point, evidence of the war is all around. Not everyone in Britain by any means bought into the all for one, one for all, all pull together with our firm upper lips. But the sense of cooperation in order to save the nation hasn't entirely disappeared.

In that way I am made to think of Cuba. Their national cultural inculcation as communists to cooperate and help each other in the neighborhood as yet has not disappeared either. Though mostly the belief in communism itself has pretty much disappeared. But these are people who also have deep cultural roots of working and living communally, as so many are of African heritage. This is one of the reasons communism layered so easily for so long upon Cuba -- the largest percentage of the population comes out of extended families and communal communities already. Like the Londoners of this community are generationally urban dwellers, used to living closely together, fighting and cooperating.

Which is why I tend to be disturbed by the fantasy and sf depictions of NYC in disaster mode of turning entirely feral and criminal. This city contains so many talented, experienced, smart people -- and we have our neighborhoods too. Though I have more doubts about the latest generation of arrivals, who aren't rooted in any of our urban communities, and don't respect or even often notice the communities all around their cell phones.

Love, C.
Constance Sublette
13. Zorra
BTW, this evening I just watched the middle episodes of season 3, Justified. When Boyd Crowther does his testifying at the sheriff candidates Q&A in the VFW Hall -- omilordessa! that's what you love this show for -- among other things.

As well, these episodes were so firmly in Kentucky, and particularly back in Harlan, which is what makes the show. I don't give a damn about Detroit mobsters. It's these people and places I want to see. But season 3 has by now mitagated what I'd feared reading about it when it first aired, that it would be too much the outsider city slickers and not so local.

And I do understand there is only so much room for watching tv in one's life!

Love, C.
Constance Sublette
14. Zorra
P.S. And then the two Justified episodes featuring Max Perlich, who played Brodie on Homicide (where, during its seven seasons' run, David Simon learned everything about making great television) and the Whistler on Buffy, as the mobster's son, Sammy Tonin.

For some reason I'm absurdly delighted whenever Max Perlich shows up on screen.

Love, C.
Alex Brown
15. AlexBrown
@steven: Oh, God, I'd be drunk by the first commercial break.

@Zorra: You definitely make Call the Midwife seem more interesting than what I thought. Thanks for the breakdown. I am much less reticent about taking it on than I was before.

Season 3 of Justified left a little to be desired IMO (not that it was mediocre, just didn't think it was as great as, say, season 1), but season 4 is definitely back on track. Loving the way the mythology hearkens back to the first two seasons, little bits here and there. A few eps after the one you saw, Raylan and Boyd go trekking out in hill country deep in Harlan County, and it goes about as well as you might expect. Arlo's story gets deeper, as well.
Constance Sublette
16. Zorra
I am looking forward to season 4, Justified, but it's going to be a long time before it's on dvd.

The women are equally interesting characters. The scene between Boyd Crowder and Ava, as she tells him why she had to take care of Delroy and how she did it -- it was priceless. These aren't Sons of Anarchy women, or the women of Boss, in both of which every female characters is deeply humiliated and violated, even raped and / or killed, or made to spend much of their screen time naked and panting. There are even women on Justified who are dead and still of interest to the men whose lives they were part of -- even it it's Arlo off his meds.

As long as the writers can resist putting Raylon and Boyd playing off each other all the time, things should be OK.

Funny that, how we have black characters in two series running bar-b-que joints, as in both Justified and netflix House of Cards. There's something of Chalky White, from Boardwalk Empire, about Justified's Ellstin Limehouse too, since they both run larger enterprises from the front of their legitimate business -- as did Butchie in The Wire.

Love, C.
alastair chadwin
17. a-j
Ah, Call the Midwife. Watched the first two or three episodes and absolutely loathed it. Maybe it improved in later episodes but I found it to be dreary heritage TV. Mind you, I don't like Downtown Abbey either!
Ripper Street -
The first episode is breathtakingly violent, specifically towards women. I almost stopped watching any more. However it calms down in subsequent episodes and has one, about a cholera outbreak, that is excellent.
Alex Brown
18. AlexBrown
@Zorra: I think Ellstin Limehouse plays the BBQ/butcher thing more for the impressions other people place upon the role than for any personal affinity for it. I mean, the BBQ guy makes him look easy-going and innocent, while the butcher makes him look tough and violent. His victims put their own observations and opinions upon his actions, so he doesn't have to work nearly as hard to get across a certain attitude. If that makes any sense.

@a-j: I like Dowtown Abbey a lot, though I recognize (and am thoroughly annoyed by) its many structural problems. But I also madly love soap operas (I was practically raised by All My Children and One Life To Live), so none of that particularly bothers me.

As for Ripper Street, the first episode is violent towards women, but with a point. They think Jack the Ripper is back and killing prostitutes again. Subsequent episodes don't deal with women quite as violently, more like everyone gets the snot beat out of them equally, gender regardless. Women do get hit, but women got hit in the Victorian Era all the time, as did men (and men also take quite a beating in this show). In Ripper Street, the violence fits the story and doesn't feel as exploitative as something like Criminal Minds. Also, it's great fun to watch them realize the limitations of their knowledge and explore new technologies.
Alex Brown
20. AlexBrown
*I've deleted my comment as it references another comment now flagged and deleted*
Bridget McGovern
21. BMcGovern
Alex @20: I just unpublished the aforementioned spam--feel free to flag any further comments (or just shoot me an email, if it happens again :) Thanks!
Alex Brown
22. AlexBrown
Sure thing, Bridget. Wasn't sure if it qualified for flagging or not. Good to know for the future.

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