In keeping with an annual (since 2018) tradition, and since many people spend their evenings in front of a television, I outline several of Glen’s and my favourite shows of the past year. In our viewing we like to get attached to one or more of the characters, to get immersed in their world, so that we regret saying goodbye when the series ends.
The Crime (“Zbrodnia”, Polish) is an older series (2014) of two seasons, each with three superbly plotted, acted, and paced episodes about a murder case in a small Polish town. The story develops the interpersonal relationships of the usual pairing of detectives — Tomek and Monika — plus Agnieszka, who discovers a corpse when at a beach with her young children. We meet several suspects and learn of various schemes as the investigation unfolds, slowly.
The Crown (British) chronicles Queen Elizabeth II’s ascension to the throne, beginning with her marriage to Prince Philip in 1947, through to 2005 — 17 years before her death at the age of 96 in 2022. According to writer Peter Morgan, “I didn’t want to come right up to the present… I always wanted to remain a careful distance from where we are now.” In the final, poignant season, Amelda Staunton and Dominic West wholly inhabit their roles of Her Majesty and Prince Charles, depicting plausible degrees of sensitivity, thoughtfulness and honour. They deserve, though didn’t win, their Golden Globe nominations for Best Female Actor and Best Male Actor in a TV series — drama.
We rewatched three seasons of Fauda (meaning chaos), about the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict told through the actions of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The third season (2020) was especially relevant, prescient even, with the lead character Doron infiltrating Hamas in Gaza to track down a terrorist operative. Of season four (2023) Forward culture reporter PJ Grisar writes, “The series, maligned by some for airbrushing the realities of the occupation while boasting a balanced view of the conflict, is still evasive in its ways, but director Omri Givon and writer Noah Stollman have added something new to the mix. This season considers the cost of combat on the aging unit and, in perhaps its most daring move, questions the wisdom of the IDF’s tactics.”
A Nearly Normal Family (Swedish) is a truly suspenseful murder mystery/family drama. A carefree 15-year old girl goes off to a handball training camp with her best friend. Attracted to a new coach, Stella makes out with him one evening. But he goes too far. Against her wishes. At home and badly shaken, Stella describes the sexual assault to her parents. Her mother, a lawyer, argues that to press charges will result in an invasive investigation that will further traumatize Stella. And so in solving a murder case, the series explores the repercussions of unreported rape on the victim and her family.
Rough Diamonds (Dutch) is a compelling, crime drama of eight episodes. It compares to The Godfather in that Noah (like Michael Corleone) escapes his family and their diamond business in Antwerp only to get drawn back in after his brother commits suicide, leaving Wolfson Diamonds in dire straits. We get a detailed look into an Orthodox Haredi Hasidic Jewish family while observing how shaky relationships have become in the 21st century. In a departure from the American gangster genre, this show features strong women: e.g. a tenacious prosecutor and Noah’s tough sister.
Waco: American Apocalypse documents the 51-day standoff in 1993 between the FBI and the Branch Davidian religious sect at the Mount Carmel compound just outside Waco, Texas. It seems a study in how not to coordinate and conduct an operation, with fault for the concluding massacre apportioned among self-proclaimed messiah David Koresh, the FBI and local authorities.
World War II: From the Frontlines (British) is a documentary of six episodes that gives an immersive overview of the war using enhanced archival footage of events and audio recordings of speeches from the key leaders of Allied and Axis countries, and of survivors, including former U.S., German, and Japanese soldiers, as well as concentration camp and atomic bomb survivors. Recommended to us by our Millennial son, this historical series should be required viewing for all generations. Lest we forget.
María José Rodríguez, of Amazon Prime, said: “Los Farad is one of [our] most ambitious productions in Spain, which introduces us to a family immersed in arms trafficking, the luxury of Marbella in the ’80s, the ambition of power, and international relations during the Cold War.” We watch a naive young man from the country get embroiled in and corrupted by the powerful Farad family as he seeks a feeling of family, of belonging.
PBS MASTERPIECE + WALTER PRESENTS (through Prime subscription)
Below the Surface (Danish) A hostage-taking incident in Copenhagen brings the anti-terrorist squad into action with a leader who may well suffer from PTSD having himself been a hostage in Afghanistan.
Love, Inevitably (Spanish, Italian) The chemistry between the two leads, Candela and Masssimo, seeming opposites in every way, holds our attention in this charming comedy. The ten-episode show features good writing, deft cutting between visions and reality, quirky secondary characters, and scenic tours of Prague, Seville and Rome.
La Otra Miranda (Spanish) In 1920s Seville, a woman with a mysterious past flees to a young girls’ academy with a secret goal related to the academy itself. In a wonderful cast of characters, brave women try to find their own voice at a time when women had no rights or respect. The show touches on the key issues of then and now: women’s liberation, racism, homophobia, rape, friendship, love, loyalty.
Paradise (Italian) Set in the 1950s, the series centres on a feisty, feminist (before her time), who left her home in Sicily to escape marrying a cad she doesn’t love. Set in a department store named Paradise for Women, the show offers escapist, romantic fare with beautiful women and men falling in and out of adventures, misadventures and love. It also gives a healthy dose of life lessons, for example, the value of honesty, loyalty, courage and confidence.
Despite an increase in streaming services and programming, Glen and I don’t easily find engrossing series. Please give us your suggestions in the comments below. •