Monday, August 20, 2012

New relevance: The best television political drama series I've seen...Tony Scott, RIP and the BORGEN series marathon.

With the suicide of The Good Wife co-executive producer Tony Scott yesterday (with apparently incorrect or at least disputed reports of inoperable cancer driving the action, and the added frisson of Scott's widow being a blonde named Donna Wilson), and the advent at this hour of the Borgen marathon on Link TV and Link's online pages, here's a reprint here of a post I'm reasonably happy with (still Homeland-, Boss-, Magic City- and Strike Back-free, despite enjoying what I've seen of each series, and definitely excluding the Sorkin series The Newsroom, while mildly enjoying that one when the childishness or sanctimony...or childish sanctimony...of the characters isn't at its frequent thickest):

The Good Wife
Well, this one is probably my default choice for the best serial drama on US television, and its clear-eyed accounts of the best, worst and middling impulses of politically ambitious folks, among its many other concerns, doesn't hurt a bit.

Borgen ***Do hit this link, and consider watching Borgen, which is repeating from episode 1 online and on the cable/satellite/KRCB (SF Bay Area, CA, broadcast) Link TV in the US... I've been pushing this one since catching the pilot a few months back, with its clever and well-worked-out and rarely melodramatic account of the changed lives of its cast of characters when the leader of the small Radical Party (in the series redubbed the Moderate Party so as to step on no toes legally) becomes the new Prime Minister of Denmark, its first female PM and one who is trying to cope with coalition maintenance, home life as a wife, and mother of two, and with her closest associates facing their own repercussions in the new reality. We in the US got to see this Next Project from the originators of The Killing before even the Brits did, and there's a second season due soon. "Borgen" is apparently Danish for "castle," the nickname for their Parliament building.

Yes Minister & Yes Prime Minister

The first great UK sitcom, and its sequel series, about governance, that I had the privilege to catch.

Absolute Power

The second, albeit with focus more on the spinners.

The Thick of It

The third, bringing it all back home, and spinning off a feature film, In the Loop.

The Wire

While all the seasons of this attempt to sum life in Baltimore at least touched on governance, one season took state politics as its focus...and it didn't hurt that that was one of the most sharply-written seasons.

Tanner '88

Funny, insightful, and with a much-later sequel series of its own. Probably set the tone for at least some of the later British as well as US productions.

The Prisoner

McGoohan and company's surreal and frequently deft critique of modern society, going a bit further than even Danger Man/Secret Agent had previously, did not spare either the ruling classes (of all stripes) nor the ease with which democratic efforts can be flummoxed and subverted.

The Gordimer Stories

A selection of eight short films, including an interview with Nadine Gordimer herself, which was shown on at least some PBS stations as a series, all the drama set in South Africa in depths of apartheid and the small and large tragedies those laws force upon the characters, and the attempts to subvert and overcome the noxious racist regime.

Parks and Recreation

A clever, intentionally goofy series, which nonetheless does manage to capture (in caricature) the range of governmental bureaucracy at least at the local levels in the US, from the almost insanely dedicated to the utter clockwatchers, the cranks who managed to land in a position and somehow keep it and the crusaders who know just what will save their villages even if...

honorable mentions:
Lou Grant
The Agency
Da Vinci City Hall
The Politician's Wife

All solid. If I'd seen more of the latter two, I'd perhaps move them into the first category...The Agency was CBS's one-season CIA drama, vastly better than its contemporaries 24 and Alias...but, then, Once A Thief the series, in syndication for its brief run in the US at that time, was better than they were, too, by being simply pleasant.

"the opposition" (not so great, in fact scoundrels, though often dearly loved by others):
The West Wing
--cute wish-fulfillment fantasy for centrist Democrats. Aaron Sorkin can write, but in the excellent Sports Night and the pleasant-enough Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip he was writing about life in television, which he actually knew something about.
--Rod Lurie, whom I knew in high school, loves to pick rather melodramatic subjects for his scripts, and load them with ringing speeches for his characters to deliver, thus making them catnip for the inner ham looking for gravitas. Sadly, Lurie almost never can make any of that sound like actual conversation nor come up with a believable character...firing Lurie off the series, as ABC did, and replacing him with Steven Bochco, who has his own tic-laden stylization, didn't help much. Geena Davis had fun with it.
Spin City and Benson and Murphy Brown
--Just shallow sitcoms, where it was assumed that making a topical reference or getting a cameo from someone actually working in politics or news reporting was the soul of wit. Actually, Benson didn't even try that hard. Pity...nearly everyone involved with these did better work elsewhere. (Late addition: And despite Julia Louis-Dreyfus's fine performance, much the same could be said of her recent sitcom, Veep.)


michael said...

Have you had a chance to see "Slattery's People"? There are two or three episodes that have survived but I have never watched it.

Todd Mason said...

I haven't, but would like to. Likewise the Peter Falk legal drama of the same vintage, THE TRIALS OF O'BRIEN. Hell, I've barely seen EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE and THE DEFENDERS.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I read an article somewhere yesterday also praising BORGEN. Maybe I will find a way to see it soon. It looks terrific. Good list, Todd.
And it looks like today they confirmed he had an inoperable brain tumor.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Yet to catch up with BORGEN though I am greatly looking forward to it. Really enjoyed the first 2 seasons of THE GOOD WIFE though I then bailed on the third season when I found I just couldn't find the time (and got a bit bored with the 'will they, won't they' romance between Alicia and Will, especially as Chris Noth's husband seemed genuinely repentant).

Todd Mason said...

I think you'll both at least mildly enjoy BORGEN, and Sergio, the third season of THE GOOD WIFE deals pretty thoroughly with that aspect of the series, among others. (And thanks for the further update on Scott, Patti. Still haven't taken the time to go look at that kind of thing.)

michael said...

Todd. there is a collector to collector website selling TRIALS OF O'BRIEN. He has the pilot and two episodes available.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, Michael...I might look into that, particularly if they're not too pricey or if I have anything useful to trade.