I should be catching up on my review backlog, so obviously I’m declaring it Sunday Funday and tackling a tag that I saw over at Space and Sorcery (originally created by vlogger Kayley Hyde). I don’t watch a huge amount of TV, and I talk about it even less – so what does a light-sensitive bookwyrm enjoy?
True story: we didn’t own a tv until we left the country. Sure, there was a TV at my grandma’s house, but we moved to the opposite end of the country to her when I was 5 and spent the next 3 years in an ancient cottage full of spiders and ghosts. With no tv. Or even a phone, for the first couple of years.
I got to watch tv at other people’s houses, where I saw the occasional episode of Ulysses 31 and Mysterious Cities of Gold and fell asleep on the sofa while my Mum watched The Thorn Birds and I Claudius and By The Sword Divided with her friends (gotta love historical drama). I even have vague memories of a contemporary Gothic sibling rivalry murder mystery set in a mansion accessible only by causeway (any ideas what this was? I don’t!)
I made up for the slow start in my teens, and I do enjoy a good show. But hooboy am I picky. So picky. I know, you’re not even slightly surprised. So, what do I like to watch now?
Some of my all-time favourite shows are space opera, but I don’t want to talk about them repeatedly so instead, let’s start with a show at the other end of the spectrum: Detectorists, a gentle three seasons of very British comedy that tickled my inner archaeologist and made my heart glow. Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones are national treasures, and here Crook wrote and directed them as two amateur treasure hunters chatting about the little things as they walk around fields with metal detectors. Expect mysteries! Ghosts! Rivalry! Bombs! Subterfuge! Conspiracy! Relationship drama! All without ever elevating your heart rate (except for the laughing). I fully expect to rewatch this repeatedly.
If asked, I would have pegged comedy as the hardest genre to win me over with, but clearly the trick is comedy with heart, because the other show that absolutely destroyed me recently was Ted Lasso. It’s very close to my heart for having a deeply supportive friendship between two successful women (ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION WRITERS? THIS IS WHAT WE WANT MORE OF), gentle humour, unapologetic London swearing, wise curmudgeons, and enough compassion to save even our degenerate society if we’d just all settle down and watch it. Believe.
Unsurprisingly, I lean towards SFF in my viewing as I do in my reading. But what I really crave is great writing – I’m a sucker for production values, but a strong cast with solid material can work wonders …and a lot of SFF show don’t have great writing and the production values are often iffy too. So while I love my favourite genre, I watch less (and bounce off more) than you might expect.
I do have a soft spot for drama focusing on journalists, lawyers and/or spies. I absolutely loved Silk (ah, Maxine Peake) and appreciated Homeland even if I didn’t necessarily enjoy it (I tapped out after 4 seasons). I’m generally a hard sell on police procedurals, although I thought the The Fall was well done, largely for allowing Gillian Anderson to call out the ingrained misogyny of the genre. I’ve recently enjoyed Criminal on Netflix, which puts a top tier actor as the suspect in a police interrogation and goes to town. Kit Harrington gets the nod for absolutely nailing shitty sales manager, and if the narrative left me conflicted I can’t fault his performance in it.
LEAST FAVOURITE SHOW
Any soap ever made. Every soap ever made. Also all reality tv. Not just ‘least favourite’ but ‘you’d have to pay me (quite a lot) to watch it’. Oh, and most game shows.
SHOWS YOU JUST CAN’T STOP WATCHING
Time to talk about space opera? Hell yes. When it comes to rewatching, The Expanse and Battlestar Galactica probably top the charts. I rewatched as seasons got released, and when I eventually persuaded my beloved to jump aboard I got to rewatch with him. Both shows are household favourites and will certainly get revisited in future – we love the characters too much not to.
Another household favourite is Orphan Black. Those central performances by Tatiana Maslany are an endless joy; and I love that the narrative spans the mundane to the absurd to the absolutely horrifying. It does a great job of side-stepping what could become dystopic misery by focusing on the unshakeable relationships that evolve and the way their love for one another sustains and drives the characters.
SHOWS YOU JUST COULDN’T GET INTO
I’ve been meaning to watch Peaky Blinders for years. It’s got a stellar cast and all the hype – but we bounced off after a single episode. To be fair, mob drama is a really tough sell where I’m concerned, but I knew this one was in trouble when I paid more attention to how often they redressed that one street as a supposedly different location than to the characters/plot, because eh, whatever.
Being a bad SF fan on a regular basis, I got nothing out of The Mandalorian. Great art direction, but it went all-in on the Western in space angle and I don’t particularly enjoy Westerns so didn’t derive a lot of pleasure from seeing it play with those tropes. Sure, baby Yoda was cute, but not cute enough to keep me watching.
SHOWS YOU WANT MORE OF
Forget Firefly (the Whedon baggage has inevitably reduced any desire to breathe fresh life into that) – if I could bring back a show it would be Ultraviolet: a 6-part single season show about vampire hunters made before vampires were cool. In fact, vampires were so uncool at the time that the bloodsuckers are only ever referred to as ”Code Fives” – but it’s totally about vampire hunters. And when those hunters are Jack Davenport, Susannah Harker and Idris Elba, you have a scorching hot property on your hands.
I loved this show. Just talking about it makes me want to rewatch it. Jack Davenport gets to be conflicted and moody; Susannah Harker gets to be ice-cold and ruthless; Idris Elba gets to be violent and moody (yes, moody is a theme; it was made in the 90s). And every episode compromises them a little more than the last.
Yeah, I’m going to have to rewatch it.
A show I would have like to have seen more of? Outcasts, a single uneven SF series from the BBC about the first colony on another planet. It took most of the first season to fall into place, and – just when I got invested – got cancelled, having ended on a cliffhanger. Gutted.
I’m also here for more seasons of Wheel of Time, which I enjoyed with the nostalgic glee of someone who has no intention of rereading the books. I liked most of the changes; I loved the Aes Sedai; and I can’t wait to see more of the Aiel, always my favourite group.
Unexpectedly, I’m looking forward to more Foundation too. It took most of the season to win me over and I didn’t like everything it did, but it did enough to bring me back for more.
SHOWS YOU FELL OUT OF LOVE WITH
Spooks was my favourite show for a while – the interpersonal dramas, the horrifically conflicted characters (yes, this is definitely a way to get me hooked). I loved that the early episodes were domestic threats – anti-abortion campaigners, far right hatemongers – and the dirty bomb incident remains a stand-out episode of television. But as core cast moved on (and always got killed off) – I found it harder and harder to stay engaged. I eventually tapped out after the first episode of season 7.
I tapped out of The Walking Dead too. I loved the first season: short, punchy, character-driven, haunting. But as subsequent seasons got longer and increasingly conflated drama with misery and torture porn, I found it less and less interesting. Sure, we’re the real monsters, I get it. I’m just not very interested in watching it. When I heard the premise for season 6, I didn’t bother finishing season 5.
I finished House of Cards, but wished I hadn’t. That final season – which set up so many interesting possibilities – was terrible: the showrunners made some awful narrative choices, rewriting in haste to respond to Spacey’s fall from grace. I felt they threw Claire under a bus and while there are many ways in which she deserved it, I didn’t feel her character arc was particularly consistent or earned; it just turned into yet another example of television telling us you can’t trust women with power (double-bagged with “because they’ll just turn to a powerful man to prop them up”, UGH).
I’ll finish with Damages, which had two top tier seasons followed by a season-on-season decline that only got faster when it changed networks. Such a shame – the first season is magnificent.
WEEK-BY-WEEK OR BINGE?
I can’t watch more than 2-3 episodes of anything; I have to come up for air, move around, change subject (and format). This is partly an increasing difficulty at actually looking at backlit moving images for any length of time; and partly a struggle to maintain focus. I can’t just keep barrelling through seasons of even my favourite shows, either. One or two seasons in, I need a break.
It makes me a frustrating person to live with – my beloved can binge with the best, and doesn’t love context-switching. Our current compromise is ‘watch one season at a time’, with individual sessions limited by my tolerance for the screen.
Bollocks, if it’s fun, it’s fun and we get to enjoy what we enjoy. Completely guilt-free and compulsive watching in this household are Masterchef: The Professionals (we’ll watch the amateurs too if we realise it’s on; but never the celebrities. Celebrity shows can all get in the sea) and my beloved Great Pottery Throwdown, the most wholesome show currently on television (yes, even more wholesome than Ted Lasso and free to air too!).
I’ve somehow got this far without mentioning a lifelong love of Doctor Who, which I seem to have accidentally stopped watching (criminal, given we’ve finally had a female Doctor). At some point, I’ll go back and see if it hooks me back in.
I haven’t mentioned Marvel either, although we enjoyed them (if not enough to pay for a Disney sub once our freebie pass expired).
We are currently awaiting the next season of Stranger Things, which is far too much fun even if I am deeply resentful that it believes you can’t have a season finale without flashing blue lights (o hai, light sensitive). Consequently, I’ve watched the finales with my eyes closed and missed out on nuances like character deaths until my beloved narrated the first one to me.
We are slowly working through The Handmaid’s Tale, which benefits from top tier production design and performances in a relentlessly awful world. The first two seasons were excellent; the third season lost some of my goodwill as I felt the writers kept setting up ideas and then pivoting away rather than exploring or developing them, leaving a lot feeling more like filler than integral to June’s journey. We’re currently taking a break before tackling season four.
In the meantime, we’ve watched the first season of Hannibal as erm light relief – and yes, it’s messed up that a show that focuses on baroque serial murder can be classed as light relief, but after The Handmaid’s Tale it just seems absurd (and often underwritten, which is wildly unfair). We’ll definitely be back for more as a diversion between other shows.
A diversion from our diversion? I guess so – we’re in the middle of finally watching Fleabag. I had no idea what to expect, I spent the first episode completely uncertain I wanted to spend any more time with the central character, and then accidentally watched another 4 (eh, 25 minute episodes). I’m still not sure I’m enjoying it, but we might as well finish it off!
What do you like to watch?