Television is a drug, we've been told for decades. It really is. I don't like to think I'm hooked on it, and I can say in a certain sense that I "don't watch television." But that certain sense is what the phrase used to suggest (and I guess still does in many cases)--watching the stuff that's broadcast all day and night on various networks, the original big three and all the others that have proliferated. I never have watched much of that, not because of any virtue on my part but because I don't like it. And I've always found the commercials almost unendurable.
But if by "watch television" you mean "watch moving pictures on a television screen," I can't deny that I'm hooked. For a long time it was only movies, which I felt entitled me to a certain self-respect--at least I wasn't watching "that network junk." But I can only say that now if I mean only CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox, because thanks to Netflix and other options a great deal of what I watch now was originally made for TV, either here or in the UK.
My wife and I have gotten into the habit of watching an hour or an hour-and-a-half of some sort of crime drama almost every night. Most of the variations from this have been other made-for-TV productions like Victoria and The Crown. And the majority of them are British. (See this post from two years ago.) One wants to relax at the end of a working day (and yes, mine are still largely work of one kind or another though I am supposedly retired). But one does not want to be bored. And crime dramas provide a mixture of the stimulating, even frightening or disturbing, and the reassuring: for the most part, at least in the ones I watch, there is in the end something close to justice: the murderer is found out and apprehended. The links in the list below go to the Wikipedia pages for the shows, in case you want to find out a bit more about them. I only noticed a spoiler in one of them (noted below).
Midsomer Murders is the least demanding, and the best option for the end of a particularly stressful day. It falls pretty well within the definition of the "cozy" genre. Predictable, likeable characters (I mean, not counting the killers, with which these little English villages seem to be crawling), and not too gruesome or psychologically creepy. There are a lot of episodes, but I am trying to ration our consumption of them because eventually we will get through them all. And I have to admit they get somewhat repetitive. How could they not?--it's been going since 1998.
Marcella is another entry in what seems to be almost a sub-genre now: the detective with major personal problems. I watched this one alone...oops, I forgot to mention that I frequently watch half an hour of TV on my lunch break--and sometimes a whole hour, if what I'm watching lasts that long and I can't make myself stop in the middle. (But I don't have a problem, really. I can quite anytime I want to.) Anyway, I watched it alone because when my wife and I started watching it the opening promised to be so gruesome that she decided to bail out. Marcella Backland is a police detective in London, and her major personal problems (MPP) involve a collapsing marriage, the death of a child, and blackouts in which she does crazy things which she can't remember afterwards. I guess I'd give it a qualified recommendation. It's produced, directed, and written by Hans Rosenfeldt, who was the guiding hand of the original Swedish The Bridge. Despite that opening scene, it is not extremely gory.
So, The Bridge: having had this strongly recommended so strongly by Rob G, I finally watched the first season of it a couple of months ago. It's very very good, though sometimes gruesome and disturbing. As you know if you've seen conversations about it here, the bridge in question is the one between Sweden and Denmark, and each country provides a detective. Both, not surprisingly, have MPPs. I haven't watched any of the subsequent seasons, because I can only get them from Amazon for $24 or so each.
The Tunnel is a sort of remake of The Bridge with the Channel Tunnel between England and France in the role of the bridge. The detectives are similar, including MPPs. I didn't like it as well as The Bridge, but it's good. It's also more disturbing. The third and final season was recently shown on PBS and...how to say this without giving away too much?...it does not have the sort of resolution one expects in a crime drama. In case you're on the fence about watching it. And NOTE: that Wikipedia entry does contain one major spoiler.
DCI Banks is based on what is apparently a very popular series of novels by Peter Robinson. I haven't read any of them so obviously have no idea how the show compares to them, but I like the show enough to be interested in the novels. Banks is, I suppose, a pretty basic police detective in the mold of, say, Inspector Morse: he's got his quirks and his problems and is on the prickly side, but not MPPs to the extent that some of the aforementioned have. Really, if I were to summarize this, it would sound an awful lot like any number of similar shows, but it's very well done, the stories are good (though not always entirely believable, which I guess is not unusual), and the recurring characters, starting with Banks, are sympathetic enough that you care about them.
Case Histories stars...Lucius Malfoy? Yes. I was not a big fan of the Harry Potter books or movies, but when I saw the lead character in this series it didn't take very long for me to go from "He looks familar, I've seen him in something else" to the scary image of Malfoy. I've never been one to be greatly fascinated by movie stars, but over the years I've become more and more impressed by the ability of actors to transform themselves convincingly into utterly different people. It may be hard to believe that Jason Isaacs could be both Lucius Malfoy and the kind, strong-but-sensitive Jackson Brodie, who, as Wikipedia says, "hides a deeply empathetic heart under his tough-guy exterior." This series lasted only two seasons, apparently, and I would have liked to see more. Brodie is, in his basic situation, the classic private eye: an ex-cop who lost his job for exposing corruption, trying to get by on whatever miscellaneous investigative problems happen to walk in his office door. The problems usually meet first Brodie's secretary, Deborah, who is herself a very engaging character, sharp-tongued and quick-witted. Icing on this cake is an intriguing and somewhat quirky sound track. Definitely recommended, along with Banks.
The Doctor Blake Mysteries is an Australian series. It falls somewhere between Midsomer Murders and the others mentioned here on a scale that runs from cozy to disturbing. It's not exactly cozy, but on the other hand it's not terribly dark, either. Doctor Lucien Blake is a "police surgeon," which seems to be something like the forensic pathologist who is often a second-tier character in mysteries, in the town of Ballarat. In this case the pathologist is the one who actually figures out the crimes. The stories take place in the 1950s; Blake is a World War II veteran who has returned to Ballarat after certain traumas. He's a bachelor and lives with his housekeeper and a couple of lodgers. I'm not wildly enthusiastic about this show, but I do enjoy it. As with Midsomer, each episode is a self-contained story, but the main characters persist from one episode to the next, and you come to care about them and want to know what happens to them.
Ozark is the lone American entry in this list. I might describe it very broadly as an attempt to do something like what Breaking Bad did so very effectively. It involves a Chicago financial planner, Marty Byrde, whose business partner has been laundering money for a drug cartel, and stealing from them in the process. They figure this out, of course, and arrive to kill both men. Marty talks his way out of being murdered by promising great things in the money laundering line. This involves moving to the Ozarks, where he predictably gets into ever-deeper trouble, with his wife, Wendy, becoming a very capable co-conspirator, and his children being dragged in as well. There are some darkly funny bits where Marty and Wendy lecture the children on honesty and other virtues while lying constantly, deceiving and abusing people in various ways, and causing the deaths of several. There are two seasons, and I'm not quite done with the second. I don't know whether more are planned but I doubt that the story is going to be wrapped up very satisfactorily in the two remaining episodes. I'm not very enthusiastic about this one, but the story got its hooks into me. It's pretty dark and has some especially gruesome deaths.
All these shows, including the later Midsomer episodes, are filmed in HD, and frequently provide some very beautiful imagery. Banks and Case Histories, set in Yorkshire and Scotland respectively, are especially good in this respect.
I have managed to see a few movies in recent months. Just this past week I watched, for the first time, the classic Western High Noon. I admit that this was sort of a check-off item, as I've wanted to see all the acknowledged classics in this genre. And I've been a little saddened to find that they don't in general have the appeal that they did when I was a child. That wasn't much of a surprise, of course, but some of them have been worse than I expected. This is an exception. It's really pretty good. I guess everybody sort of knows the basic idea from various cultural references if not from seeing the film itself: lone lawman confronts outlaw(s) at high noon. Gary Cooper is the town marshal. The black-and-white cinematography is good and the story works pretty well.
Although I had not seen the film, I've heard the theme song, "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling," occasionally over the years, enough so that I recognize it. I knew that it was associated with the movie, and was always a bit puzzled by that: what does asking your darling not to forsake you have to do with standing up to outlaws? Well, I must never have listened past the first line or two of the song, because it was written for the movie and specifically refers to people and events in it. Marshal Kane has just married his sweetheart, Amy (Grace Kelly). She's a Quaker and a pacifist and intends to leave him if he insists on fighting the outlaws.
Another movie: Europa, directed by Lars von Trier. It's the only thing I've seen by him, and I know he has a reputation for having done some fairly twisted stuff. I don't know about that, but this is an odd one. Not twisted, not offensive, but...odd. I got it from Netflix semi-inadvertently--for some reason I had it in my head that it was an older work by Godard or Truffaut or somebody of that sort. I have no idea why I thought that, but I had put it on my Netflix queue a long time ago, and it finally bubbled to the top.
I can't say much more for it than "somewhat interesting." It's about crimes and conspiracies in Germany immediately after World War II, the work of unrepentant Nazis trying to keep their resistance alive, and it involves an American who is drawn into such a conspiracy. That might suggest an action-thriller sort of thing, but it isn't really that. It's shot mostly in a murky black-and-white that looks more like something from the '20s than the '40s, if a period-cinema atmosphere is what was intended. I guess that's appropriate in one way, as that was certainly a murky period of history. If someone wants to argue its merits, I'll listen, but I wasn't impressed.