I believe in America

OK, it’s time to round up the television that’s currently not just occupying my evenings and weekends, but owning me. And when I say television, I mean drama, and when I say drama I mean American drama, as American drama is all that matters. (For balance, and to prove that I am not being racist, I watched a double-episode of Silent Witness last night, and it was excellent in every way, written by Andrew Holden and directed by Sue Tully, so let’s bear that in mind.)

Sons Of Anarchy has just started on FiveUSA. (I sometimes wonder where I’d be without FiveUSA, FX, Sky1, More4, E4 and Hallmark. Oh, occasionally the BBC will buy something in, but they usually mistreat it, and us.) I had this recommended to me way in advance – it’s two seasons in, on FX, over there, with a third already booked – and I must say it’s filled the horrible vaccuum left by Breaking Bad: yet another British actor, this time Queer As Folk‘s Charlie Hunnam, essaying what sounds to my ears like an impeccable American accent as the heir apparent of a rough, tough Hell’s Angels chapter operating out of the Californian town of Charming. The pilot episode pushed all the right buttons, setting up the Sopranos-like business, run by ailing old bear Ron Perlman. It’s a soap opera that allows a peek in on another world, in this case, hairy bikers fighting internecine battles with other gangs, running guns, keeping meth off their patch (oh yes!) and being secretly sweet to their wives and in one case, being an Elvis impersonator. Created by Kurt Sutter, who did The Shield, it’s hard as nails and yet its underbelly is soft. (“Soft”, in fact, is what the gang think Hunnam’s character, Jackson, is – and “soft” is what got his legendary dad killed.) So, just one episode in, and I’m in.

House continues to be my current favourite. Although we’re up to date with Season Six on Sky1, FiveUSA have shown Season One and are now almost through Season Two, which is handy, as Season Three is on Hallmark (we’re saving it up until Two is finished, for fear of losing the plot.) In many ways, I’m blessed to have discovered it so late, and to have so much back catalogue to enjoy. Yes, yes, every episode is the same, but only in the sense that House and his mutating team have to solve a medical mystery and along the way make it worse, then make it better, then make it even worse, then make it better, running up what must be an extortionate bill with all those tests and treatments that don’t work, and yes they always discount lupus, but that’s part of the fun. The hook is not the mystery, it’s the relationships – between House and Wilson, House and Cuddy, House and Cameron, Chase and Cameron, Wilson and whoever his girlfriend/wife is, and so on. In the ep we watched last night, House vs. God, it was House and God. Brilliant stuff. Dazzling. One episode is never enough in one sitting. Always the mark of a truly magnificent drama (see: The Wire, The Sopranos, Battlestar Galactica, West Wing, Breaking Bad). I can’t believe I watched the first episode when it first aired, years ago, and didn’t like it. I didn’t buy Hugh Laurie’s accent. How ironic is that? Mind you, I didn’t like Curb on first viewing either, so I can’t be trusted. And let’s face it, Laurie has improved so much with time. In the current run, he’s skyscraping.

Is Nurse Jackie a drama or a comedy? It’s half an hour long, which in network TV terms means it is a comedy, and yet there’s no laughter. I say it’s best viewed as a drama, just like Up In The Air, was was mis-sold as a comedy, I think. Jackie seems to be the first big commission for creators Liz Brixius, Linda Wallem and Evan Dunsky, which makes its ease and sass and grit even more astonishing. Edie Falco is, of course, strong in the title role, and the action revolves around her double life and nursey skills, but once again, and this is a recurring aspect of great US drama, the supporting characters obviously receive an equal amount of attention in the writing and the casting and the directing. (I saw some of a quite lame-looking, and very squealy, romantic comedy called Bride Wars yesterday and it was clear that once they’d case Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway, with a bit of Sex & The City cameo heft from Candice Bergen, they’d almost deliberately cast forgettable actors in the other parts, as if to highlight the talent of the two leads. You don’t get that feeling from great TV drama.) I won’t list the actors who bring so much to Jackie, but Merritt Weaver, who plays a flappy student, can steal a scene just by walking into a room and walking out again. Oh, and Eve Best, a British stage actress, actually plays a British doctor. That’s a novelty. What a shame BBC2 felt so excited about their new acquisition they ran it every night for the first week, and are now running it every Monday night. Isn’t that a form of sadistic cruelty?

And Glee, airing on E4 – even though it’s created by Ryan Murphy, who gave the world the gloriously preposterous Nip/Tuck (currently showing on FX), I had my doubts that this would tickle me. I was wrong to have those doubts. It’s arch and clever and camp and deeper than I expected, and manages to be sneery about the high school caste system while at the same time finding actual joy in the corridors. It’s not the pisstake I mistakenly took it to be. And there’s nothing ironic about the musical numbers – which are actually deftly staged – unless modern high school kids singing old songs that the grown-ups who write it remember from their childhoods is ironic. I sort of don’t give a fuck that it’s spawning hits in America – that’s something for the Fox accountants to rub their hands together about. Thanks to Jane Lynch, who is fast becoming the most reliable actress in anything, I fell for this pretty quickly, and if it really did hate High School Musical, it probably wouldn’t work. But it doesn’t. And it does.

For the record, I’m also watching Season Two of Prison Break on box set and still enjoying that. It’s not as if it’s any more ridiculous than Season One. Looking forward to the return of Hung. Gave the new season of Heroes a go, on pretty much the sole proviso that T-Bag from Prison Break is now in it, but there simply aren’t the hours in the day to get back into it, so that’s been shelved after one episode. I fear I may have to give the final season of Lost a crack, too, even though, as I’ve stated, there aren’t the hours in the day. Taped The Good Wife last night. High hopes for that. Uh-oh!

Oh, and I like Law & Order UK, unfashionably. And that’s, like, British. Yuck!

Oh, and if you think I’m not supernaturally excited about True Blood, returning soon to the mighty FX, you’d be wrong. I have been sent the first two episodes of Season Two, but I don’t want to watch them yet, for fear of being all frustrated at having to wait for the third, and the fourth, and the fifth. I may have to stop working and go bankrupt in order to fit all this in. Oh, and don’t moan at me for prioritising US drama over British drama, especially when I work in British TV and have written British drama and would love to write some more: I know we get the cream of their telly, and it’s not all The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, but enough of it is to make us feel ashamed of ourselves.

And I forgot to mention Mad Men in all the excitment, which has a lot to beat with Season Three this week on BBC4, as Season Two was sublime. *sighs*


31 thoughts on “I believe in America

  1. Managed to miss Nurse Jackie the first time round, so I must belatedly thank you for the recommendation. Half way through S1 just now and it's very good indeed, and although I think the impact of this kind of edgy "dramedy" has been lessened by the likes of Weeds and Californication (also both on Showtime) that doesn't stop it being a high quality show by any means. You're spot on about Merrit Weaver, too: fantastic performance. While House S6 is being predictably accused of being not as good as it used to be blah blah blah, recent episodes (including the brilliant "Wilson") have easily matched the quality of earlier seasons. Although the same can't be said for 24, which doesn't appear to be even trying anymore.Looking forward to Lost, of course, but more than that: Breaking Bad S3 in March. Oh yes. Promise to wait until UK TV buys it before ranting on about how good it is….

  2. The Wilson episode of House was, indeed, terrific. Wilson could be the star of his own series (who knew oncology would provide so many interesting human stories), but in actual fact, he's better where he is. And it's fascinating to watch his character grow and deepen over those earlier seasons. I look forward to Sky1 re-starting this season. We're a couple behind, I think?And yes, Bradley Walsh makes Law & Order UK – he's really found his role. Good to see Apollo from BSG in the sidekick role, too (although fans of – yes – UK drama, will still think of him as the junior officer in Hornblower). Law & Order UK is indeed teleplays from the US original, rewritten for a British setting and our legal system. Let us not underestimate the skill of the British writers in doing that.

  3. Agree that Nurse Jackie is best thought of as a Drama, and that it's excellent … can also add, as someone who has seen all of Series 1, it just gets better and better and builds up to a satisfying but somewhat unexpected conclusion.My only thing with the show, are we supposed to like Jackie? A lot of the time I don't think I did, which was fine in that it was still a great show and there were other characters to like, but I suspected you're supposed to sympathise with her much more than I did.

  4. So good to hear further support of US TV. I'm a big devotee myself with highlights being West Wing (of course), Sports Night, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip… spotted the running theme here? Yes, Aaron Sorkin is a scriptwriting deity in my eyes and it makes me weep that Studio 60 was cut short at 1 season. I'd only been watching it 10 minutes before I forgot who Chandler Bing ever was.I lap up US Sci-Fi / Genre stuff too having enjoyed Buffy and Angel very much, feel the same way about Firefly as I do about Studio 60 and am currently recording Dollhouse to watch in big back-to-back sessions soon.My Mum has just turned me on to Life on Mars (US) with the first episode hooking me just as the UK version did.As a final note, though less edgy, radical or stunningly written, NCIS is a cracking series with characters you can love and feel for. The boxsets are selling for fourpence ha'penny at the moment so you might want to give it a go.Dee

  5. Have tried NCIS: Los Angeles, Dee, and I found it most palatable. Much lighter in tone to the usual police procedural, and frankly knockabout back at base. FiveUSA, gawd bless 'em, are running the original NCIS from the start, right now!We have Firefly S1 box set but it keeps getting pushed to the back of the queue.

  6. I agree with all of these although House is so rampantly formulaic now that it's definitely lost its way. I also love Burn Notice (Mission Impossible meets The A Team with Bruce Campbell!) and Leverage has started with promise.I've also enjoyed Being Erica and Entourage but to come we have Breaking Bad season 2 on its way and The Good Wife has had great WoM. If only all TV could be this good.

  7. I insist, as much as one using the medium of Blog comment, that you promote Firefly to the front of the queue. It's only (sadly) 13 episodes plus it has fracking made-up swear words…

  8. Hi Andrew, Cheers for some box set ideas. I am finding TV a bit unreliable at the moment.You mention the sign of a good series being the need to watch more than one episode at a sitting. One New Years Day I was hung over and watched with my wife the first nine episodes of Prison Break Series 2 back to back. 40 mins x 9 = 6 solid hours!

  9. There's so much on at the moment my Sky+ is backed up like a Glasto khazi.I've got all of Nurse Jackie to watch, Breaking Bad, tons of Law & Order: SVUs and lots of Glees, but I did make time for The Good Wife, which was superb.Like you I think Law & Order: UK and Silent Witness are excellent. I shall be very upset if the BBC decides to axe the latter.As for Big Love, series one was shown on Five, but series two and beyond have not been. We had to buy the former from the US and as soon as the latter is available we're snapping that up too. I love that show.

  10. Keep forgetting that they redid the US Life On Mars. The Los Angeles version (Com Meany as the Gene Genie) was dreadful. Mind you, it did catch me like the UK version. ie. There's a good 90 minute movie in there.

  11. I watched the Good Wife last night and I thought it was excellent. Engrossing from the start.Haven't really seen any of the rest, although I'm surprised Mad Men isn't on your list. If you have somehow managed to miss it then season three begins on BBC Four tomorrow night. It's the most engaging tv show I've come across in years and I would thoroughly recommend it.Jed

  12. Hi Andrew liked your blog. Have you seen or heard or an Aussie series called "Underbelly". It's set in Melbourne during a fairly recent drug war. I think it was on FX but is coming to ITV next month. They're about to make their 3rd series shortly.

  13. So just why is US drama so good at the moment? I think there are 2 main reasons:1. Hollywood is in the dumper. Anyone with genuinely creative ideas knows they've got more chance of getting it made as a TV series than a film – the hollywood studios are too busy "reimagining" old movies/TV shows or showing off their 3D/CGI to be bothered with such things as character and story.2. The cable networks started making drama: FX, AMC, Showtime and, of course, HBO have all got into the drama business over the last couple of decades or so. These channels make relatively little original programming (only a couple of hours a week on average, with the rest of their schedules full of reruns or movies) so those series they do produce are the focus of all their talent, promotion and creative energy.Jon

  14. Good god, what a lot of TV.I'll tell you the way to be cured of too much TV, is have bleedin' kids. you would have thought you'd conk out on the evenings but no, you're cooking more meals to freeze, sewing up trousers, mending bikes. We had to rewind and start again with The Wire because we lost track. The only TV I'm watching right now is "Being Human" and "Survivors", and even that seems to only be on once every 2 weeks!Well, that and Jon Stewart at 8.30 but hell, you've got to do *something* while you're eating your tea.All told though, I actually prefer not going square eyed. Life is short.

  15. If I were you, I'd give up on Prison Break when you hit the end of Season 2. The storyline still has the merest hint of credibility about it up to that point (albeit homeopathically-diluted) : S1=people escape from prison, S2=people run away from prison trying not to get caught. But after that it's just guff.

  16. It's only really with the benefit of hindsight that that those of us who watched all 4 seasons of Prison Break are able to warn others not to bother past S1…Another vote of praise for the throwaway (but no less brilliant) Burn Notice. Between that, White Collar and the new Human Target on Fox there's a very old school 80's feel to some of the most recent action adventure shows. Not z bad thing, either!

  17. Andrew, do you know, you are the most enthusiastic person I (don't actually) know. It is delightful. I might even watch one of these things one day – and if I do, it will be down to you.CheersEvangeline

  18. BBC4 is usually pretty good to buy-ins. And 1 & 2 are only bad in the same way that Channel 4 is bad. (ITV1 doesn't really do imports, does it?) Only channels that don't expect high viewing figures can afford the luxury of sticking with something that doesn't attract them.Still, you won't have to worry about the BBC showing buy-ins soon, will you? Or anything aimed at the under-35s. (Makes me wonder what it'll be able to afford to make once the under-35s have been exempted from paying the licence fee.)Does your positive review mean House is a worthwhile re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes?

  19. Have you ever seen Deadwood, Andrew? I'm amazed it hasn't been mentioned in these comments. I suppose I shouldn't be all that amazed since it ended up being cancelled due to low viewing figures. But honestly, anyone who has watched it can't believe how that came about. Poor promotion maybe?Anyway, for me Deadwood is at least as good as the Sopranos, The Wire or West Wing. Incredible authenticity in the production, almost Shakespearean writing, and some of the best acting I've ever seen courtesy of our old friend Lovejoy (Ian McShane) and practically everyone else involved. I will gaze open-mouthed at anyone who isn't aroused with excitement from the first episode.

  20. I wish I had the time and inclination to get into these series but I cannot face tying myslef down to x hours a week for the next x weeks.My fear of commitment is legendary.

  21. Great to see Sons of Anarchy on something more obvious like FiveUSA rather than Bravo, but I wonder why FiveUSA haven't bothered to acquire Rescue Me, since the last season was absolutely fantastic, in fact all the seasons have been pretty darn fine, just got buried on Sky, until they got fed up of it, and now the last season was on itunes, but the first seasons getting reruns on Quest of all channels.craig

  22. I particularly admire American programme-makers' restraint in naming their shows. No cringeworthy, 'clever' puns, like ours. Can you imagine the awfulness that would have been inflicted on us had House been British? Or Glee? I shudder to think.

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