Last year I discussed the value in couples watching TV together. While it passes the time pleasantly in an evening, good shows also generate conversation with our partners, friends and family. Because of its social benefits, TV viewing scores high as a pastime, despite being a rather sedentary activity. Just as we can join Book or Movie Clubs, perhaps I — or Glen — will start a TV Club.
We check the Golden Globe nominations for viewing suggestions. In the category of “Best TV Series, Drama” — The Americans, Bodyguard, Homecoming, Killing Eve, Pose — we’ve seen Bodyguard. In 2018 this British political thriller, by Jed Mercurio who also wrote the exceptional police drama Line of Duty, achieved the highest BBC viewing record in ten years.
Glen and I escaped to different countries, languages, genres (though no comedies) and time periods. By coming up with two categories this year, we winnowed our list to five favourites in each.
TOP FIVE DRAMAS
- Babylon Berlin (German) is adapted from the detective novels of Volker Kutscher. Set in 1929 Berlin, the series reveals Germany was breaking the Treaty of Versailles by rearming even before Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power in 1933. The mystery thriller embeds two fictional characters — Lotte who’s haunted by poverty and Gerrion haunted by WWI — in an impressive re-creation of the Weimar Republic’s twilight years.
- Collateral (British) is written by pre-eminent playwright Sir David Hare. This political drama deals with the vexing issue of immigration and the refugee crisis in Europe.
- Intelligence (Canadian) Rick and Linda led us to this series by recommending it on my TV post of last year. Set in Vancouver, Intelligence centres on Jimmy Reardon, an organized crime boss, and Mary Spalding, Director of the Vancouver Organized Crime Unit, who work together despite being on opposite sides of the law. The New York Times called the series “compulsively watchable,” connecting it to The Sopranos and The Wire for its “novelistic richness.” High praise indeed for a Canadian production. Regrettably, the CBC cancelled it after two seasons only!
- Money Heist (Spanish) A criminal mastermind plans a huge heist: to print billions of euros in the Royal Mint of Spain. The series pits two clever characters against each other, while an outstanding ensemble cast contributes to the show’s depth. A canny use of Dali-like masks blurs the line between the criminals and the hostages.
- The Same Sky (Anglo-German) Set in 1974, the series presents “Operation Romeo,” a real-life mission in which East German secret police trained spies in the art of seduction. Under cover they went through Checkpoint Charlie to seduce western female intelligence officers and obtain secret information. In a few story lines, the personal and the political intertwine brilliantly to recapture a fascinating time in history.
In our ongoing efforts to understand our compatriots of five months a year, Glen and I framed 2018 by watching Ken Burns’s superior documentaries about two wars that have left permanent scars on the American psyche. Three other documentaries also captivated us.
TOP FIVE DOCUMENTARIES
- The Civil War Author Shelby Foote claims: “Any understanding of this nation has to be based on an understanding of the Civil War… It defined us… Before the war, we said ‘the United States are’ – grammatically it was spoken that way and thought of as a collection of independent states. After the war it was always ‘the United States is.’” Approximately 1,264,000 American soldiers have died in the nation’s wars: 620,000 in the Civil War, 644,000 in all other conflicts. Historian Barbara Fields concludes: “The Union Army obviously won the war… but talking instead about the struggle to make something higher and better out of the country… The slaves won and lost… They won the removal of slavery, but they did not win freedom.”
- The Vietnam War is painful viewing. Amid the perspectives of 80 witnesses, veterans speak of the atrocities they suffered — and inflicted — in a war they did not understand. Burns also includes testimonies of Vietnamese combatants and civilians on both sides of the war. Although U.S. involvement in Vietnam began quietly in 1954, nearly 500,000 American troops were stationed there by mid-1966. The U.S. stayed in the war, with no hope of victory, until April 30, 1975. 58,220 Americans were killed in Vietnam, 304,000 injured.
- Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond Glen and Brandon got more from this documentary than did I. It is complex, bizarre, surreal. The chronicle of Jim Carrey’s acclaimed performance as Andy Kaufman in “Man on the Moon” (1999) does suggest a danger — loss of self — to actors who fully inhabit a character, though Carrey seems to revel in his disappearing act.
- The Staircase In December 2001, novelist Michael Peterson called 911 to report his wife had died at their mansion in Durham NC. Given suspicious circumstances, police charged him with murder. Shortly after Peterson’s indictment, French director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade began filming. Almost unbelievably, his camera crews gain access to the defense attorneys, the accused’s extended family, and the courtroom. This riveting tale illustrates that life can be stranger than fiction.
- Wild Wild Country exposes an episode in the ’80s about a cult that established a community in central Oregon. The Rajneeshees, followers of guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho) who was evicted from India, his personal assistant Ma Anand Sheela and the local ranchers come into conflict. Results include legal battles, a bio-terror attack, a massive case of illegal wiretapping and more.
I hope we’ve given readers some leads for 2019. Please reciprocate by adding your favourite viewing of 2018 in the comments below. •