|Deadwood's at the top, but the language is difficult and profane.|
Something my friend Mike Ashley calls "the golden age of television," which is now.
Before streaming video, I avoided TV--with the exception of some college football--and concentrated on reading in the evenings when nothing else was planned. I was reading about seven books a month. I'm down to -- well, embarrassing levels of reading because of the quality of recent TV series and mini-series, especially those owing their genesis to HBO and the BBC.
I spent one whole day--16 hours of it--streaming TV shows last winter when I was snowed in. That would have been unthinkable in the past.
The shows I prefer have what I love about literature: great plotting and characters, thoughtful and well-researched writing, rapid pacing and no commercials. I can watch them when I want for as long as I want (except for when they come to an end). If I can't sleep and it's 3 a.m., I can turn on "Deadwood." That won't lead to slumber, but it will entertain me until the sandman comes.
I keep thinking I'm going to run out of the good stuff, but Hollywood and London keep producing it. Consider some of the best I've seen in the last year (almost all of them done several years ago and only now available streaming):
- Deadwood (Shakespeare goes Old West; often written by women, it is profane--"fuck" and derivatives are used 2,980 times during the run--blunt, brutal and brilliant; Ian McShane is remarkable as a brothel owner)
- Justified (Timmothy Olyphant really is the star of this one--he's credited in Deadwood, but is secondary; great characters)
- Fringe (I'm not a sci-fi buff, but this was extraordinary; great love story)
- Ripper Street (Whitechapel cops at the time of the Ripper)
- The Killing (Mireille Enos brilliantly plays one of the best female characters I've ever seen)
- Mr. Selfridge (who'd have imagined I'd love a show about a department store in 19th Century London?)
- London Hospital (the history in this is compelling)
- Call the Midwife (am I the only guy in the world who liked this "chick" show?)
- Suits (best of the lawyer genre that I'm aware of)
- The Newsroom (Season 1 only; becomes cute after that)
- The Hour (entertaining show about 1950s British version of 60 Minutes)
- Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch is all you need to know)
- Rectify (strangely luring)
- The Blecthley Circle (British women break Nazi codes during WWII. Wonderfully done)
- Happy Valley (Sarah Lancashire is wondrous as a doughy, middle-aged cop with a big heart, who will kick your door down before kicking your butt)
- Wallander (Swedish or British version of the grim detective work equally well)
- The Twilight Zone (the original from the 1960s, black and white; Rod Serling is a god)
- House of Cards (Season 1 only; good political drama, but its cynicism is depressing)