01 January 2012


Since I retired several years ago, I've had more time for (among other things) reading, writing, and watching Netflix DVDs.  The latter have included movies ~ studio, independent, and foreign language ~ as well as a number of drama series originally offered on cable.  I'd like to recommend several of those cable series, based on their consistently high quality performances and production values.  

~  In Treatment ~ by far the most original and thoughtful drama I've seen in years.  Each DVD features five episodes showing sessions between a psychologist (played exquisitely by Gabriel Byrne) and his patients, as well as sessions between the psychologist and his own therapist.  Because the setup has us revisiting each patient week by week, we become drawn into their lives and their issues, which run the full gamut of human complexity.  The genius of the screenplay is that as silent observers, we see people at their most vulnerable, and realize as therapy progresses that there is more going on than first met the eye.  We get to ask ourselves what we would do differently, both as the patient and as the therapist.  An aside ~ during his own sessions as client, the psychologist can be as irrational and in need of guidance as his own patients are, a brilliant touch which happens to ring true with my own experience in therapy and in peer counseling.  Describing the series sounds dry.  Watching it is riveting.

~  The United States of Tara ~ a comedy-drama about a wife and mother (played by virtuoso Toni Colette) who has dissociative identity disorder.  Her core personality is inhabited by several wildly different alternate personalities.  When triggered by stress, any one of them may emerge to take over the host's body ~ and all her "alter" personalities know each other (inhabiting the same brain, as they do), though they don't necessarily get along.  When I watched the first few episodes, I thought, "Okay, this is mildly interesting, but where's it going?"  I'm glad I stuck with it, because as is the case with In Treatment, the viewer has to wonder how he/she would handle a situation where one's wife/mother/sister/daughter/friend might transform into someone else entirely.  Her family and friends have learned to simply interact with each distinct personality, knowing that the original will return, but it makes for some hilarious or touching situations.

~  The L Word ~ I described this show in a previous post, but my high regard remains for this excellent series about a group of lesbian, bisexual, and transgender friends living in West Hollywood.  You can't help but care about the characters in the ensemble cast, and identify with their passions, struggles, and joys.  I may have to watch the entire series again.

~  Burn Notice ~ an action drama about a discredited spy who is trying to regain his job and his reputation, and in the meantime supports himself as a private investigator in Miami.  The spy teams up with his ex-IRA girlfriend (a wee slip of a girl who happens to love explosives and automatic weapons) and a buddy who was once a Navy SEAL, taking on cases that range from kidnapping to extortion to counter-espionage.  Their combined skills in military, paramilitary, and espionage make for an interesting window into another world, one where law and ethics may overlap, or may not.

~  Justified ~ any law enforcement series based on Elmore Leonard characters is bound to be colorful and fascinating.  Timothy Olyphant plays a U.S. Marshal, "something of a 19th century officer in modern times, whose unconventional enforcement of justice makes him a target with criminals and a problem for his superiors."  Olyphant, as he did in the series Deadwood, comes across as taciturn, observant, with a keen eye for things not being quite right.  His approach is to talk people into doing what they need to, but if he has to draw his sidearm, he'll shoot to kill.  Telling a criminal that to his face has a powerful effect.

~  The Wire ~ the title refers to surveillance conducted by a special unit of Baltimore Police Detectives, assembled to ferret out and arrest criminals in the illegal drug trade, the seaport system, and city government.  This is another fine ensemble cast, and the plots and settings take us onto gritty streets where anyone you meet is probably a predator.  Some fine, tense moments.

~  Band of Brothers ~ war is a theme which has been explored thousands of times, but rarely so effectively.  Based on real events and real characters, the series follows members of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division during World War II, from basic training to parachuting behind German lines on D-Day, thence through Operation Market Garden, the siege of Bastogne, and the eventual capture of Hitler's Eagle's Nest in the Bavarian Alps.  The prevalence and trauma of violence are portrayed starkly, true to the times.  The courage, terror, and humanity of the men of Easy are a microcosm of the generation who fought that war ~ the defining event of the 20th century.

~  Firefly ~ a wonderfully original space western, centered on the nine crew members of a space transport as they make a renegade living on the edges of a star system governed by an oppressive military alliance.  The dialogue, props, and plot are wildly entertaining ~ old West mannerisms in space, in a culture which is a blend of American and Chinese influence.  Nathan Fillion stars as Captain Malcolm Reynolds, an outlaw with a heart of gold.  The criminally short-lived series was revived as a feature film, Serenity.

~  Battlestar Galactica ~ a fugitive fleet of assorted civilian space ships, defended by the eponymous military battleship and fighter carrier Galactica, flees the decimation of the human race by the Cylons, a cybernetic race created by humans.  Edward James Olmos stars as the commander, with Mary McDonnell as the president of the twelve decimated human colonies, and Tricia Helfer as Cylon model number 6.  The story alternates between character-driven plotlines and space combat sequences, with one overlying goal ~ to somehow locate and return to ancestral Earth.

I detect several common threads linking my choices ~ an emphasis on fully fleshed-out characters, original and evocative screenplays, emotional nuance, and respect for the intelligence of the audience. I'm interested in any feedback which you may have.  Please click on "comments" below, and tell me your thoughts.  Happy New Year !

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