Stephen King on The Good Wife
The most winning aspect of The Good Wife, at least from this viewer’s perspective, is that every episode is crammed with story, side to side and top to bottom. Multiple plot threads stuff each 43-minute outing, often intersecting but rarely snarling up; in a way, it’s like watching rush-hour traffic running at 90 miles an hour with nary a collision. Much of my fascination with the show, I admit, was professional: exactly how are they doing that? Read the full article.
John Gray on Boardwalk Empire
Written by the series creator, Terence Winter, and executive producer Howard Korder, and directed by Tim Van Patten, the show has been widely praised for its powerful picture of life in Atlantic City during the Prohibition era. Played with extraordinary subtlety by Steve Buscemi, the central character, Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, is based on an actual historical figure, Enoch L Johnson, a flamboyant racketeer and ruthless machine politician who dominated the city for nearly thirty years. The interaction of power with crime, exceptionally naked and brutal at the time, is re-created with unblinking realism. In many of the characters the ability to inflict violence and death without emotion is not a personal defect, still less a mark of psychopathy, but merely a means of survival. One of them, a facially disfigured war veteran who kills without compunction, is shown to be capable of deep loyalty and affection. Read the full article.
Geoff Dyer on Generation Kill
I have opted here for Generation Kill (2008) because it is less conventional, more daring in conception and execution, than the magnificent Band of Brothers. With minimal explanation, scene-setting or establishing of character, we follow a company of reconnaissance marines spearheading the invasion of Iraq. Flung into a barely comprehensible world and language, we are left to pick up the acronym-intensive argot as best we can.
Our representative in this regard is Evan Wright, the journalist from whose excellent book the series was adapted, with expected skill and remarkable fidelity, by David Simon and Ed Burns. Wright was embedded; the viewers are immersed. After a point we didn’t talk about watching another episode. It was always, “Shall we get back in the Hummer?” Read the full article.
Hanif Kureishi on The Killing
Far from being the uninhibited, free-speaking woman we had imagined at the advent of the new feminism in the mid-1960s, Sarah is overburdened with guilt and worry. She is also a slave to the police system that she serves, lacking knowledge of herself and her position. The pleasures of talk, spontaneity and exchange are not for her. Highly moralistic, aloof and determined to keep the world under control, she will always have too much to do. Her life will not truly begin until she identifies and removes the serial killer. She is someone who has an endless series of “important” tasks to perform before she can enjoy any fulfilment or satisfaction. Read the full article.
Roddy Doyle on The Wire
I’ve been watching it again and it is wonderful how quickly I’m drawn in, bang up against the characters. The accents have something to do with it. I have to concentrate, lean in to the screen, to catch the words, and I can see just how young those dangerous young men are – kids trying to talk like army veterans. There’s D’Angelo Barksdale (Larry Gilliard, Jr), a drug dealer, looking so arrogant and frightened – and so, so young – boasting about something to his even younger troops, and I realise quite far in that it’s a murder he’s describing: he murdered a woman. That’s one of the outstanding things about The Wire, how meaning catches up as you watch. Read the full article.
Bernardine Evaristo on Orange is the New Black
The series is exceptional because – in a world where most television dramas have more male than female characters – it features a predominantly female cast who exist in a micro-universe of woman-centredness. Female power play is amplified, their relationships are intensified and lesbianism is a significant motif (there is plenty of graphic sex). Nor is the cast made up of the usual pretty, skinny sylphs who are allowed to grace our screens. These are normal-looking actors who are fantastically talented and individual. Read the full article.
Audrey Niffenegger on Brideshead Revisited
Watching it now, at the terrifying age of 53, I am reminded how valuable it is to encounter art repeatedly: some things give up their full meaning slowly. Brideshead Revisited is intended for persons who have reached a certain age and suddenly thought, “What am I doing here?” The characters experience love, but they also lose love. The slow unfolding of each life – the incremental changes in their relationships to each other and to their God – appears before us perfectly articulated. Seeing Brideshead again, I empathise as the characters make difficult choices and try to understand each other. As the world changes around us, we try to find truth and grace. This is a gorgeous reminder that other people are also searching for goodness, that we are all making mistakes. Read the full article.
Val McDermid on Between the Lines
Because we come to care about the central figures in the drama, success and failure have the power to move us. When betrayal comes – and the final betrayal is a heart-stopper – we feel the pain and outrage. There are moments still when I shout at the screen, indignant and pained.
Every time, I sigh at Clark’s inability to see where his infidelity will dump him. My heart goes out to Harry, struggling to care for his disabled wife in the interstices of a job that is never nine-to-five. I cheer for Mo when she turns up at the police Christmas party with her girlfriend. And I chew my fingers when Deakin corners them with another moral dilemma. Read the full article.
Kevin Barry on Deadwood
Deadwood is about uncomfortable things: the birth and death of capitalism, the queasy insistences of greed and ambition and the orgiastic sex charge of ultra-violence. Unlike most contemporary film and television productions, it is not afraid of words. There are mad swaths of dialogue, just reams upon reams of the crazy stuff, and it’s almost all wonderful, so funny and tragic, so sad and true. Read the full article.
Lionel Shriver on Better Call Saul
I am hardly alone in admiring contemporary television, whose steep rise in quality has noticeably reduced the amount I read – about which I can’t even claim to feel remorseful. That’s because – admission against interest – the character development in this era’s most accomplished series often equals or exceeds the psychological subtlety, acuity and complexity that were hitherto the sole province of the novel.
A prequel to Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul is plotted on an intentionally smaller scale than its apocalyptic big brother. Still, created by the duo who brought you blue-tinted methamphetamine (Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould), this series about the early career of Walter White’s shyster lawyer also has its gonzo side. Read the full article.
Howard Jacobson on The Affair
Affairs end and there are consequences. Those consequences are indubitably interesting. They are the stories of most novels we read. But, filmically no less than narratively, this affair pushed every question of consequence aside with such singleness of erotic purpose that it was hard, when the wives and husbands inevitably reappeared, along with the in-laws, the children, the lawyers, and all the dross of plot, to find the right kind of attention for them. Read the full article.
John Banville on Bloodline
The plot of Bloodline has its instances of extreme violence and its morgues are full of mutilated young women, but the unflinching way in which it portrays the savagery at the heart of family life would have been acknowledged and applauded by Sophocles. The twin glories of the series, however, are the quality of the acting and the range and subtlety of the writing. Very little screen entertainment nowadays is made with an adult audience in mind. Bloodline, almost uniquely, is for grown-ups. Read the full article.
Clive James on Band of Brothers
It has to be Band of Brothers. You know something is on an epic scale when even a small piece of it breathes open space, which is to say that it touches on eternity. The little scene where Malarkey picks up the laundry parcels for the missing men takes me back to a time when the fathers of my generation were risking their lives. But I never had to explain that to my children because the show explained it better than I could. To have seen at least part of a time when popular entertainment has become so substantial is a great privilege, and I bless it without reserve. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to start dropping hints about how much I’d like to see Westworld. Read the full article.
Rose Tremain on The West Wing
What I ask first and foremost of TV drama is that it feel real and lived. Sorkin seems to have a faultless ear for how clever, busy people speak. As often in real life, you sometimes strain to hear what they’re actually saying – especially if you’re a Brit and they’re all talking American – but you also have faith that everything you have missed is likely to be as witty and as truthful as all the wonders you have managed to capture.
The West Wing took the serial format to another level of enjoyment. At a time when US politics seems foolish, graceless and downright mean and when the man preparing to lead the Western world appears to be stuck in reading-primer language (“I. Will. Build. A. Wall.”), I miss it more than ever. Read the full article.
William Boyd on True Detective
Those eight hours gave everyone the luxurious elbow room they needed: True Detective was the equivalent of four movies bolted together and it held the viewer inexorably. A-list actors, multimillion-dollar production values and cinematic composition made this TV drama better than any movie released in 2014. Perhaps the denouement was a little disappointing after all that excellence but in True Detective long-form television strutted its stuff and fully came of age. Read the full article.