Regular readers of this blog know of my opinions about television. You know that in my house it’s Pam who does most of the watching. She sits downstairs on the sofa, busy on her laptop, while simultaneously watching everything from cooking shows to CSI. In her defense, most of the time the television provides nothing more than background noise while she is busy doing something else. But my uses for the thing are more targeted and less frequent…sports and old movies.
However, since the kids left we have developed a nice routine whereby the two of us sit down together during and after dinner and watch a show from Netflix. Almost exclusively these shows have one thing in common, they are all British.
Our latest discovery is a delightful mystery series called Foyle’s War. But before that there was Sherlock, Mr. Selfridge and The Paradise. So, what’s going on here?
For most of my life I have been decidedly snobbish about “foreign” things. My kids will attest to this with universal eye-rolling. “Dad, you’re so provincial! It’s OK to like Honda Dad…the war’s been over for 70 years!!” Generally, my taste for foreign things was limited to the dead…Beethoven, Churchill, etc. But I guess I’m having a mid-life crisis or something because not only have I developed a love of Indian cuisine, now I’ve become enamored with British television. What’s happening to me??
Take Foyle’s War for instance. Here we have a rather straight forward mystery series that takes place at the outbreak of WWII in the sleepy coastal town of Hastings. Foyle is a police detective who is too old to fight so must stay at home and investigate murders during war time. He has a son in the RAF. He is a widower. He has a spunky 20 year old girl for a driver and a recent amputee as an assistant. They go about the business of bringing murderers to justice amidst the backdrop of total war. Many of the crimes are related to the war effort and therefore present ethical conundrums to our team such as, should our top ace pilot be sent to prison for a circumstance-drenched murder depriving the country of perhaps it’s best aerial fighter?
Aside from the thought provoking story lines, there’s Foyle himself. Calm, unflappable, polite and measured, with kind eyes and a soft heart, he always seems in control of himself no matter how horrific a scene he encounters. He happens to be a dead ringer for my long dead Uncle, John Dixon. Watching him think things through, slowly, with methodical calm is fascinating.
The one thing that all of these British shows seem to have in common is something that is sadly missing in many American offerings…intelligence. The storytelling pulls you along, makes you think without the need for the profane or salacious. There is a certain sweetness to some of the characters that makes you care about what happens to them. Even though each episode of these shows is generally 15 minutes too long, afterwards, you don’t feel as if you’ve just wasted 90 minutes, in fact you come away thinking you just might be a bit smarter for the experience.
Try saying THAT after an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians. For sure American television does have its share of triumphs (Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Parenthood come to mind), but lately, it has been the Brits who have drawn me back to television.