Crossing The Pond

DVD TV series: MI-5 season six — I was quite delighted to hear from a couple of readers who agreed with my previous column praising this superb BBC series (called Spooks back in Blighty), which has been woefully ignored by American viewers and the channels programming it (first A&E, and now BBC America, whose website reads as of this writing “No Scheduled Shows”; meanwhile BBC is syndicating the series to PBS stations, starting with the first season in April). In its sixth season, the show continues to evolve in how it covers its topics, structure and content. This time out, all 10 episodes have an ongoing thread—British rapprochement with Iran—and the moral ambiguity of the activities of the UK domestic intelligence services is upped even further. Nothing else dramatic that is regularly shown on TV deals with pressing and controversial modern geopolitical issues with such unflinching bluntness. The glamour of its contemporary London setting and its young and good-looking cast becomes even more appealing as the MI-5’s gravitas is proven time and again, and the contemporary and sexy gloss is counterbalanced by the show’s continuing unsentimental willingness to sacrifice main characters one has grown attached to. This season may be its best and most unstintingly brutal yet. A seventh set of shows has recently finished airing in England and should follow on DVD stateside soon and an eighth batch has been commissioned—good news for fans. If you’re one of those already hooked, know that MI-5 keeps getting better. And again, I urge anyone who enjoys quality TV to check this show out.

Broadcast and DVD series: The Office — Yes, I’ve come to this hit show as well as its British predecessor late. And after finally watching Ricky Gervais’ wonderfully witty UK original and loving it, I was even more resistant to the American version. Then again, as much as I admire Gervais’ philosophy of never letting his series go on past a few seasons (as he also did with the equally charming Extras), I can’t help but want more. So when a friend persuaded me to watch some current episodes of the US Office, I couldn’t help but get hooked and start catching up on DVD. The templates provided by the English characters and basic plots translate well into an American setting by only following the outlines and not the details of the predecessors. And its US success allows what started in England and only went so far to roam further and get better with time. Yes, the stateside version is a bit dumber and not quite as absurdist as the British original. But as pleasant diversion and a look at working life today, The Office is mild and harmless fun that nonetheless still captures something true and significant about the American workplace. Plus I can’t help but enjoy the props it gives to its Scranton, Pa., setting, as the decaying rust belt coal city was a place we looked down on from my then more prosperous (and now equally decayed) hometown of Binghamton, N.Y., an hour up the Interstate, yet I now feel a sentimental affection for the place.

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2009

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