Here's what I've been watching for the past few months, not all of them pleasant. Let's start with a couple of stinkers and end with some worthwhile gems...
The Delicious Ms. Dahl
The BBC, in their infinite wisdom, thought to replicate Nigella Lawson's past commercial success by enlisting another writer, Sophie Dahl, to try her hand in presenting a cooking show. Dahl, who looks like a bug-eyed version of Michelle Pfeiffer, has some noteworthy roots, being the granddaughter of acclaimed author Roald Dahl and actress Patricia Neal. However, Nigella she's not, and the show looks more like a shabby chic showcase, with a kitchen scattered with crap and other distracting props.
Worse, Dahl herself looks uncomfortable cooking, like she's never done it in her whole life, and it certainly appears like she's not the one cooking--there are lots of disjointed shots of her above the waist that abruptly cut to close-ups of hands zesting or touching the food, but you get the impression that it's not her hands, like they're using some stunt doubles for close-ups. It's like everything is fake and made up; even the food looks like it's being readied just for photography.
The biggest transgression of this show is that Dahl NEVER looks at the camera while talking, which is really fucking annoying as hell. Sure, it's probably their style of artsy-fartsy filming, but to me, it looks like she's reading cue cards set up beyond the camera. I know she's a writer and all, but most of her long and boring monologues seemed to be pretentious, and she tends to read her lines slowly and seductively. But this isn't a poetry reading show, so shut the fuck up already, lady--and start cooking!
After careful consideration, or most probably from all the negative flak this show received, the BBC mercifully cancelled this show after 6 episodes. Wow, there really is a God after all! Just watching a couple of episodes left me with a bad aftertaste that I had to watch replays of Nigella's Christmas Kitchen and French Food at Home to get me back on track--now that's how it's done.
Based on the hit Danish TV series Forbrydelsen, this show focuses on three sets of stories that revolve around the murder of a teenage girl in Seattle: the detectives investigating the murder, the grieving family members, and the devious local politicians inexplicably linked to the case.
Comprising 13 episodes, each episode of The Killing marks one day of the investigation. Darkly atmospheric, the series reminded me of early seasons of The X-Files when it was still shot in Vancouver (where The Killing is also actually shot), and everything had a sinister air even in the daytime, with the cinematography and exterior shots having this movie-like quality.
Unfortunately, the series had way too many red herrings, and its dark and dreary tone eventually became too heavy-handed and made each episode really depressing. To make it worse, the producers appeared to have implied that the case would be wrapped up and the true murderer would be revealed during the season finale. None of that happened, and the frustrating, insulting finale actually brought everything back to square one. This truly infuriated the viewers--me included--who realized that 13 hours of our lives were just wasted.
I tried watching the first three episodes of this series, and ended up watching all the way to the Season 3 finale. Now I rarely like police dramas, but Southland is exceptional, with a first-rate cast that portrays Los Angeles policemen and detectives as imperfect yet unrelenting in their jobs. It also features a side of L.A. that tourists will not enjoy seeing.
I liked the way it was filmed, using a mix of HD handcam and multicam shots, but unlike other shows that use this technique, the shots aren't shaky and most are nicely framed. There's also no music for an entire episode until the closing credits, which just adds to the gritty realism.
Southland started life on NBC as a summer replacement series in April 2009 with an initial run of 7 episodes. The network then renewed it for a second season, which was scheduled to air on October 2009. However, NBC screwed up its schedule in the wake of Jay Leno's return to late night TV, resulting in most of its shows being aired on a much earlier timeslot. Southland was one of the casualties, and was cancelled weeks before its Season 2 premiere as the network deemed the drama "too dark" for its timeslot--wow, really? What were they expecting, laughter and sunshine?
Fortunately, cable station TNT came to its rescue, and bought the rights to the series, including the 6 unaired episodes that comprised the 2nd Season. Southland continues to thrive on TNT, and it's been renewed for a 4th Season that will be back on January 2012; needless to say, I'm really looking forward to its return next month.
What would happen if Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson were living in modern times? The answer, as seen in the BBC series Sherlock, is pure awesomeness. There have been many adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's detective stories, but none like this.
Holmes is a rather odd, abrasive sociopath in this one, who uses technology like the Internet and text messaging to solve crimes, while Watson is the sedate opposite, the everyman trying to figure out what the hell is going on.
The result is a clash of strong personalities that's a bit fascinating to watch as it unfolds onscreen, and it really helps that the two actors cast as Holmes and Watson, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, have a great chemistry that bolsters their already superb performances. In fact, they worked so well together that they're teaming up again in the upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit, with Freeman in the lead as Bilbo Baggins, while Cumberbatch voices Smaug the dragon.
Sherlock is a truly bloody brilliant show, and the only beef I have with it is that there are only three episodes for the first season, but at 90 minutes per episode, I'd like to think of them as three movies instead. The 2nd Season, or Series 2, as they refer to it in the U.K., will also comprise three 90-minute episodes, and returns on January 1, 2012. Can't wait!