Dave, aka ackackattack, here. Last year I wrote about two tremendous, international TV series, Broadchurch and The Returned (Les Revenants). Ruth kindly asked that I write a guest post about what I’ve been watching lately.
In America it’s said we’re living in a ‘golden age’ of television here starting with The Soprano’s and The Wire going on all the way up to Breaking Bad and True Detective. Well frankly across the pond they’ve been having their own renaissance with their own original TV programming too. Especially of note is what is coming out of Britain, Sweden and Denmark. For those of you willing to brave thick accents, subtitled dialogue, different cultures and original programming you will be greatly rewarded. If you haven’t noticed, we Americans seem to be
stealing remaking foreign programs more and more lately… and not doing it nearly as well. Case in point FOX’s Gracepoint (Broadchurch), FX’s The Bridge (Bron/Broen), AMC’s The Killing (Forbrydelsen) and ABC’s Resurrection (Les Revenants).
In my 40+ years of consuming entertainment it’s getting harder and harder find original, challenging programming with well-drawn characters and compelling storylines. Especially in a world of sequels, franchises and remakes where the bottom line ultimately rules the day. But rather than be frustrated it just means is that I sometimes have to look outside the box to find what moves me. It just so happens that a lot of great content comes from TV these days… and not just here in America.
Some of these shows mentioned can be a challenge to find so I listed where they might be found at the end of each synopsis.
Rita stars the fabulous Mille Dinesen who plays a rebellious, flawed Danish schoolteacher trying to “save the children from their parents”. As a single mother of three older children she juggles everything to raise them the best that she knows how. Supposedly they remade it as a pilot for Bravo with Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) that didn’t get picked up. It’s hard to imagine the US remake touching this lighthearted dramedy with its mature themes that Europeans are so comfortable with that we Americans are so afraid of confronting. Curiously enough Dinesen is a dead ringer for Linda Hamilton. I swear you’ll say that to yourself, in your head, at least once an episode. Seriously.(US/Denmark/Sweden Netflix.)
2. Happy Valley
It’s the story of a kidnapping gone wrong not unlike Fargo but without the all the “you betcha’s”. Actually the tone of Happy Valley is actually more reminiscent of Broadchurch. Sarah Lancashire stars as Catherine Cawood, the police sergeant of a small English valley, who gets caught up in this twisted case. Ratcheting up the tension more is someone from her past who turns up, complicating matters all the more for Catherine. It’s a standout performance from Lancashire that is well worth your time. (US Netflix)
3. Black Mirror
It’s like a very dark, twisted version of The Twilight Zone crossed with Tales of the Unexpected. If you’re a fan of those shows you will love this. Being an anthology series there’s a different cast, setting and even reality for each show which makes it palatable in small doses. It should came as no surprise that Robert Downey’s production company has optioned one of the episodes to be made into a feature film. The first of six episodes in this series, entitled The National Anthem, is one for the ages. It will certainly test your mettle. All I can say is you have to see it for yourself. (UK Netflix)
4. The Bridge (Bron/Broen)
You might know this series which was remade by FX with Oscar nominees Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds) and Damon Bichir (A Better Life). This is the original Swedish/Danish co-production titled Bron/Broen starring the wonderful Kim Bodina (Nicholas Winding Refn’s Pusher). The body of a Swedish politician is found, cut in half and deliberately placed in the middle of a bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark. Falling under the jurisdictions of both countries, two detectives must work together to solve this mysterious murder. Later it is found out that the corpse is from two separate bodies. Chaos ensues. (Denmark/Sweden/UK Netflix)
5. The Killing (Forbrydelsen)
The Danish strike again with The Killing (Forbrydelsen). In what would be remade by Showtime, whose US creator drastically changes some of the story (and not for the better), this where it all began. Detective Sarah Lund is looking forward to her last day in Copenhagen before she moves to Sweden when a high profile rape and murder case comes up. Over the next 20 days, with implications reaching high up into government, she decides to stay and delve into the case of a particularly dangerous and intelligent murderer. (Denmark/UK Netflix)
Borgen, which is Danish for ‘The Castle’, is from the producers of The Killing (Forbrydelsen). It’s the story of a charismatic, female Danish prime minister faced with suddenly coming into power. It’s been favorably compared to the best seasons of The West Wing. Stephen King named it his favorite piece of pop culture of 2012. I know this is hard to believe but HBO is in the works to develop this series. (Available through Link TV on satellite via Dish Network or DirecTV)
Sean Durkin follows up his impressive debut film, Martha Marcy May Marlene (Elisabeth Olsen, John Hawkes), with this British series Southcliffe. It tells the nonlinear story of a series of deadly shootings in a fictional, rural English town. Starring Shirley Henderson (Trainspotting, Intermission), the truly underrated Eddie Marsan (The World’s End, Happy Go Lucky) and Sean Harris (Prometheus, Showtime’s The Borgias) who won a BAFTA for his chilling portrayal of the shooter Stephen Morton. (US/UK Netflix)
8. Hit & Miss
It’s a British drama, set in Yorkshire, about an Irish, transgender contract killer. The story begins when he comes to England after finding out he’s been named guardian of a son that he didn’t know he fathered. Despite its implausible sounding premise the show is remarkably quite compelling. It’s anchored by Chloë Sevigny (Boys Don’t Cry) who does the best work of her career here. Guys out there, be forewarned, it’s quite conflicting watching the lovely Sevigny play a pre-op transgender woman in this (think The Crying Game). LOL. (US Netflix)
9. Orphan Black
It’s hard to avoid seeing Tatiana Maslany’s name on the internet these days. Particularly for how she’s been snubbed by the Emmy’s for her work on this fascinating sci-fi show hailing from Canada on BBC America. The writing/directing team from the movie Ginger Snaps, Karen Walton and John Fawcett, created this fun, smart sci-fi series about cloning. To watch Tatiana Maslany portray no less than 7 distinctly different clones and then have them pretend to be one another while still in their original character is something you have to see. As one reviewer put it “she’s her own special effect.” BBC America On Demand. (UK/Denmark/Sweden Netflix)
Lastly I wanted to highlight two US shows that are excellent in their own right and are truly like nothing else currently showing on American TV.
Jeffrey Tambor should be on the Emmy shortlist next year for his performance as a father that comes out as transgender to his severely dysfunctional family. Amazon Prime has really stepped up with its first original series. Based on the life experiences of creator Jill Soloway’s (Six Feet Under) family. The large cast is quite extraordinary. It’s as unique as anything you’ll see this year. (Amazon Prime Video)
To say there is nothing like Rectify on American TV is an understatement. It’s a deliberately paced, southern Gothic story of redemption and the loss of one’s self. After 19 years on death row, Daniel, who was convicted of sexually assaulting and killing his 16 year old girlfriend, is released from prison after new DNA evidence surfaces. Struggling to fit into a small town that doesn’t want him and a family that doesn’t know how to accept him, he tries to adjust to his new found surroundings. Did Daniel actually do it? You won’t find out until well into the series and it’s really beside the point anyway. I can’t recommend this sleeper enough. Created by the actor Ray McKinnon who was best known as Rev. H. W. Smith on Deadwood. (The Sundance Channel OnDemand and Netflix)
Special thanks to our new *official* TV contributor Dave W (aka Ackackattack) whom many of you have *met* on the comment section here at FC :D Check out Dave’s profile and see if you share his fave movies and/or filmmakers/actors.
So have you seen any of these shows? Well, which one(s) are your favorite?