Tag Archives: drama

Treasures From Across The Pond: The Best of British TV (Part One)

Happy New Year everybody! How did you all enjoy the holidays, did you have fun with the family or are you glad it’s over? I didn’t get to enjoy the holidays because I caught the flu and I was sick the entire time, which is a bummer. But I suppose it could be worse. At least it’s just the flu, right? šŸ™‚

Of course being sick during the holidays is definitely not fun, mostly because it’s also winter hiatus for my favorite TV shows (in the exception of Chuck this year, but that’s only because it’s the final season and NBC is just anxious to get it out of the way, I suspect) and I have nothing to watch. At first I busy myself with the Binky International Film Festival, but then the series was over and I still had nothing to watch. So I did what I always do in times like this, I turn to the internet for research on great shows I haven’t had the chance to watch for various reasons (mostly because my TV schedule is already insane to begin with). I’m still not interested to give Game of Thrones a try (apologies, fans, but somehow I find epic tales like this hard to get into. I’m the only nerd who’s not into Lord of The Rings, after all), so instead I decided to try two British series that the internet have been raving about but I haven’t had time to try: Downton Abbey and Sherlock. And am I glad that I did, because even though Hollywood has churned out some of the best TV shows of all time – the Brits sure know how to make quality series. Their seasons are shorter, their lifespans are often shorter – mostly three or four seasons, only a few really popular ones get more than five – but they are often excellent series, and their quality usually remains consistent to the end.

Today and tomorrow, I want to talk about these two excellent British shows that I managed to watch during the Winter Hiatus, both of which have become my newest obsession. I’ll start with Downton Abbey, which will air its second season in the US this Sunday. If you haven’t seen this charming show, do catch up on its first season this weekend (it’s doable, there are only 7 episodes) so you can get right into the second season when it airs on Sunday. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

I have heard about the charms of hit British drama Downton Abbey for some time now, it has been talked about quite frequently on NY Magazine’s Vulture blog and twitter is quite chattery about this show as well (Patton Oswalt, Gillian Jacobs and Yvette Nicole Brown from Community even did a hilarious twitter reenactment once). But I already had a hard time trying to watch all the American shows I’m watching, I decided to just wait for the DVDs to come out. On the last week of December, while I was still coughing and sniveling non-stop, I decided to devour the first and second season in the space of a weekend, and now I’m jonesing for the new season to start. Why does British TV take such long breaks anyway? I’m sure there are Brits who watch TV as obsessively as I do?

The appeal of Downton Abbey is simple, it’s a period or “genre” drama, it’s set in the late Edwardian era, and it follows the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family, of the Earl and Countess of Grantham and their three grown daughters, as well as their servants (which includes a butler, valet — not the kind that parks cars–, housekeepers, footmen, housemaids, cook, kitchen maids, chauffer, etc). It’s a well-written, well-acted “upstairs/downstairs” soap opera, and it’s addictive as hell. Created by Gosford Park’s Julian Fellowes, this series was an instant hit on both sides of the Atlantic, averaging 10 million viewers in the UK (which is massive for UK TV standard, by the way) and a cool 6 million viewers in the US, which means this show – airing on PBS – has higher ratings than anything in the CW, including its hit shows like The Vampire Diaries or America’s Next Top Model. I mean, PBS isn’t exactly the cool kids channel. I don’t think people even watch PBS until Downton Abbey comes along, you know, except for the Ken Burns documentary.

After watching a few episodes of Season 1 (or Series 1, as the Brits would have it), I tweeted that this show is like Gossip Girl, if it were very well-written and steered clear of ridiculous plots. At the heart of it, Downton Abbey is very much a soap opera, something that even Hugh Bonneville, who plays the Earl of Grantham, concurs – but unlike most soap operas that tend to be way too dramatic to a fault, Downton Abbey chooses to be more grounded, opting for historical accuracies instead of wildly unbelievable plots that most soaps are known for. Even their slightly unbelievable plot, the one where a Turkish diplomat dies while having sex with Lady Mary, turns out to be a true story, according to its creator and writer Julian Fellowes. A soap opera that show self-restrained in the ridiculous department is very, very rare, and that’s why Downton Abbey is as popular as it is both in the UK and US: this is what we TV viewers have been craving for all this time.

Of course another appeal of this show is that it’s also very, very entertaining. My favorite character is Lady Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, played by the one and only Dame Maggie Smith, naturally. Not only does she have the best lines (her infamous one is of course, “What is a weekend?”), she’s also hysterical without trying too hard. No wonder Maggie Smith nabbed the Best Supporting Actress in A Mini Series last year, she is definitely the best thing about this show that’s already full of so many wonderful things.

The second season was criticized in the UK for being too soap-y and overly dramatic but seriously, in my opinion, it’s still excellent. Don’t listen to them haters. Yes, it is a bit more dramatic and soap-y than the first season. And there are several plots that veered a little too much on the dramatic side, but so what? Even when Grey’s Anatomy was still good (first and second season), it’s way more soap-y and dramatic than this show ever could be. And the second season was worth the watch if only for the romances! From the angst-y “will you two just get together already?” entanglement of Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley to the sweet but problematic romance of Mr. Bates and Anna, there is no shortage of squee worthy moments in season two, and let’s face it, those moments are the reason why we love television in the first place, right?

UK viewers and those of us who don’t live in the UK but have gotten hold of the second season through wildly nefarious means will have to wait with bated breath for the third (and possibly final) season set to premiere some time in October (or is it November? Not sure) this year, which means we have to suffer withdrawal for at least ten months before we get our fix again. But if you live in the US, I highly recommend you turn on PBS this Sunday night and watch the second season. Better yet, follow comedian Patton Oswalt on twitter (@pattonoswalt) and watch it with him. He promises to live-tweet the episode this Sunday. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

I’ll see you back here tomorrow for my review of another delightful (and popular) British series, Sherlock. Until then!

xoxo

Binky Bee

Pilot Watch, Week Five: The Fairy Princess and The Big Bad Wolf

"I'm on TV" By Patrick J. Adams

Hello and welcome back to pilot watch, where I watch the new shows that have just premiered this Fall season and report back to you. I know I promised you all that I would review Once Upon A Time this coming weekend but since the pilot for the show has been released on the web by ABC, I can actually post this earlier than expected. So yeay for that. I love this whole early release on the web/iTunes strategy. Makes my job a whole lot easier. šŸ™‚

Okay, this week instead of just reviewing Once Upon A Time as promised, I figured I’d throw in a bonus and review another new show that’s about to premiere, Grimm on NBC since the pilot has also hit the web a week earlier than the scheduled premiere date. With Once Upon A Time and Grimm, ABC and NBC both try to take on the fairy tale/supernatural genre. I don’t know what it is about these two networks lately. They both tried to cash in on Mad Men 60s revival with Pan Am and The Playboy Club (and failed – The Playboy Club was canceled after three episodes and Pan Am’s ratings continue to decline after the premiere episode that I don’t think the show is long for this world. A shame though because unlike Playboy Club, I actually like it), and now they both are trying to take on the same fairy tale genre. Will both shows succeed, or will one or both die a quick death? Only time will tell. For now I can only tell you what I think of both shows. Which do I think deserve to succeed and which do I think needs to die quickly? Read on and find out!

1/ Once Upon A Time, airs on ABC, Sundays, 8/7c.

When I was contemplating on which show of this fairytale genre to put in the Ten New Shows To Watch This Fall, I picked ABC’s Once Upon A Time over Grimm simply because I did not hear good things about Grimm from the Upfronts in May. Journalists and TV reviewers that got the chance to watch both pilots seem to choose this show over Grimm even though they didn’t exactly give either great reviews. Let’s just say, Once Upon A Time was supposedly the lesser of two evils, and that’s why I chose this one to put in the list. And boy was I wrong about that.

Don’t get me wrong, Grimm isn’t exactly groundbreaking television either nor is it particularly good (more on that later) but Once Upon A Time made me groan and roll my eyes so much that my sister thought I was having a seizure. In all fairness maybe I am the wrong person to review this particular show because I was never big on fairy tales to begin with. My parents didn’t teach me to believe in fairy tales growing up, and so even though I knew all about Cinderella, Snow White and the citizens of the Enchanted Forest or whatever, I wasn’t particularly sold on the idea. And it could just be that I don’t like this show because I think fairy tales are stupid, but I’ve watched enough television to be able to make this assessment: it’s just not good. You’ve got Snow White with atrocious hair, Prince Charming who looks like Chris Martin from Coldplay, Jennifer Morrison trying to act like a tough chick but doesn’t quite cut it, a creepy precocious 10-year-old that used to be Bobby Draper, and a flimsy premise that I’m sure sounded awesome during the pitch but totally lame in execution. Fairytale characters being cursed to live in our world, our reality where “there is no happy endings” – sounds good in a pitch right? Totally pathetic in execution. Snow White ends up as a third grade teacher. Ookay. Prince Charming’s in a coma. Dunno where the seven dwarfs are but Rumpelstiltskin gets to run an inn and the Evil Queen gets to be a mayor of a sleepy, forgotten small town of Storybrook, Maine. Now if you were an Evil Queen and you cursed everyone you’ve ever known to live in a world where only you can get a happy ending, why would you settle being a mayor in a sleepy small town in Maine? Couldn’t she dream bigger, if not White House,Ā  at least the mayor of NYC?

Like I said, maybe I’m unfairly judging this show because I think fairy tales in general are laughable, sexist and some of them are kind of racist, but Once Upon A Time is not worth your DVR space, especially when there’s great shows on cable (Homeland! The Walking Dead! Dexter! Boardwalk Empire!) on Sunday night. How bout waiting till 10 and tune in to Pan Am instead, it’s such a fun show and I kind of want it to last. šŸ˜‰

Verdict: Not Worth Your Time.

2/ Grimm, airs on NBC, Fridays, at 9/8c.

Like I’ve mentioned above, when the pilot for this show was first screened during the May Upfronts, I did not hear good things about it. In fact, journalists seemed to be so turned off by it that I decided to choose Once Upon A Time to be the fairytale show worth mentioning in my Ten New Shows To Watch This Fall list. And yes, now I admit it. I was wrong. So so wrong. Mostly because of how much I disliked Once Upon A Time, but also because the pilot for Grimm is actually, all things considered, not that bad.

No, it’s not great, and no it’s not even that good. There were a few moments that – just like Once Upon A Time – made me roll my eyes and mutter, “Oh come on. Really?” at the TV. But when it comes to actual storytelling, Grimm does not frustrate me as much as Once Upon A Time. Maybe because we all know that the Grimm Brothers’ “fairy tales” were all pretty dark, so the concept of this show was easy to accept (almost all Grimm Brothers’ stories have a “serial killer-y” quality to it and some are downright disturbing), and maybe because they try to balance the supernatural nature of the show with some good ol’ police procedural, but despite the plot holes and the blatant disregard to “real police work”, it was pretty enjoyable. It reminds me of Warehouse 13 a little bit, with less humor. It’s Supernatural meets Law and Order: SVU – again, with less humor. And considering how low my expectation was, I was actually pleasantly surprised.

Again, Grimm is not groundbreaking television and it’s not the right companion for fun, sexy, hilarious and nerd-tastic Chuck but I think if the writers are careful, it has the potential to be a pretty enjoyable Friday night show. Sure, out of the two shows I’ve reviewed in this post, I have a feeling this one will die quicker, mostly because I don’t think the network even has that much faith in it (scheduling it for Friday night aka Programming Siberia pretty much shows how little faith NBC has for this show) but if you can only watch one fairytale shows, I actually think this one is the lesser of two evils. And it’s not just because David Giuntoli, the lead character, kind of has that Gale Harold circa Queer As Folk quality about him.

Verdict: Not For Everyone, But If This Sort of Thing Interests You, Give It A Watch.

And there you have it, my reviews of the pilots I’ve seen in the past week, and my last “Pilot Watch” post. My work here in done, friends, now it’s your turn to decide which ones you want to commit to.Ā  In the coming weeks I will be posting my Fall 2011 TV Report Card, where I’ll be giving you my thoughts on how Fall TV is doing so far. I’ll also be posting my Ten Hottest Men of Fall list, so keep a lookout for that. You know you want to. šŸ˜‰

Until then, I shall bid you adieu! Till next time!

Xoxo

Binky Bee

Pilot Watch, Week Three: The Mediocre and The Mildly Entertaining

"I'm on TV" By Patrick J. Adams

Well hello there! Welcome to another week of Pilot Watch! As you know, since September marks the start of Fall 2011 Television season, I’ve been checking out the pilots for various new shows over the last couple of weeks to see if we can find our new favorite show, or be disappointed with networks in general. So far, this year has definitely been better than last year but maybe it’s only because 2010 was the most disappointing year of television ever. The new shows of Fall 2011 may not be groundbreaking television, but they’re definitely an improvement.

This week, I am reviewing two new shows that just had their premiere a few days ago: ABC’s Pan Am and Suburgatory. Yes, Fox premiered the Spielberg-produced dino series Terra Nova last Monday too but I didn’t watch it. The reason is simple, dinosaurs are just not my thing. I’m more of a future person than past when it comes to my sci-fi television. Give me aliens and robots any day! Granted, Terra Nova is more like Jurassic Park than actual pre-historic dinosaurs but still. The thing that bugged me about Jurasic Park is that this all could’ve been avoided if we all just left the past in the past. It just makes no sense to me, bringing back dinosaurs. šŸ™‚

So anyway, now that I’ve cleared that up let’s get straight to the reviews and see whether these two ABC shows delight or disappoint. Enjoy!

1/ Pan Am, airs on ABC, Sundays, 10/9c.

Pan Am and The Playboy Club are supposed to be the Big 5 networks’ answers to Mad Men, and if you watch these shows expecting another Mad Men, well, you’ll be sorely disappointed. The Playboy Club tried really hard to be a Mad Men clone and failed miserably (though casting creeper Eddie Cibrian in a Don Draper-type role may indicate the producers don’t really want this to succeed after all), and even though new NBC Chief Bob Greenblatt is patient enough to give this flailing show a chance, expect it to die a slow death by Christmas time. While Pan Am, that just premiered last Sunday, seemed to come with a disclaimer with its pilot episode that says, “Warning: If you come here expecting Mad Men, you need to change the channel right now. But if you’re more expecting for The Love Boat in the skies, you’ve come to the right show. Welcome aboard Pan Am!”

That is not to say that I didn’t like the show, however. I actually am delighted with this one. Pan Am is the anti-Playboy Club. It doesn’t try too hard to be Mad Men, in fact, it doesn’t even try, period. Instead, it sets a more realistic goal to be, as I’ve mentioned above, The Love Boat albeit in the skies. Five minutes into the pilot, I was already thinking Love Boat (and NY Mag’s Vulture agrees with me), which actually makes me enjoy this show properly. Pan Am doesn’t try to be realistic, political, or even anything else but good soapy fun. And there’s nothing wrong with a little soap every now and then, isn’t there? šŸ˜‰

Sure, some plots are laughable (like the whole CIA subplot, puh-leaze!) but if you watch this show with the same expectation as you watch Desperate Housewives (ya know, the early seasons), then these silly little ridiculous plots won’t bother you so much. Just see it as what it is: mindless escapism and sit back, relax and enjoy the flight!

Verdict: Watch It. It’s a Total Guilty Pleasure Show.

2/ Suburgatory, airs on ABC, Wednesdays, 8.30/7.30c.

Ever since Modern Family became a massive success, it’s clear that family comedy is making a comeback, and ABC tries to make it happen again this year by adding this freshman show about living in the plastic world of suburbia in its Wednesday family-friendly comedy line up. And as far as ratings go, their strategy worked. Suburgatory, while not a sensation yet, got good enough ratings to keep them in the safe zone for a while. But is it good enough to merit a “Must Watch” verdict in this review? Well, not exactly… But I have a feeling this show will improve once it has found its footings.

Suburgatory is actually pretty funny and ironic but the problem of the show is that it tries a little too hard to be ironic. The suburban satire was a little too extreme, and you gotta wonder what kind of suburban mom actually is in favor of her daughter prancing around the neighborhood in skanky mall outfits, but the jokes are quite funny, the characters are likable, especially (and I’m not just saying this because I’m a Firefly geek) Alan Tudyk, who made his glorious return to television in orange fake tan and speedos.

Sure, you kinda want to cringe when the sullen teenage daughter despises things like clean air and quiet neighborhood, but if you take a moment and realize that most teenagers despise everything their parents try to impose on them, even the good things, then you can enjoy this show for what it is, a fun tongue-in-cheek look of single parenthood and the suburban life. And really, it’s not half bad.

Verdict: Watch, But Give It Time To Find Its Bearings.

And there you go, my reviews of the two shows that premiered this past week. I’ll see you back here next week where we’ll be checking out Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story and see if the man behind Glee and Nip/Tuck can put a fun spin behind this age-old genre.

Till then!

Xoxo

Binky Bee