Something Old by Barney Rosenzweig
While continuing the search for something new to watch during the time of Covid, I found something old. Well, not old exactly, but something less than new. The show is Broadchurch, a British TV award winner, now on Netflix. The series (eight episodes per season for three seasons) is an English police procedural that is simply outstanding. Oscar winner (and current EMMY nominee) Olivia Colman heads up a terrific cast but, good as these actors are, you may want to seriously consider the use of sub-titles. The Scottish, Welsh and English accents can put a bit of strain on the ear of any American viewer… even if you think you speak and understand English.
Why end an “outstanding” review on a negative? Let me tell you why. The show got me to thinking… not about Broadchurch per se, but about the more than a few very excellent shows I am seeing these days from abroad. Many seem to have one thing in common: they start out strong and deliver week after week for an entire season of…what? Eight episodes? Season two is often very good (not as good as season one of course, but very good nonetheless). Then comes the final eight in season three. Often a change of the basic concept (see Marcella, Killing Eve, and the currently under scrutiny Broadchurch, for examples). Then I did the math. These Brits made 24 episodes in three years on each of these shows and could only really keep the style and story-line going for maybe two thirds of those.
The American TV series of old came to mind: 22 episodes per year for five years on Cagney & Lacey and we won over a dozen Emmys while we were at it. Stephen Bochco on Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue did even better. And what about JJ Abrams with Alias and Lost?
And I am not even talking about HBO or Showtime, who have made some of the finest television ever seen, and in the process all but ended quality TV on the Networks, as they siphoned off all the best people to join them there and subsequently on Netflix, Amazon and other premium channels. Game of Thrones, Veep, Homeland, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Deadwood, True Detective, all march to a different drum… and a great drum it is… but they only do that march at a pace of never more than a dozen episodes a year… and sometimes only a fraction of that.
Readers of this space might remember my rave review on revisiting HBO’s Newsroom which emanated from Aaron Sorkin’s word processor. It is simply a spectacular job of writing and film making… acting too (Jeff Daniels got the 2013 EMMY for Outstanding Lead Actor for his work on this HBO series).
When Newsroom bingeing came too soon to an end, I needed another Sorkin fix and so I moved on to APPLE TV where I was able to revisit Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip. This NBC drama about the making of a TV series (not unlike Saturday Night Live) came on the heels of 30 Rock, an NBC comedic take on this same subject. The comedy sort of eclipsed the drama at the time which was not unusual in the early days of the first decade of this century.
Matthew Perry, of Friends fame and Bradley Whitford of West Wing headed up a really fine ensemble of actors that included Sarah Paulson, Steven Weber and Amanda Peet. The directors, some of the actors and a gaggle of production staff members were all alumni from The West Wing, Sorkin’s first TV hit. (For those who care about total disclosure, I should mention Sports Night as “Sorkin’s first TV hit,” but it was more a succes d’estime than the rating smash that was his DC based NBC drama.)
It is hard to explain just how good the writing is on a Sorkin show. Let me simply do it this way: when you google Sorkin, a half dozen other writers names come up. One of them is an English dude named William Shakespeare. Honest to God.
The bingeing on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip ended. I waited a few days, I tried other shows… nothing worth my time, let alone yours. I had to go back to what is arguably the champion of the American Television Network series. I had to return to The West Wing.
It is so good. From the opening moments I found myself smiling, reveling in the genius of Sorkin and his partners Tommy Schlamme and George Wells. There are 156 episodes over its seven-year run. Do the math… on average over 22 per year. Eat your heart out BBC.
My smiles soon turned to tears. It wasn’t Sorkin’s TV that did it. It was Sorkin’s America. Watch The West Wing today and wonder, how we have come this far… down.
As an Influencer, Barney nails it, especially if you agree … which we do. We watched every episode of The West Wing when it was first aired. Loved it. The show spoke to our idealistic expectation as to how our leaders are “supposed” to act and react. We intend to watch it again on Netflix and wistfully remember our fantasy. Thank you Barney for the reminder. We are currently watching Broadchurch. Will let you know after Season 2! We also watched every episode of Cagney & Lacey. Fast-paced, riveting, totally believable characters. Would love to binge on another run of this police drama.
Dena Stewart & Stewart Stewart