I have been reading and hearing about how much more TV people have been watching since the pandemic started. Lockdowns, partial lockdowns, stay-at-home orders and just plain bad weather have kept us all inside more. The results have been interesting as people:
- Dress down all the time. Casual wear has become all-the-time wear. I put on jeans, though, no daytime pajamas for me.
- Eat dinner earlier. You’re home. You’re hungry. Why wait? I’ve resisted this one, too. We eat dinner at pretty much the usual time.
- Watch more TV. Well, yeah. While we have resisted the previous trends, our TV watching is a different story. My husband has the news on a lot during the day. If not, he puts it on at 5:00 pm.
The Value of Television
Non-news programs take us out of our homes and out of our worries, letting us travel or lose ourselves in someone else’s stories. Documentaries inform and enlighten us. I appreciate that.
Given the reduced amount of programming being produced due to the pandemic, the streaming services have reached out to other countries. That let’s us explore international shows, as I wrote about in the international version of my pandemic watchlists.
Now I’m up to Version 6 of my television recommendations — for better or worse.
Version 6: Thumbs Up
Of the programs we have watched lately, here are the ones I recommend in Version 6 of my Pandemic Watchlist series.
Berlin Station (Epix)
“Follows the activities of a CIA station in Berlin as a case officer tries to unearth the source of a leak.”
All three seasons of this series are riveting and it puzzles me why Epix cancelled it and denied us a fourth season. These agents belong more to the John LeCarré school of spy-craft than the flamboyant James Bond type. We see nitty-gritty work in parts of Berlin that never make it into the travelogues.
This show gives us no big A-list stars here, just a highly talented cast of people you have seen before in supporting roles. Berlin Station gives them a chance to shine and show us just how well they practice their craft.
The Undoing (HBOMax)
“Grace Fraser is living the only life she ever wanted for herself. She’s a successful therapist, has a devoted husband and young son who attends an elite private school in New York City. Overnight a chasm opens in her life: a violent death, a missing husband, and, in the place of a man Grace thought she knew, only a chain of terrible revelations.”
If you want to detach yourself from reality and follow the tribulations of Manhattan’s privileged elite, this show gives you lots of gorgeous setting, beautiful homes, and colorful fashions. We watch a murder mystery unfold on the Upper East Side and the Hamptons, stomping grounds of the privileged and wealthy.
NOTE: In both of these shows you will see an actor named Ismael Cruz Cordoba. He’s new to me but his work in both Berlin Station and The Undoing demonstrates his range. In one, he depicts a tough-as-nails CIA agent while in the other he’s the victim’s outraged husband. What a change!
The Expanse (Amazon Prime)
“In the 24th century, a disparate band of antiheroes unravel a vast conspiracy that threatens the Solar System’s fragile state of cold war.”
When SyFy cancelled the best hard science fiction on television, Amazon Prime came to the rescue. Season 6 they give us better quality overall: better sound, cinematography, editing, and complexity of story. SyFy’s loss is our gain.
While the Rocinante remains in space dock for refitting, we follow the crew from Earth to the Belt as they reconnect with their lives they had before they encountered the proto-molecule. Can’t wait to get back to the Ring.
Alex Rider (IMDB)
“After the death of his uncle, the 14-year-old schoolboy Alex Rider is forced by the Special Operations Division of the UK’s secret intelligence service, MI6, into a mission which will save millions of lives.”
We get more spies, only this time more Bond than LeCarré. This series takes its material from a very successful series of young-adult graphic novels by Anthony Horowitz. Watching it is like getting James Bond’s origin story, complete with a Swiss Peak and psychopathic villain.
“Politician Peter Laurence’s private life is falling apart. Shamelessly untroubled by guilt or remorse, he seeks to further his own agenda whilst others plot to bring him down. Can he out-run his own secrets to win the ultimate prize?”
This series reminds me of the original British House of Cards in that it gives us the machinations behind what seem to the voters like considered, logical decisions. There’s sex and skullduggery but mostly we see overweening ambition disguised by false humility. Whose back will that knife end up in next?
NOTE: This is also Hugh Grant’s second appearance. Here he’s a British politician and in The Undoing, he’s the husband, a pediatric oncologist.
The Crown (Netflix)
“The Crown tells the inside story of two of the most famous addresses in the world — Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street – and the intrigues, love lives and machinations behind the great events that shaped the second half of the 20th century. Two houses, two courts, one Crown.”
That description puts more emphasis on 10 Downing Street than it really deserves in previous seasons of this series. Gillian Anderson’s depiction of Margaret Thatcher is memorable, however. Season six of this hit series about Queen Elizabeth II doesn’t disappoint.
Its depictions of the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana have raised a hullaballoo in England and put both the Prince and his current wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall on the defensive. Watch and you’ll see why.
My Octopus Teacher (Netflix)
“A filmmaker forges an unusual friendship with an octopus living in a South African kelp forest, learning as the animal shares the mysteries of her world.”
I admit that it took multiple recommendations before I turned on a documentary about an octopus. Boy was I wrong. This fascinating documentary film grabs you right from the start and turns you inside out. You will be so engrossed by the spectacular photography and the life of its eponymous octopus that you will forget Craig Foster is free-diving (no tanks) in freezing cold water (no wetsuit). I dare you to watch My Octopus Teacher and not be moved by it.
Version 6: Thumbs Down
We dipped a toe into these shows but I cannot recommend any of them.
Virgin River (Netflix)
“After seeing an ad for a midwife, a recently widowed big-city nurse moves to the redwood forests of northern California, where she meets an intriguing man.”
Does anyone actually live in a small town like this, where everyone gets all up in a newcomer’s business, a doctor acts like it’s the forties, and a handsome bartender turns up everywhere? If so, I want to know where. We found this series so annoying a predictable that we never made it through the first episode.
Another Life (Netflix)
“Astronaut Niko Breckenridge and her young crew face unimaginable danger as they go on a high-risk mission to explore the genesis of an alien artifact.”
A science fiction series with Katee Sackhoff as a kick-ass mission commander—how could I not watch? We did and actually made it through four episodes before hitting the escape pod. I think of Another Life as Eighth Graders in Space.
Supposedly Niko assembled and trained this team but they show no signs of being either trained or on a team. Put a crew of drama queens on a ship to nowhere in which everyone makes stupid, unprofessional decisions and you’ve got Another Life.
Black Narcissus (FX)
“Adaptation of the 1939 novel by Rumer Godden. A group of nuns face challenges in the hostile environment of a remote old Himalayan palace that they wish to make a convent.”
This series has amazing cinematography of India and the Himalayas, an excellent cast, and a script based on a good novel but wastes it all by focusing on the hidden sexual desires of nuns. For those of us who had nuns in parochial school, this amounts to a big “Eeww.”
Back in the fifties, movies and TV shows about Catholics were all the rage as Protestant America gradually acknowledged the existence of another Christian faith in the country. Stories about the sanctity of confession and the mysteries of nuns’ lives abounded. I think we have moved on from that.
NOTE: Black Narcissus gives us Diana Rigg’s last performance before her death this year.
That’s it for Version 6 of my Pandemic Watchlist — and on to Version 7. We have more to look forward to, mostly from the premium cable channels. Tonight, we’ll check out The Stand on CBS All Access. I read the book (first version) and I loved it. Stephen King’s work fits better into a series where it can take its time than being crammed into a two-hour movie. Fingers crossed.
If you enjoyed Version 6, catch up on my Thumbs Up / Thumbs Down recommendations on these previous watchlists.