Community Post: Five Great Overlooked and Underrated TV Shows from 2015

Here’s a post from a fellow blogger, Matt Thompson of TheTripleOption, about some t.v. shows that are worth watching.  He kindly asked for a contribution from me and there are three other blurbs, from a fellow blogger a follower of his site, and his own pick, of shows that sound like they’d be worth checking out.  Matt posts about t.v. shows, video games, movies, and the occasional book.  Give the post a read and check out his blog!

In the first community post here on the site, four other writers and I talk about some great overlooked and underrated televisions series we watched this past year.

Source: Community Post: Five Great Overlooked and Underrated TV Shows from 2015

 

Shows Worth Watching: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Image from BBC America

Magic has returned to England in the 1800’s. Mr. Norrell, a reclusive magician, has been discovered by a group of magic scholars, who search him out and request that he bring his talents to London. At first Mr. Norrell is reluctant to share his magic, along with his precious books, with anyone. Eventually Mr. Norrell agrees to make the trip to London. While there, he uses magic to bring the beautiful Lady Pole back from the dead.  Doing this has ramifications he never imagined, or wanted.

At the same time another magician is coming forth, the naturally talented and charming Jonathan Strange. Jonathan is torn between his love of magic and his love for the fetching Arabella. While trying to secure his union with Arabella, Jonathan comes across a street magician who proclaims Jonathan is destined to become a great magician. Jonathan eventually meets the reclusive and stubborn Mr. Norrell. The older magician reluctantly agrees to take Jonathan on as his apprentice. The two start out as student and teacher and have a fairly level relationship. Johnathan wants to learn more and practice more of the old, dark ways of magicians. This desire eventually pits the two magicians against each other. The battle between the two has ramifications for all of England, and the future of magic.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, aired on BBC America in the states and was a thoroughly entertaining, compelling, and enjoying, limited series to watch. I wish it would have been longer!

The Gentleman and Arabella

Whats good: So much! Lets start with spot on casting. Jonathan Strange is played by the charismatic and charming Bertie Carvel and Mr. Norrell is played by the brilliantly subdued and subtle Eddie Marsan. I can’t imagine two more perfectly cast actors.  Each actor bringing the character’s nuances to the forefront and the interaction between the two is wonderful to watch. Marsan and Carvel were very convincing in their roles and they also played well off of other cast members. Marc Warren plays The Gentleman with creepy perfection. The Gentleman is summoned with dark magic and is from the kingdom of Lost Hope. He is possessed with a great amount of magic and his desire for beautiful companions sets up heartbreak for many. Charlotte Riley as Arabella, Enzo Cilenti as Childermass, and Alice Englert as Lady Pole are just a few of the other stellar cast members. Each role is played with authenticity, making for a well-rounded cast.

Jonathan Strange and The Gentleman

Special Effects: Special effects can make or break a show or movie. This show kills it by finding the right balance. From the big effects of Jonathan gripping the sand to make the phenomenal sand horses to upright a sinking ship, to the subtle effect of candles and the smoke emitted from them. For a show heavily based on magic, the effects are another star. They don’t distract, which is how all special effects should be.

Tone and color: The setting is England in the 1800’s, with a lot of time taking place during mostly winter. The subdued greens, grays, blues, blacks, etc., help to set the feel and look of the show. Most scenes are the darker side and low lit, giving an air of seriousness to the show. This also allows the actors to shine through since the viewer isn’t distracted by the setting. Rather the setting allows the viewer to be absorbed into the action.

The Story: The overall story is very interesting and I found myself rooting for both magicians, even though I wanted to punch Mr. Norrell at times. The plot involving Childermass was compelling and would have loved it if more about him and his background was offered.

What’s not so good: The show is based on the massive book by Susana Clark (which I have not read but have purchased and I plan to read). Given the massive size of the book, cramming the story into seven episodes made it seemed a bit rushed at times. Maybe one more episode would have made the mini-series that much better. The quick run also didn’t leave room to flesh out some characters that viewers might have liked to learn more about.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, while not a serialized over a few seasons show, is a wonderful and terrific program to watch. Stellar acting, solid special effects, characters viewers can be invested in, and a compelling story, combine to make a very watchable t.v. show. Even if you aren’t a fan of magic, the focus on relationships and what others will do to keep those relationships in tact, make for terrific viewing. I highly suggest you take the time to view this show.  You won’t be disappointed. Check out BBC America or BBC One to find out how to view this show.

The X-Files – Trailers

Last night Fox aired two new trailers for the upcoming mini X-Files season, links here and here.

While I didn’t watch them when they aired, I did view
them afterwards and loved it. What do these brief trailers tell us?  Well, not much really. Other than Scully is surprised to get a call from Mulder, Skinner’s got a beard, and we get a glimpse of the nefarious cigarette smoking man (actually, just his cigarette). Who could ask for more!?

Fox is doing a great job at hyping the return of The X-Files – from their 201 Days of X-Files campaign to reaching to fans on Twitter – and I for one am buying into it.  Sad you say? I don’t care.  The return of The X-Files is a wonderful thing for this t.v. junkie and even if the mini-season doesn’t live up to the hype, I’m Okay with it.

The X-Files premieres Sunday, January 24th, after the NFC Championship game on FOX.

Shows worth watching: Being Human UK version

Tell me if you’ve hard this before: a werewolf, a ghost, and a vampire all live together and try to pass themselves off as humans.  In the saturated world of werewolves/vampires, etc., this could be a boring concept.  However, Being Human is so much more than a show about supernatural beings. Annie the ghost, played by Lenora Crichlow, is sad and lonely and wants desperately for other to see her.  Her flatmates can see her but that’s not enough for this ghost in limbo. George the werewolf, played by Russell Tovey, is so far removed from his werewolf side and deeply struggles with his full moon transformations.  Mitchell the vampire, played by Aidan Turner, has the confidence and sex appeal to be the vampire but he’s sworn off human blood and struggles to not give into his blood thirst. None of them want this life.  They all are lonely, sad, and yearn for a normal life. Their shared loneliness and sadness bring them together and they form a deep bond that helps them through the most difficult and dark times.

The focus of Being Human is on the emotion of the three main characters.  It’s about their relationship and their shared experiences about being outsiders who want nothing more than to be seen as normal humans.  It’s about how finding the right people at the right time can help a person overcome feelings of vast loneliness and despair and make someone feel normal the way they are. Yes the supernatural aspect plays a big part of the show but it’s not the only aspect of the show.

What I like about Being Human is how well these three, original actors and characters fit together.  The chemistry of all three actors is evident from the start and helps to make the character’s situation believable. Russell Tovey is perfectly cast as the werewolf.  He plays Georges’s mild-mannered disposition with incredible nuance, making his werewolf self such a vast contrast in personality that it’s shocking George could even be a werewolf. Lenora Crichlow plays Annie as a somewhat naive young woman who eventually finds her strength via her relationship with George and Mitchell.  And Aidan Turner plays the smoldering Mitchell with utter conviction you can feel his pain at being a vampire who struggles against what he is. These three fit very well together, making the show strong on their relationships alone.

The series did a decent job of intertwining the three roommates lives and story lines.  Mitchell was a bit of leader in the vampire community despite his attempts at swearing off blood.  Mitchell had a continuing battle with William Herrick, a vampire who has been in his life for long time, and Herrick ends up playing a big part in all three of the main characters lives.  George’s struggle to hide his werewolf side becomes harder when he starts to date Nina.  Nina is a good balance to George and seeing their relationship progress throughout the series is both fun and sad.  Annie, being a ghost, has the hardest time acclimating to her life, but even she gets involved with both Herrick and Nina, as well as achieve closure for her own past experiences.  This makes the series more solid for me since the three do live separate lives but yet are closely meshed to each other.

The series goes through some big changes in seasons four and five, with Turner leaving at the end of season three, and Tovey and Crichlow both departing in season four.  Each of the episodes where these characters left were highly emotional and fitting send offs.  Hal (the vampire), Tom (the werewolf), and Alex (the ghost) were the replacements and were played by good actors, but the series didn’t quite capture the same chemistry or appeal of the original cast members or stories. Of note of these three replacements to me was Michael Socha, who played Tom the werewolf.  He was a worthy replacement of George’s emotional werewolf.  Tom fit well with everyone and had an endearing quality that made him very easy to like.

I will briefly mention the SyFy version of Being Human.  I watched one, maybe two episodes of this rendition, but thought it paled in comparison to the original one (even seasons 4 & 5 were better than the SyFy version).  The SyFy version lacked the chemistry and interest of the original series and I didn’t think the actors were correctly cast.  Note that this opinion is from a very biased love of the original series so it’s not really a fair reflection of the SyFy show.

Being Human ended after the fifth season and I thought the writers did the correct thing by ending the series at that time.  The story of Hal, Tom, and Alex, while not as compelling as the original trio, had run its course, and the series came to a fitting and emotional end.  Of the myriad supernatural series out there, Being Human is one of the better ones, in my opinion.  It wasn’t only about being a werewolf, a vampire, or a ghost.  It was about what makes that person human, even though they have an inhuman quality. It’s also about relationships and how they can help someone through a difficult or trying time.  And that no one should be all alone – everyone needs someone to be there for them, whether it’s just someone to talk to or someone to share similar experiences with.  If you are looking for a grown up version of the supernatural, this show is one to check out. Being Human is available on DVD, via Amazon, or via iTunes (according to the BBC America website).

Shows Worth Watching: The X-Files

Welcome to a new monthly feature that I’ll be doing: Shows Worth Watching. Once a month I’ll write about a t.v. show that I think is worth the time it takes for viewing.  Shows will be a mix of old ones (i.e., no longer broadcasting), and current ones.  Hope you enjoy it (and if you can think of a better feature name than Shows Worth Watching, I’m open to suggestions 🙂 )

Picture from Wikipedia page

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Fox Mulder: image from Wikipedia

The first t.v. show I’d like to discuss is The X-Files.  A ground breaking show that aired on Fox from 1993 to 2002 and came from the mind of Chris Carter.  Why am I starting with a show that is over 20 years old? Well, if you have to ask, you clearly have never seen The X-Files. All jesting aside, The X-Files is the first because, 1) I love it, 2) it was an excellent show that achieved cult status fairly quickly and then became really popular, and 3) it combined a lot of topics that were interesting, compelling, controversial, and thought-provoking.

FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are teamed up to investigate unsolved cases that appear to be paranormal in nature – know as The X-Files.  Mulder is a skilled profiler and has an unyielding belief in the existence of extraterrestrial life.  Part of this belief is steeped in the mystery surrounding the disappearance of his sister, Samantha, whom he believes was abducted by aliens when he was 12-years-old.  Scully is a doctor and a skeptic to events of the paranormal and alien life.  The FBI teams these two up as a balance to one another, and as a way to possibly debunk any of Mulder’s proof of paranormal or alien existence.  This teaming works well – the chemistry between the two actors was evident and the characters respect each other as well as their ideas, enabling both to see the others viewpoint.

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Dana Scully: Image from Wikipedia

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The Lone Gunmen: Image from Wikipedia

Their boss, Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), FBI assistant director, works well in his role too.  At first he seems not have too much interest in any of Mulder and Scully’s cases.  As episodes progress, Skinner starts to side with the agents and becomes more than a boss, often helping them when he can and sometimes even covering for them.  The Smoking Man (William B. Davis) is the main nemesis of Mulder and Scully throughout the series.  He seems to be one who is hiding a lot of information and gets in Mulder and Sully’s way whenever they seem to be on the verge of discovering something.  It is eventually revealed that The Smoking Man is part of the Syndicate, a group of men who appear to orchestrate many lies and cover-ups, providing the basis of a government conspiracy to cover-up the existence of alien life that will be featured frequently throughout the life of series.  Another group of characters that needs to be mentioned, who showed up periodically, and became fan favorites is The Lone Gunmen.  Known mainly by their last names: Langly, Frohike, and Byers.  They were conspiracy theorists and often assisted and provided information to and for Mulder and Scully.  The Lone Gunmen became allies and friends of the agents and were always delight to see when they appeared in an episode.  The Lone Gunmen had a brief stint in a series of their own, but it didn’t last long (and truthfully, I don’t even remember it).

A major plot line that ran throughout The X-Files was Mulder’s search for his sister.  Mulder’s sister was seemingly taken by aliens when he was 12. This incident stayed with Mulder and is part of the reason why he is so adamant about the existence of alien life. Several episodes focus on clues about her disappearance and a growing suspicion that the FBI and the government know a lot more than they are willing to admit.  This really becomes the overall mythology of The X-Files and carries from season to season, culminating in the series finale.

When not focusing on the mythology of aliens, The X-Files featured episodes about the paranormal, unbelievable, and unexplained.  A few of my favorite non-mythology episodes were: Miracle Man, Duane Barry, Dod Kalm, and Home.  These episodes ranged from the spiritual, to the grotesque, to the legend and lore, and everything in between. The tag line of The X-Files was “I Want to Believe”. Something that Mulder was desperate to stay true to and something that fans of the show took to heart.  As a viewer, the show made you want to believe.  The conviction of Mulder’s beliefs combined with Scully’s level head-opinions and the government conspiracy threaded throughout the series made believing seem realistic.

The last two seasons of the series were a little less likable.  David Duchovny has mostly departed the show and Robert Patrick stepped in to play Agent John Doggett. Patrick is a fine actor but the departure of Duchovny and the lack of focus on the mythology of the series was disappointing.  Duchovny did come back for a few episodes and the series ended in the 9th season to a somewhat satisfying conclusion. The show also spawned two Movies: The X-Files (Fight the Future) and The X-Files: I Want to Believe.  The first film was the much better of the two with the focus being on the mythology, but any fan of The X-Files was content with even a mediocre second film.

So, if you are looking for a series to watch that is in the sci-fi realm, The X-Files is for you.  Like most series, the first few episodes are a little rough in terms of look and production value with improvements evident as the series progresses.  The acting is good throughtout the run and some excellent appearances by well known and loved actors (Bryan Cranston, Tony Shalhou, Lucy Lawless, and CCH Pounder to name a few) are well worth the viewing.  I’m obviously a fan and of the show and hope that you will become one too (if you aren’t one already!).