Monday, April 22, 2013

TV Anorak: An American Intro To British TV-The S's

1. British: A person obsessively interested in a thing or topic that doesn't seem to warrant such attention.

This series of Challenge posts is an introduction to British TV shows for my fellow Americans. For instructions on how to play different region-coded DVD's, please go either here or here to read my previous blog posts that should clear up any confusion. Next up:

There is no "S" without Spooks, no modern-day British tele worship, no Matthew MacFadyen, Rupert Penry-Jones, or Richard Armitage worship, simply put, my British TV life probably would have ended with just the fond memories of my childhood PBS viewing! In America, it was aired as MI-5, and that was how I first came into contact with it. When the DVD's finally made it into their American releases, they were almost $100 a piece! That was before I had an all-region player, so I was forced to buy them this way. But I didn't care...the show is THAT good! I have since replaced the first few series with their Spooks equivalent, and finished out the series the same. The British Spooks version are about $12 per series (basically, you can get the entire series for less than the cost of one American version-although I don't know what the American versions cost now).

Spooks is a fictional drama about the British security services, specifically MI-5 (as a better frame of reference, James Bond, who all American's know, is MI-6-where 5 deals with domestic issues, 6 deals with foreign-think of it as FBI/CIA). The story lines are top-notch and really "on the edge of your seat" type stuff! I do have to warn you, no one is safe on Spooks no matter how important the character, don't think he/she is above killing off...practically everyone dies at some point, often quite violently! You get very attached to these characters almost immediately due to the great writing, and you'll wind up bawling your eyes out when they go (or was that just me?). Matthew starts off as the lead character, Rupert takes over for him, then Richard, but the shift in main characters never affects the quality of the show, it stays strong throughout the entire series (10 in all). Each main lead is a completely different personality, and although it affects the dynamic of the other characters, it doesn't feel like you are watching a "different" show like some character changes can do (ER was always good at this sort of thing). As the series progresses, instead of each episode centering around a different threat, it becomes more of a mini-series arch encompassing one threat per the entire series. This is why I don't recommend watching this as it airs in re-runs, but getting the DVD's or you will be in cliffhanger hell.

This is another show where the guest stars are amazing and Hugh Laurie as head of 6 in the early episodes is one of my favorites! The final series did not end on a cliffhanger, but don't expect a happy ending, they stayed true to the "everybody dies at some point" philosophy. I should also point out that Spooks, per series, has lesser episodes than most series, starting with 10 and dropping down to 6 (because it used to be one of the most expensive shows made by the Beebs-Doctor Who has since shattered those records).

I have mentioned this before, but for my fellow Janeites; Spooks is FILLED with Jane Austen actors. Matthew was Darcy, Rupert was Wentworth, Peter Firth was Tilney (in the absolute weirdest adaptation I have ever seen with its creepy 70's music), and the list goes on. Not a single Spooks episode goes by that one, if not more, Jane actors are spotted. It's the funniest thing! Even though Richard was in Gaskell's North and South, I still think of him as Janeite quality, so therefore, we can add Richard as Thornton to the list. It's like playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon...only the Jane Austen edition! I sometimes look at it the opposite way while watching an Austen, spotting Spooks actors and remembering what episodes they were in!

There are a couple of spoilers in this fan vid, but I think it gives a good idea of the show and I've already told you almost everybody dies, so it's not that much of a spoiler.

Silent Witness
I may work in IT, but it's in a pathology laboratory. I've been around pathology my whole life (my Mother and Aunt were both histotechs and I started working here at age 16). You'd think shows about pathology wouldn't interest me, but this one does. It can be fairly realistic, so if you are squeamish of blood and gore and nudity, don't watch (although I do laugh out loud sometimes at their prop bowels!). It centers around a group of forensic pathologists (and later the addition of a forensic anthropologist and, even later, a forensic investigator). The 15th and 16th series just came out on DVD (they usually release them two series per set, so you have to prepare yourself for quite a wait time between DVDs). The show has evolved quite a bit, and I think watching them spread out over years has helped, otherwise I probably still wouldn't watch it because it's changed so much...what started out as more about the deaths and solving the crimes, becomes more of a personal journey for the lead actors. Emilia Fox (Merlin watchers might know her as Morgause) takes over as lead about early to mid series, and, even though in the actual episodes she's not always the main lead, is definitely featured prominently as such on packaging. She's OK, but I SO wish they would at least use an eyebrow pencil on her pale, non-existent looking brows. It's so distracting - I find myself searching for her eyebrows more than listening to her.

Strike Back
No, I'm not talking about that sex, drug, and violence-infested Showtime version, but the original show (no matter what Showtime calls the first and second season, there was a series before and that's the one to which I am referring). This one starred Richard Armitage (you knew that was coming, didn't you?) and Andrew Lincoln. It had tons more heart (and even action) than its current predecessor. It follows a deniable military department dealing with terrorism, where even your best friend can't be trusted. Richard was in the first episode of the new series, but couldn't continue due to his Hobbit obligations (and I'll leave it at that). If you don't like the Showtime version, you might like this one, if you do like the Sho version, you will like this one even better. I have a weakness for action movies, and although I'm not a fan of American military action, there is just something about a Brit in uniform!

Again, not the American version (which thankfully, after my last rant when I initially heard they were doing an American version, isn't as bad with Jonny Lee Miller (who I do love, despite his choice as a first wife) as lead-although still nowhere near the British). Since Sherlock is popular here, I don't know how much detail I need to give, but Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman star in a modern retelling of the Sherlock stories. It's not action-packed like the Guy Ritchie movies, or buddy-driven like the American version, but a lot more cerebral (which I prefer for Sherlock).

I love Ruth Jones as Nessa in Gavin And Stacey, but I didn't know how I'd feel about her playing a different character (I see her as Nessa in my mind). Stella turned out to be very surprising! It's the story of a single mom with three kids, all different ages. Her oldest son (by her high school sweetheart) is in prison, her teenage daughter is pregnant and wants to get married, and the youngest has all sorts of problems. The second two kids are by her ex-husband who ran off with a younger woman, both of which are constantly in Stella's life. It's life in a small Welsh town, where everyone is in everyone's business and you can't get away from people you don't like, no matter how hard you try. On top of dealing with her personal problems, plain-jane, pleasantly-plump Stella meets a man, a much younger, extremely hot man and has to deal with her insecurities with herself, all the while questioning his interest in her and just as she starts to settle, her high school love comes back into the picture! It's just great drama! There are two series, the second has just been released (and I haven't watched yet, so nobody give it away).


Rebeccah Giltrow said...

Spaced! Spaced is one of *the* best programmes that has come out of England :)

Joysze said...

I'm with ya on Sherlock!! Gimme Cumberbatch anytime. I do love Elementary too. Dunno if I'd watch it if Miller wasn't in it. I do like Lucy Liu though... so I'm glad they have such great chemistry.