Anne here, and today, because so many of us have been spending more time indoors than usual, the wenches are answering the question: Seen any good TV shows or movies lately?
Christina says – I’m afraid the answer to that is no – and not for lack of trying! I managed several visits to the cinema in the run up to Christmas but was sadly disappointed each time. First, I saw the new James Bond film, No Time to Die, which was OK but I absolutely hated the ending!
Soon after, I was seriously underwhelmed by that the new Marvel film, Eternals. Then I watched the new version of Dune. Admittedly this was beautifully made and perfectly captured the book IMO, but sadly it was part one of two (where the second hasn’t even been made yet!). Why? That’s like selling me half a book and saying I should be happy with that because it’s good so far. And don’t get me started on A Castle for Christmas with Cary Elwes (doing a bad Scottish accent) and Brooke Shields. Although the setting was stunning, I wish I’d just watched The Princess Bride instead for the umpteenth time – at least Cary was perfect in that! Finally, I will grudgingly admit to enjoying the new Disney movie Jungle Cruise, although it tries a bit too hard to be like Pirates of the Caribbean. Still, a lot of fun!
Really, I think the only saving grace was my discovery of the TV series Endeavour (the Young Morse). This is a prequel to the Inspector Morse series, set in Oxford and based on the books by Colin Dexter. One night I happened to catch an episode of this, which is all about the start of his career. He’s a young detective, quiet and introverted, but incredibly intelligent. Of course he always solves the murders and shows up his superiors (who don’t appreciate that for obvious reasons). And he’s just a really likeable character who you can’t help but root for. If you like crime drama that’s not too gory and you haven’t seen it yet I’d recommend it.
Pat says: While waiting for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to return from break, we’ve been watching a lot of old detective shows, mostly on Britbox, I think, although some can be found on Netflix.
I adore New Tricks, the show where a group of retired police detectives are returned to service to solve old cases. The eccentric characters and humor are delightful, even if it’s impossible to figure out the murders because we’re not old Brit cops who know all the informants. But by season nine, it’s turning into a spy story and we’ve given up.
So, at the moment, after a recommendation from Wench Mary Jo, we’re trying Death in Paradise, a show set in the Caribbean with local staff overseen by a completely out of place British detective who’s so anal, he got sent there so his superiors didn’t have to deal with him. But despite his Sherlock Holmesian inability to socialize, he has an analytical brain that eventually pieces together the puzzle. So far, the rest of the talented cast hasn’t been put to best use, but I have hopes.
Like everyone else, I’ve latched on to Ted Lasso as a feel-good, laugh-out-loud comedy with very nice messages underscoring the story lines and some truly fierce acting. I’m trying to like Ghosts with the couple trying to start a B&B while living with ghosts who cover a few hundred years and a lot of opinions. But it’s played for sitcom laugh lines, and I’m not getting into the characters. Which probably says a lot about why I don’t watch much TV!
Andrea says: Even with the pandemic and more time at home, I don’t watch a lot of television or stream movies. I usually prefer to curl up with a good book.
That said, I have enjoyed some good shows recently. The Masterpiece Theater series, Unforgotten, starring Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar—both wonderful actors—is very powerful. It’s about a team of detectives who take on cold cases and unravel secrets from the past, but the drama also revolves around their own relationships, both at home and in the office. It’s dark in moments, but so well acted that it’s riveting. I highly recommend it.
Having really enjoyed the paranormal All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness, which follows American scholar—and reluctant witch—Diana Bishop as she teams up with Oxford professor—and vampire—Matthew Clairmont to figure out the secret of the mysterious Ashmole 782 manuscript, I decided to try the television series based on the book. I’m usually disappointed with adaptations, but this one is very interesting. Again, it’s helped by the acting—Tersa Palmer and Matthew Goode are excellent in the starring roles—and I also can’t resist the location shots (lots of wonderful Oxford settings in the early episodes, a trip back to Elizabethan England and other gorgeous settings.) The plot is intriguing—I’m not a paranormal fan, but this is very scholarly and intellectual, which appeals to me. Give it a try—it’s on free on Amazon Prime through the month of January.
And lastly, I thought the Ken Burns PBS multi-episode documentary on Muhammed Ali was a brilliant portrait of both the man and America at a very fraught time in history. I’ve always respected Ali as an individual of courage and conscience, but I came away from this series thinking of him as a real hero in every sense of the word. He comes across as kind, compassionate, unflinching in his beliefs and his sense of right and wrong. He also had an amazing sense of humor and was an early genius in understanding the nuances of branding and marketing. A truly remarkable man of passion and principle—well worth watching!
Mary Jo here, and I'm something of an outlier since I've not been a regular television watcher in decades. (Living in the UK for a couple of years ruined me for watching shows with commercials.)
But the Mayhem consultant and I enjoy spending some evenings kicked back and watching shows we both enjoy, preferably with cats on our laps. To deal with my aversion to commercials, I usually buy DVDs of series that we really like. Some people consider DVDs to be old technology, but they're reliable! Unlike the multitudinous streaming services. Particularly on weekends, streamed shows tend to stall out, sometimes indefinitely because of too many watcher cluttering up the channel. I am a story addict, and I GET VERY CRANKY when the story stops dead!
We like shows that are well written and well acted, with some humor and not too much darkness. These can be hard to find! One of our all time favorite series is Madam Secretary, in which Tea Leoni is Secretary of State, facing a lot of very real sounding problems. She's smart and tough, plus she has a great marriage and three kids. Good secondary characters, strong stories, and yes, often some humor.
Another favorite for which I have all the discs is Castle, which features Nathan Fillion as best selling mystery writer Richard Castle. He wants to start a new series featuring a female NYPD detective, so he gets his pal, the mayor of New York, to give him permission to shadow Homicide Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) and her team. He's kind of a goofball in a writerly sort of way, and she's an enormously capable policewoman who finds Castle very annoying. But his outside the box thinking helps solve mysteries and a bond gradually forms. It's very smart, often very funny, and at heart it's a romance. Catnip to a romance writer. <G>
Another series we've really been enjoying is Leverage, which I'd never even heard of until one of my writer friends mentioned it. Timothy Hutton plays Nate Ford, a disillusioned former insurance investigator who has committed himself to finding justice when big entities do bad things. He has a team of four very different and very talented criminals who become equally passionate about balancing the scales. Every episode is a new, very clever caper in which the team members play different roles to trick the bad guys into disaster.
We're also fond of British-style mysteries (which include the Canadian Murdoch Mysteries and New Zealand's Brokenwood Mysteries.) There are others: Death in Paradise, The Mallorca Files (on Britbox), Miss Fisher Mysteries and more. Mysteries have the advantage of providing a solid plot structure for each episode. This is probably why there are so many of them!
Nicola says: I was a bit disappointed with the TV schedules over Christmas and New Year but fortunately there were some old favourites to rediscover.
One of those was the Downton Abbey film. I’d watched the TV series for a number of years but had missed the most recent episodes. Even so it didn’t take me long to work out what had happened to all the characters in the meantime. The film centred on the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Downton and is a delightful mix, as always, of upstairs and downstairs, feuding between the royal servants and the Downton ones, with a sub plot about a disputed inheritance, some romance and a bit of intrigue. It was all wrapped up in a lovely warm, humorous and affectionate feeling which made it the perfect costume drama.
We’ve been watching The Book of Boba Fett, a space western that’s part of the Star Wars franchise but I’m admitting to being a bit disappointed in it. Although I enjoyed the films I’m not a Star Wars geek so perhaps that’s why – a lot of the cultural references are lost on me! I adored The Mandalorian, another spin off, and was hoping this would be the same, but although there are aspects of it I enjoy, there doesn’t seem to be much of a story developing. I guess I’m just not the target audience!
One new show I am enjoying is Around the World in 80 Days with David Tennant as Philias Fogg. It’s a 8 part series based on the book by Jules Verne but with some significant changes. For a start the journalist who accompanies him isn’t a man but the redoubtable Miss Abigail Fix who, along with manservant Passepartout, makes up the unlikely trio of intrepid travellers. The show has had some poor reviews, criticised for being a bit slow and David Tennant ‘s performance has come in for some criticism too. This seems unfair to me; there’s plenty of action, the three main characters are complex and deep, and the way that they are developing individually and as a group is really interesting. Certainly Fogg doesn’t come across very well for the first half of the series; the odd occasional flash of brilliance and empathy doesn’t quite make up for him appearing to be a typical entitled, arrogant Victorian snob, but part of the interest is seeing the conflicts in his buttoned-up character, and David Tennant plays him very well. I’m just over half way through and want to know what happens next but although all the episodes are on the BBC iPlayer I’m not going to glom it!
Susan says: In November and December, with a lot going on, there were late evenings when all we wanted to do was relax, catch up on a few shows, and binge something. And so we did. We're big fans of Shetland in our house, and watched the latest season — the mysteries are complex and excellent, the writing sharp, the characters familiar, flawed, compelling. And–the Shetland Isles. What could be better?
A new series we discovered was Reservation Dogs on Hulu, a new comedy-drama series centering on a group of Native American teens determined to get off the reservation, away from the dismal conditions of their lives, and reach the mecca of California. It's an absolute treasure – comical, smart, yet dark and poignant too, it balances subtle, charismatic characters, social realities, and powerful themes of love and loyalty and growth–all wrapped up with deft humor. It's brilliant, and the young actors are amazing (the older ones too – Wes Studi, who played Magua in Last of the Mohicans, is here, and even as a comic character, he still has a scary edge!). I was especially fascinated since I'm reading Firekeeper's Daughter at the moment, which has a similar setting.
We've also been watching Hawkeye on Disney, based on the Marvel Comics superhero. It's breezy, easy, and excellent. Great action that never gets too dark, the acting by Jeremy Renner and Hailee Steinfeld is top-notch – we are really enjoying it. And here and there, we regularly go back to older shows, like Friends, I Love Lucy, and Golden Girls. I haven't watched Golden Girls since I was a young mom–and I now have a new appreciation now, ahem, for these ladies. As for Lucy–nothing compares to that goofball genius. I will always love Lucy.
Anne again. I'm not a huge watcher of TV, but like many of the other wenches, I'm a fan of Brit crime shows — Lewis (also called Inspector Lewis), Endeavour, Shetland, New Tricks — though not the last few series. I prefer the original cast and once they started to drop off, so, IMO did the quality. I loved the first few series of Death In Paradise, with Ben Miller as the uptight, anal, brilliant detective, but lost interest in the later series. I used to watch most of these hen they were on regular TV, so now when I've watched them, they're repeats. Castle is like that as well, though it hasn't yet shown up on any of my streaming services. And if you're a Nathan Fillion fan, hunt up some earlier works of his — Firefly (a series) and a movie called Serenity.
A Brit crime show I watched some later episodes of back when it was on regular TV was Scott and Bailey, and now I'm really enjoying watching it from episode 1. It follows two female police detectives in their work and private life, and explores their friendship as well. The balance of crime, professional life and private concerns is perfect, and I'm enjoying every episode. Here's a review.
Another older TV series that has come onto one of my streaming services is Sea Change, an Australian comedy about a high-flying lawyer whose life and marriage suddenly falls apart. She moves with her two kids to a small seaside town where she becomes the local magistrate. The range of quirky yet believable minor characters is wonderful — it was hugely popular here when it was on TV and many of the minor characters became household names.
There was a much later continuation of the series which IMO didn't work nearly as well — you want the original one with Sigrid Thornton and David Wenham.
And that's it from us — a lot of re-watches and a few new shows. Are you fans of any of the shows we've mentioned. Tell us, what have you been watching lately?