One of my New Year’s Resolutions in 2020 was to watch better TV. I don’t watch a lot of TV, and almost never in real time. But I felt that when I did, I was relying too much on old stand-bys like Law and Order SVU. It was like eating comfort food, rather than pushing myself to try all the wonderful fare that’s come out in recent years.
Even during lockdown, I didn’t watch *all* that much TV. But I’m proud to say that I do now have a list of TV shows I can endorse. So this week, in advance of a long and hopefully relaxing summer ahead, I thought I would share some of my faves. Warning: my tastes run dark, which often entails violence. They also skew European. So this list is biased heavily in that direction:
a. Borgen. If you’re NOT into dark and/or violent, then here’s a pick for you. Borgen is a masterful Danish drama about a minor, centrist politician who unexpectedly becomes Denmark’s first female Prime Minister. As a political journalist friend of mine observed: “It gets politics exactly right.” You see the ambition, the compromises, the back-room deals, and the toll it takes on your personal life. Borgen is most similar to the brilliant 1990’s American political drama The West Wing, except that the central character is a working mom. What’s not to love? And – if you watch the first three series now – Series 4 is coming out in 2022. Can’t wait.
b. The Bridge. As long as we’re in Scandinavia, we ought to talk about The Bridge. (We’re talking the Danish/Swedish version here, folks – or as I like, to call it – Bron/Broen – not its distant, knock-off American cousin). With The Bridge, we are firmly into Nordic Noir territory, so this one is not for the faint of heart. Each of the show’s four seasons begins with a brutal, unsolved murder spanning the boundary between Malmo, Sweden and Copenhagan, The Netherlands. (The show’s title refers to the famous bridge linking the two cities). Because of the international nature of the crimes, both national police forces must team up to solve them. The heart and soul of the show is Saga Norén, a brilliant and damaged detective who struggles with social niceties and may or may not have autism spectrum disorder. Bonus: The Bridge’s theme tune, Hollow Talk, is positively haunting. I still sing it to myself sometimes.
c. Spiral. French TV rocks. Especially the crime dramas. While I’ve not yet caught up with Lupin – which sounds like it might be too light-hearted for a dark soul like me – I absolutely loved Spiral (Engrenages). Spiral is a kick-ass cop show about the criminal justice system in Paris, spread out across a glorious eight seasons. Every single one of the major characters is deeply flawed, which makes it all the more appealing. As with The Bridge, the lead character is a gritty, no-nonsense Lady Cop. Her name is Laure Berthaud and you will love her too. Bonus: You will start using lots of French slang after you watch this.
d. The Bureau. And speaking of France, I’m currently consumed by The Bureau (Le Bureau). It’s a spy drama that bears some resemblance to Homeland (which I also loved), but with less sex and high-action drama. This is much quieter fare, delving into the psychology of being a spy. The lead character – played by Mathieu Kassovitz – is absolutely impenetrable. As with every show listed here, he is surrounded by an astoundingly good supporting cast.
e. Mare of Easttown. OK, so I did manage to include one American show. And…I’ve been watching it in real time! Highly recommend that you drop whatever you’re doing and watch the seven-part mini-series Mare of Easttown. This show stars Kate Winslet as a gritty, down-and-out detective investigating a series of murders in her down-and-out Pennsylvania town. It shares a lot in common with a British TV show called Happy Valley featuring—you guessed it—another lady cop. Forget the plot with Mare—it’s almost irrelevant. You’re watching for Winslet’s subtle performance. (Bonus: check out this Slate piece on the Delaware County “DelCo” accent Winslet absolutely nails…and which most actors are too afraid to even try. Be sure to listen to all of the clips.)
What am I missing? Tell us what you’re watching in the comments section…