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.

Getting in the Mood

TV themes. Do you remember when they lasted longer than only a couple of seconds? When the sound of your favorite show put you in the mood for an episode of fun, suspense or tears? Did you know the lyrics by heart? Did you recite them or sing along? Do you still find yourself humming those songs while you cook, do laundry or are cleaning up? Do they still put you in a good mood like they used to? Bring back memories of characters once dear to you like friends or relatives?

Today, a lot of shows save up time by using trademark teasers rather than songs that last longer than a mere moment. Castle, Malibu Country, The Good Wife are some of my favorite examples. If you sneeze, you may miss the catchy intro. Sad news for anyone who suffers from hay fever or catches a cold. There are exceptions no doubt: Elementary Downton Abbey or Rizzoli & Isles. I enjoy all of these shows once in a while but the less new programs offer a catchy melody or song, the more I miss that positive trigger classic television used to lure me in. Granted, for the sake of commercials, screen time has been cut down over the years. While a Perry Mason episode still lasted an average of 50 minutes and Bewitched an entertaining 25, most shows only get 43 (or 21) minutes today. So while it was great to hum along to Family Affair or Hart to Hart in the past, it makes sense for Go On to save up time and use those theme song seconds for the storyline.

Although I know the reasons and appreciate a couple of contemporary programs for their beautiful tunes, I still miss those beautiful TV songs that used to stick with me all week. Bugs Bunny, The Mickey Mouse Club, The Flintstones. I Love Lucy, The Muppets, Bill Cosby, Growing Pains. Murder She Wrote, Family Ties, The Golden Girls. Love Boat. Cagney and LaceyScarecrow and Mrs. King. Even shows I didn’t like for anything but their catchy themes such as Family Matters or Full House. Do you still remember your favorite melodies?!

Golden Globes 2013

When I grew up, I was big on awards shows. Over the years, that interest has waned and I just keep track of potential nominees and actual winners. After last year’s delight (I’m still so in love with The Artist), this awards season is a lot less appealing to me and my vintage taste, but it has its perks nonetheless.

Last night, Argo‘s success pleased me, for example, and so did the buzz (however mild)  about Lincoln, two films the Hollywood Foreign Press Association rewarded with Golden Globes. Adele was also honored with an award for Skyfall, her musical contribution to the untiring 007 phenomenon, and so was Julianne Moore for her haunting imitation (rather than mere portrayal) of Sarah Palin in HBO’s Game Change. Dame Maggie Smith also got another nod for her memorable cameos on Downton Abbey and Amour (a film I still haven’t been able to convince myself to watch) received a Globe in the Foreign Language category.

For all of you who are interested in a complete list of winners, here’s a link to the official site of the HFPA. Acceptance speeches are available all over the internet, but none is so wildly raved about as Jodie Foster’s 6 minutes 45. Any further comment on the content of that speech is unnecessary in my opinion, so I won’t go into details about it. Go see it on youtube if you haven’t already seen or heard about it – or be bold and don’t give a hoot in the first place.

New Vintage TV II

Apparently, vintage-themed shows are in vogue these days and despite my aversion to so many of them, I cannot help but give each new program the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, I was put off again, this time by my guilty pleasure program Downton Abbey, ITV’s newest brainchild Mr. Selfridge and a Canadian production called Bomb Girls. The success of each show is beyond dispute, an increasing number of young viewers seems to enjoy their melodramatic quality without exception. Downton Abbey, which was just renewed for a fourth season, may still be the most commonly known show of the three, first and foremost because of an always excellent Maggie Smith and the unabated shower of awards and nominations. Designed like a soap, the show has remained faithful to its genre from the start and thus jumps the shark more frequently as the seasons rush by. Now set in the 1920s, fateful twists and unnecessary drama follow public demand. Bomb Girls uses similar tools by exploiting the dramatic background of WWII. As if war and its related cruelties wouldn’t be enough, the pilot episode already proved that modern vintage programs need sex, abundance or gore to authenticate themselves (the gruesome accident in the bomb factory still haunting me today). Mr. Selfridge and his department store empire seems tame compared to those Rosie the Riveters, but all the first installment did for me was celebrate extravagance. I really wonder what’s so appealing about these programs?!

With all our troubles in the world, maybe people are looking for consolation that 2013 is a better time to live in than the early 20th century. After all, according to those shows our attitudes and problems have barely changed – and if they did, only for the better (of course). I don’t like that kind of evaluation of the past, that mix of nostalgia for elegance in fashion and grand gestures of love. I prefer the past for what it was, with all its similarities and differences to our times. I do not like to see an interpretation of it through our modern eyes, glorified or demonized. There is nothing romantic about the turmoil of two world wars, nor have we reached the devastation of the Great Depression. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from past successes and ordeals, reducing yesteryear to a colorful setting for our modern ways and attitude, however, does no one justice. It only makes it harder for future generations to understand our roots and struggles. It waters down progress (or setbacks) and the price thereof. I know, a lot of people only see films and shows as entertainment, but by choosing a vintage setting, the writers and producers also influence the knowledge and perception of their viewers of the past. I wish, they would handle it with more care, and most importantly, as more than just a stage for beautiful wardrobe.

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.

The Past Through Our Modern Eyes

All right, be honest, folks: who enjoys new vintage television?! Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire or Mrs. Biggs?! I know I’ve discussed this before, but the topic continues to occupy my mind. With Downton Abbey back on TV in its third season, I feel strangely drawn to those period dramas and annoyed by them at the same time. It’s the love to detail in the costume department and the choice of fantastic actors that definitely wins my approval, the soapy drama and rushed plot, however, puts me off. I know it’s supposed to reflect realism, showing gloomy pictures and characters who delve into pragmatism and near depression, but I’m not fond of it. Same goes for the modern topics and social criticism that are always shining through, a mandatory element for programs that travel back in time. Women were always off worse, without exception. No choice, no freedom, no decent men. Take the recent Bletchley Circle, for example – is there really no other way to show female strength but to demonize the male sex? Is the violence truly necessary?

In all honesty, I wonder how our day and age will be presented fifty years from now, in clips and programs on the internet or elsewhere. How distorted we’ll feel those pictures are, how apt or cruel? If the next generation will understand our point of view and how much unscripted reality will be left?

You see, in my opinion, nothing about the past has ever been perfect, no matter how nostalgic our memories may be. The way bygone decades are presented to us these days however, blurs the truth about what it meant to live through change, progress and challenges. To look at the 1920 through 80s through millennium-fogged glasses hardly does these times justice, nor the people who came before us. It is easy to roll our eyes at their imperfect lives without realizing how little has actually changed or dwell on an erroneous belief that our present is superior in so many ways. For as long as we don’t learn to regain an innocent perception and sense of beauty, I am tired of revisiting the past in a modern setup. I want to see what it was really like – codes, decency and censorship included – to have a better understanding of where we came from, what we lost and what was rightly left behind.

The nominations are in…

This is the “out of the ordinary” post: the nominations for the Golden Globes are in! And yes, my heart beats a little faster because there’s so much love for vintage on this year’s list.

Leading my personal favorites list is The Artist, a film set in the 1930s and shot entirely in black and white. A silent movie. A true decleration of love to film history and an almost lost art of filmmaking. It is closely followed by Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen’s latest masterpiece. A film that describes that longing for a world so different from ours and still so very much alive if only we look for it. The Help comes in third on my list. A great adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s book with a stellar cast of women who warped me right back into the not so swinging sixties.

More appreciation for vintage is reflected in The Adventures of Tintin, J. Edgar, Mildred Pierce and My Week with Marilyn. Boardwalk Empire, Downton Abbey and War Horse, although set in the beginning of the 20th century, also go on my list for getting recognition. All very different projects and not always my cup of tea but worth watching nonetheless.