I have noticed that a certain question comes up in conversations on Zoom, on the phone, by message and in person: “Have you seen anything good lately?”
Television’s Magic Window
The pandemic has restricted our activities, forcing us to spend much more time at home. Gone are the activities that would have taken us outside the house. After months of trying new skills, after a year of assaults on our minds and emotions, after the trauma of non-stop disease and death, we look through the magic window of TV for some relief.
Watching television gives us a number of things:
- It occupies our minds
- It shows us a time when we didn’t have to wear masks
- It brings back the joy of family gatherings and celebrations
- It shows us when people could go actually places and do things
- It reminds us of what it was like to hug and kiss our loved ones
While we may not be able to do any of those things personally during this crazy pandemic year, we can at least turn on the telly and participate vicariously. So, we do. And we all have our pandemic watchlists of what we liked and recommend to others.
Trading the Good Stuff
Like kids with Beanie Babies, we trade the good stuff. We all have different taste, of course. The show you liked most I might find unwatchable and my favorite series might bore you to tears. But a central watchlist always exists, filled with new shows and series that make the rounds and build a popular audience.
I have written several posts on my Pandemic Watchlist. If you missed them, you can catch up at these links:
- The Pandemic Diary: TV Watch List
- The Pandemic Television Watch List: Part 2
- The TV Watch List: Version 3
- Pandemic Watch List #4: International
Appreciating Cable TV
Before starting Episode 5 of the Pandemic Watchlist, let me just say thank goodness for cable TV. Imagine trying to get through this with three networks plus public television. After eight months of sitcoms with laugh tracks, superficial dramas, and feel-good human-interest stories, we would all be stark raving looney.
Having admitted that, here are some new suggestions; shows that we enjoyed, and you might, too. My watchlist has Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down and The Jury is Out.
Watchlist: Thumbs Up
The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)
“Eight year-old orphan Beth Harmon is quiet, sullen, and by all appearances unremarkable.
That is, until she plays her first game of chess. Her senses grow sharper, her thinking clearer, and for the first time in her life she feels herself fully in control. By the age of sixteen, she’s competing for the U.S. Open championship. But as Beth hones her skills on the professional circuit, the stakes get higher, her isolation grows more frightening, and the thought of escape becomes all the more tempting. Based on the book by Walter Tevis.”
A big Thumbs Up for this new series from Netflix. We were riveted from start to finish. The compelling story, mixed with fifties and sixties period touches, the beautifully drawn characters, the travel, the drama, and Beth’s fashions, make this an all-around hit. Added bonus: no violence, no bloodshed, and no gore. Don’t miss The Queen’s Gambit. Really.
“On the run from his London past, DCI Tom Mathias, a brilliant but troubled man, isolates himself on the outskirts of a town filled with secrets as dark and destructive as his own. Partnered with the intelligent and complex DI Mared Rhys, they form an engaging relationship as they embark on solving cases that involve the ultimate anti-social crime, murder.”
When I wrote about this series in the last Watchlist, we had barely scratched the surface of its first season. Now that we’ve seen all of the three seasons (two long and one short), I feel like I have lived in Wales for weeks. As it is a mystery series, you can’t escape some violence and bloodshed but it’s all in the service of the story—and none of it is overdone or glamorized.
The characters grow and develop from season to season until you might know them personally. Plus, there’s an ongoing mystery behind the day-to-day police work that keeps you wondering. Highly recommended.
“An ER doctor, who fled his native Syria to come to Canada, must overcome numerous obstacles to resume a career in the high stakes world of emergency medicine.”
Here’s one on an old-fashioned broadcast network. I gave up on doctor shows when ER ended its long run. But this medical drama has a different spin, one that makes the standard Emergency Room stories much more interesting.
Doctor Bashir Hamed deals with stresses that no native-born Canadian citizen must confront: discrimination both obvious and hidden, financial strains, and demands that pull him back to Syria. It’s on Tuesday at 10:00 pm on NBC. We’re enjoying it.
Coroner (The CW)
“A newly appointed coroner investigates a string of mysterious deaths in Toronto.”
That doctor is a woman recovering from both the death of her husband and some nasty post-mortem surprises. Dr. Cooper’s family issues complicate her work as the coroner in Toronto. She’s now a single mom and her newly acquired boyfriend has PTSD from his military service.
As with any forensics-based show, there’s a certain ick factor but it doesn’t take over the story. Coroner is on Wednesday at 9:00 pm on The CW. We happily included this show on our watchlist.
Watchlist: Thumbs Down
Fargo– Season 4 (Netflix)
I enjoyed previous seasons of this series but backed out of this one. Gangs and organized crime don’t interest me, even in an historical setting. Male-on-male brutality interests me even less. I watched a few episodes and then said, “No, thanks.” I don’t miss it. My husband is still following this season, though.
The Jury Is Out
The 100 (Netflix)
“Set ninety-seven years after a nuclear war has destroyed civilization, when a spaceship housing humanity’s lone survivors sends one hundred juvenile delinquents back to Earth, in hopes of possibly re-populating the planet.”
With so little science fiction on TV these days, I thought I would catch up with this long-running series about a dystopian future. The first few episodes are off-putting, populated as they are with self-centered teenagers running amok, concerned only with fun and sex. That gets old pretty fast but, fortunately, so do they. As the reality of surviving on a devastated planet with a population of hostile survivors sets in, the kids start making tough decisions.
Half of the show is set on the Ark, a failing habitat in geosync orbit over the earth. These survivors have their own problems and a distressing tendency to “float” troublemakers right out the airlock door.
I’m still only a few episodes in, but I think it’s a keeper. As The 100 has, appropriately, 100 episodes in the can, I won’t get through this series for a while.
“Fifteen years after the Crusades ended in defeat, a veteran knight becomes master of his order’s Paris temple and discovers a shocking secret. We see the final days of the Knights Templar in the fourteenth century.”
Having dipped my toe into the history of the 13th and 14th century French kings in the The Accursed Kings novels, I decided to try this cinematic version. After two episodes, I have encountered some familiar characters and quite a few historical anomalies.
So far, nothing has thrown me out of the series, which I watch as I fold laundry. That could change. I’m not averse to dramatic accents like improbable romances or characters who are deleted to simplify the story. But I’m picky about major historical errors and it’s taking me a while to accept Downton Abbey’s butler as Pope Boniface VIII. Still, I have Mark Hamill to look forward to.
Enola Holmes (Netflix)
“When Enola Holmes-Sherlock’s teen sister-discovers her mother missing, she sets off to find her, becoming a super-sleuth in her own right as she outwits her famous brother and unravels a dangerous conspiracy around a mysterious young Lord.”
Enola Holmes finally came out and was highly enjoyable. Millie Bobby Brown does an excellent job as Sherlock’s fiery younger sister. Backed by Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin and Helena Bonham Carter, she takes us on a non-stop quest for her vanished mother that becomes a journey of self-discovery.
This movie is excellent for children, as well. You don’ t need to worry about language, sex, violence, or gore. Enola Holmes doesn’t need any of that to keep viewers engrossed.
More Original Series on the Way
That’s it for this week. More original series are coming from Netflix and HBO, CBS All Access, and Amazon Prime. Probably Hulu, too, but we don’t pay for that. If we’re going to watch TV, we might as well watch the good stuff and I’m happy to share our discoveries.
If you have found something good that I haven’t yet covered, please let me know. We’re always looking for recommendations on excellent new series.