Splendid Television

I read voraciously but not in all categories; in fiction, I go for action-filled wish-fulfilment fantasy genres like science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, occult thrillers, and historical fantasy; and in non-fiction, I like science, history, political analysis, and folklore.  I don’t often read “realistic” fiction, slice-of-life stories, or even magical realism.

I am even more selective with television shows; I mostly watch science fiction, paranormal thrillers, and police procedurals, and I’m very critical (sorry, fans!)  So it’s amazing to me that the three shows in current American television which I find to be head, shoulders and pretty much down to kneecaps above everything else that is released by Hollywood to be completely non-SF, non-magical, and modelled closely on reality, or at least on very real issues.

It’s no coincidence that each of these passes the Bechdel Test within minutes, not only in their respective pilot episode but in just about any episode.  All three also make a good faith effort at diversity, though I would like to see much more.

The Good Wife

The Good WifeCreated by Robert and Michelle King; airs on CBS since 2009 and currently in its fifth season.  The title is its worst feature since it tells you nothing about the actual show, but the writing, casting, acting, directing and editing are superb.

The premise: When Peter Florrick, state attorney for Cook County, goes to jail for corruption, his wife Alicia Florrick must rebuild her life and provide for her children, so she joins the Chicago law firm of Stern, Lockhart & Gardner.  The show blends legal procedural, long-term political plots, and lots of cases inspired by today’s headlines, societal changes, and advances in technology.  Every single bit character has a personality, no one is just a cardboard cut-out.

Casting draws not only from well-known faces in American television (and real-life celebs) but also from British television, giving us some of the most kick-ass female characters on television including Juliana Margolies as the title character of Alicia Florrick, Archie Panjabi as the magnificent Kalinda Sharma, the firm’s investigator, and Christine Baranski as senior partner Diane Lockhart.  Among the men, my favourites are Alan Cumming as wily political consultant Eli Gold, Zack Grenier as the arrogant, smug divorce lawyer David Lee, and Michael J. Fox as the recurring Machiavellian rival attorney Louis Canning.

The attention to detail in every aspect of the show is delightful, this is television that treats the viewer like an intelligent person.

(Wikipedia entry for The Good Wife.)

The Newsroom

The NewsroomCreated by Aaron Sorkin; airs on HBO during the summer season, recently finished its second season.  Like Sorkin’s previous show The West Wing, this show digests a lot of important contemporary issues and explains them clearly, providing context.

I enjoyed the first season more than the second, but it was still damn fine television.  The characters are interesting, though less well fleshed-out than on the other two titles here. This is a great show for both news junkies and people who don’t see why the news media are important.

My favourite characters are Neelamani “Neal” Sampat the blog writer (Dev Patel), ACN news division president Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston), and ACN owner and CEO Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda).  There’s good casting and lots of zingy dialogue.

(Wikipedia entry for The Newsroom.)

Masters of Sex

Masters of Sex folder icon by efestCreated by Michelle Ashford; airs on Showtime, currently in its first season.  You know how we often have to give a show, movie or book points for trying , for at least tackling some delicate issue without necessarily covering the whole range, how being a pioneer means you can’t be expected to be all things to all people?  This is the show that does its darned best to do it all.

I love the writing, the casting, the editing, the directing, and once again the attention to detail.  It’s filled with deadpan, tongue-in-cheek humour and starkly realistic drama.  All the characters are richly written as real, multi-faceted people, and there is a plethora of interesting, strong female characters even when they fully embrace the social mores of the era, which  is no mean feat.  It has everything good that Mad Men is horrible at, and it’s as delightfully exact as a period piece.

Crucially for me, it shines a light on the intersection of feminism, morality, social justice, and mental health for women and men.  Lizzy Caplan is wonderful as researcher and single mother Virginia Johnson, Martin Sheen gives rich depth to the character of Dr. William Masters, and I have to give special marks to Annaleigh Ashford as Betty DiMello, no-nonsense prostitute and survivor.

It’s amusing for me that gratuitous sex in television shows usually annoys me to no end, but when sex is the topic—and is well portrayed, of course—I find it a delight.

(Wikipedia entry for Masters of Sex.)