Winter is coming.
Wait, no. Scratch that.
Summer is leaving (Game of Thrones has a King’s ransom of zeitgeist publicity as it is; far be it for me to heap even more on that pile of dead Stark bodies). And if Autumn’s shift of brighter rays and airy days to longer nights and bitter winds drives don’t drive one’s soul to deep depression (this happens to other people too, right?), at the very least it does seem to leave a person’s psyche primed for more serious fare.
The signs of this are all around us at this time of year (us northern hemisphereans, of course). Hollywood leaves its boisterous blockbusters behind to trot out its annual compendium of “For Your Considertation” morality plays. The July 4th pomp and circumstance fizzles into tricks, treats and then, tearful tunes (seriously, listen closely to Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas one of these days). And as much as the networks want to boast about year-round programming, TV has largely always followed the same perennial rhythm. Summer staples that populate the airwaves and internet tubes make way for the fall season and more hearty fare.
With the new crop of freshman series underwhelming most critics, if not viewers…yet, here is some serious fare you may have overlooked over the past year if Gotham or The Mysteries of Laura just aren’t clicking with you. Since Tony Soprano first stopped believing, the gems of TV’s current “Golden Age” have been airing fast and furiously so you’ll be forgiven on missing these instant classics the first time around.
Broadchurch (2013) 8 episodes
The sun-bleached coastal setting of this miniseries’ titular town may harken back to summer, but be forewarned, the BAFTA and Peabody winning show has an icy veins running through it. Similar to previous shows like AMC’s The Killing and Sundance Channel’s Top of the Lake, the death of a child shatters the outward serenity of many lives. In all facets though, Broadchurch does the story better. In this particular case, the death of young Danny Latimer causes the denizens of Broadchurch to not-quite-slowly turn on each other while the media all-too-quickly turns up in droves. David Tennant (better known from his time as everyone’s favorite time-hopping Doc) is a haunted DI who heads up the search for Danny’s killer, but it is relative newcomer Olivia Colman who is the revelation as Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller, the best friend of Danny’s mother and Tennant’s partner. One by one, suspects are brought up and summarily dismissed until the final episode’s reveal. Will it be who you think it is? Who killed Danny Latimer and why? Now that the pools are closed across most of the country, it’s time the perfect time to stay in and find out.
The Honourable Woman (2014) 8 episodes
The current “Golden Age” of television has been marked my one ubiquitous convention: dead bodies. While Broadchurch’s murder opens up a window into a sleepy hamlet on the English shore, a nameless Israeli official warns that the dead body which kicks off The Honourable Woman opens up “a story that…stretches 1000 years.” While a whole millennia of history (thankfully) isn’t covered here, there are enough crosses, double-crosses and even quadruple-crosses to fill a decade in this pretzel of a plot. And it works. Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Nessa Stein, the English daughter of a notorious Israeli business/war profiteer. The series begins with her attempts to use her family name – and late father’s fortune – for good by building a high-speed broadband network in the Palestinian territories. Will it make money? Probably not, but it’ll sure help Nessa and her brother Ephra (Andrew Buchan) erase? coverup? some deep stains from their family’s past. As it goes with this sort of thing, though, things just get worse for Nessa and those closest to her. More political spy thriller, than whodunit, The Honourable Woman slowly draws you in like the best John Le Carré novels until you find yourself clutching the edge of your seat in anticipation of what is coming next. While some of the character’s decisions can seem questionable – if not absurd – at times, the suspense is palpable. Stephen Rea is absolutely delightful (and slightly unnerving) as a wise old spook on his last hurrah with MI6. Will any side come out the winner in this age old story of mistrust and hate?
You have all winter to find out.