Tag Archives: PBS

Upcoming British TV

It’s that time of year again!  Time for Christmas specials, followed closely by new premieres in 2014!  We’ve got a lot to look forward to in the coming months.

First, there is the Christmas special for Doctor Who

Doctor Who, Christmas Special 2013 - Artwork: Jenna-Louise Coleman and Matt SmithThe Time of the Doctor  (Christmas Day in the UK and US) will mark the end of Matt Smith’s run and the beginning of Peter Capaldi as our 12th incarnation of the eponymous Doctor.  As happens every time there is a regeneration, I am dreading it, but know that the new Doctor will win me over pretty quickly.  It happened with 10 and with 11, so I have faith that 12 will be just as good.  Okay, no one is actually as good as David Tennant, but they do try…

The Downton Abbey Christmas special will play on Christmas Day in the UK, but the US will have to wait a few months–we haven’t even aired season 4 yet.  Season 4 premieres on PBS January 5th. So the Christmas Special will air sometime in February or March.  Festive.  I am looking forward to it because we finally get to see Paul Giamatti as Cora’s rakish, financially-irresponsible brother

downton-abbey-christmas-special-2013

I also notice Edith missing from this picture.  I won’t spoil anything for those who haven’t seen season 4, but I’ve got a guess where she is…

One week after Christmas is (to me) the most important premiere of the last several years.  Sherlock (series 3) premieres on Jan 1st in the UK, January 19th in the US (again on PBS).

sherlock_series_3_fan_poster_2_by_crqsf-d52873pI’m almost done with my re-watch of the first two series.  I just have the heinously painful, ugly-cry-inducing Reichenbach Fall. And then there will finally be new episodes! There’s rumor of a mini-episode premiering on Christmas Day (on BBC 1) that acts as a sort of prequel to Series 3. (Here’s hoping I can find it online).  The proper episodes run January 1st, 5th, and 12th in the UK.

A boatload of new shows and season premieres are slated for Spring 2014 here in the US.

Fleming-The Man Who Would Be Bond is a BBC America look at Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond.  It stars Dominic Cooper as Fleming, and looks like a combination between The Hours and Mad Men.

460x300_flemingThat’s Lara Pulver (aka Irene Adler) as the proto-Bond girl, Ann O’Neill.  I’ll withhold judgment on this one–I’m not a big fan of Bond, but I’ll give it a try. It premieres January 29th.

Despite being (rudely) cancelled after its second series/season in the UK, Ripper Street will get a full second season airing in the US.  I’ve already heard that the ‘finale’ wasn’t very rewarding, because the showrunners didn’t know (or didn’t know early enough) about the show’s fate.  Season 2 premieres on BBC America in February (no fixed date yet, that I’ve seen).

March 30th will be a big day for PBS viewing.  Call the Midwife AND Mr. Selfridge return for their 3rd and 2nd seasons, respectively. Here’s a trailer for Mr. Selfridge:

April 13th sees season 2 of The Bletchley Circle premiere on PBS.  It premieres much earlier (January 6th) in the UK.

Shortly after, on April 19th, Orphan Black finally returns on BBC America.

There are several other shows without announced premiere dates, but we know are coming soon.

The Musketeers–a BBC America show, taking place in 17th century Paris. The (four) Musketeers are all hot young men in this incarnation of the classic story. I’ll give it a try, though I’m not really one to go for men with feathers in their hats. The BBC America website says ‘Coming in 2014’, so this one could be a while.

Similarly, they’re very vague on the dates for a few other shows.  In the Flesh is definitely going to have a second season/series, but all the info they give is ‘Spring 2014’.  I would guess March or April.

Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan is already filming season 2, with special guest star and fellow hobbit, Billy Boyd.  No release date for that one either, but I’m guessing late Spring/early Summer, based on my zero expertise.

It’s going to be a busy season of TV watching this Spring!

The Paradise – season 1

Ladies-Paradise-TV-tie-inPBS just finished airing season one of this series, although season/series 2 has already started in the UK.  Given the subject matter (a Victorian era department store in England), comparisons between this show and Mr. Selfridge are inevitable. For the first two or three episodes, I found myself comparing them, and it gave me an unfavorable opinion of the Paradise.  Over the course of the 8-episode season, however, the show really grew on me. I forgot to compare it to Mr. Selfridge, and could enjoy it much more for that fact.

The Paradise centers around the eponymous department store in 1875 in Northeast England.  The show is a re-interpretation of an Emile Zola novel set in France during the same period. The store is owned and run by the handsome Mr. Moray (Emun Elliott), who started from humble roots and is slightly obsessed with expanding his empire.

paradise2Moray is loosely-tied to Katherine Glendenning, a spoiled rich girl who is pretty obviously trying to tie him down in marriage.  Moray is still grieving over the loss of his first wife, and dithers over decisions about this relationship.  Both Katherine and her father prove themselves, over the course of the season, willing to do anything to get what they want.  This includes manipulation of people and circumstances to their own favor.  They’re pretty terrible people.

The other main focus of the show is Denise (Joanna Vanderham), a girl from the country who has just arrived to work in her uncle’s draper shop.

denise_06_crop_648x327Unfortunately, the competition of the Paradise on his street has dried up her uncle’s business. He doesn’t have enough money to support Denise, nor enough work to keep her busy. Having few options, Denise seeks employment at the Paradise.  She proves, very quickly, that she is smart and creative, full of new ideas for how to improve the business in the store.  Mr. Moray takes a shine to her almost immediately.

This is an ensemble cast, with a lot of characters.  Besides Moray, there are other managerial figures with their own minor storylines (Dudley is Moray’s 2nd in command; Jonas is in charge of ‘security’ and is a pretty intimidating figure; Miss Audrey is Denise’s boss, the head of Ladieswear).  There are other sales associates in the store (Sam, the flirt, Clara, the mean girl, Pauline, the nice girl).  I think the show does a good job of balancing the main characters with these side stories.  I think everyone’s acting was very good, and that really helps you to care about characters that are not always in the forefront of the show.

My only complaint is that the relationship between Moray and Katherine isn’t always clear at the beginning of the season.  Part of that is his inability to make up his mind, but the show doesn’t always make it clear who or what stands between them, or what brings them together.  It’s very clear by the end of the series how they feel about each other, so that may be why I enjoyed the later episodes more.

As I said, the comparisons with Mr. Selfridge are inevitable. But this show really grew on me over the course of the season, and I quite enjoyed the last two or three episodes especially.  I hope PBS decides to show season 2 next year, but I fear it will be late next year if it comes to the US.  PBS has a pretty full schedule in Spring, with Downton Abbey and Sherlock coming soon.

The Lady Vanishes

the lady vanishesI quite liked this little TV movie. I think the key to my enjoyment of it was that I have never seen the 1939 Hitchcock version of this same story.  It’s best not to compare anything to a Hitchcock film. The film aired on PBS in August to little fanfare, but I thought it was fairly good.

The movie revolves around Iris Carr, a free-spirited independent young woman on holiday in Croatia. She’s played by Tuppence Middleton (no relation to Pippa & Kate). Iris leaves behind her lecherous friends and catches a train back toward home (England). A fellow Englishwoman, Miss. Froy befriends her at the beginning of the trip. Iris goes to sleep, and when she wakes up, Miss. Froy has vanished.  The others in her compartment insist that there never was an Englishwoman.

If this is sounding familiar, it might be because of the Jodie Foster movie, Flightplan. I never actually saw that movie, but from the trailers I surmised that though the plot is virtually identical, it’s her daughter that disappears and not a stranger.  Trying to convince a woman her own daughter doesn’t exist is a bit far-fetched.  But a stranger?

I once sat next to a man on an overnight bus from London to Edinburgh. He slept for the first few hours.  When the bus stopped at a gas station and we all got out to use the ‘loo’ or get some snacks, he didn’t come back to his seat.  I watched them close the doors, thinking maybe I should say something.  His hat was still there on the seat.  I’m glad I didn’t say something, because I spotted him later, sitting in a different seat.  But, the point is, I couldn’t really have picked him out of a lineup if anyone had needed me to.  Dark hair…male…white-ish?  Sleepy.  That would narrow things down for the police.

So to think of meeting a stranger for a few minutes only, and then being so assured of who and what she was, despite contradictions from impartial observers…anyone would doubt what they saw.

The frustrating thing about this story is that we, the audience, of course know that she is real.  We see her with Iris, of course, but we also know that several of the people claiming she didn’t exist are lying. And we see why they are lying.  They’re all English, and they’re all lying because they don’t want to be inconvenienced by telling the truth.  A couple on an illicit weekend (he’s married) don’t want it to get out that they were holidaying together.  Scandal.  A vicar and his wife need to get home to their son, who they’ve learned is sick with Spanish Flu (you’ll remember Spanish flu from its determination to kill everyone on Downton Abbey). Then there are two old biddies who are busy passing judgment on Iris for being (what they view as) a disreputable lady, rather than helping her look for the woman.  We see lots of English people, all of whom refuse to be inconvenienced.  They know someone may be missing, and they lie to Iris’s face about it.  Terrible.

There’s even a condescending Oxford professor who I could not hate more.  If he was a doctor, I could easily imagine him as the husband from The Yellow Wallpaper. He’s the first to suggest that Iris may need to be committed for ‘observation’.  A doctor on the train, closely allied with the Croatian family Iris believes is responsible for Miss Froy’s disappearance, whispers in everyone’s ear about how Iris might be taken care of.  Drugged and shipped off to an asylum.  This is the bad guy saying this–but it’s also the ‘good guys’ saying this.  The Oxford professor. The love interest!

Let’s talk about the love interest.  Tom Hughes (from Cemetery Junction and Silk) plays Max Hare, a young man who agrees to help Iris for the obvious reason that she’s quite beautiful.  She needs his help because she doesn’t speak the language(s) of the region. The professor is his professor.  Max has just met Iris, so he’s understandably unsure of whether to believe her.  She is sure of herself, but she acts very flighty, and everyone else contradicts her statements.  Max believes her because he’s young and she’s beautiful and he wants to help her. But…his belief wavers at critical points.  Talked into calming her by the professor and the doctor, he slips her a sedative.  Uses her trust in him to give her drugs, believes he’s acting in her best interest.  Not his best moment.

There are some really interesting themes in this story.  It definitely makes a fairly obvious comment about the English and their morality–though it is important to note that nearly all of the people who kept quiet in the beginning, tell the truth in time to help.  The story is also pretty xenophobic, with the Slavic Baroness as the villain of the piece, and some institutional corruption thrown in to make you really want to stay in England for the rest of your life and never venture onto that savage continent.  But the thing that bothered me most about it was the threat of committing Iris.  This was a really big problem for many upper-class women.  Read some 19th-century literature and you’ll see it everywhere.  Lady Audley’s Secret, The Woman in White.  Ladies who make trouble for their families, their husbands, or anyone in authority, are declared mentally unstable and shipped off to an asylum for the rest of their days.  Iris was particularly vulnerable, because she has no family and no advocates.

I really like Iris, actually. She’s independent to a fault, freely admits her own bad qualities (she’s selfish and impatient).  But at the moment when she can do something important, right a potential wrong, she doesn’t give up.  Of course, I am thoroughly irritated by the fact that she doesn’t see any need to speak other languages, and doesn’t understand why more foreigners don’t speak English.  Proves that it’s not just Americans who are known to think that way, however.

Problems exist with this TV movie, independent of any comparison to Hitchcock.  Some of the threads of the story are never picked up or explained. Red herrings are far more useful when they actually have an explanation in the end.  Iris hears shots fired when she’s walking around her hotel, at the very beginning of the story.  Her train ticket reservation is gone, and she has to bribe the attendant to get on the train. Someone hits her on the head when she’s waiting on the platform, and she nearly misses the train.  There are bodies near the track.  It’s all very eery, and works to give the audience many possible theories on whodunnit, but then those things are never explained later on.  I like a mystery that connects all of the dots, so that you don’t feel quite so much like you were manipulated.

That being said, I thought the acting was good and the set was really quite beautiful. The train gave a really claustrophobic feeling to the action, and the vague location in foreign lands made Iris seem more lonely and isolated from her own society and those likely to help and believe her.  Obviously the movie takes place in the first half of last century, but it still works.  Everyone who’s traveled somewhere they don’t speak the language has had moments of that same fear.  The difficulty of making oneself believed, and the feeling that this would never happen if you were home where you belong.  I have a personal story about getting lost with no money in Croatia in the middle of a rainstorm.  But that’s a story for a different blog.

Summer British TV

Summer and Winter seem to be when the best of the British channels finally hits our shores. This summer is no exception. Just because Doctor Who is over, and Downton Abbey is months away, don’t despair! There are a lot of premieres in Summer and early fall. Starting in chronological order:

Family Trees

Family TreeChris O’Dowd’s new show on HBO started last month, and I have really enjoyed it so far! It’ll be running every Sunday through early July. Chris plays Tom, a somewhat depressed, slightly pathetic man living in London. His great-aunt dies and leaves him a trunk of family paraphernalia. He gets interested in his history, and goes about tracing his family lineage by finding out more about the objects in the trunk. It’s a very British show, so far, but later Tom does take a trip to the states to find out more about one branch of his family. It’s a hilarious show, very self-effacing and extremely odd. Tom’s sister, uses a monkey puppet to voice all her strangest and most offensive thoughts. She has conversations with this monkey all the time; she goes everywhere with the monkey. Tom also has a best friend, Pete, who is dumb as a post, and his dad is played by the always hilarious Michael McKean (of Clue and Spinal Tap fame). The show relies on awkward and embarrassing moments to make you laugh, which is a theme with British TV I think. Probably because awkward situations are the biggest fear of most English people.

Here’s a trailer (though I must warn you that it plays up the American part of the show far more than has happened in each episode yet):

In the Flesh

In the FleshThis is a miniseries that started June 6th. I’m not a zombie person, okay? I’ve read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but that’s about it. Okay, I’ve seen Zombieland. And 28 Days Later. And Shaun of the Dead…okay I’ve consumed more zombie books/movies than I thought. Still, it’s not a concept I’m particularly attracted to. On the other hand, this is only a 3-part miniseries, so I might as well give it a try. It aired in the UK and March, to generally positive reviews. These zombies are presented as a socially-marginalized minority, have been diagnosed with PDS (Partially Deceased Syndrome), and have been rehabilitated with medication and cosmetics. It sounds vaguely like True Blood‘s approach to vampires. At least In the Flesh won’t be just another scary movie a la Dawn of the Dead. I’m willing to give it a try. My only qualm is that I’m not very good with gore. Even in comedy films like Shaun of the Dead, I’m horrified by the sights and sounds associated with…zombies eating human flesh. Particularly while said human is alive. But it’s on BBC America, so it can’t be too bad. Here’s the trailer:

On June 23rd, the second season of Copper premieres.

Copper trioI was on the fence about this show throughout the first season. The three characters I liked (conveniently pictured above) are all coming back, so I’m going to give it a try (new motto for me?). This show always seems to be on the edge, teetering on the precipice of me not wanting to watch it anymore. I dislike the violence and blatant corruption, but I like the fact that it is set in the 19th century, and I think it always has potential to be a really great show. I’m hoping this year, now that it is a bit more established, it will reach that potential. Here is the trailer:

Also, on June 30th, the twentieth season of Top Gear premieres in the UK. No word yet on BBC America’s air dates, but last season they were only about a week behind, so hopefully more info will be forthcoming.

In early July, PBS will begin airing Endeavour, a prequel to the long-running Inspector Morse detective series. I’ve only seen one or two episodes of Inspector Morse, so this wasn’t on the top of my Must-See list. But, I had second thoughts when I saw who they cast as Morse:

EndeavourAdd to the obvious appeal of…whoever this guy is…it’s still set in Oxford. Oxford is so picturesque, and so quintessentially English (it’s what we think of in America when we think of an English village) that I could watch just about anything that takes place there. Plus, I have a certain weakness for incredibly smart, rail-thin detectives, even when they are not played by Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s only 4 or 5 episodes, so I’m going to go ahead and watch. I hope not much will be lost on me for not having followed the original series closely. Trailer is here:

The same night Endeavour premieres, the biggest thing since sliced bread is set to hit BBC America.

BroadchurchDavid Tennant stars in Broadchurch and uses his Scottish accent, which is my favorite thing in the world. This show was a huge hit in the UK this Spring, and I’ve been waiting anxiously for it since. A second series has already been announced.

It’s a whodunnit murder mystery set on the Dorset coast. In addition to Tennant, Olivia Colman co-starred and co-produced the show, and Arthur Darvill (Rory!) also co-stars. This is at the top of my Must-See List, FYI. Trailer:

Since I will be thoroughly busy watching all of these shows, I’m glad there is a bit of a break before more begin. The next one starts August 18th. It’s called The Lady Vanishes.

The Lady VanishesPBS is airing this remake of a Hitchcock thriller about a woman who goes missing, and another who tries to alert authorities about the incidence, but is not taken seriously. Listen, I tend to think any remake of a Hitchcock film is just a terrible idea. Are they going to improve on his direction? No. Is the addition of color going to add more suspense and creepiness? No. Are there modern actresses/actors who could play these roles better than the likes of Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart? Hell no. But, this actually got pretty good reviews, so I’m going to watch and keep an open mind. I’ve never seen the original, so that should help. Trailer:

At the end of August, PBS is also airing Silk, a legal drama. Prepare your powdered wigs, we’re off to the Old Bailey!

SilkI don’t have a lot of info on this one, partially because the title is very hard to Google well. Apparently it deals with two rival barristers. PBS is airing it in 3 two-hour increments from August 25th-September 8th. Bonus-it features Rupert Penry-Jones, of Whitechapel. Less of a bonus–his character looks like a d-bag, judging by the trailer:

Next, starting September 3rd, the all important Idris Elba returns to my life on BBC America.

luther series 3You gorgeous man, you.

There’s not a proper trailer for this one yet (that I could find), but they made an ‘announcement trailer’

Judging by this video, I’m guessing the episodes for the new season will disturb me just as much (if not more) than the last two seasons. Don’t care. Idris Elba calls, and I must answer.

Last, but not least:

The ParadisePBS is airing this one on October 6th, and calling it The Paradise. It’s an adaptation of an Emile Zola novel, and was sort of squared off against Mr. Selfridge when it aired in the UK, because of the similar subject matter. The show revolves around the first department store in NE England. It looks a little more soapy to me, based on the trailer. But I plan to watch and compare. Bonus–Arthur Darvill is also in this one (briefly).

Beyond here, there be trailers:

I’m going to be a busy blogger over the next 3 or 4 months. Yay!

Mr. Selfridge on PBS

Mr. SelfridgePBS recently finished airing the first season of Mr. Selfridge, a period drama based on the true story of the American self-made man that created one of the first English department stores–a store that still stands today, though it is far too expensive for me to have purchased anything there. The show aired early in the year in the UK on ITV, and did well enough that they have ordered a second season, to premiere in 2014.

I was concerned about Jeremy Piven, because he seems so slimy in most of his roles, but I really loved him and I loved this show. Piven plays the eponymous lead, Harry Gordon Selfridge. The show begins with him arriving on the scene in London to scare up funding and publicity for a store that hasn’t even been built, on the ‘unfashionable end’ of Oxford Street.  Ten episodes make up the first season, most of which revolve around Harry and his home family, and Harry and his work family.  He has an endless amount of women causing problems in his life–to be fair, most of the problems are his own doing.

Harry Selfridge and his ladiesThere’s his patient and loving wife Mary clutching his arm.  She’s played by the wonderful Frances O’Conner, and endures quite a lot from a man who does love her, but is not the best at being faithful or attentive. On the left is Lady Mae, a connected noblewoman who Harry relies on to help him secure funding and fix publicity problems.  She is not the sort of woman you want to owe favors to, but she is the exact woman you do owe favors to if you want to get anything done.

On the right is Ellen Love, a showgirl with whom Harry begins an affair.  She is everything pathetic and typical about the other woman. Nothing but trouble, hopelessly naive and convinced Harry will leave his wife and children to be with her.

The work family focuses on a few main characters.  The most important of which is Agnes Towler. She ends up in a love triangle (square?  some shape…) with two men who work at the store, VictorAgnes, Henri and Victor (on the right) and Henri (on the left). Agnes is probably my favorite character in the show.  She supports herself and her brother, she’s strong and independent, and she’s quite creative.  My only slight gripe with her is that it’s never quite obvious to me why all the men are so violently in love with her.  Still, I enjoyed watching her story.

Also central to the action are Mr. Grove, the chief of staff at the department store, and Miss Mardle, the Accessories supervisor.

Mr. Grove and Miss Mardle

Though Mr. Grove is married to a very sick woman, the two are having an affair.  What we later learn is a very long-term affair.  Of course, no one at the department store can know this as it is against the rules. Mr. Grove proved himself to be a thorough scoundrel in my book, more and more with each episode.  Miss Mardle was of interest to me, partially because she is played by Amanda Abbington, who is the ‘long-term partner’ of Martin Freeman.  Damn her.  Anyway, she will be in the next season of Sherlock, so I wanted to see her act in something.  She was good. Though the character is a very demur and repressed woman, she did convey a lot of depth of emotion.

Everyone in this show seems to have a secret relationship.  Harry and Ellen Love, Agnes and Henri, Mr. Grove and Miss Mardle, Agnes and Victor, Victor and Lady Mae…think of a combination and they’ve gone there.  I was most interested in Mrs. Selfridge’s relationship with a young painter, Roderick Temple, who bore a striking resemblance to a 6’5″ version of Neville Longbottom.

Mr. Selfridge Roderick Temple

Matthew Lewis

Who knew Neville Longbottom would grow up to look like that?  Anyway, his resemblance to Neville made me predisposed to like him.  Plus, artist points.  But he proves himself to be a scoundrel as well–I’m detecting a theme. None of these men are to be trusted!

Obviously all of these love stories have elements of the soap opera tropes about them.  I think what sets this show apart is the setting, the time and place and industry in which it is set.

It lends itself very naturally to comparisons with Downton Abbey–there are love stories, infidelities, a multitude of class interactions, and they are occupying the same piece of history–but they are very different shows.  DA is, at its heart, a soap opera. Everyone is either entirely good or entirely despicable (the only exception I can think of to this is O’Brien, but her brief foray into being a good person ended after a few episodes, so it barely counts).  The tension revolves around whether a couple will end up together, and which person Julian Fellowes will kill off.  The other big source of tension is the never-ending struggle to maintain the status quo.  The big house, the landed gentry, the old Tory way of life in the country.

Mr. Selfridge could not be more different. The fact that they exist at the same time, are set in the same time and in the same country is something I had to keep reminding myself.  Mr. Selfridge is actually set earlier than DA, which is even more strange. The show features a main character that wants to embrace everything new and modern.  In the 1910s, that means automobiles, explorers, ready-to-wear clothing, cosmetics for respectable women (gasp!), and a new-found love of shopping. The first episode shows Harry Selfridge going into a typical London shop.  Everything was kept under the counter, and you had to ask to look at individual items.  Selfridge wanted his customers to be able to see and touch the products, so that they might be enticed to buy something other than what they needed. He really understood what the experience of shopping could be.  Part of me wishes society hadn’t taken this turn to the ridiculously commercial and superficial, but it would have happened with our without Harry Selfridge.  I digress, but my point is that it is fascinating from a historical perspective to see these changes toward a modern society and away from the 19th century.

I think that facet, ultimately, is what made me enjoy this show (perhaps, though I am afraid to say it) more than Downton Abbey.  I really looked forward to watching it every week, and am looking forward to a second season.

The Bletchley Circle

The Bletchley CircleThe Bletchley Circle aired on PBS during April & May, though it aired in the UK in 2012.  Just a few weeks ago, iTV announced that they would be making a second series of the show.

Like Sherlock, this series (season) consists of only 3 episodes, 1 hour each.  Really, it’s more of a miniseries, and I was entirely prepared to describe it that way until I learned about a second season.  Miniseries don’t have further seasons, so I guess it is a drama series.

The show follows 4 women in 1950s London.  All four worked at Bletchley Park, the center of code breaking intelligence for the Brits during WWII.  Due to the Official Secrets Act, everyone had to hide their involvement in wartime divisions, etc., until something like the 1970s.  So these characters lead normal, horribly dull lives. No one knows that they’re code-breaking savants and were very important to wartime efforts.  They don’t get any recognition, even from family and friends.

It’s no wonder that Susan GraySusan Gray, the main character, is desperately in need of something to do. She has a dull husband and 2 kids, and is chained to the stove like any good ’50s housewife. After hearing reports on the news about a string of unsolved homicides, she can’t help but see some patterns in the details.  At first, she tries to go directly to the police, but she can’t work out all of the specifics of the crime without enlisting her 3 friends–whom she hasn’t seen since the war ended–to help her read the patterns. Gray would, if born today, end up an engineer, a statistician, a math professor. She’s exacting, efficient, a little too meticulous, a little boring.  She’s played by Anna Maxwell Martin, who I recognized from her roles in Bleak House (Esther Summerson) and North & South (Bessy Higgins).  I think AMM does a great job of portraying someone totally trapped by gender norms, who allows her life to be decided by feelings of what she should be doing.

In her determination to solve the puzzle and find the murderer, she enlists her three wartime compatriots:

Bletchley Circle MillieMillie, the free-spirited, world traveling, modern woman. She lives on her own, she’s tough, she takes care of herself.  You can tell how modern and independent she is because she is the only one who wears pants.  She is my favorite, obviously.

Bletchley Circle LucyLucy is the youngest and most naive.  She is very useful, though, because she has an eidetic memory.  Unfortunately, she also has an abusive, douchebag husband.  Lucy is maybe the most reluctant of the four. The violence they encounter during this investigation is probably worse than anything she’s ever imagined.  After all, they didn’t even have CSI back then–not even the original CSI.  They weren’t used to seeing dead bodies dissected and splashed about.  She explains that it’s also worse for her because her memory allows her to see bad things over and over again in perfect and horrible recollection.  That would not be my superpower of choice.

Lastly, there’s Jean.

Bletchley Circle JeanShe is the bossy older one, and she’s a librarian.  She looks and seems everything dowdy and unattractive at first.  There’s a quiet, assiduous power about her, though.  She is integral to the group because she has contacts in other libraries and with other intelligence workers that they use to dig up info on their killer. Jean is more reserved and less emotional, but she’s competent and hard-working.  She’s a Hufflepuff, in essence.

The ladies use their code-cracking skills to see other patterns in the killings–the girls were all on a journey, which they eventually narrow down to one specific train from St. Pancras.  He must be on the train too, then.

They discover over the three episodes that the man is a necrophiliac (they don’t use this word, but it’s made clear that each of the victims is raped after she’s killed).  They realize he has struck before, in other areas of England, and always pins the crime on someone else.  Shortly afterward, he does the same thing with his victims in London, but the girls (especially Susan) are adamant that the police have the wrong man.

It all comes back to the war. They discover the real killer is a man who was trapped underground during the blitz–trapped underground with a dead woman.  God only knows what he did with her body while he was down there, but it’s clear he’s trying to relive that with his victims.

As with any good mystery (as opposed to a police procedural), the authorities refuse to listen/believe what is truly going on.  The girls are on their own.  Susan, in particular, ventures too far in her search for the killer.  All the girls end up in peril, but Susan is alone with the man twice. He follows her home, threatens her family. I won’t say more about what happens next.

Primarily, I think this was a show about women.  In some ways it reminded me of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which was originally titled Men Who Hate Women. You have these horrible murders, all perpetrated against young women by a man.  You have strong female character(s) determined to stop them.

Of course, they’re radically different in setting and style, but the theme of misogyny and violence toward women is a commonality.  The Bletchley Circle shows the lives of very smart, capable women.  In their best circumstances, they are under-utilized and bored as housewives/waitresses/librarians.  More often, they are ridiculed by other men, criticized or hit by their husbands.  Even Susan’s husband, who is the most empathetic man in the show, doesn’t understand why Susan can’t just stay home with the children like a good wife would do.  Everywhere they look, they’re told to conform to what society believes they should be and do.

At the same time, these four women work together remarkably well, care about each other, and are deeply committed to solving this crime.  To saving other girls from this horrendous fate.  Not to sound totally ridiculous, but it is about women protecting women.

The people who worked on this show did a great job recreating a particularly bleak time in English modern history.  While America was having a huge economic boom in the late ’40s and early ’50s, the Brits were still whipping out their ration books and dealing with economic crises left and right.  It was a really austere place and time, even when you don’t consider the losses of the war (people, but also entire buildings and neighborhoods destroyed in the blitz).  The show captures the dull lives, the last lingering period of tradition before the upheaval of the ’60s.  The director even said they avoided sunlight when filming. They wanted to capture the lack of saturation, the lack of bright color that seemed to pervade the national consciousness during that time.

This wasn’t the greatest show in the world.  There were parts of the plot that were thrown in and then cast aside without much explanation.  The resolution didn’t make things precisely clear.  The bad guy ends up dead, but it’s not clear to the audience that the women have enough evidence to prove he was the one who killed those other girls.  I found myself wondering if they would be believed when they told their side of the story.  And what happened to the man falsely accused of the crime? Last we heard, he was scheduled to hang for it.  Now what? I suppose I’m supposed to have good faith and just assume it all worked out, but the justice system isn’t like that and I worried that despite the killer being dead, the nightmare was far from over.

On the other hand, I think it was a unique and interesting story.  I like period dramas as a rule, I like women protagonists as a rule.  If this had stretched for 10 episodes, I might not be as fond of it, but I’m definitely up for another 3-4 episode season (series).

Upcoming TV highlights

There are a whole score of new and returning shows on TV this month and next. I thought it might be a good time to discuss them.

First of all, the end of March marked the return of Doctor Who!

The Doctor and OswinAnd there’s a new outfit, a new TARDIS, and a new companion.  If you watched season 7, you already know Oswin.  Can I say already that I love her?  I love her.  She is super smart, she is a conundrum, and she is simultaneously friendly, playful, and not afraid to stand up to the Doctor.  Add to the wonderfulness of her character, she is a real enigma.  The Doctor doesn’t understand her, and he finds anything he doesn’t understand really mesmerizing.  It’s a totally different dynamic than the big brother relationship he had with Amy and Rory.  And I really like his new coat.  I feel like maybe I’m getting my expectations up too high.  Last season was a little disappointing for me, and I don’t want to get too excited and then be disappointed again. But…it’s probably too late.  I’ve seen the first episode and I really liked it, and I love their dynamic, and I’m really excited for what’s coming next.  Dr. Who is on BBC America on Saturday nights at 8 Eastern.

Orphan Black bannerPremiering that same night was the new series,  Orphan Black. Although this is on BBC America, it doesn’t actually seem to be a British show. It is set in Canada, I believe, though it is never explicitly stated.  The ‘main’ character, Sarah, is British, as is her best friend Paul.  Only the actors aren’t actually British, but whatever.  The show seems interesting; I haven’t made my mind up about it yet.  It begins with Sarah (a woman with questionable morals and a shady background) seeing a woman, Beth, who looks exactly like her, jump in front of a train.  She takes over Beth’s seemingly swanky life (wasn’t this the plot to that Sarah Michelle Gellar show, Ringer?), mostly based on the fact that the woman had money and nice clothes.  Remind me to never take over my dead clone’s life based on her clothing quality, because it just doesn’t turn out well.  She has to get to know Beth’s boyfriend (including possibly the most graphic sex scene I’ve ever seen on a non-premium channel), deal with a police inquest over a shooting in the line of duty (oh, Beth was a cop?) and a mysterious safety deposit box full of birth certificates.  Sarah proves herself to be pretty stupid in this first episode.  Her goal is to get her daughter back from whomever is caring for her, and to start a new life.  Her first plan is to steal heroin from her ex and sell it for $20k.  Her next plan is to have her best friend identify Beth’s mangled body as Sarah, and steal all of Beth’s savings.  It never occurs to her that her daughter might find out that Sarah has been declared dead, but of course that is what happens.  She seems to really lack the ability to think about consequences, but we know very little about her back story, except that she is an orphan.

This show is iffy.  Could turn out well, could be implausible and ridiculous.  I’m going to give it a few more episodes before I make a verdict.  It’s on after Doctor Who, Saturdays on BBC America at 9 Eastern.

Mr. SelfridgeThe last weekend in March was a big one for me! Also premiering, on PBS this time, was Mr. Selfridge, a proper British period drama about Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of the eponymous store on Oxford Street.  I had no idea he was American, but apparently he emigrated from Chicago to open the world’s best department store in London.  It just finished airing in England, so kudos to PBS for getting it over here in less than 6 months.  They’re getting better!

Jeremy Piven plays a non-douchebag, which I didn’t approve of at first.  Have they seen Entourage?  I haven’t, I’ll admit, but his suits were too shiny for me to see him as a non-douche.  Right? Look at this picture and then argue with me:

Ari Gold

So, I’ll reiterate that I wasn’t sure about all this, but Jeremy Piven is really good!  It helps that the character is bombastic and grandiose. He needs to act that way because, as we learn in the very first episode, he is in deep trouble with money.  He needs a lot of money, press, and publicity to make his store a hit, so he has to be more confident than he is.

The show follows Mr. Selfridge, obviously, but it is also a Downton-esque ensemble cast of high- and low-class characters. There are: his wife, who meets a (very) handsome artist at the National Gallery; the shopgirl Agnes Towler who works in the accessories department and her struggles with her brother, her father, and her suitor; other employees in the store both friendly and not; Miss Love, the actress and potential mistress for Mr. Selfridge; ruthless investors in the store; and I’m sure there will be more in later episodes.

There were a lot of interesting dynamics between classes, like any British drama worth its name.  Add to that, the genuinely interesting concept of the first true department store.  Most shops prior to this time period, especially in England, did not have displays as we do now.  There were counters, and you would go up and ask to see a specific type of glove or hat, etc.  Or, if you were wealthy, you would have a dressmaker, milliner, etc., come to your house for a fitting in your own home.  The art and hobby of shopping wasn’t the same.  Ready-to-wear clothing wasn’t the same, either.  So seeing this revolution happen in the show is intriguing.  I found the first episode really entertaining and cannot wait for the next episode.  Hopefully the quality stays the same throughout.  My only complaint is that in the intro on PBS, Laura Linney was talking about the show and described it using the following words about Mr. Selfridge: “He was the first person to know what women really want.  They want to go shopping.”

Oh, Laura Linney.  Why?  Why would you say that? Who wrote that?  Blech.

The Spies of WarsawAttention all Doctor Who fans! David Tennant is returning to our TV screens!  For a limited time only!  This is a two-part mini-series on BBC America, about a WWII era spy.  It begins in 1937, in Poland, France, and Germany.  David Tennant stars as Col. Mercier, a French ‘military attaché stationed in Poland. He alone sees the war coming, where his comrades don’t want to admit what is happening in Europe.  I don’t know much about the plot yet, but the NY Times called describes it almost as a whodunnit, more like a Christie novel than Casablanca, which it seems to want to be.  There is a love triangle, but the upcoming War is the real story of the mini-series.  Also according to the Times, despite the weaknesses in Spies of Warsaw, “there is nothing more satisfying than a prewar espionage story that shows, up close and told-you-so, how most of Europe slept through Hitler’s rise.”

It’s playing on BBC America on April 3rd and 10th, but I’m quite certain they will replay it several times over the next month or two.

Although I didn’t watch it, I should mention that the second season of Call the Midwife also premiered at the end of March. It airs every Sunday night on PBS, and is also available on their website.

Also coming soon on PBS is something I’m really excited to see: The Bletchley Circle

The Bletchley CircleThis aired last year in the UK.  Set in 1952, it follows four women who worked as code breakers at Bletchley Park (the main center for decryption/codebreaking in the UK during WWII).  If that wasn’t bad ass enough, it’s also a murder mystery. Police are overlooking a pattern in the killings, but these code-breaking badass ladies in their cardigans are smart enough to see it. It’s only a 3 part mini-series, but it sounds awesome. I love to see women in period pieces that have more to do than just swoon and get married.  The Bletchley Circle premieres on PBS on April 21st.

Looks like it’s going to be a great spring for us anglophiles!