A television fan’s guide to Netflix Australia, Part Two: British television

Last weekend I published my (very long) guide of US television shows that people who just got Netflix Australia should check out. Today I’m going to go through British television, and at some point next week I’ll talk about the good Australian shows on there.

The Bletchley Circle (2012-present):
Genre: Period crime drama      Number of seasons: 2

I read a review of The Bletchley Circle in early 2012, and I wanted to watch it immediately. I ended up waiting 6 months before it aired on the BBC, but it was worth the wait. The Bletchley Circle is about four women who worked in Bletchley Park in WWII as codebreakers, and now that the war is over, they have returned to their previous jobs, or if they got married, to their role as homemakers. In the 1950s (I’m not quite sure of the year), a serial killer has started murdering women at train stations, and the women pick up on clues that the police don’t. As women, they have a different perspective (there weren’t any female detectives back then), and they have the intelligence to not only solve the crime, but figure out that the murderer/rapist is smart enough to set someone up to take the fall before moving onto another area. It’s thrilling and feminist and I love it. The second season brings a new case, as one of their colleagues from Bletchley Park has been arrested for murder and they try to prove that she’s innocent. There’s not a huge time commitment with this one, the seasons are short (the first season was three episodes, the second is four), and cases are multi-part stories that never go for so long that they outstay their welcome.

Broadchurch (2013-present):
Genre: Crime drama      Number of seasons: 1 of 2

I’ve written a few posts about how I didn’t like the second season of Broadchurch that much – I ended up watching six of eight episodes, and I didn’t really miss anything. The reason that the second season of Broadchurch was so disappointing is that the first season was fantastic, and would have worked perfectly as a miniseries. It’s well worth watching, as it explores the effect that the murder of a ten year old boy has on a small town as all their secrets are exposed. The mystery is important, but not the central focus of the show, which is the characters, who are all affected by Danny’s death in different ways.

Call the Midwife (2012-present):
Genre: Period drama      Number of seasons: 3 of 4

I confess that I have not watched as much of this show as I should have. When I was in Washington, D.C. in January last year, it was during the polar vortex, and my sister and I were staying with some of her friends. We spent most of the week when we weren’t visiting government buildings (which was awesome) staying huddled inside watching ice hockey and the first season of Call the Midwife. It’s about a group of midwives (lay women and nuns) working in London’s East End in the 1950s and 60s, as well as their patients. Some of the stories are devastating, others are incredibly touching. The best part of the show follows Chummie (comedian Miranda Hart) as she becomes more confident in her profession and becomes close with one of the policemen. It’s pretty adorable, quite funny, and the moment where she stands up to her mother at the end of the season is pretty great.

Doctor Who (new series, 2005-present):
Genre: Science fiction     Number of seasons: 7 of 8

I used to love this show, and I wrote about why I don’t love it any more a few months ago. My advice is to watch the first five seasons; I was initially excited for Steven Moffat taking over as head writer for the show after I saw “Blink,” still one of the best episodes the show has produced, but halfway through the sixth season I stopped caring. What I learned in retrospect about Russel T. Davies’ tenure as showrunner is that he cared about the show from a character perspective, and the companions were people with flaws, rather than just female human versions of The Doctor. While I found Davies’ Ten/Rose shipping kind of annoying, there was well done character work that made the emotional beats land.

Downton Abbey (2010-present):
Genre: Period drama/primetime soap       Number of seasons: 4 of 5

It’s worth watching the first two seasons of Downton Abbey, which is going to finish its run after its sixth season. The show is about rich people and how the aristocracy passes down its titles and land, but there’s a human element to it too, in the lives of the servants. I’ve stopped watching Downton except for Maggie Smith’s one-liners, but if you’re looking for something light and fun to watch (serious things do happen, but it’s still a fairly soapy show most of the time), this isn’t a bad choice.

The House of Cards trilogy (1990-1995):
Genre: Political thriller       Number of seasons: 3

One of the main reasons I don’t like Netflix’s adaptation of House of Cards is because I saw the original trilogy, based on the Michael Dobbs novels (the second and third novels and miniseries are called To Play the King and The Final Cut). The British version of this show is (in my opinion) superior to the Netflix series in its dry wit and catchphrases. The device of breaking the fourth wall using asides was taken from the original. Sir Ian Richardson’s performance is also far better than Kevin Spacey’s and Urquhart’s marriage is much more of a marriage of convenience; it’s actually Urquhart’s wife who suggests he starts the affair with the journalist.

You might very well think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

The IT Crowd (2006-2013):
Genre: Comedy       Number of seasons: 4

I was obsessed with this show when I was in high school. This is one show where the US adaptation failed, and thank goodness. It’s really hard for me to explain why I loved this show so much, but in the first episode Moss gets both the adult and child versions of the new Harry Potter book to make sure there were no differences in the text, and I was sold. It’s about two weird IT guys and their manager, Jen and the dysfunctional company they work for. I still have no idea what Reynholm Industries actually does.

The Thick of It (2005-2012):
Genre: Comedy       Number of seasons: 4

This is another show of which I’ve only seen the first season. I wrote a review of it a couple of months ago when I got Stan, but I haven’t watched any of it since. Peter Capaldi is brilliant, and this is a much better showcase for him than Doctor Who.

Torchwood (2006-2011):
Genre: Science fiction     Number of seasons: 4

Torchwood is Russel T. Davies’ baby that he planted the seeds for when he was running Doctor Who. First there are mentions of it in the second series of Doctor Who, and then Captain Jack Harkness takes over the Torchwood office in Cardiff. It’s great. It’s also not a show you should show your children. It’s darker, and there’s weird sex stuff, like that sex alien thing in the second episode of the show. The third season is the pinnacle of the show, and it’s completely tragic, but a fantastic viewing experience.

Broadchurch, Series 2

No one will mourn you. – Beth Latimer

You are dead to us, do you understand? – Ellie Miller

I’ve missed two episodes of Broadchurch this year, and I never bothered to catch up on iview. I’ve seen shows that have had ongoing sotrylines that have dropped in quality in their second season, but Broadchurch is perhaps the best example I can think of for letting a well written, acted, directed and produced crime drama just stand on its own as a miniseries. What set the first series of Broadchurch apart was that the serialised mystery wasn’t just something that needed to be solved the way they did on Law and Order: SVU, but that the victim, Danny Latimer, and the people close to him, were treated as characters. The serialisation on the first series Broadchurch is a step up from the combination of procedural mysteries with ongoing character work in Grantchester, which I wrote about last night, but the second series has paled in comparison to both its predecessor and this new show about an attractive priest who solves crimes.

A few weeks ago, I was frustrated with the direction that Broadchurch had taken in its second series. I wasn’t particularly articulate, but then I heard Maureen Ryan talk about it on episode of Talking TV With Ryan and Ryan, and she managed to articulate her issues with the second series of Broadchurch much better than I could. This sentence in Mo’s review of the second series sums up the issues I have with the show perfectly:

Sadly, Season 2 of “Broadchurch” is amped up and melodramatic in ways that feel clumsy and inorganic when they’re not simply loud (the soundtrack is often gratingly bombastic).

The series started this way: Joe Miller was all set to plea Guilty, but then he changed his mind, and caused more pain to the people he hurt. It seems that Chris Chibnall was thinking about what the second series of Broadchurch would be when he was writing the first, because of the way that Alec and Ellie handled the case, but it didn’t exactly work. Yes, Ellie assaulted her husband after he was arrested, and yes that can be twisted to be police brutality, but everything that was brought up during Joe’s trial from the first series of the show seemed contrived. It’s as if the events first series, such as a manufactured gap in Mark’s alibi, were reverse engineered in order to make Joe seem as if he wasn’t guilty. And (spoiler alert), the jury found him not guilty, but rather than enhancing the effect it had on the people of Broadchurch, it cheapens the work done in the first series. The most interesting consequence of the trial is how it led to the repair of Ellie and Beth’s fractured friendship.

One of the reasons the court case didn’t work is because it brought in new characters that had a history between them that felt inorganic. Sharon Bishop, who defended Joe, was once the prosecutor Jocelyn’s protege, but they had a falling out. Bishop’s defense of Joe was nothing other than an attack on the people connected to Danny, and the only reason Jocelyn agreed to prosecute the case was because she saw that Sharon was defending Joe. It turns out that Sharon’s son was in jail, and she wanted Jocelyn to defend him, but she refused because she was going blind. So Sharon blamed Jocelyn for her son’s predicament, and Jocelyn was mad at Sharon for not being the kind of lawyer she wanted her to be. Unfortunately the conflict between these characters wasn’t developed as organically as the drama of the first series, and because we didn’t know or sympathise with these characters, it fell flat.

The second series of Broadchurch also picked up on Hardy’s cold casae that he mentioned in the first series. The case in itself wasn’t particularly interesting, there were lies upon lies, and a pendant. What I liked about it was that it brought Alec and Ellie back together working on a case. One of the downfalls of the series’ focus on Joe’s trial is that the chemistry between David Tennant and Olivia Colman in their professional relationship was the highlight of the first series. They care about each other, but Ellie’s to fragile to admit it, and the best lines of the show are usually exchanges between Alec and Ellie. One of the best moments of the finale is a montage of scenes in which they interrogate three different suspects connected to the case. It was great to see them working together again, especially because they’re so good at their jobs. It’s not a coincidence that the only scenes that worked in this finale were those in which the characters affected by Danny’s murder had to deal with the fact that Joe was found not guilty.

The other moments of the finale that worked were the scene in which the Millers and the Latimers banished Joe from Broadchurch, and when the two families have a picnic on the beach. As great as David Tennant is, Olivia Colman and Jodie Whittaker’s performances were the highlight of the first series of Broadchurch, and it’s true for the second series. Once the show had moved past their antagonism and realised that they were mad at the same person, they were able to work through their grief together, and the acting and writing when they banish Joe from Broadchurch are the best of the series.

ITV has commissioned a third series of Broadchurch, but I don’t know if I’ll watch it. The second series has been interesting in parts, but it didn’t touch on the beauty and the raw emotion of the first. The second series of Broadchurch hasn’t diminished my love for the first, but if the third series is in the same vain, I think there will continue to be diminishing returns.

Other thoughts:

  • Alec: “You’re too emotionally wound up!”
    Ellie: “Me?! Have you met yourself?”
  • Jocelyn says this after Joe is found not guilty: “I can take a loss, but this one mattered. Now the whole town knows I failed.” There is absolutely no subtext.
  • Whenever I see David Tennant act in his Scottish accent, I think that those four years of him being English in Doctor Who were a mistake.
  • Ricky is such a dick, telling his daughter that his niece’s murder wasn’t his own fault: “I’m afraid Lee’s really hurt her”
  • Alec: “Miller I couldn’t have done this without you.”
    Ellie: “No you couldn’t. And you didn’t.”
    That’s what counts as emotion for these two.

Why it can be good, and not so good, to read other people’s reviews.

I started this blog to write about television, and occasionally I write about film and books as well. But I wasn’t using it, so I decided that I would write at least 500 words every day this year. Depending on what I write, the length of the piece varies. What I’ve noticed since I’ve started writing more television reviews is that I’m not reading reviews on any other websites.

The main benefit of that is that I’m focusing on my own opinion of the episode, rather than having my opinion influenced by other people. On the other hand, if I’m not sure about whether I like something or not (my initial reaction to Birdman was “huh”, and I didn’t know what to make of it), it’s useful to seek out both positive and negative reviews and think about which one you agree with the most. My method is to get inspiration from the articles and use them as a source if I use specific ideas in my own review. I read Kayla Kumari’s review of The Good Wife‘s “Dark Money”, before I wrote my own, but the time between reading her review and writing my own was long enough that it didn’t matter as much. But of the shows I write about regularly, Jane the VirginBetter Call Saul and Justified, I’ll only occasionally read a review over at The A.V. Club or on Alan Sepinwall’s blog afterwards.

I’m still relatively new to this, so there are people who watch television more critically than I do. It’s a skill I’m still developing. Therefore I need to read other people’s reviews to enhance my own insight into what I’ve just watched. My case in point for this week is Justified. Last week, I wrote a more of a recap than a review in that it was mainly a plot summary that didn’t go into theme or character at all. Then I went to the review over at The A.V. Club, and read a fantastic character study into how Raylan’s personality was informed by the antagonistic relationship he had with his now dead father. The hatred of Arlo is what drove Raylan for four seasons, and the show has definitely changed since he died – why is Raylan still in Harlan? Given that I watched the first four seasons of this show in succession (it wasn’t quite a binge watch, since I was finishing my Masters degree at the time), I haven’t watched it as critically as I have shows that I watch on a weekly basis. Then in my review this week, I was looking too much into Boyd changing the magazine on his gun – on their podcast, Joanna Robinson and Ryan McGee thought it was just an illustration of how Boyd can no longer trust Ava – this makes the most sense, but I still hope there’s more of a possibility than that. It was a semi-ambiguous moment, and I need to remember that just because other people see it differently than I did, it doesn’t mean that I interpreted it wrong. Just differently. Still, I haven’t read any other Justified reviews this week, so I only know the opinions of two people. It’s food for thought.

Another thing I wrote about last week was my issues with the second series of Broadchurch. On her podcast with Ryan McGee, Mo Ryan articulated some of her problems with the show – I had heard that it was soapy, but that’s not necessarily the whole problem. What was good about the first series of Broadchurch is that it wasn’t about the big twists, and it has become that in the second series, instead of a character based piece about the murder of a child in a small town. It became more Scandal than Friday Night Lights, to use Ryan McGee’s analogy. You can read more about the issues with the second series of Broadchurch over on Mo Ryan’s website.

So my new goal is that once I have written my review of a film or television show, I’m going to seek out others. It’s the best way for me to think more critically, and definitely the best way for me to learn.

Three episodes in, is the second season of “Broadchurch” really necessary?

We all know of television shows that have suffered because they went on too long. Sometimes a show is so successful that a network keeps renewing it long after there’s any story to tell, which is how we ended up with that dreadful ninth season of How I Met Your Mother. Similarly, the fifth season of Justified seemed entirely unnecessary, and a 13 episode long setup for a sixth season, where one would have been necessary. This isn’t the case with Broadchurch. The story of Broadchurch was of the effects of one murder on a small town, and the season finale seemed to wrap everything that needed to be wrapped up. We knew who murdered Danny Latimer, and the only things that seemed unresolved were Beth’s irrational but understandable anger at Ellie and Hardy’s medical condition ending his career as a detective.

As I wrote two weeks ago, the second season of Broadchurch follows the trial of Joe Miller as well as Hardy’s final case before moving to Broadchurch. I’m watching the third episode as I’m writing this, and at this point Ellie has helped Beth during her labour, and Beth has just had the baby. Beth’s outrage at Ellie allowed for Claire’s husband to escape her old house. Beth’s husband and daughter seem to understand that it’s impossible to know that your husband is attracted to young boys, because it’s something that people don’t broadcast about themselves, because they know they’ll be arrested.

At this stage, Joe’s trial hasn’t seemed to uncover anything new, except because Ellie assaulted him after he was arrested (understandable, when you discover that your husband accidentally killed a young boy with whom he was in love), his confession has been disallowed in court. I understand that Beth would be angry at Ellie, but it’s fairly clear from the assault (Beth’s new reason to be mad), that Ellie isn’t exactly in love with her husband any more.

My main issue with the second season of Broadchurch is that nothing that is new is particularly interesting. If we go through Joe Miller’s trial just for him to be convicted, it feels like a waste of the audience’s time, just as it will feel like a waste of time if he isn’t – if he isn’t convicted, I imagine that the first thing Ellie would do is file for divorce. We saw a confession, so it seems unlikely that anyone else could be responsible.

On the Alec Hardy side of things, Lee has just filed assault charges against Hardy for the meeting he set up with Claire, which was the most interesting thing that has happened so far with that case, but it was resolved within about thirty seconds. Oh wait, now Lee has pretended to be Alec in order to get information to solve the case. I have absolutely no emotional investment in this case the way I did in the first series, because it involves two people we know very little about. I also know nothing about the lawyers representing the Latimers and Joe Miller, so Jocelyn going blind isn’t particularly interesting, neither is the other lawyer whose son is in prison.

A (presumably English) commenter on Dan Feinberg and Alan Sepinwall’s latest podcast said that the show got too soapy this series, and I’ll keep watching, probably because I like the shows before and after Broadchurch. Let’s see how this goes, I might write more about it at the end of the series.

“Broadchurch” Series 2, Episode 1

The second series of Broadchurch picks up a few months after the end of the first series; the backdrop of the series premiere is Joe Miller’s trial. The Latimers are getting on with their lives as best they can, and the baby’s on the way, but they go to the trial because they want to see Joe plead guilty. So does Ellie; she’s moved to another town in the area and is now a uniformed policewoman giving out traffic tickets, and her son refuses to live with her. Hardy is doing an interview for the local paper, and he keeps getting messages from a woman named Claire (Eve Myles of Torchwood fame), but ignores them.

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