International TV

I don’t know about you, but apart from classic TV made in the US, I’ve always enjoyed exploring shows from other countries, predominantly from Australia and New Zealand, Canada, Israel, South America and Europe. Pride & Prejudice made me fall in love with Colin Firth in 1995, Bleak House turned me into a Dickens addict 10 years later and that same year, Slings & Arrows reassured me that my stage experiences were not unique. Some of these international shows have since been made available on DVD, others were remade in the States including The Bridge, The Killing, Hatufim (US: Homeland), Be Tipul (US:In Treatment) , Mistresses and House of Cards.

It’s a matter of personal taste whether or not you like a reboot. In some cases I did not, in others I did. No matter how much I have liked (or disliked) an original show though, the remake often missed a crucial ingredient, something the American version never seems to quite get. It’s not only the appeal of a foreign setting and culture or the sound of a different language, it’s the different approach to storytelling, or better, differing aesthetics. Each year, the market is flooded by American productions with silly or crude characters and storylines that all too often jump the shark. Despite this unfortunate development (unfortunate at least to me, not the industry itself it seems), my heart beats for a good TV series and I’m happy that this up-coming season, two new American productions actually got my attention: Madam Secretary starring Téa Leonie and Matthew Perry’s update of The Odd Couple.

Madam Secretary may fill a gap I’ve longed to fill since The West Wing ended, The Good Wife lost its vibe and The Newsroom did not live up to my expectations. Judging by the first look trailer, this show may be my kind of treat, the kind of show that has the potential follow into the footsteps of my favorite Danish series, Borgen.

Borgen has what a lot of international shows of my liking have in common: a wonderful cast, a smart female character, crafty writers, witty dialogue, intelligent storylines and a distinctive design. For three seasons, Borgen was highly addictive without leaning on the soapy side like Britain’s Downton Abbey. That’s not to say I wouldn’t enjoy ITV’s period drama, Maggie Smith is starring in it after all. But given the choice, I prefer stories without unnecessary malice or personal drama blown out of proportion.

A Heart for British Drama

It would be wrong to suggest I love them all, that I’m generally drawn to British drama. I do admit to having a weak spot for Victorian England, however, for British classics and, increasingly, for new vintage TV produced in the United Kingdom. I may be confused about inaccuracies at times or frustrated with the never-ending tendency to transfer our contemporary morals and issues to bygone eras, but apart from these adjustments to modern viewing patterns, I am rather fond of British productions. Bleak House, Downton Abbey, Marple, North & South, Pride & Prejudice… There have been many memorable (mini) series over the years. BBC’s The Hour is my latest find, now in its second season and a real treat for anyone who likes to revisit the past through modern eyes.

Set in London in the 1950s, the show offers a look into the genesis of a news program that pushes boundaries on the air and behind the scenes. Starring Ben Whishaw, Romola Garai, Dominic West and Anna Chancellor as The Hour‘s main pool of characters, the series has a slow start but takes off in episode two as soon as the variety and significance of the supporting players shine through. Picking up on cultural influences of the time, the series is suspenseful and entertaining, but (in best millennial tradition) also mildly depressing. With its cold war storyline in season one and increasing social criticism in season two, The Hour may wish to reflect on the questions and struggles of the Beatnik generation, a successful attempt for an audience who likes to dress but not think nostalgically.