Monday, December 12, 2016

TV shows - comedies

Following on from last week’s TV drama reviews, here are some of the comedy ones we have enjoyed over the last 10 years or so.

Outnumbered (BBC).  
Charting the lives of the ­­­Brockman family – parents Pete and Sue with kids Jake, Ben & Karen, this is a funny and somewhat too close to the bone look at family life and parenting.   In fact, we know people who can’t watch this because it feels like a documentary of their lives!    Apparently much of it was unscripted, with the adult actors having to interact with the way the kids took to the direction of it.    It’s clever, humorous and realistic.    Many of the storylines are relatively mundane, yet that adds to the reality of it – the getting ready for school, dealing with kids at the end of the day, worries about aging parents and other extended family.   There are 5 seasons with extra Christmas editions, with apparently a new Christmas edition coming out this year.

Upper Middle Bogan (ABC). 
Three seasons of eight episodes, these are set in Melbourne.   Bess has grown up in upper class Melbourne, privately educated, attending the ballet and is now an doctor, married to an architect with twin teenagers.   Upon analysing the blood tests of her mother is hospital, she discovers she was adopted.  Her birth parents – Wayne & Julie – gave her up having fallen pregnant as teenagers, yet they are still together and have 3 more children, and the whole family are key competitors in drag racing.   It’s a very funny view of 2 disparate parts of Australian society, and while poking fun at both equally, the overall message is the strength of family and how both families learn to love and appreciate each other in all their differences.  We laughed out loud at many scenes.  The first season was the strongest, after a while there are probably only so make jokes you can make out of the concept!   There is a fair bit of swearing, but it does fit in.   Season 3 is currently showing. although we decided to skip it.

I used to watch this in my 20s and rediscovered it on Stan when we had it free for 6 months.    Running for 11 seasons (1993-2004), it charted the life of psychiatrist Dr Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer in a character developed in the sitcom Cheers) as he moves back to his hometown Seattle after a divorce. His crotchety father Martin, injured in duty as a police officer, has to come and live with him.  Joining them is Martin’s live-in physical therapist and carer, the lovely Daphne.   His brother Niles, also a psychiatrist and trapped in a miserable marriage to the never-seen Maris, falls completely for Daphne although never reveals it.    Frasier’s radio show producer Roz becomes a firm friend.   There are parts that grate, mostly Frasier’s never ending search for love, but generally it’s great fun.  The Crane boys are polished, grand and intellectual, and their sports-loving father despairs for them.   It’s a good show about family and friendship, and I find it very funny.

As Time Goes By
This old BBC series from the 1992-2005 tells the story of Jean (Judy Dench) and Lionel (Geoffrey Palmer).  They first met in their early 20s in the 1953s, had a loving relationship, but Lionel was posted to Korea.  Due to the vagaries of the postal service, a key letter between them was lost.  No one had the courage to write to the other to check what had happened and so they never met again.   Fast forward 38 years, Jean is widowed with an adult daughter Judy, and Lionel is divorced.   Circumstances put them across each other’s paths again and friendship, followed by love, is slowly re-established.  There are 9 seasons, which I have enjoyed watching on my annual trips away by myself.   It’s slow moving and some of the extra characters can be grating at times (eg. Alistair), but I liked the story and the interactions between Jean and Lionel are lovely.   I enjoyed the insight into love in later life. 

Funny, clever and pokes fun at spy shows along the way.  I saw an apt description which was: 24 meets Get Smart.   Average computer geek Chuck receives an email from an old college friend which downloads into his brain top-secret CIA information.  All of a sudden he is of high level importance  to the CIA requiring two agents as handlers, and of interest to every other organisation who wants the info.  We really liked this series, at it has lots of action, is able to laugh at itself and the whole spy genre, and has likeable characters.  Like many people, we thought the final season was the low point - it got to a whole other level of ridiculous - but it was pretty good for most of it!

How I Met Your Mother
Based on the premise of a man telling his kids the story of how he met their mother, this was a funny, light-hearted comedy that spanned 9 seasons.   It rotates around the life of Ted Mosby (the dad telling the story), his best friend Marshall and his life-long love Lily, their good friend Robyn and the womanising Barney.  My main disappointment with this show was Barney’s crassness and attitude towards women, it was too repugnant.

Throughout almost the entire show, you do not actually know who their mother is – the story keeps teasing up to how he met her, and at some points you are wondering if you are ever going to meet her.   The real story is the interactions of these 5 friends; their ups and downs in life and love.   Everything comes to a head in the final season.  We really liked the ending and thought it reflected the rest of the show, others we know disagreed!  

Big Bang Theory
Now in its 9th season to date, this charts the lives and loves of four men – all very intelligent, nerdy scientists: Leonard, Sheldon, Howard and Raj.  In the early seasons, all are single and three of them desperately want a woman in their life.  With more than enough PhDs between them all, as well as detailed knowledge about comics, Star Wars, Star Trek and all things science – they are all clueless when it comes to women and relationships.   Actress Penny moves in across the hall from Leonard and Sheldon, Leonard falls immediately and completely in love, and here unfold the various comedy sketches based around their nerdy intelligence and her more worldly, less educated life.   Later on Howard meets Bernadette, a highly successful microbiologist.  Even Sheldon, a genius and the least emotionally intelligent of them all, makes a friend in Amy, a neurobiologist.   It is a very funny, very clever show.    
Modern Family
When this started six years ago I wrote about it then.   It has been a show we have come to really enjoy.  Based around 3 families, all related to each other, it has funny, realistic interactions within family units and then across the extended family.   Representing a nuclear mom & dad with three kids, an older man remarried with a stepson and later their own son; and a gay couple with their adopted daughter, it hits all sorts of buttons.   This one (and The Big Bang Theory) are the two shows that regularly make me laugh out loud.    And really, that’s what we often enjoy at the end of the day!

Now, we’ve decided it’s time to revisit Scrubs.

After all that light-hearted fun – it’s time for a holiday break.

See you again in 2017.

Monday, December 5, 2016

TV shows - drama

The final two posts for this year are reviews of more light-hearted things  - TV shows.  Perhaps something will interest you over the summer!  Today’s are dramas, next week’s are comedies.  Then it’s time for a break for me too!

Over the years we have watched many TV shows on DVD or some free offer of Netflix, Stan, etc.  We often find that at the end of the day watching an episode is a good way to wind down and relax.  Sometimes it is the precursor to talking about the day, sometimes it happens after that.   Sometimes, when we have both had too much on, it’s a good way to spend time together but not talk anymore!   We usually have a drama series on the go at any one time, as well as a comedy.  It also seems that we always have two series on the go, one has 40-60 min episodes, another 20 mins – allowing more choice depending on mood and time available.

Here are some of the dramas we have enjoyed (probably spanning about the last 10 years)

House Husbands
We’re currently working our way through this, just having finished season 2.  It’s the story of 4 intertwined families, where the husbands are the ones mostly caring for the kids, and all have a child in the first year of school.   There is a blended family, a divorced family, a gay family and a ‘nuclear’ family.  I like the realistic portrayal of much of Australian family life where people are busy balancing jobs, family and friendships.  I like the way the men support each other and encourage each other to step up rather than be slack.   The school the kids go to is like any Aussie primary school, where you meet the teachers and parents and have to figure out how involved to be.   It gets more dramatic as it goes on (more like a soap opera) but for now, it’s still pretty good.

Sherlock (BBC)
Modern drama based around the idea of Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson.   There are 3 seasons of detailed, very well produced 90 minute episodes, with only 3 to a season.   Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock, the genius who is out of place in a normal world.   They take concentration and are best watched all together over a few months/weeks so you can keep track of characters and plotlines.  Very enjoyable watching for when you want to think a bit more.
NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles
We have been watching these on and off for years.   Starting with NCIS, it’s a good solid crime drama, without the gore of some other shows.  A murder/crime is always discovered in the opening scene and the rest of the episode it’s up to the team at the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to solve it.   NCIS is in its 14th season and has slowly developed the main characters over this time.  NCIS: Los Angeles (up to Season 8) is more angled at solving terrorism cases, and this one has really grown on me.   I like the interplay between the characters here more (must be different scriptwriters), there are essentially 4 pairings of friends/partners and it is generally funnier and more light-hearted than NCIS.   Both are easy to watch with some humour and enjoyable characters.  
Friday Night Lights
It took me a while to give this one a go, it’s the story of a high school football coach, Eric Taylor in Texas. With his wife, Tami (a high school counsellor) and daughter Julie, they move to Dillon, for him to take over the local team.   Their story is told over 5 seasons with a fair number of changes in their situation, as it also charts the life of the students under their care.   I liked the reality of the situation they were dealing with for teenagers, although it did make me grateful (yet again) that I returned from the US and went to high school in Australia.   Overall, the best part of this series is the strength of Eric and Tami’s marriage and how they work through the ups and downs of life together.    

The West Wing
Probably the best drama we have watched in the last 10 years (we came to it late).  Spanning seven seasons (1999-2006), it charted the presidency of Democrat Josiah Bartlett with his key staff and family alongside him.   Loved by millions, chances are you have already watched this series, but if you’ve never tried it, it’s still worth it.  Get to the end of Season 1 and tell me you aren’t hooked!

The Newsroom
Another offering by Aaron Sorkin, this three-season series has Jeff Daniels starring as a news anchor Will McAvoy on News Night, a cable news program and his ex-girlfriend MacKenzie McHale as his executive producer.  Each episode is built around an actual news event, the pilot starting with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  This series got better as it went along, it took a while to warm to the characters (I found Maggie, an associate producer, especially annoying).  We like Sorkin’s writing, so we liked this series.

Madam Secretary 
Another US offering based around the events of the US government.  Elizabeth McCord (Tea Leoni), an ex-CIA analyst (and happily married mother of three) is called upon by her old CIA director boss, now President to be his new Secretary of State.   Now in its third season, this is one of the few shows we watch as episodes are showed (well, taped of course to skip the ads).    Two aspects of this show stand out for me - firstly, the high levels of ethical and moral accountability both Elizabeth and her husband Henry (ex-marine, theology professor and lecturer at the National War College) have.  As he is well researched in theology and philosophy, the show has some intelligent comment on complex religious issues too.   Secondly, I really like the portrayal of their marriage and parenting - they are both busy, high-level public servants, but they are committed to each other and to their family.   It's a good show.

800 Words
An Australian-New Zealand co-operative effort, the is the story of George Turner (Erik Thompson), a journalist whose column is always exactly 800 words.   In the wake of his wife's death, he decides to uproot his two teenage children and move to New Zealand so they can all start anew.   This is the story of them finding their way in the small rural community of Weld.  You can see it going the way of all of these types of shows - good and realistic for the first few seasons, then getting soap opera-ish as the original story idea fades and they need to add more drama.   But, two seasons in, it's been pretty good so far.  

I have also written previously about: 24, ANZAC GirlsCall the Midwife and East West 101.