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Tag Archive: Hugh Laurie


Tomorrowland still

Review by C.J. Bunce

There is plenty to like about The Incredibles’ director Brad Bird’s 2015 release, Tomorrowland, now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital media.  Tomorrowland has a great, positive message about the potential of thinkers and dreamers, and it showcases a beautiful future world, but somehow it just doesn’t dazzle like it could.  Still, enough positive vibes and ideas are steeped into this film that the right person watching this movie will find it to be inspirational.

One of the best features is a decommissioned robot named Athena (that we’d label an excellent borg except we’re not sure biological elements or living matter may be part of her) played by young actress Raffey Cassidy (Cassidy played the daughter Beatrice in Season One of Mr. Selfridge).  In every scene she is so perfect in her role that her diction and appearance might convince you she will be shown later as an adult played by Emily Blunt (that doesn’t happen, but she’s a dead ringer).

Sadly Tomorrowland struggles with what kind of movie it wants to be.  Is this a fantasy or science fiction movie, or both?  Visually the Tomorrowland parallel world scenes feel much like the mix of sci-fi and fantasy from classic Flash Gordon–a great component of the movie watching experience.  But you must watch more than two-thirds of the film before being able to grasp a clear plot, and get fully immersed in that other world.  To get where the story is trying to get plenty of world building is apparently required.  It’s unfortunate because Tomorrowland couldn’t address a more interesting subject:  Why didn’t the future we envisioned 60 years ago come to pass? (Where are our jet packs?!)

Raffey Cassidy Tomorrowland

It’s a question science fiction writers wrestle with all the time: If I am going to predict a future technology or development, how many years from now should I say it will be achieved?  And will it come about at all at any time?  If you peg the breakthrough in your own lifetime, you may be left to face criticism when that date finally arrives.  See Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, James Cameron’s Terminator series, all of those Philip K. Dick novel adaptations, and more recently, Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future II predictions–many got elements of the future right, but many didn’t.

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Tomorrowland clip

We’ve already seen two previews for Disney’s Tomorrowland, starring George Clooney and Hugh Laurie.  The first, previewed here at borg.com, made the film look intriguing but wasn’t enough alone to get us to the theater.  The second, previewed here, gave us a bit more to go on.  But the latest trailer, released this past week, is enough for us to line up tickets for the opening weekend right away.

In fact, if you want to see an example of just what to put in a trailer, this third trailer released would be a good guide.  It’s got some key features that make for great entertainment:

  • humor
  • sci-fi an fantasy elements
  • well-known (and reliable) actors
  • jet packs
  • a reclusive genius (remember Dr. Stephen Falken?)
  • a vision of the future
  • cyborg bad guys
  • a talisman (that nifty little pin)
  • special effects showing us something entirely new
  • inter-dimensional portals
  • did we mention jet packs?

After the break, check out this nifty new trailer for Tomorrowland:

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Hugh Laurie in Tomorrowland

Last month’s teaser trailer for Disney’s Tomorrowland, starring George Clooney, didn’t give us much to go on.  If you missed it, check it out here.  It seemed like another gimmick to get people into a theme park.  Then they released the new full-length trailer for the summer 2015 release.

And they had us at Hugh Laurie.

How did we miss that Hugh Laurie was going to be in this, as some apparent high-level ruler of the futuristic Tomorrowland, accessible by a small push-button pin?

Hugh Laurie Tomorrowland

It appears like it could have some good sci-fi/fantasy elements:  An unexpected package like Ben Affleck found in Paycheck.  Or a useful totem like those found in the great short-lived sci-fi series, The Lost Room.

After the break, check out the new trailer for Tomorrowland:

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Star Wars Episode VII photo

We’ve just wound down another year of big movies–from Captain America: The Winter Soldier to X-Men: Days of Future Past to Guardians of the Galaxy to The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. So what’s on the radar at borg.com for 2015? We think you’ll want to see several of these big sci-fi, fantasy, superhero, and action flicks coming to a screen near you next year.

Vice movie poster Bruce Willis

Vice – Jan. 16 – The next in a long line of Bruce Willis action flicks.  This time it’s a sci-fi story about a future resort where humans freely pursue their vices–with artificial humans.

Wild Card movie poster

Wild Card – Jan. 30 – A story based on a novel by Academy Award winning writer William Goldman, starring Jason Statham as a gambler.

Kingsman movie poster

Kingsman: The Secret Service – Feb. 13 – This Colin Firth as spy action flick will tell us once and for all whether Firth would be a good choice to play James Bond.  With an all-star cast including Mark Hamill, Michael Caine, Mark Strong, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Chappie movie poster A

Chappie – March 6 – Neill Blomkamp’s latest science fiction entry.  A Pinocchio story where a robot learns to live among humans.

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Simpsons characters

It’s time to take your vacation, to call in sick, or do whatever you have to do.  It’s Matt Groening’s The Simpsons.  And it’s all 26 seasons, including the movie, in order.  Oh my.  It all begins today.

Take a trip back in time to 1989.  And re-live every pop culture reference, every celebrity satire, and every angst-ridden moment since.  Donut-eating Homer, big blue haired Marge, skateboard wielding Bart, unappreciated Lisa, and never-aging baby Maggie.

Re-live the first time you met Mr. Burns, Sideshow Bob, and Ralph Wiggum.

Simpsons couch

Experience again the Simpsons world voices of those now passed, like Phil Hartman, George Carlin, Paul Winfield, Johnny Cash, Gary Coleman, Dick Clark, Marcia Wallace, Rodney Dangerfield, Joey Ramone, Ernest Borgnine, Johnny Carson, Werner Klemperer, Larry Hagman, Audrey Meadows, Michael Jackson, Harry Morgan, and George Harrison.

Where else could you find all these celebrities in one place?  Liam Neeson, Mark Hamill, Andy Serkis, Mr. T, Paul Newman, Ben Stiller, Drew Barrymore, Michael Keaton, Bette Midler, Brian Setzer, Richard Gere, Tim Conway, Martin Mull, Helen Hunt, Robert Wagner, Lenny Kravitz, Isabella Rossellini, Paul McCartney, Darryl Strawberry, Bob Newhart, Meg Ryan, Dustin Hoffman, Steve Martin, John Ratzenberger, Tom Petty, Kirk Douglas, Steven Wright, Rachel Weisz, Hugh Laurie, Eddie Izzard, Mel Gibson, Willem Dafoe, Robert Forster, Martha Stewart, the Dixie Chicks, Linda Ronstadt, Max Von Sydow, Donald Sutherland, Mandy Patinkin, Tony Blair, Little Richard, Gary Busey, Henry Winkler, Emily Blunt, Colm Meaney, Benedict Cumberbatch, Lady Gaga, Brent Spiner, Marisa Tomei, Kurt Loder, Gillian Anderson, Treat Williams, J.K. Rowling, Cloris Leachman, Sir Mix a Lot, Tom Arnold, Topher Grace, and Sting.  Ruin anyone’s chance to compete with you at “Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon” with this series, people.

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Downton Abbey

For you genre TV and film fans that got sucked into the BBC/PBS series Downton Abbey, now that the series is on hiatus are you ready to entirely re-immerse yourself back into sci-fi and fantasy?  Or do you still need a bit of the British manor fix now and then?  A great feature of British manor series and movies is the overlap of actors back and forth into the best of sci-fi and fantasy.  So if 12 inches of snowfall has stranded you inside and you want to further investigate your favorite performers on Netflix or other streaming media as they stretch their acting chops, here’s an excuse to dive into some films and TV series you may not have otherwise tried, featuring the best of the world of sci-fi and fantasy.

Remains of the Day Dyrham Hall

Christopher Reeve plays an American who buys this estate in Remains of the Day.

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They are three very different series, one an 11 season megahit, one a five season struggling hit, and the other a one-season series that missed its audience and hardly had a chance at all.  Fox’s House, M.D. finished its eleventh season Monday with a Hugh Laurie retrospective (where actors Hugh Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard end by trashing the production set) and a textbook finale episode.  USA Network’s In Plain Sight pulled itself together in the final two seasons and ended with a satisfying conclusion earlier this month–the best finale of the three series reviewed here.  NBC’s one season series Awake, a series inexplicably cut short when NBC continues other much weaker, tired programming, provided a rare opportunity to wrap a cancelled series, bookending a stunningly well written series with a clean finish in Thursday night’s finale.

If you haven’t seen these finales you’d do yourself a favor to stop, watch them online or elsewhere, and come back, as there be spoilers ahead here.

House, M.D. had some powerhouse seasons and a superb cast that was ever-changing.  That change took the series to a new level.  With Doctors Chase (Jesse Spencer), Cameron (Jennifer Morrison), and Foreman (Omar Epps) one-upping each other over the first seasons, and an ongoing “will they or won’t they” storyline between Hugh Laurie’s Dr. Greg House and Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), it took the break-up of the team and a room full of candidates for House’s team to really show the series’ potential.  Enter Doctors Taub (Peter Jacobson), Kutner (Kal Penn), and the Doctors we knew as Cutthroat Bitch (Anne Dudek) and Thirteen (Olivia Wilde) in competition for House’s praise and a place on staff.  Only when the writers finally gave in and put House and Cuddy together did the show fall apart, but then a minor character named Martha Masters played by Amber Tamblyn turned the show around and it sailed in for a strong finish this season as we got to see House with his ideal wife, Dominika, played by Karolina Wydra.

But the writers always returned to what really gave the series heart–House’s friend Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard)–and creator David Shore all but admitted the inspiration for House in the finale’s retrospective.  As we’d always expected the House/Holmes (pronounce it “Homes” if you need to) and Wilson/Watson was intentional, including the House/Holmes brilliant analytical mind and antisocial nature, and to highlight it further the season finale mirrored the famous Sherlock Holmes case, “The Reichenbach Fall.”   Ultimately House, M.D. was a weekly buddy series, and the creators gave us the last scene we all needed.  A big plus for the finale was the return of past cast members, except the glaringly missing Cuddy, with even Kal Penn’s Kutner returning from the dead for an appearance.  And we knew that Doctor Chase would ultimately come out on top in the battle to replace House.  Taking the chair of House’s desk leaves us with the thought that the “show will go on” if not on TV then, by analogy, in real life.

In Plain Sight started almost unsure of what it wanted to be with star Mary McCormack playing an ever-irritable witness relocation program U.S. Marshal who was the bad end of a relationship with cool and (almost) decent boyfriend Raph (Cristian de la Fuente).  Then we began to understand her more as we met her disaster of a family, mom Jinx (Leslie Ann Warren) and sister Brandi (Nichole Hiltz).  Jinx and Brandi got so bad at points you felt bad for the actresses having to play these roles.  But Mary had the best support team you could wish on a person: partner Marshal Marshall Mann (played by Frederick Weller) (a strange character name that worked anyway) who was smart and full of brainy curiosities, and boss Stan McQueen (Paul Ben-Victor), a gruff but perfect-for-Mary leader of the Albuquerque federal office.  Creative differences almost lost the audience at the end of season two, but a re-focus on Mary prompted the series to pick itself up in time for actress Mary McCormack’s real-life pregnancy that the producers smartly just adapted for her character in season four, one of the best seasons of writing an acting for any actress on any television series.

As for the finale, the “will they or won’t they” angst we saw botched by allowing House and Cuddy get together, kept us guessing until almost the last scene for Mary Shannon and Marshall Mann.  When Marshall finally professes his love for Mary in the finale you could hear a collective sigh of relief across the viewing audience.  But it wasn’t what the passing viewer might think–it was true to both characters and simply a perfect climax to the relationship between these two partners, resulting in Marshall taking over the Albuquerque office where he could finally take care of Mary and still marry his fiancée Detective Chaffee (Rachel Boston), while Mary ends up with a new beau and boss Stan gets promoted to the Washington, DC office with new girlfriend Lia (Tia Carrere in the final season’s most refreshing new role).   As satisfying endings go, In Plain Sight simply was a winner.

As standalone episodes, the Awake finale packed a rollercoaster of action, twists, and emotion, with all the important plot threads nicely tied up.  The only problem with Awake likely was that it aired in a primetime slot on a major network.  On any other network–Fox, CW, USA, AMC–Awake would have found its audience and been a smash hit.  But NBC’s typical viewer does not like the clever supernatural drama as NBC has proven with prior cancellations year after year.  Awake was exciting, and included a cast of brilliant actors headlined by British actor Jason Isaacs, who, like fellow Brit Hugh Laurie, offered up a pitch perfect American accent.  Preparing for the worst, the creators readied a season finale that could stand strong as a series finale should the show get cancelled, and low viewership resulted in just that end.  Isaacs’ character Detective Britten never got any rest in season one–every time he awakened he was in a different reality–and it seemed as if Isaacs himself had a heavy burden playing this challenging character in an Emmy-worthy performance.  In fact, if Emmys nominees were being considered right now, you could bet Laurie, McCormack, and Isaacs would be strong contenders.

Awake’s finale allowed the supporting cast to shine–Detective Freeman (Steve Harris), Detective Vega (Wilmer Valderrama), and Dr. Evans (Cherry Jones) and Dr. Lee (BD Wong) only scratched the surface of what future seasons could have revealed.  Missed opportunities, such as what was to happen between Detective Britten and Tara (Michaela McManus), will never be known. Although we will never learn the “why” of the series, the unravelling of the car crash that got Britten into the entire mess gave viewers what we wanted in the end–a way for Britten to undo the past, or at least move forward as if the crash never ruined his life.

Sadly, we likely will never see the one-season Awake characters again other than on DVD, but House, M.D. and In Plain Sight will likely visit us again and again forever in syndication.  The good news is that these great actors are now freed up to give us something else.  What will Hugh Laurie, Robert Sean Leonard, Mary McCormack, Peter Jacobson, Jesse Spencer and Jason Isaacs do next?

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

Review by C.J. Bunce

If you have yet to recover from Mardi Gras, you’ve a yen for more jambalaya and gumbo, and you didn’t find the baby in your king cake, there may be hope for you yet.  Consider it another strand of purple, green and gold beads, if you will.

In case you missed it, 2011 was a banner year for Hugh Laurie.  Depending on where you’re from and what medium you lean on the most, you may know Hugh Laurie as the brooding genius doctor who entered his eighth season on House, M.D.  If you’re an Anglophile you may know him as part of a classic comic duo on the British series A Bit of Frye and Laurie, who then performed piano and sang as part of a vaudeville revival in Peter’s Friends, and performed various characters in various Blackadder series.  Costume drama types may know him as Mr. Palmer, one of the best performances in Emma Thompson’s Sense & Sensibility.  Or if you’ve really been following Mr. Laurie you might have read his 1998 spy novel The Gun Seller, Laurie’s first foray into fiction writing.

But what connects all this to February in Louisiana is Laurie’s debut album of soulful jazz, New Orleans blues singing and old-time piano playing.  Let Them Talk is an album you wouldn’t expect from a British actor, who speaks in real-life with an accent as English as they come.  Of course, some would be surprised from his perfectly done American accent on House, M.D., that Laurie is even British at all.  Adding certified blues musician to his bag of tricks as actor, comedian, and author, Laurie proved himself from all angles to be a true renaissance man.

Actors excel at “faking it.”  They get to pose as anyone else, and just as Laurie can play 19th century gentleman and modern new England doctor-turned-ex con, it may be no surprise that Laurie could fake it as a musician.  Yet, faking it is no where close to what is going on with Laurie and Let Them Talk.  Not only is Laurie a spirited pianist and guitar player who knows his stuff, he also knows what good blues is all about and you just can’t fake soulful sounds like Laurie was able to record onto this album.

As New Orleans blues is concerned, Laurie will fully admit he doesn’t have the street cred to begin with.  As he states in the liner notes to the album, “I am a white, middle-class Englishman, openly trespassing on the music and myth of the American south…. If you care about pedigree then you should try elsewhere, because I have nothing in your size.”

Yet Laurie proves that a life-long love of a genre plus skill can equal if not the real thing, then something pretty darned close.  Laurie can quote numerous influences and idols from classic jazz and blues, but his singing favorites he narrows to Ray Charles and Bessie Smith.  At times, you can hear Laurie and his soul-sister/vocalists conjure up the sounds of both on this album.

His choice of music is a mix of gritty and street gospel.

With St. James Infirmary is a familiar tune played here with a classical twist that moves into a down-and-out anthem of despair straight out of the Great Depression.  Laurie then sweeps into a honky tonk romp with a Cab Calloway-vibed back-up band.

You Don’t Know My Mind is a party of pure zydeco rhythms.  Laurie’s vocalizations are as strong and powerful as any singer then or now, and his sound and feel echo a bit of Tom Petty when Petty has dabbled off the beaten track from Southern rock.  A pretty cool duet those two would make.

Not surprisingly Six Cold Feet is Laurie at smooth traditional blues with a nice sultry saxophone beckoning the listener to some ill fate at the crossroads ahead.

Buddy Bolden’s Blues is as classic blues as it gets, and Laurie hilariously shows he can play a great Leon Redbone (or maybe it’s just Laurie and Redbone both reaching back for inspiration from the same old singers?

In the next song on the playlist Laurie may have created a contender for best-ever version of Battle of Jericho thanks in part to Jean McClain and Gennine Jackson’s soulful background echoes.  The ever-building spiritual is sure to stick with you long after your first encounter and beckon you back for more.

Laurie’s meandering piano takes backseat on After You’ve Gone to Mac Rebennack’s rousing sounds, accompanied nicely by Robby Marshall on clarinet.

Laurie takes Stephen Foster’s Old Folks at Home and mixes honky tonk piano with early vestiges of Chuck Berry in his version he calls Swanee River, sneaking in from outta nowhere an Italian virtuoso violin sound that twists itself into a “devil down in Georgia” wrap-up at the end.

In John Henry Laurie sings back-up vocals to Irma Thomas.  In a lot of albums you can get annoyed when the featured performer steps away and other performers take over.  Not so on this album.  Laurie’s deference of sorts is well placed and well timed and his selection of performers is well made.  If Laurie’s album is credible, it’s in part to the sharing of roles between the singers and instrumentalists on each song.

If Police Dog Blues, Winin’ Boy Blues and the Whale Has Swallowed Me show off Laurie’s voice as the featured musical element, Tipitina is Laurie showing off his best piano playing.  It’s that master playing you see Laurie performing in Peter’s Friends and at the tail end of select episodes of House, M.D.

That's one bad hat, Laurie

They’re Red Hot is Laurie performing a quick-paced (and short) Robert Johnson tune, which is bound to be fun to hear in-person in concert.  (Check out his website for a list of concert dates stretching up the West Coast beginning in May).  Baby, Please Make a Change features Sir Tom Jones in a solid Louisiana blues tune.

Finally, the title song Let Them Talk features Laurie almost quietly poking fun at himself and the audience that may be skeptical of an Englishman delving into the taboo classic sounds of The Blues (how dare he!).  It’s a nice finale and reminds this listener of the piano playing and singing of Billy Joel on Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.

Maybe best of all, Laurie’s reverence for this genre of music brings together honest and modern interpretations of traditional folk songs, spirituals and blues, all with deep American roots, and manages to offer a fresh and entertaining collection to accompany you as you while away the weekend on your porch with a cold glass of lemonade or sweet tea.  If Laurie is a faker, he’s a faker of the best kind.

Let Them Talk is available everywhere records are sold, online and at certain Starbucks coffee houses.

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

To tell you the truth, I really wasn’t looking forward to House M.D. this season, so much so that I actually forgot to watch the season premiere.  After the departure of Amber Tamblyn and last year’s bizarre, Clockwork Orange musical dream sequence, I was pretty sure that House’s antics had lost both their power to shock his co-workers, and to entertain audiences.

Well, after getting caught up on the first two episodes of Season 8, I’m happy to announce that I was wrong.  But you can understand where I was coming from; after all, if House in rehab wasn’t that interesting, and House in a mental institution wasn’t that interesting, and House in a relationship with Cuddy wasn’t that interesting, how was House in prison going to be any different?  It was, and I’m almost sorry Hugh Laurie’s going to be back at Princeton Plainsboro for the rest of the season.

With “Twenty Vicodin,” the writers clearly capitalized on what has always been one of the show’s top assets: fresh cast members.  From House’s spooky, silent, hulking cellmate (Michael Bailey Smith (Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek Voyager) as Sullivan), to the dilettante prison physician (new series regular Odette Annable (Monk, Cloverfield, Life on Mars (U.S.)), as Dr. Jessica Adams), “Twenty Vicodin” was peppered with engaging characters to challenge House.  The plot hinges on House’s efforts to earn parole (after crashing his car into Cuddy’s house in last season’s finale) by keeping his nose clean on his last five days in prison.  That requires him to stockpile and hand over the eponymous twenty vicodin to prison gangleader Mendelson (Jude Ciccolella, Life, Medium, Monk, Burn Notice, Law and Order, Star Trek: Nemesis); avoid pissing off fellow inmates; really avoid pissing off the infirmary supervisor; and somehow simultaneously (of course) solve a medical mystery.  Fellow inmate Nick (Sebastian Sozzi, Law and Order) has mysterious symptoms, and House must circumvent every prison regulation in place to diagnose him.  And by the way?  It’s not lupus.

Episode 2, “Transplant” doesn’t quite pick up where “Twenty Vicodin” left off, because while House did save the guy’s life, he also annoyed enough folks in prison to get another 8 months tacked onto his sentence.  Enter new Dean of Medicine Dr. Foreman (Omar Epps), in a fairly inevitable if ho-hum choice with an offer: come back to Princeton Plainsboro to diagnose a “dream patient”– a pair of already-harvested lungs slated for a transplant to Dr. Wilson’s (Robert Sean Leonard) dying cancer patient.  The medical puzzle in this episode is House at its best–intriguing, impossible, desperate, and totally innovative.  With his original team long gone (is it mean to say “Yay!”?), House must work with disgraced neurology intern Dr. Chi Park (Charlene Yi), who is not quite Amber Tamblyn, but held her own as well as any House fellow can be expected to.  We’re definitely looking forward to watching her character grow this season.

But the heart of “Transplant,” as it always is, was Wilson, carrying the emotional plotline for both the lungs and for House’s return to the hospital.  House’s and Wilson’s relationship has always been the sort of subtle backbone to the series, explored in varying depths through the years, but with this episode you got the sense that everyone finally got that, and that we may see that relationship explored in even greater depths this season.  Robert Sean Leonard’s performance was top-notch, particularly in the painfully satisfying scene of Wilson finally telling House that he just doesn’t care anymore.  You truly had the sense that he meant it; he just seemed done.  We also had a sense that just maybe House might have finally changed, too, expressed in the beautifully-written and deceptively simple line, “We save the lungs.  Wilson needs them.”  Of course, they’re House and Wilson and this is episodic TV, so too much can’t change between them, and it was nice to see them heading off into the sunset together for a steak.

After these promising first two episodes, can Season 8 keep up the momentum?  I have to admit, the teasers don’t look promising.  More Princeton Plainsboro, more old team.  I’m tempted to yawn, but my DVR is still firmly tuned to Fox Mondays at 8/7.

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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