Tag Archive: Shetland


luke cage

Ten years!  That’s ten years reviewing TV series in the decade that streaming services began to dominate TV viewing– and binge-watching was born as Netflix began releasing entire seasons at once in 2013.  How do you pick the best series?  As with yesterday’s list of movie recommendations, our theory from the very first day of publishing borg has been reviewing only those things we like, things we think are fun, imaginative, or just plain cool—because if we think they’re cool, maybe you will, too.  What makes a great TV series?  Great writing—great storytelling.  Also we looked to difficulty level and technology innovation—TV productions tend to get a fraction of the budget of big-screen features, so what they do with their time and money is critical, and some television series in the past decade were all-out feats.  The third factor we looked to is re-watchability—we’ll be watching the best series for years to come.  The big difference between ranking movies and TV is the change between seasons, that force that inevitably causes most shows to decline with each season.  So consistency is a factor.  Finally, as with movies the most important factor is the fun—why would you devote so many hours of your valuable time if you’re not going to have a great time?

Manda

One more thing: Ten years is a long time so we narrowed the series we’re including to those recommendations that fall primarily within the ten-year window.  We covered several fantastic, re-watchable series that cemented their status in reruns or syndication, many beginning before borg began publishing and finishing in the years after, including Burn Notice, White Collar, Warehouse 13, Leverage, House, MD, In Plain Sight, and three landmarks among the best pop culture-packed series of all time, Chuck, Psych, and Community.  We were disappointed that some of the best series were canceled and left to only a single season, otherwise they may have gone on to fare better against our top recommendations, shows like Jason Isaacs’ psychological police procedural Awake, Sarah Shahi’s all-for-fun Fairly Legal, Lauren Cohan’s action/spy series Whiskey Cavalier, the Doctor Who spin-off Class, the adaptation of Max Allan Collins’ popular noir novel series Quarry, the slick animated series Tron: Uprising, and the cyborg future-world Almost Human starring Karl Urban, to name a few.

Grimm

So here are the Top 40 series we recommend, spanning 2011 to 2021.  These are our favorites.  How should you use lists like this?  If you like what we talk about at borg, you’re probably going to like these shows.  If you’ve missed any, odds are you have some new series to take a look at.  Let’s start at #40 and move our way to #1.  As with everything borg, we’re stressing genre series.  Title links are to one of our previous borg reviews.

Let’s get started!

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Grace d

Review by C.J. Bunce

The star of the original Life on Mars is back as a detective solving crimes in the new BritBox original series from IPT, Grace John Simm, also known for his run on Doctor Who, State of Play and other British dramas plays Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, a cop sent down to desk duty a few years ago for embarrassing the bureau by bringing in a psychic to help solve a crime.  When a former colleague rises up the ranks and pulls D.S. Grace in to a high-profile case, viewers get to meet the next great TV detective.  The first episode of Grace is now streaming in the U.S. exclusively here on BritBox via Amazon.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Something wicked this way comes–or at least is coming by way of Tasmania, an island off the southern coast of Australia.  The stark beauty of Tasmania is the best feature of the first episode of the new Starz original series The Gloaming (which means twilight or dusk), from mountain tops to rolling weather changes to waterfalls.  But that’s where the beauty ends as a detective from Melbourne is called in to join a woman from his past who is also a cop, both to investigate a murder tied to the death of his girlfriend long ago.  It all takes place in a part of the world most Westerners will find entirely curious and new.  Written and directed by Victoria Madden (The Kettering Incident), The Gloaming begins this week with a slow-paced introduction that explains little and throws a lot at the viewer.  This isn’t a travelogue for Tasmania, as each image seems connected to some kind of evil lurking around the next corner, like a new take on The Wicker Man.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

British television series that make their way to America tend to be refreshing in that each new show is incredibly different from the last.  No matter how many times Americans catch the latest Brit/Irish/Scot police procedural, it’s nearly impossible to follow how each level of government polices, and manages the policing, of its citizenry.  That quirk doesn’t get more pronounced than in the opener to The Salisbury Poisonings, a four-part series airing Monday evenings on AMC.  The series will likely mean less to those on this side of the pond, although the real-life attempt on the lives of a Russian spy and his daughter living in Salisbury was international news in March 2018, victims of Vladimir Putin’s spy network.  But the first episode has the kind of TV writing that should bring the show to the attention of anglophiles.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

We’re always on the lookout for the next great British/Irish/Scottish/UK police procedural or mystery, and the new Hugh Laurie four-part star vehicle Roadkill may not be the Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes, Hinterland or Shetland, Marchlands or Lightfields, Derry Girls, The Woman in White, Mr. Selfridge, Zen, Quirke, or Sherlock, but it’s better than most of the UK series that have made it to the small screen in the past few years.  Airing in the UK on BBC One this past Fall and first in the U.S. as part of PBS’s Masterpiece series, it is now available on Amazon and DVD (still the PBS choice platform for British productions).  A lucky show that finished production before the pandemic kicked into full force, Roadkill will be a must-see for Laurie fans, and its angle on politics and telling a politician’s personal story should be enough to keep other anglophiles interested.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

We’re always on the lookout for the next great British/Irish/Scottish/UK police procedural or mystery series like Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes, Hinterland or Shetland, Marchlands or Lightfields, Zen or Quirke, or, of course, Sherlock.  The 2019 British series A Confession is streaming on BritBox in the U.S. via Amazon, and it may not be as good as any of these, but it does eclipse recent series like Dublin Murders, The Silence, The Five, The Missing, Thirteen, Broadchurch, and CollateralIt is based on the real-life story of the murders of two women in 2003 and 2011, so the drama is dark and real.  And it offers up a cast of familiar genre actors that will make you want to take a look.

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Wild Fire

Review by C.J. Bunce

Anglophiles will be hard-pressed to find a more intriguing murder-mystery police procedure television series than with the five seasons (and soon to be seven seasons) of the BBC’s Shetland Douglas Henshall (who won a BAFTA for the role) plays detective inspector Jimmy Perez, a one-of-a-kind, conscientious and thorough cop who manages a small police department on the Scotland archipeligo.  The television series is based on a series of novels by British author Ann Cleeves, who chose to set her police story in the sparse, cold, austere setting in the far northern latitudes.  Altogether Cleeves explored the exploits of Perez in nine novels, the final of which, Wild Fire, has just arrived in its first paperback edition.

Wild Fire finds DI Perez on the case of a murder of a young woman named Emma, who is found strangled and hanged in the barn of a local family.  Among many quirks is the fact that this isn’t the first time someone was found hanged in their barn.  Cleeves’ last case for Perez finds him chasing leads across the country, piecing together the background of the victim, which is unveiled something like Jon Krakauer’s story of Christopher McCandless in his novel Into the Wild.  Emma is not so interesting as McCandless, but by the time the reader catches up to the murderer, you’ll feel like you’ve interviewed plenty of witnesses, including a young autistic boy in the home she worked in, and more than a few self-absorbed quirky couples, most futile diversions from the key story.

For fans of the television series exploring the novels for the first time, expect many surprises.  Perez of the novels is not quite so engaging, instead a man of few words and emotions that keeps his thoughts close to his vest.  The only other main character common to the TV show is Perez’s reliable detective constable Sandy Wilson, who is completely the same put-upon, over-achieving character that he is on the small screen.  Perez’s daughter Cassie is only a child here at the end of Cleeves’ novels, who spends most of the novel being watched off-book by biological father Duncan, yet fans of the show know her and Duncan as key to the appeal of the TV series.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

We’re always on the lookout for the next great British/Irish/Scottish/UK police procedural or mystery, after the next Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes, Hinterland or Shetland, Marchlands or Lightfields, Zen or Quirke, or, of course, Sherlock.  So the pay-channel Starz releasing a late-year mystery series called Dublin Murders was going to get our attention.  Filmed in Belfast and Dublin, with a noir sensibility–dark places, mysterious characters, and murder–the series has the potential to be a good detective series.  Billed as an “eight-part mystery series with a taproot that drops deep down into Ireland’s past, foreshadows the present and brings insight to its future,” the story follows Sarah Greene as Cassie Maddox and Killian Scott as Rob Reilly, homicide detectives on the trail of the murderer of a school girl.  The murder was similar–too similar–to a murder in the city’s past.

Maddox and Reilly appear appealing enough at first.  They share a secret of the past that would get them fired had anyone found out: Reilly isn’t really Reilly, but the alter ego of the sole survivor of the crime years ago that resulted in two missing friends, never to be found.  Unfortunately he’s a witness who can’t remember, and by all accounts he shouldn’t be involved with this investigation because of his clear conflict of interest.  Merged with his pursuit of the person behind the missing kids and the recent murder is a story of Maddox’s history catching up with her.  As a child her parents were killed in an auto accident, and to deal with it mentally she invented an imaginary friend she named Lexie.  As an undercover cop, she took on the name Lexie as her alter ego.  Now she and one of her former colleagues stumble upon another murder, a woman who looks just like Cassie.  And surprise: her name is Lexie.  Always waiting for the possibility that we’ve stumbled into an unreliable narrator series, ultimately that’s not the case, the woman was real and not something we’re seeing through Maddox’s imagination.  But the series stumbles for other reasons.

Based on the first two novels of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad novels, In the Woods and The Likeness, a key problem is combining the stories from two books to make into one season of television–stories that have little to do with each other.  Both cops have these common stories involving dual personas so it’s easy to see how someone thought it might work.  But it doesn’t.  The first three episodes develop the characters, but suddenly they lose their personalities.  The quiet, likeable, and sympathetic Reilly becomes a jerk, a supremely angry and mean protagonist pushing away Maddox and everyone else and leaving the audience with little to care about from his plot thread.  Maddox has the same collision of character–once admirable and mostly by-the-book, she turns into a nasty character, bitter and horrible to those who care about her.  As Reilly becomes trapped in a development of his own making, Maddox agrees to a job with her former colleague, a preposterous undercover operation impersonating the deceased Lexie in order to discover her murderer.

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This year we found one series that could easily sweep most of the categories–a single television series that had everything: compelling story, a full range of emotions, great characters, tremendous action, a sharp use of humor, all kinds of genre elements that were satisfying and left viewers feeling inspired.  Richly detailed sets and costumes.  An impossible feat to replicate.  No drama came close.  No other visual effects spectacle could touch it.  And its audience is everyone.  A truly epic addition to television viewing, that series is The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, the greatest television series to come along in years.  If you love genre like we do, this was as good as it gets.  And like icing on the cake, along came The Mandalorian at year end.

But we’re not going to ignore the other good things that happened on the small screen this year.

Our borg Best of 2019 list continues today with the best in television.  If you missed it, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2019 here and the best Kick-Ass Heroines of 2019 here.

Without further ado, this year’s Best in Television:

Best Borg SeriesDoom Patrol (DC Universe).  With this year’s series Doom Patrol we got a look at two borgs, DC Comics’ Cyborg, an update to Martin Caidin’s original Bionic Man from the 1970s, and an older borg created before the word was even coined in the 1960s, Robotman.  Both characters revealed a glimpse at what life might be like with significant cybernetic enhancements (when brought together by a modern Dr. Frankenstein).  For 2019, it was the way to get your borg fix on the small screen.

Best TV Series, Best New Limited TV Series, Best TV Fantasy, Best Writing for TV, Best TV Costumes/Makeup, Best TV SoundtrackThe Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Netflix).  It was worth the wait.  Jim Henson’s seemingly impossible to replicate artistic vision was successfully achieved thanks to his daughters and the company he founded.  The kindest heroes, the darkest evil, a truly epic, legendary story for the ages.  Everybody is cranking out CGI extravaganzas, but how many are creating artistry so fundamentally real, with so many individual artists and artisans contributing and achieving so much?  Even that wouldn’t be enough if not for the layered mythology and epic adventure story.  Add great humor, high stakes, emotional impact, an all-star voice cast, Daniel Pemberton and Samuel Sim’s  imaginative musical score, and those puppets and all that go into them–it adds up to a rare thing–a Henson masterpiece.

Best TV Sci-fi Series, Best TV DramaThe Man in the High Castle (Amazon).  Amazon Studios could not have adapted a series more faithfully, making changes for the medium and the times, than its take on Philip K. Dick’s most celebrated novel.  The use of science fiction to tell a deep and twisty level of subplots and unique setting all came to a perfect conclusion in the series finale.  Exciting, intelligent, frightening, and the most thought-provoking series this year, it was also different from its sci-fi competition.  Honorable mention: The Mandalorian (Disney+)–but only if we allow space fantasy since the series is not true science fiction, The Orville (Fox)–for its two-part epic movie-worthy space story, “Identity.”

Best New Ongoing TV Series, Runner-up: Best TV Soundtrack, Runner-up: Best TV Costumes/Makeup The Mandalorian (Disney+).  Not a lot needs explaining with this series, which in only its first two hours we rated it closer to the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back than anything with the Star Wars label on it since.  The Western motif is still alive, not all that hidden here in space fantasy garb.  And we won’t get started on the impact of The Child (aka Baby Yoda) on the genre-loving world and beyond.  Credit Jon Favreau’s visible enthusiasm and love for the original movies for the success of this surprisingly awesome arrival–the series is proof Star Wars is far from over.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Call it Scotland Noir or Nordic Noir, in its fifth season the BBC’s Shetland just keeps getting better.  Just as viewers were treated to a satisfying wrap-up to this year’s six-part mystery of human trafficking, murders, blackmail, dead bodies in the ocean, and cheating hearts, Shetland may have pulled off its best scene of all in the final minutes of Tuesday’s season finale.  Airing for the first time in the U.S. as a weekly series on streaming service BritBox, the series is a rarity: a police procedural with a following in the States that survived five seasons.  It’s telling that the series has been renewed for a sixth season, which should air in the UK in the first half of next year, and a few months later in the U.S.

How can they keep coming up with such good police drama in such a small and desolate setting?  Credit for another good twisty mystery should be split between the writers, Shetland regulars David Kane and Paul Logue, the five cast members that have carried the series since the first episode back in 2013. and the stark natural beauty of the Shetland backdrop.  Better storytelling is difficult to find on TV, but the series knows how to juggle the murders, kidnappings, local and political leaders with deadly secrets, and the surprising interplay of international crime syndicates in Glasgow, Norway, and Africa.  Douglas Henshall continues to lead the series as the driven detective inspector Jimmy Perez, and this season he solidified his defining theme: Everyone is a suspect.  Often that nagging reality wedges its way into frustrating his most personal relationships.  Is there a better way to empathize with your hero than seeing him stuck looking into the eyes of someone he cares about, forced to question them about their honesty and possible participation in a murder?

The ongoing relationship between Perez and his step-daughter’s father Duncan only gets more complicated and interesting.  Mark Bonnar′s ability to portray Duncan as part sap, bungler, buffoon, sad sack, perpetual guy in the wrong place, and well-meaning everyman continues to cement Henshall and Bonnar as the best pairing and blend of buddy movie magic and chemistry since the Odd Couple.  For fans who can’t get enough of Alison O’Donnell′s curious, determined, savvy, and lovable detective sergeant Alison “Tosh” MacIntosh, season five was a welcome change for the character, getting her back in control of her life and rounding out a multi-season story arc with a new love interest and the next too-cute TV couple.

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