Friday, October 10, 2014

USA & UK TV Series, 4 of the Best!

Cracker, Robbie Coltrane (UK)
This is an excellent UK crime series featuring Robbie Coltrane as psychologist Fritz. He aids London detectives in murder cases. He has every vice, is loud and obnoxious BUT he is great at psyching out the criminal mind.  

"Cracker" is where Coltrane captured most of us as fans, well in advance of his Harry Potter role as Hagrid. Coltrane played a psychologist who lives large in the real world, indulging just about every vice there is. His wife leaves him because of the gambling only to start having an affair with her psychiatrist. Fitz has two teenagers who he sometimes parents. In short, he's a total mess in his own life, which makes him utterly believable as a psychologist. He is also an instructor at the university level but he is not a profiler. He doesn't work in generalities which is what a profiler does in making a capsule summary of who the killer is likely to be. No, Fitz goes banging around getting in everyone's face to solve his cases. When he interrogates someone, it is psychologically brutal.

The cases themselves are very good. We open with a serial murder. The chief suspect is an amnesiac who is found in a field near the railroad tracks covered in blood. All the young women have been murdered on trains. As Fitz tries to tear the suspect down, things no one else notices begin to bother him. Such as he spots the man has never worn a watch in his life. He makes none of the motions a person who has worn a watch makes plus he has no watch line on his wrist. How does someone who is using train timetables to murder women get by with never wearing a watch?


6 Feet Under, Michael C. Hall, Peter Krause (USA)
The show revolves around a family business which started out as a Mom & Pop (Fisher) and now has grown to pull in the grown children. There are three. They all live in the family funeral home business in Los Angeles except for the oldest son, who returns to them on the very first episode of season one.

There are the usual battles over which, if any, family members will continue the business. The gay son has been doing so but he has problems, not the least of which is that he is not very talented at it. His older brother has more charisma and his assistant has more talent, especially with "making up" the bodies so they display well. This assistant eventually will want to either be made a partner in the business or he will switch employers. This tension is also inevitable in family owned businesses when the children don't have all the needed talents to carry it on.

Every episode starts with a death which leads to the use of the funeral home. We also deal with the issues which that death has brought about plus the overall arc of the family's issues and tensions moves forward. The mother of these children is still living in the house too and she is played the wonderful Frances Conroy. Lauren Ambrose is the youngest child of this family. She is a teen artist who will never fit into the undertaking business. The other two brothers are played by Peter Krause and Michael C.Hall. Krause was expected to be the big star but after this series, Hall went on to become Dexter on Showtime, which made him the biggest star to emerge from this series.

The eldest brother takes up with the daughter of two psychiatrists who has a borderline crazy brother, Billy. These two are played by Jeremy Sisto and Rachel Griffiths. They and the two shrink parents are priceless every time they are on camera.


As Time Goes By, Judi Densch, Geoffrey Palmer (UK)
Many Americans don't realize that Judi Dench was a terrific comedic actress on British tv. This series begins when she discovers her own daughter going out with a much older man. This man is her own lost love from the days of the Korean War. She was a nurse and he was a solider. They were in love but lost touch. He is divorced and returned from years in Kenya and she is widowed with one daughter and the owner of a successful secretarial staffing firm.

The rest of the series rests on this romance, between Jean (Dench) and Lionel (Geoffrey Palmer). It brings a lot of other lovable characters into the mix. My favorites were Stephen, the dentist brother-in-law of Jean's; Rocky, Lionel's father and Alistair, Lionel's publisher (of his horrible MY LIFE IN KENYA) and future suitor to Jean's daughter Judy.

I fell in love with these characters. Judi Dench is the zany comedian who keeps the comedy centered whereas Lionel is more the straight man. Jean pokes her nose into everyone's business (just like Lucy Ricardo did) and this is the set up for every other character's subsequent development. For one example, she initially tells Penny and Stephen (her former in-laws) that Lionel is a psychiatrist in order to impress them (he is not). So Lionel subsequently gets stuck analyzing Stephen the dentist, one of the high points in all of situation comedy.


X-Files, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson (USA)

The FBI calls him "Spooky", sticks him down in the basement and gives him all the cases that it wishes didn't even exist.  Then they give him a female medical doctor agent who can keep tabs on him.  Enter Dana Scully. What gets Mulder going on aliens, ghosts, monsters, etc., is his conviction that his sister was abducted by aliens when they were both children. 

This series was a magical combination of many factors. Mulder & Scully were a dream pairing of FBI agents. As opposites in point of view regarding strange happenings, they nevertheless had a magnetic attraction for one another. This the viewer is immediately sucked into, right along with all the inexplicable phenomenon the agents investigate. The first season may even be the very best one because they are both so fresh and young plus the concept is so fresh. Another aspect which is hard to put into a show like this was put in somewhat effortlessly: humor. There are some episodes which are laugh out loud funny. If one of them is going to be the butt of humor it is typically Mulder who bears that brunt.

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