57 minus 32: [The rest of the] Ten Things I Rewatch For The Sheer Pleasure of Rewatching…

Posted: 16 July 2021 in 57 minus, television, ten things
Tags: , , ,

During the last huge blog run, I did a stack of ‘ten things’ I liked: individual episodes of tv shows, individual comic book issues, and pilots, and two on old movies ,then one on old-ish movies, and a couple about podcasts. And I wrote a series of Doctor Who posts, about each incarnation/regeneration, and my sometimes tenuous relationship with the show.

So, I figured I’d do it again in this run. A couple of weeks ago, I did one on things I’ve been watching during the various lockdowns, And last week, some shows I’ve been rewatching just to enjoy the rewatch.

However, I got a bit carried away in the writing, so cut it short. This is the second part of it, ok? Good.

As before, there will of course be omissions. Your favourite shows probably won’t be here. And if I have to point you again towards Budgie’s Law of Popular Television: y = x + 2 to explain why, I will…

As always, the usual reminder for all of these Ten Things… they’re not the best, nor necessarily my favourites. They’re just Ten Things/Subjects I like… at the time of writing. (And why.)
 
 
OK, so last week, we did The West Wing, Doctor Who, Yes, [Prime] Minister, and the Arrowverse Crossovers.… That’s four. Here are the other six.

Moving on…

The Honourable Woman
I tell myself I rewatch this show every so often as much for the story as for the acting. And I’m lying to myself every time,.

Rewatching this is a pure indulgence, because, given the actors involved, I’d rewatch if the entire show was the actors merely reading pages from the phone book, interspersed with their shopping lists.

Every single member of the cast – which includes Maggie Gyllenhaal, Andrew Buchan, Lubna Azabal, Stephen Rea, Janet McTeer, Katherine Parkinson, Tobias Menzies and Lindsay Duncan – blow the screen apart every time they appear. I’d say each of them steal every scene they’re in, but they don’t. They steal every bloody line, and then it’s stolen right back by the next person to speak. The entire show is a masterclass of understated acting, every scene a story in its own right, and the passion and anger shown on rare occasions hits you in the gut, then grabs your heart, and refuses to let go.

It’s incredibly good.


 
 
A Touch Of Cloth/Police Squad
A complete change of tone for this one. And I’m putting them together not because I’m cheating or couldn’t decide between the two, perish the thought. No, they’re essentially the same programme, just with different settings, different intentions and different writers, actors and production crew. (Whistles innocently)

But they’re the same. They’re shows where you see the gags coming precisely a fifth of s second before they land, and instead of making you bored by the anticipation, it somehow makes you part of the experience, every bloody time.

I suppose if I were to have to separate out the two, A Touch of Cloth’s target is British police procedurals. Every other gag takes as its target something you don’t even realise is a trope, identifies it, targets it, hits the target spot on, then searches for the next one.

And when I say you didn’t realise it, here’s one example. Those screens that police put photos on, and write on, when making up an incident board. Why are they transparent? So the camera can be placed behind it and you can still see the actors. There’s no other reason why they should be transparent. See what I mean?

Or how an investigating officer, turning up at a crime scene, is greeted by his subordinates not with a “good morning” or similar, but instead by rapid-fire exposition about the victim.

There is a plot to each A Touch Of Cloth (two parts to each story) but even that takes the piss out of standard police drama tropes: the first, the burned out, widowed, misanthropic cop forced to return to work, for example.

The show concentrates more on the situational and visual gags than the verbal gags, but they’re there as well.

Police Squad, on the other hand, while still doing the whole ‘let’s take the piss out of US police dramas’, relegates the plot to solely being in service to the gags. Like Airplane (from where it came) and The Naked Gun which it spawned, it’s sole aim is to throw as many gags, verbal and visual, at the viewer in the hope that some stick. Some of the gags are a straight feed line=>response, some are more complicated. All are gloriously funny to someone, and if you don’t like an individual gag, hang around, there’ll be another one along in a moment.

The State Within
Back to the politcial thriller genre for this one. There’s no reason I should think of The State Within in the same vein as State of Play, but I often do. It can’t be because they both have the word ‘State’ in the title, as does ‘Deep State’, can it? (Spoiler: it almost certainly is). But while State of Play, excellent though it is, isn’t something I regularly rewatch, The State Within very much is. The actors are superb in it, the dialogue crackles, and every character in the show is… believable. I mean, I have no idea whether or not people in positions of power actually behave like this, but I’m quite prepared to believe they do. Besides, Jeremy Isaacs as a British Ambassador, Neil Pearson as his Deputy Head of Mission and Ben Daniels as his ‘counsellor of Extremal Affairs (his MI6 bloke) are superb in the roles they play, perfectly cast.

It starts with a plane exploding as it takes off, and moves through a British soldier on death row, fraud, embezzlement, and a rogue former ambassador who got fed up (if you believe him) with, as they say, the job of being sent abroad to lie for his government.

The plot is clever, the pacing gloriously varied but perfect for each scene, and there’s always a sense of everyone being slightly out of their depth, but always, well almost always, rising to the occasion.

Add in a slowly developing love story in there – which I have no idea how they pull off, but they do – and I really, really like rewatching how the show develops.

After watching it, I’m always torn between the wish for a sequel warring against the the knowledge that none was needed. I always come down on the side of being glad they didn’t make one, with the slightest very tinge of regret.

 
 
The Sandbaggers
OK, full blown for the spy genre for the next two, but while both show complete disdain for the ‘James Bond’ type of spy story, they’re about as different as they can be. Sandbaggers is very much of its time, the mid-to-late 1980s, and the lead protagonist is as ‘anti-Commuiist’ as you’ll find in fiction, but like every character in the show, deeply damaged. As a person, I mean.

(And not for the first time, I wonder why it is that I find seriously damaged characters so interesting, so much more interesting than merely slightly damaged ones. A blog entry for another time, maybe.)

The basic setup is simple: British intelligence, SIS, the secret intelligence service, MI6 as its popularly known. There’s a Chief of Service, a Deputy Chief, Directors of Operations and Intelligence, Station Chiefs, the usual… but within the Director of Operations’ purview is a small group, a three person team, known as Sandbaggers. They do the dirty work, the blackmails, the killings when necessary (and when they can get permission… when they ask for it, that is).

They’re underpaid, they’re at various levels of experience. And, unless they’re very very lucky, they get killed doing their job.

In the twenty-odd episodes, spread over three series, four of them don’t make it out alive and we learn through the series that three were killed before the show started.

What I love about this show is that every – almost every – character evolves during the run. You learn more about most of the characters and it shows how under pressure, high pressure, you can work with people you dislike intensely, with people you show respect only to because of their position. And, crucially, how you can trust people you don’t like, but you can also learn that people you like… can disappoint you, can betray your trust. And yet you still have to work with them, for ‘the greater good’.

This clip is from the end of the first episode, where Neil Burnside, played by Neil Marsden, almost lost two of his agents due to the naïveté and incompetence of his Norwegian opposite number… who tried to con SIS.


 
 
 
 
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
There’s not much to say about this show other than ohnmygodit’sgreatyoushouldwatchitasoftenasyoucan.

So I’ve said it. Now watch it. (It’s on iPlayer right now, and pisses from a great height all over that movie they made.)

OK, a bit more. Every actor acts their socks off, and every character is rounded and human, and just a little bit more dangerous than they at first appear. It’s a show in praise of duty, and of secrets, and of never, ever forgetting who you can, and cannot, trust. And, oddly, about love.

I’m not sure there is an official trailer for the show, but that hasn’t stopped some people making their own. I particularly like these two.


 
  

I had intended to write about House MD or The Blacklist for my final one this week; both great shows and both are strange exceptions to my ‘I won’t rewatch individual episodes of shows which have a multi-season arc’. I’ve enjoyed rewatching individual episodes of both. Despite having to ignore the sub-sub-plot of the seasons-long arc, the main plot and sub-plot from individual episodes of each show are engrossing enough on their own to watch again and again.

But in the end, I couldn’t separate them. So, something entirely different, something that entirely took me by surprise, much as my discovery of Jeopardy took me by surprise when I started enjoying it more more more to my utter astonishment.

My final pick of the ‘stuff I’ve enjoyed rewatching’:

Connections
Not just the show itself, which I’ve enjoyed watching my copies of again, but season 2.

Y”see, season 1 was an hour long show. Ten episodes about that master of explaining science and history and their interaction, James Burke. And Series 3 was similarly, one hour (of US tv, ok) episodes.

For series 2, however, they made twenty half-hour episodes and on previous rewatches, I’ve not enjoyed them as much. For a start, they’re only – shorn of ads – about twenty-minutes’ each. I mean, they’re not bad tv, and the’re chock full of information. And Burke changed the emphasis from the connections of innovations themselves to the connections between the various reasons for the processes of innovation.

But I’ve found myself watching, over the period of eight weeks or so, watching one episode a night before I head bedwards. Not always immediately before aiming head at pillow, but yeah, somewhere around midnight, putting an episode on and watching the twenty-minutes or so.

And I’ve loved it. It’s been very enjoyable, very informative, and the bite-sized chunks have been exactly what I’ve needed before wending my way towards my bed. Huh.

No, don’t worry, I’m not about to make you I watch a whole episode.

Instead, here’s what’s often said to be one of the finest moments of ‘timing your shot’ in television, from the first series. Enjoy.

 
See you tomorrow, with… something else. It’s Saturday tomorrow, so you know what to expect.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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