Category: Retro Fix


Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s always a big surprise when the holiday episode of Doctor Who is a critical not-to-be-missed episode.  When we last saw the Doctor, she was trapped millions of light years away in an alien prison.  The New Year’s Day 2021 special Revolution of the Daleks is not a filler, out-of-continuity holiday showpiece, instead continuing after ten months have lapsed for the Doctor’s companions back on Earth, and after the Doctor has been imprisoned for years in that same relative time span.  If you missed this episode you missed: the return of John Barrowman’s universal fan-favorite character Captain Jack Harkness, another Law & Order/Law & Order UK crossover/reunion, the last we’ll see of some major characters, a new Prime Minister, a preview of a new companion, and one of the best Dalek episodes in the 57 years of the series.  As the studio releases word that Jodie Whittaker will be soon leaving the series, Revolution of the Daleks reflects that both her performance as the 13th Doctor and Chris Chibnall’s running of the series has finally arrived.  It’s a timeless story full of important, lovely emotional beats, fantastic new sci-fi special and visual effects, and a return to the classic framework and themes of the show’s past.

Let’s take a look at why this episode was superb and offer up some candidates for the 14th Doctor…

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It’s that time of year again, time to take a look forward at what movies should be on your radar for 2022.  We’re changing up this year’s preview by adding several trailers.  Unlike in previous years, we have trailers for most of these movies.  These are the genre films we think borg readers will want to know about to make their own checklists for the coming year.  In all we pulled 60 movies from the hundreds of films that have been finalized or are in varying stages of final production and slated for next year’s movie calendar.  Many of these will be more than familiar to you, as we’ve previewed some going back to 2019.

The biggest surprise is there aren’t a lot of surprises on the horizon, at least for big movies, like Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, Thor: Love and Thunder, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, Black Adam, Lightyear, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-verse, Halloween Ends, Top Gun: Maverick, Jurassic World: Dominion, a new Predator movie called Prey, and The Batman.  Compare the below list to our 2021 list, 2020 list, 2019 list and even the 2018 list, 2017 list, 2016 list, 2015 list, or 2014 list, and you’ll see the studios continue moving genre content from the big screen to the small screen via streaming services.  Hollywood hasn’t made its way back to full production mode yet since the pandemic risks aren’t over yet, and it’s beginning to look like TV will be the location most people watch their movies for the foreseeable future, if not permanently.  What do the big movies have in common?  They’re all sequels–and more remakes of movies, books, and TV shows are on the way.

First up, the top 15 movies expected in 2022 that don’t have an announced release date yet, followed by our annual month-by-month rundown of trailers.  Grab your calendar and start making your plans–here are the movies you’ll want to see in 2022 (and some you might not!):

  • Havoc –Tom Hardy stars as a detective in a crime drama directed by Gareth Evans (Netflix)
  • Enola Holmes 2 – sequel, starring Millie Bobby Brown and Henry Cavill (Netflix)
  • Prey – the fifth movie in the Predator franchise will be a prequel, starring Amber Midthunder as a Comanche who must protect her tribe from the alien threat (Hulu)
  • Pinocchio – live-action version of the fairy tale stars Tom Hanks as Geppetto and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jiminy Cricket (Disney+)
  • The Amazing Maurice – animated young adult fantasy about a sentient cat, based on the 2001 book The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett, starring Emilia Clarke, Hugh Laurie, David Thewlis (theatrical release)
  • Blonde a biopic about Marilyn Monroe starring Ana de Armas, with Adrien Brody and Bobby Cannavale (Netflix)
  • Wendell and Wild – comedy duo Key and Peele create a stop-motion dark horror comedy (Netflix)
  • The Gray Man –the Russo brothers direct a film about a an ex-CIA agent, starring Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, and Ana de Armas (Netflix)
  • The Adam Project – sci-fi movie stars Ryan Reynolds as a man who goes back in time to get his younger self for help (Netflix)
  • Spaceman – sci-fi movie stars Adam Sandler and Carey Mulligan (Netflix)
  • The School for Good and Evil – long-delayed young adult fantasy with Charlize Theron (Netflix)
  • Slumberland – kids fantasy adventure starring Jason Momoa and Kyle Chandler (Netflix)
  • All Quiet on the Western Front remake of novel adaptation, this time starring Daniel Bruhl (Netflix)
  • Blade of the 47 Ronin sequel to 47 Ronin, starring Mark Dacascos (Netflix)
  • Deep Water – another Ben Affleck bad marriage “erotic psychological thriller,” with Ana de Armas (Hulu).

January

The 355  Spy/thriller, starring Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Bingbing Fan, Diane Kruger, Penelope Cruz, Sebastian Stan – January 7.

The Tender Bar – Coming of age story starring Ben Affleck and Christopher Lloyd (Amazon) – January 7.

Hotel Transylvania: Transformania – Latest entry in the animated franchise (Amazon) – January 14.

Scream – Horror, the big reboot/sequel stars Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette – January 17.

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Merry Christmas!

It’s that time of year again, time to take a look forward at what movies should be on your radar for 2020.  Are you going to see them all?  Heck no.  These are the genre films we think borg readers will want to know about to make their own checklists for the coming year–and they are only the films we know about so far.  We pulled 85 of the hundreds of films that have been finalized or are in varying stages of final production, slated for next year’s movie calendar.

What looks to top the list for most fanboys and fangirls?  Ghostbusters: Afterlife Scarlett Johannson solo in Black WidowA new James Bond movie, No Time to DieVin Diesel in Bloodshot and a new Fast & FuriousThe original Tom Clancy novel series is finally continuing with an adaptation of Without Remorse Comic book adaptations are in less supply in 2020, but look for Venom 2, Wonder Woman 1984, Eternals, The New Mutants, Morbius, Birds of Prey, The Old Guard, and did we mention Black WidowCompare the below list to our 2019 list and even the 2018 list, 2017 list, 2016 list, 2015 list, or 2014 list, and your takeaway may be seeing the studios moving genre content from the big screen to the small screen via streaming services.

Do you like sequels?  There are far less coming to theaters in 2020 than in 2019, but many more remakes of movies, books, and TV shows are on the way.  In fact, with all the blockbusters in 2019, 2020 looks pretty tame as the cinema marquee is concerned.  Some films don’t have locked in release dates yet: Amazon Studios and Netflix haven’t revealed dates for the following 2020 releases (those we know you’ll find on the calendar below):

  • 7500, a film about a highjacked airplane, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Amazon Studios)
  • The Dig, a film about a woman finding archaeological treasures on her land, starring Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, and Carey Mulligan (Netflix)
  • Horse Girl, Alison Brie stars and directs this story about an awkward girl who fuses her dreams with reality (Netflix)
  • Jingle Jangle, an animated Christmas story with the voices of Forest Whitaker, Keegan-Michael Key, and Hugh Bonneville (Netflix)
  • Louis Wain, biopic of the 19th century artist starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy, and Andrea Riseborough (Amazon Studios)
  • The Old Guard, adaptation of comic book story, starring Charlize Theron and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Netflix)
  • Radioactive, a film about Marie Curie, starring Rosamund Pike and Anya Taylor-Joy (Amazon)
  • Rebecca, adaptation and remake of the Daphne Du Maurier classic novel, starring Lily James, Keely Hawes, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Armie Hammer (Netflix)
  • Welcome to Sudden Death, sequel to Jean-Claude van Damme 1995 movie starring Michael Jai White (Netflix)
  • The Willoughbys, animated adaptation of the Lois Lowry book, with voices of Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, and Jane Krakowski (Netflix)
  • Wonderland, murder conspiracy mystery starring Mark Wahlberg, Allan Arkin, and Colleen Camp (Netflix)

Some of these films will have revised release dates, or get pushed to 2021.

So grab your calendar and start making your plans–here are the movies you’ll want to see in 2020 (and some you might not!):

January

The Informer – Thriller, starring Joel Kinnaman, Rosamund Pike, Ana de Armas, Common, and Clive Owen – January 10.

Underwater – Thriller, stars Kristin Stewart in underwater horror story – January 10.

Dolittle – Family/Comedy, stars Robert Downey, Jr. in remake of the classic, with voices of Tom Holland, Rami Malek, Octavia Spencer, Emma Thompson, Antonio Banderas, Ralph Fiennes, and Michael Sheen – January 17.

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Merry Christmas!

It’s that time of year again, time to take a look forward at what movies should be on your radar for 2018.  Are you going to see them all?  Heck no.  These are the genre films we think borg.com readers will want to know about to make their own checklists for the coming year.  We pulled 55 of the hundreds of films that have been finalized or are in varying stages of final production for next year’s movie calendar.

What looks that it may top the list of most fanboys and fangirls?  How about Ready Player One in March?  Solo: A Star Wars Story and Avengers: Infinity War in May?  Sequels to Deadpool and The Incredibles in June?  X-Men: Dark Phoenix in November?  But don’t over look other films that look promising, like Winchester in February, Tomb Raider in March, and The Predator and The Equalizer sequels in August.

So grab your calendar and start making your plans for next year–here is the list of the movies you’ll want to see in 2018:

The Commuter – January 12 — Liam Neeson’s next action thriller finds him on a train with an offer he can’t refuse.  Co-starring Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson.

Proud Mary – January 12 — A hitwoman played by Teraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures, Empire) has her life go sideways when a mob hit goes bad.  With Neal McDonough and Danny Glover.

Ophelia – January 22 — Daisy Ridley stars as Ophelia in a twist on Shakepseare’s Hamlet told from her perspective.  Co-starring Naomi Watts and Tom Felton.

Please Stand By – January 26 — Dakota Fanning, Toni Collette, and Alice Eve star in a story about a young woman with autism who sets her sights on winning a Star Trek writing competition.

Winchester – February 2 — Inspired by true events, the story of the heir to the Winchester firearms fortune finds herself haunted by the deaths of all killed by the weapons, leaving her to try to avoid them in an incredible mansion.  Starring Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke.

Cloverfield 3 (yet to be titled) –  February 2 — A crew of astronauts fight for survival on a space station.  Starring Elizabeth Debicki, Daniel Brühl, and David Oyelowo.

Peter Rabbit – February 9 — Fox Studios brings a great cast of voice talent to their adaptation of the classic Beatrix Potter story.  With Daisy Ridley, Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, Rose Byrne, and Domhnall Gleeson.

Monster Family – February 9 — A family is turned into monsters in this animated romp.  Starring the voices of Jason Isaacs, Emily Watson, Nick Frost, and Catherine Tate.

Black Panther – February 16 — Ryan Coogler directs Marvel Comics’ king cat superhero Black Panther in his own standalone movie.  Starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, with a reunion of The Hobbit’s Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis.

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Happy holidays!

It’s that time of year again, time to take a look forward at what movies should be on your radar for 2021!  But wait!  Next year’s list sure looks a lot like the the films we previewed last December.  The covid pandemic has delayed hundreds of film projects, but some made it through.  When you walk back through last year’s list and compare it to movies released after theater lockdowns, you get some insight into how Hollywood thinks.  Big movies and movies predicted to be successes were universally held back, while less popular films were released to low box office returns from theaters that remained open, and yet other films went directly to home streaming or related media platforms.

Last year we pulled 85 of the hundreds of films then slated for the 2020 movie calendar.  The first two dozen made it to theaters (films like Underwater, Dolittle, and Birds of Prey) before the national shift began on March 11 with news of the NBA reacting to the pandemic by suspending pro basketball–the first national awareness of the scope of the problem.  Suddenly we saw Vudu and other home platforms coming to the rescue for our entertainment fix, adding a new Theater at Home option, which captured movies like Anya Taylor-Joy’s Emma, Vin Diesel’s Bloodshot, and the animated Scoob!  Disney began an interesting tiered release of Mulan, which for half the year showed a studio doing its best to maximize returns on what would have been a key release in any other year.  After another delay The New Mutants made it briefly to theaters followed by home release after three years of getting kicked aside as the last vestiges of the Disney-Fox merger were shaken out.  Other films, like Vast of Night, Extraction, The Old Guard, Rebecca, Radioactive, and Fantasy Island safely premiered on Netflix and Amazon Prime, with Chris Hemsworth’s Extraction standing out as the clear popular winner–the entire world needed some new entertainment and after what would only be the first of several months of shelter-at-home, it tentatively filled the void.

So our predictions for the year’s big genre films were flat wrong, every single one except Mulan was delayed to 2021, including Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Black Widow, No Time to Die, a new Fast & Furious, Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, and superhero flicks Venom 2, Eternals, and MorbiusWonder Woman 1984 is expected to have a theatrical release by year end.  Altogether 35 of last year’s 85 movies previewed on our annual list are back again below, plus we found more than 35 new genre films we think will appeal to borg readers.

So what’s left and what’s new?

Grab your calendar and start making your plans–here are the movies you’ll want to see in 2021.  Then compare the below list to our 2020 list, and look back to the 2019 list, 2018 list, 2017 list, 2016 list, 2015 list, or 2014 list.  Last year we noticed studios moving genre content from the big screen to the small screen via streaming services, and the pandemic only stepped up that migration.  Note:  Warner Bros. has reported it will issue its 2021 releases simultaneously on HBO Max.  Netflix has mostly dramas slated for 2021, but a few genre films are in pre-production, so expect a few surprises throughout the year.  Amazon Studios has fewer, most partnerships with Blumhouse Productions.

As we learned well this year, many of these films will have revised release dates, and even get pushed to 2022.

January

Mortal Kombat Based on the video game.  New!  Tentative release date: January 15, 2021.  HBO Max.

Wrath of Man Next Jason Statham action flick.  New!  Tentative release date: January 15, 2021.

The French Dispatch.  Wes Anderson and his familiar actors in new quirky film about journalists.  New!  January 28, 2021.

The DigA film about a woman finding archaeological treasures on her land, starring Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, and Carey Mulligan.  January 29, 2021.  Netflix.

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chrome T1000 ReAction Funko Terminator 2 Entertainment Earth exclusive   exclusive T1000 chrome bullets T1000 Entertainment Earth Terminator 2

Back in February we revealed here at borg.com the latest in Funko’s more than 20 licensed films and TV series in its 2015 ReAction action figure line first discussed at borg.com here and here, and now we have images of the carded figures and sculpts for many more new figures.  We also have links to allow readers to be among the first to pre-order them all from online collectibles store Entertainment Earth.  We’re still waiting for final images for Jaws, Gremlins, Scarface, and Fight Club, but we have pre-order information plus images and links to pre-order the new ReAction line for CW’s The Flash, The Karate Kid, Disney’s Tomorrowland, and the second wave of original series Star Trek figures We shared links for the first figures in the new Star Trek original series line last month here.

Better yet, you can now pre-order two new exclusive Funko ReAction figures, available only from Entertainment Earth.  Order the two exclusive liquid chrome “metallic” T1000 Terminator 2 figures (above, top) by clicking on the above images.

Word from Funko’s blog is that Phoebe Cates is not authorizing a likeness for the Gremlins line.  Here’s the prototype from Toy Fair 2015:

Gremlins prototypes Funko ReAction

This may mean both the Gremlins and Fast Times at Ridgemont High lines will be hindered by missing her key characters from these films.  Even though her figure looked nothing like the actress (as with most figures in the retro line) she apparently has some control of over not only her image but reproductions based on her characters.

Click on the images below to see full-sized images of figures and cards and to pre-order each from Entertainment Earth.

Flash Funko ReAction  Mr Miyagi Karate Kid Funko ReAction

Still yet to be revealed are figures from The Dark Crystal, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Big Lebowski, Scarface (although Al Pacino’s figure was previewed at Toy Fair 2015), V for Vendetta, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, The A-Team, The Munsters, and Aliens.

Second Wave of Star Trek, the original series

Captain Kirk Funko ReAction Scotty Funko ReAction Star Trek Gorn Star Trek ReAction Funko Vina Star Trek ReAction Funko

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To get to borg.com’s first anniversary it actually took us 366 days because of the leap year.  And what a year it has been!

So what do we have to show for 366 daily posts–our attempt to keep you up to date on what is going on in science fiction, fantasy, and entertainment news?

Jason McClain and Elizabeth C. Bunce

We interviewed some great people, like DC Comics artists Freddie Williams and Mikel Janin, writers Sharon Shinn and Jai Nitz, and Star Trek insider Penny Juday.  In our “Sneak preview” series we reviewed the pilots for new TV series ABC’s New Girl and NBC’s Awake before they were broadcast on TV.  We gave you our take on several opening weekend screenings of a big year in movies from Cowboys & Aliens to Green Lantern, from the last Harry Potter film to Daniel Radcliffe’s first big adult role in The Woman in Black,  to the day of Marvel Comics movies that led up to the U.S. premiere of The Avengers We shared the first images released of The Hobbit and Total Recall We reviewed new books and classic sci-fi books in our “Retro reviews,” from Philip K. Dick, Ian Fleming, Michael Crichton, Rex Stout, Ernest Cline, and Richard Stark, and several non-fiction books about the “behind the scenes” of movies.  We covered Comic-Con International, Wondercon, Planet Comicon, Free Comic Book Day and the early release party for Avengers vs. X-Men We reviewed dozens of new comic book series, from Morning Glories to Terry Moore’s Rachel Rising and a whole slew of DC’s New 52 reboot, as well as Marvel Comics’ limited series events.  Along with that we’ve kept tabs on our (and hopefully your) favorite things like Doctor Who, Star Trek, Walking Dead, Peter Jackson, baseball, Community, Benedict Cumberbatch, the Syfy Channel, USA Network, James Bond, Batman and Green Arrow.  We’ve posted lots of original comic art to get an eye on the creative process of the artist, and we loved discussing genre costumes, including the latest news about incredible screen-used prop and costume auctions.  We’ve also taken a closer look at science fiction movies with our “Anatomy of science fiction” series, featuring iconic images, and the evolution of space suits in film.  And to give you ideas for movie watching from the archives, we provided our “favorites” and “best of” series, revealing our recommendations for overlooked TV series, Halloween flicks, favorite fantasy films, best adaptations, favorite characters, and best art of Alex Ross and Frank Cho.  We’ve profiled favorite genre stars like David Warner, John Carpenter and Mark Sheppard.  We’ve reviewed new compact discs from some of our favorite celebrities, Hugh Laurie and Zoey Deschanel, as well as new fantasy video games.  And finally, we’ve talked about borgs from every sci-fi franchise out there, and even how borg technology as cutting edge science affects humans in real life.

Art Schmidt and CJ Bunce

We think we like what you’d like, so we’ve tried to help you get the most out of entertainment by recommending to you the best sci-fi, fantasy and entertainment out there.

A personal thanks to professional writers Elizabeth C. Bunce (fantasy author, intrepid TV reviewer and fangirl), Jason McClain (Hollywood columnist and master of myriad musings) and Art Schmidt (diehard genre fan and fantasy realm connoisseur) for their great contributions and getting us more than 250,000 site visits and hundreds of positive feedback comments in only our first year.

Thanks for reading!  Year 2 begins tomorrow…

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

Review by C.J. Bunce

Guy Ritchie’s 2009 movie Sherlock Holmes partnered Robert Downey, Jr.’s Holmes with Jude Law’s Dr. Watson, and the result was a superb, entertaining action caper.  This weekend Ritchie’s sequel, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, although not as great as the 2009 film, is a satisfying follow-up and equally entertaining.

In addition to Downey and Law, Rachel McAdams returns as thief and on-and-off-again love interest to Holmes, Irene Adler.  Reprising their supporting roles are Kelly Reilly, as Dr. Watson’s fiancée Mary, as well as Geraldine James as Holmes’s landlady, Mrs. Hudson, and Eddie Marsan as Inspector Lastrade.

Also returning is plenty of Holmes’s slow motion fight scenes, both real-time and shown in flashback, to sort of rub our noses in the fact that no one, not even the viewer, can keep up with the preparation and advance planning done by our hero detective.  There may very well be even more of these scenes, even longer than in the 2009 film, because I found myself comparing Holmes and Watson to contemporary variations on the duo in each of the slow-mo battles.*

As foreshadowed in the first film, Holmes now takes on nemesis Professor Moriarty, who is set up as an incredibly brilliant villain mastermind, teaching at university while also orchestrating arms deals and terrorist attacks as part of a business case to become even more wealthy, regardless of whether he starts a war to take down all of Europe in the process.  Moriarty is played well here by Jared Harris (The Riches, Madmen, Fringe, Far and Away, Last of the Mohicans, Lost in Space, The Other Boleyn Girl, Without a Trace, Lady in the Water), who gets to show some good acting chops possibly courtesy of shared acting genes from his father, legendary thespian Richard Harris (the first Professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series, as well as King Arthur in Camelot, Richard the Lionheart in Robin and Marian, and key roles in Patriot Games, Unforgiven, and The Guns of Navarone).  Harris plays Moriarty probably too subtly here, he hints at a dark side akin to Will Patton’s General Bethlehem in The Postman, but most of this is through the story build-up and not through his character onscreen.  We’re left wanting a bit for some more evil and brilliance to counter-balance that of Downey’s Holmes, who again here is perfect in nearly every scene.

Noomi Rapace (the lead in the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels), unlike typical casting of Hollywood model types, is well-cast as a gypsy woman, but unfortunately she only gets a few good scenes, both of them running from first Russian then German mercenaries and the resulting fight scenes and bullet dodging.

Game of Shadows, as a sequel, reminded me of a sequel like the non-stop action-filled Die Hard 3, and happily not like sequels that hit with a thud such as Downey’s Iron Man 2.

Key creative and impactful scenes include McAdams’s character encountering the full weight of Moriarty’s Godfather-like influence, Watson and his new wife’s train ride to their honeymoon, lots and lots of cannons, and Holmes’s fascination with what he calls “urban camouflage.”  There is a bit to say that doesn’t work in this sequel, the story skips around a lot, the plot itself is lacking and seems to be a bunch of stitched together scenes and you may question why they move on to the next location and think “maybe on re-viewing it will make more sense.”

But of all the positive in the film, nothing matches the introduction of a new character, Holmes’s smarter brother Mycroft Holmes, played beautifully and brilliantly by comedian and actor Stephen Fry.  Fry is an actor that seems to only get better and more brilliant every time he appears in a new film.  Known early on as part of a comedy troupe with Hugh Laurie (House, M.D.), he also had key roles in Peter’s Friends, V for Vendetta, Gosford Park, A Civil Action, I.Q., and A Fish Called Wanda, and he will be appearing next year as the Master of Laketown in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  As the “other Holmes,” Fry gets some funny, key scenes and hopefully will have even more screentime in future sequels.

*These included:  Hugh Laurie’s House and Robert Sean Leonard’s Wilson in Holmes/Watson roles on House, M.D., against their own Moriarty, Forman; on the TV show Psych, James Roday and Dule Hill’s Shawn Spencer and Burton Guster, particularly with Shawn’s observation skills; Jeffrey Donovan’s Michael Westen and his sleuthing spy work voice-overs on Burn Notice, the current equally superb BBC series Sherlock, and Batman’s detective stories, which are often written mentioning the original, classic detective’s influence on Bruce Wayne.

Growing up in the United States, I never quite understood British TV, not from a language angle, but from a choice of subject matter angle.  Long before BBC America, the only real exposure for decades was public television, which limited you to made-for-television Agatha Christie and Poirot or shows about priests or wacky but hard to decipher comedies.  To this day I still don’t see what’s so funny about Monty Python.  Don’t get me wrong, I know there are tons of folks that see this as classic material.  But I won’t just dismiss any genre of comedy. I keep coming back for more.

“A wise man changes his mind. A fool never does.”

In light of the above maxim, I’ve re-tried Monty Python from time to time.  I just must not be ready for it yet.  I keep re-trying British shows, too—especially those that others view as classics.

Late night programming over the past few decades often exposed Americans to The Benny Hill ShowBenny Hill is bawdy and crude but he is funny at an LOL level.  There’s something Chaplin-like about Benny Hill’s antics.  So maybe Benny Hill is as good as any an introduction to British TV for newbies.

For some 40 years Americans have also been exposed to Doctor Who, in his numerous incarnations, again mainly thanks to public television.  For years I would flip on an episode to give it a try.  I just never figured it out.  I think the strange fashions on the show, particularly as worn by the Doctors, kept me away.  The rare friend liked a particular Doctor and would latch on for a while.  So for some, Doctor Who was a gateway to British TV.  My own getting to like Doctor Who is only incredibly recent, and a subject for a later date, maybe British TV 304: Why you should watch the Doctor.

I have tried A Bit of Fry and Laurie as I started to like Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry after seeing the movie Peter’s Friends, when Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson were the then-next big British invasion.  Fry and Laurie’s old show may make you feel like the guy in the room that doesn’t get any of the jokes. (These guys are both funny in other shows).

Then there was Masterpiece Theatre. Alistair Cooke.  Beyond the great trumpet fanfare theme music, what followed were melodramas and mysteries that for me just crawled.  I know a lot of other folks that weren’t so slow to gravitate toward British TV, so some people have gotten hooked this way.

If you like animals, All Creatures Great and Small is a good series that is quaint and still holds up after all these years. It’s the true adventures of a small town British veterinarian.  These shows, based on a series of good books by James Herriot, are a great introduction to British TV.

Another series worth checking out is Monarch of the Glen, a more recent series that takes place in Scotland and has a bit of humor and light drama, but, more than that, it serves as a great travelogue for Scotland.  The cast for this series was great, and the stories not complicated but fun.

So what’s the best introduction for someone who hasn’t quite gotten the bug for British TV yet?  My recommendation is that 30-minute sitcom with the two James Bond actors, that has aired live or in reruns since 1992.  Know which one I mean?

Before the details, I have to say that I think Judi Dench is the best thing that ever happened to British TV.  She is an actress who, at 77 years old now, is as in prime form as any actress in any country.  She was an actress known in England for years but seemed to catapult into the international limelight beginning with her appearance in Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V in 1989. At least none of us on this side of the pond saw her before that.  Judi Dench, now Dame Judi Dench, should be credited with popularizing British TV outside of Great Britain.

If you only know Judi Dench as M in the current run of brilliant James Bond movies (she’s been both Pierce Brosnan’s and Daniel Craig’s icy and savvy boss), then you should check out her 1992-2005 ground-breaking series As Time Goes By.  Of all the programs ostensibly “about nothing,” there is no funnier show than the polite but determined banter of Dench’s Jean Pargetter and long lost but newly found mate Lionel, played by Geoffrey Palmer.   It is a show that is elegant in its simplicity, about characters who are plain folk.  As the action genre is concerned, you should recognize Palmer from the new Doctor Who, Ashes to Ashes, and as Admiral Roebuck in another James Bond flick, Tomorrow Never Dies.

Both Dench and Palmer have a stunningly long resume of roles going back decades. Yet both hit their prime when Palmer was 65 and Dench was 58.  By then, their experience, including a lot of professional stage work, allowed them to come across the airwaves and the Atlantic Ocean as relaxed and as down to Earth as any friend in your living room no matter what you do, where you live, and who you are.

What’s As Time Goes By About?  Before we meet the main characters later in life at the beginning of the series, Lionel and Jean were lovers during the Korean War.  They are separated by a misunderstanding—a letter that was sent but did not arrive—and they moved on in their lives marrying others and raising families.  Flash forward.  Lionel is looking for a secretary in Jean’s office.  He meets Jean’s daughter, then Lionel discovers Jean again from this encounter and they reunite.  In short, each episode is about the baggage they both bring to the relationship.  And it is not a lot.  But these little niggling things are always subtlely introduced and before you know it, and in the face of good intentions, almost always result in a major catastrophe, or more aptly, much ado about nothing.

The supporting cast is equally enjoyable—daughter Judy (Moira Brooker) and friend Sandy (Jenny Funnell) are real and accessible to viewers, British or not.  And then there is Alistair (Philip Bretherton), Lionel’s editor and Judy’s on-again/off-again love interest,  a breath of fresh air in every episode.  You can’t not like the guy who is always happy, always a glass half full kind of guy.

The ensemble is great not only for being a leading series with senior actors in the lead roles.  Every episode is funny with a type of humor that is light-hearted, never malicious, never about putting anyone down.  Dench’s Jean makes us laugh through her feigned naivete.  Palmer’s Lionel has a dry, deadpan wit.  It’s just about the funny things that happen to everyone.  And no matter what your age, despite flatly believing all humans are pretty much the same, if you ask yourself whether you really believe that, it’s still worth challenging the thought a bit.  The British and Americans have a common language, a common national history.  Yet we branched off a few hundred years ago.  Like someone was playing a game, maybe God: Let’s see what happend if we split them up…  You can just hear the voice of God like a TV show announcer:  What happens when you take these two countries, pull them a part and bring them back together 200 years later? 

In many ways we are very, very different.  But instead of looking at the differences, it is more fun to check out how we are alike.  To some, you might as well be watching British TV as watching the Spanish Univision channel.  It’s Greek to me.  Then you watch that one show, see that one response, or phrase, or reaction, and slowly get sucked in—we live in different places, our accents are different, but we all have bedrooms and living rooms.  We all have to get along with the guy next door, or even closer, the person in the next room.  Everything we watch and see helps us understand others better and that helps us understand ourselves.  This accessibility, this commonality of the human experience, is why As Time Goes By is a great program for anyone interested in sampling what this British TV thing is all about–to go give it the old college try.  And at some point you might find yourself proclaiming a British TV series as the best series, in any country, ever made.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

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