Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Summer 2008 TV: why should we care?

The new few weeks and months look a particularly barren period on British TV. Summer has long been the silly season, when warm weather attracted people outside and ratings tumbled. Schedulers traditionally filled our screens with repeats and make-weights, burning off shows that couldn't sustain an audience elsewhere in the year. That changed in the year 2000 when Big Brother hit the UK.

The reality TV show was a smash hit, aided and abetted by the absence of any worth watching on the other main channels. Big Brother's popularity grew each year, until other broadcasters felt obliged to launch spoilers, rival reality shows that might steal Channel 4's thunder. [Anyone remember Celebrity Love Island? Try not to, you'll be happier.] But Big Brother's popularity waned as it became a vehicle for wannabes hoping to become Z-list celebrities.

So the prospect of Big Brother 9 filling our screens this summer? Bleurgh. But there's more bad news. Euro 2008 is about to start, a football tournament that will dominate the primetime schedules on BBC1 and ITV for weeks to come. Unfortunately for both broadcasters, none of the home nations have qualified for Euro 2008. There's been attempts to goose audience interest but, frankly, who cares? Unless you love football, there's nothing at stake. Bleurgh.

What does that leave if you don't have cable or a Sky dish, and can't get Freeview where you live? DVDs. This summer I will mostly be watching DVD of TV shows. Just finished the first two seasons of the genius that is Friday Night Lights, and that was preceded by most of The West Wing. Got seasons three and four of The Wire to watch, along with most of Homocide: Life on the Street. But wouldn't mind something more upbeat to offset all the sturm and drang.

It's worth pointing out I'm skint, so spending a lot of money buying boxed sets isn't much of an option right now. But I could subscribe to a DVD rental service like LoveFilm, which offers TV series on DVD as well as films. So, I'm looking for suggestions of great viewing as a Summer 2008 alternative to football and Big Brother. Maybe a desert island DVD selection? Post your eight favourites in the comments section, if you feel the urge...


Lucy said...

Well, clearly UK crime drama would be top of my list. If you missed Waking The Dead in its earlier incarnations, that would be the place to start. Cracker. Prime Suspect. The Vice. Lynda La Plante's seemingly forgotten Supply and Demand about Customs and Excise. Trial and Retribution too. There were a couple of excellent 90s 6 parters too - Undercover Heart & Ultraviolet.

Non-crime and non-vampire: Jimmy McGovern's Hearts & Minds, plus Priest or The Lakes. I recall another called Skalligrigg that was good but don't recall who wrote it. There's Peter Bowker's fabulous Flesh and Blood. Oh, and Second Coming too - in fact anything with the ubiquitous Christopher Eccleston!!!

Rach said...

OK. Assuming it is upbeat TV you are after I would suggest the following:
1) Green Wing - definitely upbeat and nicely surreal
2) Spaced - watched Series 1 the other night and had to keep watching the whole lot so a Very late night.
3) Black Books - well...of course.
4) Kath and Kim - after all we may get a wet summer and you want something sunny.
5) Hustle - neat writing.
6) Coupling - cos I can watch it forever.
7) Operation Good Guys - might be hard to find now but great character studies.
8) Messiah - cos all that cheer might be getting to you.

Oh and Edge of Darkness because it has funny bits and is my all time favourite. Sorry couldn't keep to the limit of 8.

wyndham said...

It's certainly worth watching Edge of Darkness again, particularly as Mel Gibson is apparently remarking it.

I'm currently working my way through The Shield. And if you didn't catch it, Damages managed the awkward trick of telling a story in flashback and delivering a satisfying conclusion.

Oli said...

I can second The Shield - I would say Veronica Mars but I believe you're already a fan. Firefly? Flight of the Conchords?

David Bishop said...

Lucy, lots of good suggestions, but not sure how many will be available as DVD rentals. Got The Lakes and Ultrviolet already.

Rach, got Spaced and Coupling, both deserve a re-watch. Never quite chimed with Green Wing, my bad. Do fancy Black Books. Don't think I've seen Edge of Darkness since its first [NZ] transmission.

Wyndham - got and loved all The Shield, yet to acquire Season 6. Got and loved Damages. Still, might be time for a re-watch, particularly season 4 with Glenn Close.

Oli - Veronica Mars 1-3 much loved round here, though season 3 lacked the cohesiveness of its predecessors. Nearly worn out DVD copy of Firefly. Being a kiwi, I heart Flight of the Conchords, but my R1 DVDs have the most annoying intro known to man. Sigh.

More suggestions welcomed!

Mike Perkins said...

David -

Whenever I chat to anyone over there in the UK it seems that "Keen Eddie" was largely ignored. If you want something light and frantic with sharp, biting dialogue then that's the option for you. It's worth watching just for the quipping between the two leads - and Pete, the dog.

All the best,


Lucy said...

Funny you should mention that David because all of those I recommended should be available from's own rental service as I watched them all through that relatively recently. PLUS you get clubcard points! Wooooooooooh!

Lucy said...

Oh - and as far as American shows go, I rather like Shark. And mike's right, Keen Eddie was wick.

Good Dog said...

Rather than the big old boxsets go for the six-part serial dramas, which are usually split over two or three discs:

Pennies from Heaven

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Edge of Darkness

The Singing Detective

Wild Palms

Das Boot (full TV version)

Angels in America

State of Play

The State Within

They’re damn fine dramas, and always good for checking out good plotting, structure and characterization.

Really, Edge of Darkness is something that should be watched annually.

If you want something a bit longer there’s Reilly, Ace of Spies.

Or the bonkers 1960s/70s ITC dramas like Department S or The Persuaders!. If you liked Life on Mars there’s always four series of The Sweeney to have a gander at. Or, if you want an American cop show there’s always the two series of Michael Mann’s early 1960’s, pre-Miranda era Crime Story.

If you haven’t seen it, there’s the BBC’s wartime drama Secret Army which, nearly thirty years on, is still edge of the seat stuff.

Look for something close to an idea you’re working on and you can put your feet up, urn the telly on, and tell yourself it’s all for research. Result!

MJ said...

Good to meet you on Friday David! I'm seconding Green Wing and Black Book, and how about Peep Show, or Twin Peaks (for a nostalgia trip).

wyndham said...

Also. Holding On by Tony Marchant.

And Heimat. That should keep you going.

Good Dog said...

There's also Between the Lines from the 1990s. The third series is a bit pants, but the first two are brilliant.

And the final line of dialogue of the final scene of the final episode of series two is just terrific.

joelmead said...

For me, the most enjoyable newish series is Mad Men, which was shown on BBC4 and it's not as downbeat as those series you mention. For movies, The Cooler (which you've probably seen because it's a few years old) with William Macy, Breach with Chris Cooper and Frank Darabont's The Mist, which still doesn't have a UK cinema release but is available in the States. For TV, He Kills Coppers was pretty good too…

Tom said...

If you didn't catch Dexter then I'd recommend that and I believe it's now available on DVD.

Other than that, I spent most of last summer without TV reception (damned trees and their satellite signal blocking ways) so ended up watching 24 seasons 1 to 5 with the wife.

For laughs I have The Fast Show or The Day Today. And Spaced, obviously.

Tom said...

Oh yeah, something else I do from year to year (and which is so much easier with a video rental account) is get the list of Top 100/250 films from IMDB (depending on how bored you really are) and identify all the films I haven't watched and add them to my rental list. It's a good way of catching up with some classics that you may have missed and also of finding new films that you may have overlooked. There's some absolute shite as well but hey, makes you appreciate the good stuff even more.

Carl P said...

Of those mentioned I second BLACK BOOKS and THE SINGING DETECTIVE -

See if you can get your hands on cheapo box sets, and/or best of's for FATHER TED, THE LIKELY LADS and STETOE & SON - Retro, yet class, and at least I didn't mention ON THE BUSES (don't go there)

THE PRISONER - All 17 episodes

Brian Clemens THRILLER boxset- Why we don't have something along the lines of this on nowadays, stroke TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED, is a scandal -

Dave said...

I too intend spending the summer trying to avoid sport/big brother etc. But I’m going to be catching up on my reading, after scoring depressingly low (40) in a list of 1001 books you should have read before you die. In my defence I would point out that my (40) is a work in progress as I’m not actually dead yet.


30 Rock,
Steptoe and Son,
The Avengers,
Father Ted,
The I.T Crowd,
Hancock's Half Hour,
Ripping Yarns.

Oh and Doctor Who goes without saying.

Rob Spalding said...

I'd recommend Farscape - if you missed that, you missed an absolute treat. Season 1 is good, but after that it really takes off.

Alias - the first couple of seasons at least. Cracking action and fun too.

Millennium - Lance Henrikson in Chris Carter's other show. Psychic Serial Killer Hunter!

Speaking of - Criminal Minds - really good show about FBI profilers. Has more legs than I thought the concept would allow.

You can't go wrong with Red Dwarf - even the less than great seventh and eighth series have their moments.

And if you missed Shameless - now's the time to play catch up.

Anonymous said...

Bit late to the party, but I would give a very strong second to the aforementioned Holding On (not sure it qualifies as uplifting, though) as well as State of Play. Nobody mentioned Battlestar Galactica, not sure if you know and don't like it, but if you don't it is way dramatically well ahead of much SciFi tv, methinks.

My partner and her girlfriend are currently nuts about Men in Trees, which is sort of a chicks Northern Exposure played with a straight bat and is an over-the-shoulder guilty pleasure of mine, though of course you could do worse and go straight to early seasons of Northern Exposure, which you could probably pick up for about 10p for a boxed set.

Paul Neal said...

David, just two suggestions. Both excellent.

Studio sixty on the sunset strip. It sadly only ran one season but it was great. (If you like West Wing as I think you've said this is a must watch.)

PLus the eighties legend that was Edge of Darkness. At the time this was cutting edge political stuff.

You mentioned Homicide:Life on the street too. This is essential viewing. (You could do worse than find the original book if you haven't already.)