Both Nashville and The Good Wife are on More4 in the UK, both on Thursday nights, which meant that when Southland was on the same channel on the same night, Thursday was officially the Best Telly Night Evar.
It struck me, reading through my novel The Obald four years after I’d written it, that certain sections of it read like Episodes of Nashville. That would be because I’d done a lot of research and reading about the country music industry. My chapters about Ronnie Collins and his ex-wife Marianne Duff could almost be adapted for Deakin and Rayna.
How could Nashville not succeed, given that Connie Britton (the best thing about the wondrous sitcom Spin City) is in it, and given that the music is supervised by T Bone Burnett?
Nashville hangs together on three strong threads: the business of music, the music, and the politics. It’s true that politics have gone slightly into the background in Season 2, in favour of more soapy goings on between the various characters, but each show still rests upon how emotional drama and need feeds into songwriting and performance.
What I love about it most of all is the sheer paciness of its narrative. So much is packed into each episode, no scene is longer than it needs to be, and the editing is ruthlessly efficient. Its occasional hilarious plot twists are all part of the fun. In context, too, the music is great, whether in intimate songwriting scenes, spontaneous performances, or showpiece performances. The musical and emotional journeys of the characters have you genuinely rooting for someone like Juliet Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), who was cast in the role of bratty newcomer in Season 1, but is by now a wounded soldier in the culture wars.
The show only works as well as it does because it focuses so intensely on how difficult the country music industry is for women. The men get an easy ride compared to the women, who are judged far more harshly and have to do far more sucking up to get their records in shops and on the radio. When I see real-world female country singers tweeting gratefully for their occasional radio play, I think of this show.
The Guardian, unwavering in its ability to find and focus upon the over-rated, never does weekly blogs about any of the TV shows I really enjoy.
I look in from time to time on their blogs. They did one for Dancing on the Edge, for example, which became an embarrassment when even the poor sap who was tasked to write it couldn’t muster any enthusiasm. They did one for The Killing, even though The Killing, give or take a few subtitles and a Fairisles sweater, was barely distinguishable from any other maverick cop show.
They even blog Doctor Who, which it pains me to say has turned from overblown kidstuff under Russell T Davies into utter drivel under Stephen Moffatt. The new assistant is lovely, but the storylines, dialogue, background music etc. are bilge. How the Guardian thinks that shit warrants the attention, I don’t know. You might as well do a weekly blog for Tracy Beaker.
So what’s any good on Freeview?
You have to hunt around, but there are some watchable shows, which are reliable and can get under your skin.
Notwithstanding its charisma-lite leading man, Person of Interest has a lot going for it. It takes the idea of data generated by our surveillance society and introduces a controlling angel (Michael Emerson from Lost) and a vengeful one (Jim Caviezel). Not every episode is a hit, but sometimes the show has a heart. And it’s something different from the usual cop thing.
Cop shows that were worth watching when they were on include Southland, which is a beat cop character drama in the vein of Hill Street Blues, and of course Justified, which focuses on US Marshall Raylan Givens in Lexington, Kentucky. I’d add to that list The Closer, which has finished now (to be succeeded by Major Crimes?) and Saving Grace, which I think is also done.
I always like a good law show, and there are a couple of decent ones at the moment. The Good Wife on More4 is pure quality, produced by the Scott Brothers (until Tony’s death) and starring the classy Julianna Margulies with occasional guest appearances from Michael J Fox. I love it because it’s so zeitgeisty, ripping its plots from the headlines. Hiding over on Dave, meanwhile, is Suits, which features a couple of morally questionable corporate lawyers and their efforts to win at all costs – until the cost is too high. It’s a show that manages to create heroes out of the kind of people you’d hate if you met them.
Pick TV has been teasing us with a few episodes of this and that (Smash, Touch), but one show they showed all the way through was the sadly cancelled Terra Nova.
Based on the premise that the future becomes so horrible to live in that people flee into the distant past to start a new colony on a different time line, the fate of Terra Nova makes you wonder why the TV industry bothers with science fiction at all. Of course, it ended up (as they almost all do) being cancelled after just one short season, so there’s no chance of anything interesting growing out of what was an interesting premise badly handled. Like all utopian texts, the problem for the people in Terra Nova was that they were unable to leave their problems behind. Apart from that, I don’t know how the producers believed that dinosaurs would ever be anything other than (a) an expensive CGI backdrop and (b) a nuisance to the colonists.
Far more plotworthy than the dinosaurs was the eventual thread about the so-called Sixers and their attempts to exploit the past in order to profit in the bad-old future. And the producers clearly hoped for a second season in the way that they created a cliffhanging ending for Season 1: the Lost-like revelation in the final ten minutes was a brilliant jaw-dropper. It was a good-looking cast, and the whole thing was better than the BBC’s terrible Outcasts, but suffered from a similar lack of imagination in terms of storylines.
Thing is, you can’t really judge a science fiction show by whether it was cancelled. The naffer fare (like Warehouse 13, which is stoopid fun) tends to survive because it appeals to a younger demographic that sticks with the show. Anything decent, the downloaders kill its ratings so the network cuts the chord, and you can’t blame them really.
Thursday is More4 night, because as well as The Good Wife, they offer Nashville, the superb drama set around the music industry with slightly naff autotuned music performed by the cast. It features another graduate from Spin City, Connie Britton, who I am very pleased to see back on my screen. Then there’s Boss, the showcase drama about the mayor of Chicago starring Kelsey Grammer, but also that bloke from Trust and Weeds. Martin Donovan, that’s him. Believe it or not, the Guardian, with their heads firmly up their arses, produce weekly blogs for none of those excellent shows.