British Television

Bingeworthy British TV: Now an ebook!

Well, what do you do with yourself when the kids refuse to let you do their online school with them*, you're stuck at home, and you refuse to clean?

Well, if you're me, you figure out how to offer your book Bingeworthy British Television: The Best Brit TV You Can't Stop Watching as an ebook, as well as a print book.

So, starting on May 16, you can buy the Bingeworthy British Television ebook, or read it through Kindle Unlimited. Enjoy, and then go use whatever extra quarantine time you have to watch some more great British TV. Might I suggest the utterly unique cop drama No Offence (written by Paul Abbott, who also wrote Shameless)? I just started it, and WOW. It can be a bit over-the-top, but here's how I described it to Mr. CR: Paul Abbott writes these dark worlds with dark characters that I definitely do not want to live in, and yet his characters are also really interesting people who care for each other in surprising ways. (Shameless was a lot like that too, about a family of kids basically raising themselves because their alcoholic father couldn't be bothered. I watched the first couple of seasons and then I just couldn't take it anymore, even though it's a good show too.) No Offence is easier to watch than Shameless because it's an actual crime show, so you go in expecting some level of yucky, but there's also fewer children involved, which makes it slightly less horrifying. Also, the lead actor, Joanna Scanlan? She's AWESOME.

Have a good weekend all; hope you are all well, and staying in as much as possible with lovely books and TV shows.

*The CRjrs are getting through their online school, but man, they are whiny students. I totally didn't buy their regular teachers big enough Target gift cards during the holidays.


Bingeworthy British Television book...ON SALE!

Binge-britUpdate 12/3/2019: Big thanks to everyone who purchased a copy of the book this past week. The price has reverted to $19.99, but the deal of you buying a book at Amazon, posting a review, and then letting me know about it, will always result in me sending you a second book absolutely free! Thanks!

Hello, everyone!

Please bear with me as I write one more blatantly advertorial post for my and Jackie Bailey's book Bingeworthy British Television: The Best Brit TV You Can't Stop Watching.We're so proud of the book and the good reviews it has been getting, and if you're at all a British TV fan (or know someone else who is) we want to make the book even more easily available. We also just learned we were named a Finalist in the category of Best Cover Design--Non-Fiction at American Book Fest.com, so rest assured: it's an attractive book to own and to give!

So: The announcement is that, if you are doing any shopping on Amazon this Black Friday through Cyber Monday, please consider buying a copy of Bingeworthy British Television. For that day only we'll be lowering the price from $19.99 to...I'm not sure yet. But it will definitely be cheaper than 19.99. AND our earlier deal applies--if you buy a copy for yourself and review it at Amazon (and you are free to review it honestly--even if the book turns out to be not your cuppa--anything you have to say about it will help us if we ever write a new edition) and shoot me an email at sarah.cords@gmail.com--or comment at The Great British TV Site on any post to let me know you've reviewed it, I'll get in contact with you and send you a second copy absolutely free!!

As long as I'm asking for stuff I'll ask this as well: Please consider linking to this post on your blogs or social media to help us spread the news about these deals. We can also be found anytime at The Great British TV Site, or on Facebook at @GreatBritishTV if you can link to any of those sites.

Last but not least we're currently part of a huge giveaway over at the wonderful period television site Willow and Thatch. If buying the book just isn't in your budget this year, consider entering that contest to possibly win a free copy (or tons of other neat prizes), and please spread the word about that giveaway as well.

Thanks so much. End advertorial, and next week we'll get back to other nonfiction titles. And: Happy Thanksgiving. May you and yours be safe and content.


What to Watch: A Whirlwind Tour of British TV presentation.

Binge for blogsMorning!

If anyone is in the McFarland/Madison WI area, I'll be giving a presentation on British television and how great it is at the E.D. Locke Public Library in McFarland, Wisconsin, on Tuesday night, August 27. Here are the details:

Program: What to Watch: A Whirlwind Tour of British Television

When and Where: Tuesday, August 27, 6:30 p.m., at the E.D. Locke Public Library in McFarland. The library's address is 5920 Milwaukee St., McFarland.

I'm really looking forward to it and hope it will be great fun! I'll have books for sale ($15 for one, $20 for two, although I can only accept cash) and can't wait to hear everyone else's suggestions for their favorite Brit TV programs.

Hope to see you there! And if you can't make it, I've made a page over at the Great British TV Site to cover what we'll be talking about!

More information about my and Jackie Bailey's new book, Bingeworthy British Television: The Best Brit TV You Can't Stop Watching, can be found at Amazon, or you can read some lovely reviews of the book at Anglotopia and British Banter in Atlanta. The book is also available to libraries and stores at IngramSpark with the standard industry discount.

 


Officially off the reading rails.

The other day I tried to pick up my holds at the library and was stopped at the self-checkout when it informed me that I had 100 items checked out and couldn't take any more. This was a problem, as I still had three holds to check out.

So I moseyed to the checkout desk (what's odd was that I almost NEVER use self-checkout; I loathe and despise self-help machines, but I was just ducking in by myself and thought, well, I can try self-check this one time--see how that worked out for me?) and they very nicely let me take out the three additional books. Yay for human workers! Our machine overlords clearly were not going to override the system for me, but the librarians did.

Wild krattsBut the point is: 103 items (plus a few on Mr. CR's card). And my house looks it. There are picture books, kids' sports books, novels, adult nonfiction books, and DVDs on every single surface around here. Ever since my eye has felt a little better I have just been pounding through any kind of reading material I can find. Add to that the two little boys demanding I order and pick up more books and DVDs for them ("Mom! More basketball books! Mom! More car books! Mom! Wild Kratts DVDs, STAT!"), and the fact that I'm taking Spanish language lessons and am now checking out Spanish CDs and kids' books, and it all adds up to one full library card.

Of course the obvious answer is to get CRjr his own card, but frankly, I don't have the energy to monitor two cards' worth of materials. So we will just have to streamline a bit.

What's also weird in this reading bacchanalia is that I don't really have one book I want to review today. In the past week I've skimmed a book on Dr. Who (Dr. Who the Doctor: His Life and Times), two books on reading lists and suggestions (Book Lust and The Novel Cure), a book on race that I really don't want to talk about because it's just too depressing and I can't figure out a way to talk about it without someone yelling at me for something, because that is how we don't talk about race in this country (The Beast Side: Living and Dying While Black in America), a frothy romance (The Royal We), and listened to several intro Spanish CDs ("Hola. Que tal?" "Hello. What's happening?"). Oh, and did I mention I'm binging on British TV? Have you seen this series Line of Duty? It is UNBELIEVABLE.

Okay. I will try to be more focused next week. Really.


Here, there, everywhere: guest posts at RA for All and Anglophiles United.

Happy Friday, all. Ready for another six weeks of winter?

I am; I love winter.* It is the season for staying inside and reading nonfiction and watching British television, after all. In honor of our continuing winter I'd like to take a moment and humbly ask you to visit a couple of other blogs that have kindly published my guest posts this past week.

The first is at Becky Spratford's fantastic RA for All site, where nearly every day you can find a new post about reading and readers' advisory. At that post I primarily talk about starting up The Great British TV Site, so there's not much new information there for you, but please do visit RA for All when you can. Thanks, Becky!

The second is at Zella Watson's very fun, very informative site Anglophiles United. There I wrote about Strong Women Detectives on British Television. Feel like watching some great British police procedurals this weekend? There might be something on that list you'd enjoy. Thanks, Zella!

Now: Stay warm, get reading and watching, and have a cozy weekend.

*Not the eldest CRjr. He is emphatically ready for spring. "I'm ready to go outside without getting all this STUFF on!"


A week off, and a new venture.

Hi!

Thanks for stopping in, as always. There's no Citizen Reading post this week, nor will there be a mid-week review or a Friday book lists round-up; I am taking the week off. This is partly because I love taking time off. But I'm also taking some time this week because I'm starting a new venture!

Please do consider visiting me over at a new blog, The Great British TV site, at greatbritishtv.com. For this week I'll just be there, but the hope is that in upcoming weeks I'll be here on Mondays and Wednesdays (posting a Citizen Reading links list on Monday, complete with book lists at the end), and there on Tuesdays and Thursdays, posting reviews of British television, viewers' guides to British programmes (yeah, you know I'm totally just looking for an excuse to use Brit spellings), and eventually conversations with a British friend of mine about the telly she's watching. I hope it will be a good resource for people who love British TV (you know who you are), but also for librarians and others whose job it is to help people find entertainment that they want to watch. Please do consider visiting the new site and telling any Brit TV fans you know about it.

So. We'll see how it goes. I figure the only thing more cost-effective than writing for free three days a week would be to do so four days a week. But let's face it: reading nonfiction and watching British television are two of my most favorite ways to pass the time anyway, so what better subjects to write about?


British Television: What to watch now that Downton Abbey is over.*

So it's the end of a British TV era: after six seasons, the uber-popular drama Downton Abbey has ended.

Wanna hear a little secret? I was never a really big fan, and didn't really watch the show past the first few episodes.** This is very odd for me, as I am a confirmed Anglophile and a terrible British TV addict. So I'm going to try and make up for my snobbishness by listing a few similar programs any fans of Downton Abbey might enjoy.

Well, first, of course, there's the classic London Weekend Television/BBC series Upstairs, Downstairs. I've never actually seen it--sacrilegious, I know, but it's on my to-do list for the year (sure I'll have to cross off some other things, like "spring clean this filthy house," but hey, we all make sacrifices)--but I do know it's about a large London house and focuses on the lives of the servants downstairs and their employers upstairs. It covers almost the same time period as Downton--1903 to 1930--and there's a lot of it: it ran in 68 episodes (split into five series) from 1971 to 1975.

Now I'm the first to admit that sometimes early BBC and Brit TV productions look a bit "homespun" to our demanding modern and Hollywood-conditioned eyes. If that series is just too early (or too long) for you, they also did a remake of the program that ran from 2010 to 2012. That was actually a continuation of the first series, picking up the story of the families from 1936 onward, but you didn't really need to see the original to understand the continuation.

Here's a fun fact: Downton's creator and writer, Julian Fellowes, has also done some acting***, as when he was a recurring character on the BBC series Monarch of the Glen. You can't go far wrong with watching Monarch of the Glen; in addition to seeing Fellowes overact as Lord Kilwillie, a neighbor to the primary family, there's plenty of drama in this show's five seasons too. When prodigal son Archie MacDonald returns to the Scottish Highlands because his father is dying, he finds out that Glenbogle, his family's estate, is debt-ridden and in trouble. To complicate matters further: his father isn't really dying, but both his parents want him to stay and face his duties as the eventual laird of Glenbogle. There's a bit of upstairs/downstairs intrigue here, too; Archie continually has to deal with the highly individual members of his family's staff (who have been there long enough to really count as just family) and the feisty local schoolteacher to whom he is immediately attracted. Love! Class issues! The Highlands! Archie is played by the super-cute Alistair Mackenzie!

Class issues are also a main thread in the fabulous BBC miniseries North and South, based on the novel by Elizabeth Gaskell. If you haven't yet seen this one you don't deserve to call yourself an Anglophile--it is, bar none, one of the best movies ever adapted by the Beebs (in my opinion). Set in the Victorian era, as the film opens, we see gentlewoman Margaret Hale being moved away from all she knows in the rural, conservative, and stately South of England, to face a much harsher life in the industrial North of England, in the mill town of Milltown (that was based on Manchester). Once there she is simultaneously appalled by and attracted to one of the mill owners, John Thornton, who, for his part, seems like a decent guy working in a tough system. (He does try to improve conditions for his workers of his own volition, for which other mill owners mock him). This one launched the career of actor Richard Armitage, and with good reason. It's four episodes and roughly four hours long; don't start it shortly before bedtime, like I did, and then not be able to stop watching until the wee hours of the morning.

Downton Abbey was often referred to as a soap opera, and I say, if you're going to watch a British soap opera, just WATCH a British soap opera. Might I suggest Coronation Street? It's only been running since 1960 (and one of the original characters is still on it). As a soap opera, of course, it focuses on multiple storylines of the characters who live along the title street and run into one another at work, in the shops, and in the street's pub. Some sadist who never wants me to get any work done regularly posts recent episodes at YouTube, and if you want to lose years of your life, search "Coronation Street 1960" and you can see the very first episode and many more.

If you're looking for a new series to fall in love with, you also don't even have to change your channel or viewing time. Starting on Easter night (March 27), PBS will air season two of Grantchester. This is a great series, featuring a young vicar with a disapproving (but hilarious) housekeeper, an unrequited love interest, and an uncanny ability to talk with people and help his police inspector friend solve crimes. The first series was so good--and not all that long--so you could totally binge-watch it between now and then and be ready for the second season.

And don't forget PBS's documentary The 1900 House--in which people willingly signed up to live in a house together as though it were 1900. That might have been okay for the "family," but for the servants? Those used to living in 1999 did not adjust easily to 1900.

*Yes, of course, the New York Times has already made their suggestions. But I didn't look at their article before I wrote mine! There's another list, a good one, over at Vulture--I totally agree with their pick of The Forsyte Saga. I forgot that one!

**Every now and then I would just tune in briefly, because, you know, British television. I can't turn it off. But it always seemed someone was getting blackmailed or raped or other general unpleasantness was going on at the exact moment I tuned in, and I just didn't have the energy for that.

***Fellowes keeps busy. He's also known as the "The Right Honourable Lord Fellowes of West Stafford," and is a Conservative member of the House of Lords.


British Television: Broadchurch

Of late, it has been hard for me to watch as much British television as I might like. This is largely due to the fact that from the hours of roughly 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., I am being followed around by two little boys, for whom (let's face it) much of British television would be completely inappropriate. But every now and then I ignore work and housework and take my golden hours of freedom after 9 p.m. to watch some newish Brit TV. And the series I watched just lately is called Broadchurch.

Now, for a long time I resisted Broadchurch, even though it stars David Tennant (one of my favorite Brit stars). I enjoy crime dramas, but when going for recreational viewing I tend to head more for the comedies. But finally, I thought, it was time.

Broadchurch is set in a small community on the coast of England--uck*--in which an 11-year-old boy is found murdered--double uck**--and over the course of eight forty-five minute episodes, it transpires that everyone in the community (not just the killer) has a whole lot of secrets--triple uck. So even though the first episode was good, I thought, I'm not going to keep watching this. It's just too skin-crawling. But then, as almost always happens, I watched a second episode, and then I was sucked in.***

I can't say that this was one of my favorite series. But the acting was great (particularly by the two leads, Tennant and Olivia Colman) and there were a number of surprising twists and turns. I particularly liked the fact that often the secrets that were revealed were not the secrets that everyone in town thought they would be. If you're in the mood for a dark whodunit, this might be what you're looking for.

If you like Broadchurch: You might also enjoy Case Histories, another crime/mystery drama series set in Edinburgh, or Blackpool (if you can find it), set in another British coast town, centering around a crime, and also starring David Tennant (with a musical twist). Oh, and this series was remade in the US, as Gracepoint, but the trailer makes it look like a shot-by-shot remake.

*Everyone always thinks "small communities" are going to be fun and quirky, like the one in Northern Exposure. In my experience small communities are not so much quirky as they are nosey, gossipy, and stultifying, because the people in them know you and your family and have had time to form way too many opinions about you and your family.

**Since I have had the CRjrs it is very hard for me to watch any programs that include violence to kids.

***This is the sneaky thing about British TV: a lot of their series don't have as many episodes as do American programs, so after you watch one or two episodes, you start to think, oh well, there's only six (or eight, or ten), might as well polish them off.


British Television: MI-5

You've got to love the British for making one of their best TV shows about domestic security (MI-5) rather than international intrigue (MI-6). You've got to further love the fact that the British title for the show is "Spooks," which is evidently what they call their spy types in the UK. Cheeky buggers.

MI-5 started in 2002, and ran for ten seasons, through 2011. When Mr. CR and I first started watching it, it was fairly early on in my British TV-watching career, and we were really surprised and pleased at the complexity (both in plot and moral tone) of it, as well as with the slickness of the production.* One of our favorite things about it was its periodic use of screen-in-screen action to show how storylines were developing at different times or in different places. It really felt like they were packing a lot of story in a one-hour program.

Once again the cast proved to be almost uniformly excellent, and even though the writers/producers were never afraid to kill off main characters, often very surprisingly**, you never even had the chance to miss your favorite characters because they were often replaced by equally interesting ones. Matthew Macfadyen as Tom Quinn (excellent) became Rupert Penry-Jones as Adam Carter (excellent) became Richard Armitage as Lucas North (excellent). And don't even get me started on the mainstay actor of all ten seasons: Peter Firth, who played Harry Pearce, a Section Head (the big honcho, basically) within MI-5. So, so good.

The series did start to lose a bit of steam in the later seasons, but it was still very watchable, and god love the BBC, their series usually only run about six to twelve episodes or so, so even a ten-season show doesn't take as long to watch in its entirety as you might think.

Now, if you watch this trailer for the show, I think you'll think it looks ridiculously violent. And you'd be right; there's violence in the show. But it never really felt like it glorified violence: a lot of times the only choices open to the characters were bad ones. Of course a show about a national spy service is going to be nationalistic ('for the greater good,' etc.) but it certainly didn't make the lifestyle look glamorous. I liked that.

*And we stayed such nerdy fans, as a matter of fact, that we tried to stop by the real "Thames House," where MI-5 is based, when we traveled to London.

**One of the rather graphically displayed deaths in the first season actually led viewers to contact the BBC in protest.


British Television: Shameless

So I know what you're thinking. CR's never seen a British TV series she didn't like, right?

Wrong. And it wouldn't be fair if I didn't talk about ALL British TV, even the shows I didn't much care for, right? So here we go.

I could never quite get into Paul Abbot's series "Shameless." And when I say "couldn't get into," what I mean is that I watched a couple of episodes, even though I wasn't really enjoying it, and then gave myself a firm talking-to about spending time I didn't really have on a TV series that made me, for lack of a better phrase, somewhat depressed deep down in my soul. So of course I had to watch a couple more episodes. But then I stopped. I read some more series' episode summaries at IMDB.com for closure, and called it a day.

The story is this: Six kids live with their drunken dad in a Manchester (northern England) housing project, basically raising themselves. The eldest, Fiona, looks after the others while her dad lurches from one drunken debauch to another; meantime, she falls in love with Steve. They spend the rest of the first season hanging out with the rest of the kids and their neighbors and doing what people in Manchester housing projects do, according to series creator Paul Abbott.

It hurt me not to like this one, frankly, because the first couple of seasons featured two of my favorite Brit/Scot actors: Anne-Marie McDuff and James McAvoy. Actually, I liked the whole cast, and the writing is snappy, and I loved the music, but the whole thing is just a bit too, um, too much for me. It's one thing to know what's all going on offscreen, but "Shameless" really shows a lot ON screen (just watch the first few minutes of the first episode if you wonder what I mean). And although the series as billed as an unconventional family "surviving by their wits--and humor," the idea of children raising children, drunk fathers, and urban poverty makes me too nervous to watch. I haven't actually thought about this one in a while, and was surprised to see that it's now gone 11 seasons, into 2013 (and it's also been remade for American television, starring William H. Macy as the drunk father).

So there. I have met some British television I couldn't watch!

Fun trivia: Anne-Marie Duff and James McAvoy met while filming this show, and are now married.


British Television: Poldark Poldark OMG POLDARK!

If you can't tell from the headline, I'm just a bit excited that the BBC miniseries Poldark, based on the Poldark series of novels by Graham Winston, will start to air in the U.S. on Sunday, June 21.

Happy Father's Day to all you women out there! We host a little midday FD get-together at House CR, and I love doing it*, but next Sunday night, when Poldark begins, I am going to stop cleaning up and let Mr. CR tuck in the CRboys. Poldark Poldark OMG POLDARK!

Actually, I've seen previews and snippets, and it already looks like it won't live up to the books. (For one thing, the heroine, Demelza? She's a brunette with dark eyes, NOT a blonde with light eyes, like the woman who's been cast as her. Boo hiss. Although I have no complaints in re: the casting of Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark.) But it would be tough to live up to the books; they're so awesome.

Can't wait to see this one--further bulletins as events warrant.

*For introverts, throwing parties trumps going to parties every time. You're surrounded by people who come talk to you, because you're the host, and most of the time you're just trying to keep on top of logistics, so you don't have time to be nervous.


British Television: North and South

I'm so, so glad I watched the British miniseries North and South* before I had kids. That's because it was split into four episodes, and even though I started watching it way too late at night, I couldn't help myself: I just kept watching episode after episode, until I was through them all and it was early the next morning. Mercifully, if I got no sleep in those days, I was just grouchy at my job and with Mr. CR the following day and no real harm was done. Now if I don't get enough sleep there are two small boys around just waiting to push my buttons, and I really prefer not to lose my temper with them from sheer exhaustion. For the most part, now, when I say to myself, CR, you have GOT to go to bed right now, I actually do listen, and I go.

But I digress. The real point is this:

"North and South" is the best BBC adaptation ever. (And many British viewers might agree with that assessment: when it first aired, so many viewers visited the BBC's website message boards to talk about it that they crashed the site.)

I'm not exaggerating.

It's a 2004 adaptation of the Elizabeth Gaskell** novel by the same name, and it focuses on the story of Margaret Hale, whose family must move from their comfortable position in the warm "South" of England (due to some dust-up of her pastor father's, when he has a crisis of faith), to the industrial and cold "North" of Milton--which is based on the city of Manchester. Once there, Margaret's father takes up tutoring, and she tries to help the poor in much the same way she did when she held a more privileged social position. They meet John Thornton***--a prosperous self-made man and mill owner, who lives with his forceful mother and his sister--when Thornton visits Margaret's father for tutoring.

I'm describing it terribly. Would it help if I tell you the cast is superb? That there's a heartbreaking scene where Thornton desperately begs Margaret just to look back at him (in which the actor portraying Thornton does some of the best acting I've seen)? That it contains some great labor history context? That it also contains the best kiss ever put on film? That the soundtrack is gorgeous?

Okay, I'll admit, it's not much of a laugh-fest. People die in it at a somewhat alarming rate, and it's totally typical that Thornton, who tries to be a somewhat decent mill owner, is not as prosperous as his colleagues, who work their employees as cruelly as possible. But it is very, very satisfying romantic melodrama.

Go watch it. Just don't start it at ten p.m., or you will be beyond tired the next day, because you will have to watch the WHOLE THING.

*By the way, if you want to find the Anglophiles around you, just talk about this miniseries. Most non-Anglophiles will think you are referring to the American miniseries "North and South," about the Civil War. But if someone responds to you by saying something along the lines of "Oh, my God, North and South, John Thornton," or by quoting something like "I wish to marry you because I love you!" you'll know that you have found a kindred spirit.

**Here's some fun trivia: evidently there's also a 1975 BBC adaptation, starring Patrick Stewart.

***Played by the totally hunky Richard Armitage, also known to my friend (and to me, forever after, once she told me) as "Red Hot Dickie."


British Television: Whitechapel

And now for something completely different in our periodic tour of British television.

I forget exactly how I stumbled across the series Whitechapel, but it might actually have been suggested for me by YouTube, which, sadly, knows of my British TV addiction and takes it upon itself to make helpful suggestions against which I am powerless. In this way I have lost a lot of the last few years to YouTube. Damn you, YouTube!

But I digress. "Whitechapel" is an ITV production that ran for four series, from 2009 to 2013. It has been announced that no more series will be made, but those four should be more than adequate for anyone looking for a deeply scary combination of a crime procedural drama and true crime. The first two series were three episodes long, focusing on one crime per season. The latter two series featured six episodes each, covering three different events.

In the first series, the crimes to be investigated echo the most famous murders the Whitechapel region of London ever suffered: the Jack the Ripper crimes. In addition to the police detectives, the inspector in charge of the case also reaches out to a historian for his expertise on Jack the Ripper to help them consider any correlations between the historical and present crimes.

The cast is excellent, with a favorite of mine, Rupert Penry-Jones, starring as DI (Detective Inspector, of course, which is a title any good Anglophile is familiar with) Joseph Chandler, a "by the book" inspector who is reviled by the staff of police detectives in Whitechapel that he heads up; they think he's all there for just a quick stop on his way to bigger promotions. He also suffers from OCD. Other detectives include Phil Davis (as DS Ray Miles); he's a very familiar face from a number of shows (including "Sherlock," in which he appeared in a very different type of role). All the supporting players do a very nice job too.

There's not a whole lot of episodes to watch, but it's a meaty little drama and might appeal to fans of the more offbeat series "Sherlock," as well as the American series "CSI." Horror fans might like it too.

Fun trivia: I watched this show on YouTube over the course of the summer while I was expecting CR3. I was actually trying to watch the last episode in series 2 when I went into the early stages of labor. I knew we had to be getting close when the contractions made it impossible for me to focus on the storyline, or even enjoy looking at Rupert Penry-Jones. Which I do, very much. Now that I think of it: did I ever finish that episode? Gotta go.


British Television: As Time Goes By

Before she was M in the latest reboot of the James Bond franchise, Judi Dench OWNED the role of Jean Pargetter on the long-running British TV series As Time Goes By.

Of course Dame Judi did many acting gigs before this show, both in theater and on television. But I'll always like her best for her role on this show. The premise was a bit meet-cute: Mature adults Jean and Lionel, who met and fell in love during the Korean War, were separated when Lionel went to Korea and a letter from Lionel to Jean went astray. Not hearing from Lionel, Jean assumed the affair was over, and went on to marry and have a daughter. When they meet again years later in London, Jean is a widow with a successful business of her own, and Lionel is a divorced man just returned from a coffee plantation he ran in Kenya (and who has just written a book on the subject).

This program ran for ten seasons, between 1992 and 2002. Episodes were half an hour, and were a nice mix of a bit of drama mixed with mostly comedy. I totally, totally enjoyed Judi Dench* and Geoffrey Palmer (wonderfully dry as Lionel), but I also enjoyed the supporting cast in this show. Lionel's publisher, Alistair Deacon, also has a long-running romantic subplot with Jean's daughter Judith. SPOILER ALERT: all the romances end satisfactorily, which I enjoy in my lighthearted romantic comedies.

The first few episodes are a bit ridiculous, with the younger set, Judith and Alistair, romantically pursuing the older set of Lionel and Jean, but once you get past that, the series settles into a very comforting slice of British life. I don't know where they filmed this one, and perhaps to British people the setting doesn't ring true, but to me the houses, sidewalks, and other locations look just like London should look.

I have seen this series so many times that I can practically say the dialogue along with any episode, which is very sad, I know. My local PBS station still airs it on Saturday nights (and have done for many years--which is where I watched it for the very first time) and if I happen to be flipping through stations at that time, I'll always leave it on, which makes Mr. CR cry, as he can't understand how I can possibly stand to BE WATCHING IT AGAIN.

He just doesn't get a good old-fashioned Anglophile BBC TV addiction. Give it a try. You'll get addicted too.

*I also think Judi Dench is the most gorgeous older woman ever. I love her short sassy hair.


New feature: British television

Woman does not live by nonfiction alone. She does, in fact, live by nonfiction, fiction, magazines, the backs of cereal boxes, any and all reading material, and a whole load of British television.

It is this last item that will be the focus of this new feature of the blog. Periodically I'll take a break from the nonfiction and highlight British television series, miniseries, movies, actors...well, you get the point. I'll be doing this just in case there's anyone out there looking for a good source for Brit TV recommendations*, but also because I'm somewhat curious to track how many of these programs I've seen over the years (and hope very much to see in the future).

And today we'll start with a program near and dear to my heart: the very first British television series that captured my heart. I first watched it back in the days of antiquity when you had to figure out how to program your VCR to tape programs in your absence**, and then, if you were taping something on PBS, you had to hope they weren't having a pledge drive that would screw up your timing.

So this particular program was one that was on my local PBS station on Saturday nights, at eight p.m., and when I watched it I was at an age when I actually went out on Saturday nights. So one Saturday night I was at a party at a friend's house, when I remembered I hadn't set the VCR, so I had to run home and start the recording, because I simply could not miss an episode of Ballykissangel. I took some teasing about this fact from the friend whose house I had to leave briefly to go set the VCR, but karma has since intervened and given her an even bigger addiction to British TV than I have, so that's funny.

Ballykissangel was this great, hour (or so)-long drama set in a small rural village in Ireland. It featured the adventures of the locals, of course, led by Assumpta Fitzgerald (the owner of the local pub), her friend Niamh Egan (and her husband, the local constable), and Niamh's wheeler-dealer father, Brian Quigley (among many others). Into this rather settled village arrives a new and somewhat un-orthodox priest, Father Peter Clifford, who endears himself to the locals at the same time he frequently butts heads with his more conservative priest/supervisor Father MacAnally.

The series ran for six seasons, but the first three are the nearest and dearest to my heart. They feature the developing love story between Assumpta and Peter, which is awkward, as Peter is a Roman Catholic priest. I won't tell you how it works out, and don't you dare look ahead at season summaries on the Wikipedia page. Later seasons feature different characters (most notably: an insanely young Colin Farrell) and are enjoyable in their own way, but are not as all-consuming as the start to the series.

I loved the characters in this show. And of course, the setting: so beautiful. Much like Northern Exposure, this show made you want to live in a small community where all the locals know one another, although (from experience) I can tell you that that sort of thing isn't nearly as fun in real life.

The series ran from 1996 to 2001, and of course looks increasingly dated. But don't let that stop you (and don't be deterred by the almost painfully old-school, traditional Irish theme music); if you're just starting out in Brit TV, this should be one of your earlier stops.

Genres: Drama; Romance; Ireland; Community Life

Assorted Trivia I Know Because I Spend a Ridiculous Amount of Time at IMDB.com: The two stars of the show, Dervla Kirwan (Assumpta) and Stephen Tompkinson (Fr. Peter), were engaged to each other for two years during the show's run. They eventually broke up, and Dervla Kirwan went on to marry Rupert Penry-Jones, who is, there's no other way to put this, super hot.

So what do you think? What other information could I include in these Brit TV summaries?

*Anyone know of a good British TV reference site/guide they use?

**Well, we're pretty low-tech around here, so that's still the way we'd have to tape something, but there's nothing much on TV--we only get the broadcast channels--these days that we feel really compelled to record.