What to Watch if You Are Not Into the Winter Olympics

Well, the Winter Olympics is upon us and although I love a good ice dancing competition as much as the next person, there are some other things you can watch if you are not partial to snow and ice combined with physical activity.

Catch Up on a recent TV series you been meaning to watch

With the TV schedule now bursting with new programming.  There are plenty of TV series that are on your DVR from last year (or the year before) that you have just not gotten around to watching. There could be many a reason. I for one have not watched Breaking Bad yet as I still have to overcome my watching people getting shot in the face fatigue that has come over me after years of antiheroes being nasty to people in creative ways. 

Bron/Broen (The Bridge) 
 I have written about this show before. This is the original. The US remake is fine, so is the UK one, but they do not come close to the original co-production from Denmark and Sweden. This show is promoted as crime thriller that shows the cultural differences between two neighbouring countries but it really is just a study in friendship between to the two leads. If you watch the original and are not from Europe, you do not have much of an understanding about the nods and comments to the differences between Denmark and Sweden as for one, you are reading English subtitles that does not tell you if Danish or Swedish is being spoken, but that does not matter as the performances by the leads and the emotional journey you go with them dominates the show. You can read some excellent blog posts here about the show from The Guardian, proving that a show's fandom and community can be just as much fun as the series. 

Call The Midwife
This is a British gem. Set in the 1950s in the East End of London and based on the memoirs of midwife Jenny Worth, this series focuses on the nuns and nurses of Nonnatus House who look after the pregnant women in Poplar. It may come across as a gentle Sunday evening drama, but it is a wolf in sheep's clothing as they take on issue such as abortion, poverty, racism and illness.

Southland
This series about cops in Los Angeles started out on broadcast TV, but did not get the viewership required. It moved to cable and trimmed down it's cast and storylines to put out four more seasons of great TV with wonderful performances from a multicultural cast.

Top of The Lake
This limited run series from the Sundance Channel is set in a small town in New Zealand where the crime and the community blend. Co-created, co-written and co-directed by Jane Campion, the cast is led by Elizabeth Moss and Holly Hunter and populated by great Australian and New Zealand actors. Dive deep into this beautiful slowly revealing story.

Justified
This series is in its fifth season of the modern cowboy show. It is about US Marshall Raylan Givens who goes back to Kentucky where he grew up and has to deal with the local Dixie mafia who have members that he is either related to or grew up with. The character was created by Elmore Leonard who had Raylan appear in his novels Pronto and Riding The Rap. The tone of the series is very similar to an Elmore Leonard novel with dark humour, sly commentary on society and an antihero.

Watch a Classic

What defines a classic.  These do in my book.  I know it is about the most times they appear on greatest TV program lists and the subsequent debates that spring up online. So basically taste. These are my suggestions.

Oz and The Wire
Don't let anyone fool you. The beginning of the so-called golden age of TV was not The Sopranos, it was these two HBO dramas. Oz is short for the Oswald Sate Correctional Facility for men. It is a hard core prison and the 56 episodes covers a lot of violence and awful circumstances, however, it does tell a very human story of love and redemption. Each of the five seasons of The Wire focuses on one facet in the city of Baltimore - the drug trade and police department in season one, the dockers and seaport in season two, the city government in season three, the schools in season four and the newspaper industry in season five.

Battlestar Galactica
The remake, not the original. On paper, this should not have worked. It was based on a kitsch 1970s science fiction show that last a season, sort of. However, this remake changes the gender of two main characters challenging the female tropes in TV shows. It is also one of the most political shows of its time as it challenged the assumptions around terrorism, government and religion. oh yes, it is also loads of fun with great action scenes and characters you will love.

Pride and Prejudice
There are many dramatic versions of Jane Austin's famous novel, but in my book, the BBC 1995 mini series starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, is the definitive. There are startling performances from all involved, and a high level of sexual tension between the leads.  Hard to get right but essential for a story like Pride and Prejudice.

Six Feet Under
This show is not talked about often at present with the discussions around anti-heroes, violence and cinematic TV shows sparked by the end of Breaking Bad. I suppose it is because although it technically has an 'anti-hero' at the centre, Nate is really just a pretty normal and his unattractive qualities are as equally emphasised as his attractive qualities, and the show is really an ensemble not centred around one white middle class man. The show is also whimsical an darkly funny. It is about life and, most importantly, death.    

Clocking Off
This British drama was created by Paul Abbott ran for four seasons at the beginning of the 2000s. It is an anthology series that follows the lives of the employees and the families connected to a Manchester textile factory. It showcases the best of a generation of British acting talent with wonderful writing that captures what could be seen as a simple story about relationships and families. But there is nothing simple about these stories. The British TV structure allows for anthologies or standalone stories and this show is a perfect example of it.

Try Something Completely Different 

Something completely different means genre and subtitles as I make big assumptions about general TV tastes and offer up suggestions that may not have been given the attention they deserve.

Orange Is The New Black
This show is beloved and written about with TV critics circles and understandably so. But I am not sure how many TV watcher are aware of it. Mainly due to the fact that it is on Netflix, an US ondemand internet movie and TV media provider, so there is no traditional promotion of a network TV program that connects to the ad hoc TV viewer, and most importantly it does not have a famous movie actor at the centre of it. You could imagine the marketing department at Netflix looking at these elements and despairing and thinking with horror that their bosses wanted them to promote a show that is a combination of comedy and drama about women in a minimum security prison on its quality and storytelling alone. The horror. Thankfully, in this day and age, word of mouth stands for something. Take my word for it and watch it.   

Top Boy
This show is often called the British version of The Wire and it does sit in its shadow, but it stands on its own legs. It tells the story of the youngsters in a housing estate East London, the drugs, the gangs and the lifestyle. It is economically story telling with only four episodes in the first season. 

The Returned
I know another subtitled show, get used to it. This French show takes the zombie genre and makes it a story of loss and family relationships. The tone, look and feel of the show is just as important as the storytelling. The US, of course, are going to remake it, but like the Danish shows before it, just watch the original because the setting and the culture is just as important as the plot.

Orphan Black, Farscape, Fringe and Firefly
I am putting a bunch of shows together that come under the umbrella of science fiction. But like any genre, there is so much more to it than the science fiction tag. Orphan Black is about cloning in the modern day. It is a techno thriller. Farscape is a straight out group of aliens (with the token human) band together on a ship in out of space in a galaxy far far away.  The aliens are not just humanoide with forehead bumps, they are aliens brought to the screen through Jim Henson's creature shop and not CGI. This is very effective. Firefly is Joss Whedon's short run TV show that spawned a movie and a huge cult following. It extrapolates the future of earth dominated by two superpowers, the US and China, and how this earth government has extended across the galaxy. The show was pitched as cowboys in space and the show follows the exploits of eight humans who live on the space ship, Serenity, who live as outlaws on the edges of the civilised galaxy. Fringe is about parallel universes, technology and time travel but like of these shows it is about love and relationships. These shows resonate with viewers because of these relationships. The science fiction universe is just the mcguffin to get people there. 

Ripper Street, Doctor Blake Mysteries and Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries
Like the science fiction genre mentioned above, there are crime TV shows. What I am recommending here are some shows withing the historical crime sub genre. Ripper Street is set in the East End of London just after the Jack The Ripper murders and this is acknowledged and is the basis to the tone of the first series. It taps into the change in technology an medicine towards the end of the 19th Century and most importantly the change in the British police force such as the methodologies and the inherent corruption. The Doctor Blake Mysteries is set in Ballarat, a small town in Victoria, Australia in the 1950s, Blake is the local Police Surgeon and he assists in the solving of crimes. Like all historical crime, it is the setting and the commentary on society that is just as important as the plot. Another Australian historical crime series is based on the novels of Kerry Greenwood which feature high society private investigator Phrynne Fisher in the 1920s in Melbourne. Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries is lighter in tone than the previous to shows highlighted an it is sumptuous in look and feel, which is reflective of the lead character.

Shiny

This week Browncoats Unite, the 10 Year Reunion of Joss Whedon’s best television series, Firefly,  aired in the US garnering 1.2million for the Science Channel. The series only lasted 14 episodes and not all of them were shown in order.  Fox refused to show the pilot episode as they felt it was too slow and the lead character, Captain Mel Reynolds (a pre-Castle Nathan Fillion) did not smile enough.  But what are you to do with a frontier story set in space?  500 years in the future.  An ensemble, a crew of nine, on a ship called Serenity, making legal and illegal trips on the outskirts of the galaxy, run by the Alliance (the resulting merge of two superpowers the US and China). Basically cowboys in space.  Whedon and show runner Tim Minear built an intricate world for these characters to inhabit, and told some great stories.  

It must have been a really hard sell to even get it made, I am not surprised Fox did not give it a go.  They had no clue that they had captured lightning in a bottle with a great cast and crew.  This show found life after cancellation and was a precursor to the change in public viewing habits.  This show is all about the fans.  The original Star Trek has nothing on Firefly.  This is the show that was cancelled after 14 episodes then came back as an original motion picture, Serenity in 2005.  It was not commercially successful, but DVD sales over the years have proved it different. Again, all down to the fans, who call themselves Browncoats, watch the show to find out why.  This is what Wikipedia says about some of what the Browncoats have done:

- tried to save the series from being canceled by Fox only three months after its debut, which included raising money for an ad in Variety Magazine and a postcard writing campaign to UPB.

- their support led to a release of the series on DVD in December 2003

- a subsequent fan campaign then raised over $14,000 in donations to have a purchased Firefly DVD set placed aboard 250 U.S. Navy ships by April 2004 for recreational viewing by their crews.  

- these and other continuing fan activities eventually persuaded Universal Studios to produce a feature film, Serenity.

- on June 23, 2006, fans organized the first worldwide charity screenings of Serenity in 47 cities, dubbed as Can't Stop the Serenity or CSTS, a homage to the movie's tagline, "Can't stop the signal". The event raised over $65,000 for Whedon's favourite charity, Equity Now. In 2007, $106,000 was raised, in 2008, $107,219; and in 2009, $137,331.

- another campaign on June 23, 2006 referred to the date as Serenity Day, on which fans bought—and got others to buy—copies of the Serenity and Firefly DVDs in hopes of convincing Universal that creating a sequel was a good business decision. On this day Serenity and Firefly were ranked second and third, respectively, on the DVD Best Sellers list. The dates for both campaigns were chosen because it is series creator Joss Whedon's birthday.

- NASA Browncoat astronaut Steven Swanson took the Firefly and Serenity DVDs with him on Space Shuttle Atlantis’ STS-117 mission in June 2007.  The DVDs were added to the media collection on the International Space Station as entertainment for the station's crews.

Gotta love sci-fi fans. This reunion show has most of the cast, writer Jose Malina and show runner Tim Minear remanicsing around a kitchen table at Comic Con 2012 in San Diago which looks a lot like the table the characters had meals around on the show.  They then go on to do a talk at Comic Con with Joss Whedon.  The emotions run high, not only for the fans, but for the actors and creators.  It is good to remember the show, but it is even better to go and watch it again or recommend it to others.  If you haven’t seen it, go and watch it.  Check out the trailer below.