Terry and I watched a lot of TV over the Christmas holidays. Like, a LOT of TV. It’s actually kind of embarrassing how much time we spent parked in front of the TV, actually, but hey – I sit on my ass so you don’t have to … or something… so, just in case you want to watch a lot of TV too this month, here are some recommendations for you…*
It feels a little redundant to even mention The O.A. at this point, because I think everyone in the whole world has probably seen it already, but just in case you haven’t: watch it. Go and do it now, before you forget – you can thank me later.
This is the story of a blind woman who goes missing, only to turn up several years later with her sight miraculously restored. Well, that’s what you’ll get from the trailer, anyway: The O.A. is actually about much, much more than that, which is why Terry and I managed to binge-watch it in just a couple of days. I actually didn’t think I was going to like this, initially: the first episode started off a little slow, but then, towards the end, things started happening, and I was all, “Yup, that’s my next couple of days accounted for…” This one’s probably not for everyone, but my life has felt meaningless and empty since it finished, so take from that what you will…
This was one of two shows we watched back-to-back, both set in the 60s, and both starring a red-headed Sheridan Smith. Yes, it was confusing. This one is about the eponymous ‘Mrs Biggs’, who was probably better known as the wife of Great Train Robber, Ronnie Biggs. I only knew the bare bones of this story – I mean, I knew there was a great train, and it was robbed, but that was pretty much it – so I found it fascinating to see how it all came about, and what happened to Charmian (Mrs Biggs) and Ronnie afterwards. Oh, and I also loved the 1960s sets and outfits, which were also in evidence in…
This was the second Sheridan-Smith-in-the-60s show we watched, and, again, it’s a true story – this time about the early career of Cilla Black. I honestly hadn’t really considered watching this, not being a massive Cilla fan, but it was worth it for Sheridan’s singing alone – and for those awesome outfits.
This is possibly a slightly odd choice, but I kind of loved it: it’s a British comedy/drama following two metal detectorists who’re convinced they’re going to find buried treasure somewhere under the ground. Not only does that idea really appeal to me (When I was a child, I frequently used to go out digging in the field behind our house, because I was ALSO convinced I would probably find buried treasure there. Hands up if you’re surprised by that revelation? No one? Didn’t think so…), I also found this show really relaxing to watch – it’s a very gentle kind of drama, filmed in a place where it always seems to be summer, and while it’s not exactly laugh-out-loud funny, it’s nice and easy to watch, with some great, under-stated acting.
So, I’m not sure if “recommend” is a good word to use about this show, and how I feel about it. “Depressing,” would be a good word, on the other hand: I found Olive Kitteridge hugely depressing, but, then again, given that it opens with a shot of the main character preparing to kill herself (that’s not a spoiler, by the way: it’s literally the first few minutes of the show…). that’s probably not too surprising, is it? With that said, this is actually a wonderful drama – beautifully acted and very deserving of all the Emmys it won – which is very, very touching, and incredibly well done. It’s just … really freaking depressing, and probably not one to watch if you’re looking for something light, you know? If you’re in the mood for something slow, dark and thought-provoking, on the other hand, you’ll probably love it.
So, yeah, I apparently developed a bit of a thing for mini series with women’s names as the title, didn’t I? This one stars Kate Winslet as Mildred: a divorced mother-of-two who decides to start her own restaurant chain, in 1940s America. Evan Rachel Wood plays her daughter, Veda, who is one of the most unpleasant little madams you’ll ever see on TV, and Mildred and Veda’s relationship is at the heart of this series, which gives a nice bit of insight into middle-class life and manners in 40s California. It’s a re-make of the 1945 film of the same name, and has much of the same ‘film noir’ feel of the original, which makes it all the better, as far as I’m concerned.
The Syndicate is a British drama which is now on its third series: we hadn’t seen either of the first two, but it didn’t matter, as each series has a different cast, and a different story, all revolving around the concept of a syndicate of friends/colleagues who win the National Lottery. The syndicate of season 3 all work in a crumbling stately home, and their lottery win is somewhat overshadowed by certain other events, which I won’t spoil for you. I really enjoyed both the country house setting, and the exploration of how a huge lottery win could change people’s lives – and not necessarily in the ways they might have expected – so I’ll be looking out for the first two seasons, too.
When my mum was a little girl, she was traumatised by news reports of the time, about the evil doings of Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel, who lived just twenty or so miles away. In Plain Sight is the true story of that time, and, having watched it, I can totally see why my mum was so afraid of him, let’s put it that way. If you like true crime dramas, this is a good one to watch: and if you just enjoy lying awake at night, jumping at every slight noise you hear, well, you’ll like it, too.
Yet another true crime drama: sometimes when I get hold of a theme, I just don’t let it drop. Rillington Place was the London home of 1940s serial killer John Christie, who left the bodies of his victims under the floorboards, and plastered into the walls of the property: nice guy, huh? I recommended this one to my mum, only for her to say it, “Seemed a bit dark,” – which is a fair assessment, really, although if you like this kind of thing (and I apparently DO…), you probably won’t mind too much.
For a complete change of pace, Brief Encounters is about a group of women who become Anne Summers reps. So, no serial killing, then: phew. (OR IS THERE?!) (No, there isn’t.) It’s set in the 1980s, and although I didn’t really fancy it when Terry put it on, it ended up being surprisingly entertaining: in fact, I was quite disappointed when it ended. It’s surprising how much a show about sex toys and lingerie can grow on you, isn’t it?
(OK, OK, it’s not actually ABOUT those things, other than incidentally. My observation still stands, though.)
Just your typical, “woman discovers she’s able to communicate with her dead father via the ham radio in the garage,” tale. Pretty standard stuff, really.
I actually watched The Jinx around this time last year, and have been meaning to write about it ever since. It’s a documentary following the bizarre life of Robert Durst, who has been accused of murder on three separate occasions now (Aaand, we’re back to murder!). Durst is, quite honestly, one of the strangest individuals around, and if you liked Making a Murderer, you need to watch this – enough said.
Based on the novel, The Book of Negroes, this series basically tells the story of the slave trade, through the eyes of Aminata, a young girl captured in Sierra Leone, and sent to South Carolina as a slave. It’s pretty sobering stuff, as you can imagine, and although the characters are fictional, the Book of Negroes itself is a real document – which makes it even more so.
In my last TV-related post, I was singing the praises of The Crown, which tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II: this time I’m singing the praises of Victoria, which tells the story of… I don’t really need to finish this sentence, do I? As you can probably tell (I’ve also obsessed over The Tudors on this blog…), I’m quite fascinated by TV shows about royalty, so I was always going to be pre-disposed to like this one. Luckily, it didn’t disappoint: the first season follows the early years of the young Queen Victoria’s reign, and I’m now impatiently awaiting the next instalment. In the meantime, I’ve been dipping in and out of Queen Victoria’s diaries, which are archived online: unfortunately they’re not quite as exciting as I was hoping – either she left out all the juicy stuff, or the young Victoria was just really preoccupied with recording what time she got out of bed every morning – but they’ll tide me over until season two.
Finally, if you’re a fan of the Brontë sisters, you’ll love To Walk Invisible, which is a made-for-TV movie (a good one, though…) about the lives of the three sisters, and their lesser-known brother, Bramwell. It gives an interesting insight into the circumstances that gave birth to great novels like Jayne Eyre and Wuthering Heights, as well as being a poignant reminder that, no matter how well you think you’re doing in life, all three sisters Brontë had published best-selling novels before they were 31, so beat that, suckers.
What have you been watching lately?
(*Er, needless to say, we didn’t watch ALL of these over Christmas – not even I can watch THAT much TV in a short space of time!)5