Current UK TV
I generally get my BBC programming either on PBS or on DVD. BBC-America and SyFy aren't options, and the one time I tried to ahem a program, my firewall/antivirus freaked out, and I backed away, duly chastened. This means, obviously, that I am perpetually behind. Please, no spoilers, okay?
Take Doctor Who. (I haven't seen an episode since Amy and Rory's wedding.) I've been watching it (mostly on PBS) since childhood. Like most other nerds my age, I accepted the Fourth and Fifth Doctors uncritically, was uncomfortable with the Sixth Doctor, shocked by the sudden ending of my beloved Seventh Doctor, outraged by the Fox-produced nonsense of the Eighth Doctor, and initially wary but then enthusiastic about the Ninth Doctor. Unlike everyone else, I was never keen on the Tenth Doctor; he was okay, but just not up my personal alley. I waited him out. So far, I quite enjoy the Eleventh Doctor, and I love the Eleventh Doctor's Companions. (Reminder: No spoilers, please! I got ambushed by a River Song spoiler at fencing the other week, for crying out loud.)
The first season of the UK Being Human blew me out of the water. I enjoyed it more than anything I'd seen on television in years. Brilliant storytelling that builds on itself in a slow unfolding that you never get in US programming. A beautiful celebration of humanity, friendship, and constructed families. I was all set to give my heart to this show, and then the second season stomped on my heart with the hobnailed boots of mindless cliches demeaning faith and science alike. The acting and directing remained top-notch, but my admiration for the storytelling deflated under the pathetic retreading of ground better covered by many other shows, not to mention novels and comics. (Plus a few stupid errors with religion that even a glance at Wikipedia could have corrected.) I expected better of them. I expected too much. The third season recovered ground, but... while BH is objectively one of the best and smartest shows being produced today, and I look forward to it, I'm no longer in any danger of falling head-over-heels in love with it. It's just a very good show, not a story of my heart.
The first season of Downton Abbey struck me as the best thing I'd seen on TV since the first season of Being Human. (PBS aired it as three long episodes, with some cuts, in the US; I know that it aired as seven short episodes, without cuts, in the UK. I don't know what was cut.) After the first airing, I watched the next two "live," in real broadcast time, eagerly on my living room floor in front of my television, something I had not done for a show since Young Blades. The historical fiction makes me happy, but so do the (in most cases) well-rounded characters and many-layered interactions. However, there were two characters whom I felt never got rounded, and their shallowness ended up contributing to what I felt was a hasty and inferior finale compared to the exceeding excellence of the preceding content. Downton Abbey took a number of Emmys; I hadn't seen all its competition, but felt confident that it more than deserved the statuettes. I'm looking forward to the next season, and hoping that they don't get mired in shippy stuff and neglect the historical elements that attract me.
I've read all Doyle's Holmes stories at least twice (including the late ones without Watson), and many of them many more, so I got to enjoy Sherlock in the "oh, we're in this story! wait, now we have an element of that story!" way. It was a blast. (I admit that they managed to take me by surprise with Mycroft, because I knew canonical Mycroft, and in my head he was therefore planted immovably at his club. All part of the fun.) Of course as clever and talented as they are, my continued enjoyment will likely depend on their continued tributes to Doyle's work, and not venturing out on their own.
While I never saw the original, I respect and appreciate that the new Upstairs, Downstairs bowed with subtle tributes to its predecessor, honoring the fans and establishing itself as a sequel, not a dreaded remake. The new Upstairs, Downstairs suffers a little by inevitable comparison to Downton Abbey -- they have so many elements in common, though they're set a generation apart -- but is an admirable and creditable story on its own merits, and wins hands down in the area of diversity, with compelling immigrant, non-Christian characters.
One challenge with UK shows is that they have such short seasons by US standards. It's difficult to get deeply involved with and committed to them in the same way.
Current North American TV
I can group Castle, NCIS and Hawaii 5-O together as shows I usually catch within a week of airing, but which I don't mind missing. They're usually pleasant, but they don't speak to me, personally. They're exercise fare, recorded more to keep me pedaling the stationary bike than for themselves. Similarly, The Closer is something I catch (or not) as it airs in syndication twice each weekend; it's a well-made procedural, and I'm intrigued (and sometimes appalled) by the flipping of stereotypical roles between the protagonist and her husband (if a male character treated a female character like that, surely we'd all object). The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are things I pull up online when I need a laugh, or when the other shows fail me as exercise fodder, or the news is just particularly in need of mocking.
(I loved the first season of Bones, disliked the second, and walked away during the third. When it began, it was full of elements that attracted me, with a kind of "daylight X-Files" dynamic. Later, it went "taxpayer-funded Moonlighting," and I wasn't up for that. Similarly, there was a period when I followed The Good Wife, and a point at which I walked away. How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory I drifted from; there was never a bright line of dropping them. I think that's everything I ever used to watch that is not yet canceled...)
Pan Am (offering me historical fiction) and Grimm (fantasy, quest and bereavement elements) are both promising new shows that might pan out to my tastes, but it's too early to say for sure. Pan Am, to my satisfaction, makes much use of flashbacks as a storytelling device; I love the layering and suspense this produces. I've liked their allusions to real historical events. And I enjoy all the recurring characters so far, with the exception of Maggie; even before her maneuver at the end of the most recent episode, she rubbed me the wrong way. The most recent episode did not make me happy -- betrayal is a squick, never mind the literary mischaracterization -- but I'll be back for the next episode, and see what's in store. They're not on notice... yet. Grimm has had only two episodes so far, so it's too soon to say whether it will shake out and grow into itself. At this point, I'm not feeling involved with any of the characters, and I'm not impressed by the storytelling; while it has some of the feel of Angel (good for them, and no surprise given Greenwalt), it is unfortunately burdened with some of the feel of The Cape as well (bad for them; that show did not live up to its concept and died quickly). There's nothing there yet grabbing my imagination, but they really ought to be able to make something of the concept: build a second layer into the procedural cases, make something of the protagonist's family losses, generate a little higher purpose and angst... right? Here's hoping.
The premiere of Once Upon a Time bowled me over. I rewatched it the day after it aired, and I felt I was getting more from it the second time through. Subsequent episodes have not been so very compelling, but I'm convinced that this is the best (and potentially most appealing to me) program I've seen on US TV in many years. It's bursting with potential. I love the two-layered storytelling, with the present-day in our world and flashbacks to the world of happy endings. Putting together the pieces we all know from our common cultural heritage with the creators' new twists so far amuses and satisfies me. I'm already invested in several of the characters, and intrigued by others. There's a even a quest structure! And a mandate for Good to triumph... eventually. ♥ I don't, unfortunately, happen to enjoy Emma or Regina, but then, after all, Regina is a villain and I'm supposed to loathe her, and perhaps Emma will grow on me. I look forward to this show; I watch it eagerly as it airs, commercials and all, in front of my television on Sunday nights, with no chores or distractions, and that's not something many shows win from me these days. It may yet fall apart, of course, tick me off and push me away, but I have high hopes that it will hang together and feed my imagination happily for some time. We shall see...
Addendum 11/11: I just caught up to the Halloween episode of Hawaii Five-O. I watched up to Danny's declaration of atheism -- this from the man who gave Kono a St. Michael medal last season -- and turned it off. That's the last straw; this ineptly-written show has nothing for me.
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