Now that my school year is finally at an end and that regularly scheduled seasons of TV are complete, I have time to entertain a few new shows. My list of “need-to-watch” shows seems to exponentially grow, while my available time decreases, but I managed to prioritize two shows to watch this summer. They’re both BBC. Too often BBC shows go unnoticed in the US, which is a pity because I’ve found that their level of programming rivals that of HBO–but with more class. I gravitate towards complex dramas with careful character development and slow and steady pacing, shows that are a reflection of actual life in all of its messiness. My favorite show in this category is Mad Men, a show that requires the viewer to stick it out throughout the seven seasons to see how how the characters change and face consequences to their various actions. Real people don’t change overnight, and one of the benefits of television, over the standard 90 minute film, is the ability to capture a more realistic pacing and character development. Very few shows utilize this resource of time, however. Network shows, in particular, face the constraints and expectations of network executives who want each weekly episode to deliver a certain amount of excitement and conflict. But cable shows have the flexibility (and money!) to experiment with an entire season. They also have less constraints regarding content such as language, violence, and sexuality. The end result is that networks like HBO and Showtime love to flaunt this freedom, attracting audiences with gratuitous exercises of spectacle and titillation that don’t actually serve any use to the plot. Game of Thrones immediately comes to mind as an example of this. I’ve found that AMC tends to do a better job of conscientiously and intentionally using their freedom to provide greater depth to their characters. (So often network characters end up feeling cardboard and unbelievable because of content constraints.) This brings me back to BBC, which happens to do a superb job of maximizing their freedoms in the service of constructing incredible characters and stories. Many popular American shows owe their success to their BBC predecessors, such as The Office and House of Cards, and of course, the modernization of Sherlock has proved to be a fascinating psychological exploration of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic novels. Right now, I’m three episodes in to a more recent BBC show, The Honourable Woman, which features Maggie Gyllenhaal. The show follows her character, Nessa Stein, who is an Anglo-Israeli baronness navigating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from London. She and her brother are committed to various endeavors to improve the quality of life in the Palestinian territory, making decisions that, as expected, do not please everyone in the complicated political worlds spanning the UK, US, Israel, and Arab region. Thus far, I have been very impressed by the dialogue and performances, especially that of Gyllenhaal. Though there are significant differences, the show reminds me of Showtime’s Homeland, which also attempts to explore political intrigue in the US and Arab regions. I watched the first season of the show but lost interest quickly due to the sensationalistic storytelling and un-nuanced portrayals of the Arab world. (Though I hear the latest season was actually good.) In comparison, The Honourable Woman presents the conflict and political tensions in all of their complexities. The writers are also quite creative in their narrative devices, withholding and communicating valuable pieces of information deftly and subtly, often utilizing a form of “breaking the fourth wall” without overtly doing so. And, for the most part, the episodes feel believable. That being said, there are a few moments in this third episode that are making me a bit worried about the direction the show is taking. I’m currently traveling around Europe so it’ll be awhile before I can pick up the show, but I’m crossing my fingers that it doesn’t disappoint. The other show I’ve just started is Black Mirror, a Twilight Zone-esque show exploring the impact of technology on society. That’s the subject of another blog post, so I will save that for later, but I highly recommend you check out both shows and join me as I work through them. Both shows can be viewed on Netflix Instant.
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