Monday, March 14, 2011

Recommended: Netflix's UK TV Selection

A lot of people like tv shows from other countries. I was a big fan of "Father Ted," but the series' lead died, ending "FT" in 1998. I also loved HBO's long-ago heavy rotation of "Mr. Bean." Oh, simpler times! What do you do today if you want to watch some foreign tv? Well, Netflix can help you out...

Hulu, mind you, has a pretty sizable collection of foreign shows. A lot of them are Korean dramas - though I don’t watch them, I don't avoid them. I can make no recommendations, there, nor even tell you how many are available. Why? Because you (still) can't select "Foreign" when you browse through Hulu's tv options.

That's pretty much most of Hulu live-action foreign selection. They do have 4 shows from BBC America, and some from Australian's Food network. So, um, yay?

The rest/vast majority of Hulu's foreign offering is made up of Anime. By "majority" I mean about 139 whole shows and counting; this is not good. Whereas I'm just not sure if those Korean and Aussie shows are decent, most tv-anime is clearly like a polio vaccine: best experienced at an early age.

On the other hand, Netflix' foreign streaming choices provide a selection of actual, non-animated, adult shows to watch. The offerings are deep enough to keep you entertained for a while.

Why no love for tv-series Anime? Rumiko Takahashi’s series really impressed me when I was 19. The woman is an excellent, inventive writer, and I can understand why she was the richest woman in Japan for so long. She deserved her success, and I greatly enjoyed “Ranma 1/2” and “Maison Ikkoku,” among others.

But any time I check out tv-Anime from the last 8 years, I see the same flawed junk over and over; most just seem to fall flat. Shows like “Monster” and “Death Note” have a great rep, but I'm already turned off. I long ago tired of impossible bust-to-waist ratios, descriptions of some lame-ass guy's weapon’s power/fighting style/whatever. "Venture Bros." is a mature cartoon, and it's not some badly-written storm of Japanese cliches.

The real tv-Anime killers, tho: flashbacks and "previously on" sequences eat up 4+ of a show's 22 minutes (roughly 1/6th the running time), and fights are constantly broken up by speeches or full monologues. These catastrophic - and commonplace - flaws suggest that animation isn't being utilized to produce good action scenes or well-told stories. I always thought the big advantage of the animation format was the ability to animate impossible-to-film stories and scenes...

Let's turn back to Netflix to look at their foreign serials, shall we? I wouldn't take so long to write about the flaws of Anime, but Hulu clearly put a lot of effort into acquiring so many of them. Netflix, however, offers BBC-backed documentaries; The Life of Mammals is a notable one. It's pretty and striking and you won't see it on Discovery Channel.

The original British "The Office" is also available.The show's too popular for me to sum it up, but you can see where it all started and why. There's also the brilliant classic comedy "Black Adder" - Rowan Atkinson surrounded by tons of great actors and actresses.

The exceptional, famous, well-loved "A Bit of Fry and Laurie" is strongly recommended; the future "House" star and Stephen Fry are like a two-man, stand-up style Monty Python. You can find four seasons of the super-recent hit, "The IT Crowd." Or jump into the comedy classic past with "Fawlty Towers."

The series "Coupling" is offered as well. I've seen a bit of it and can say that it's quite funny. Unfortunately, it gets burnt out by the 2nd season's end. Moreover, it's a weird mash-up show: much of the humor feels like a British version of Seinfeld's analysis of anything, grafted onto the backdrop of Friends. Take that for what you will - you'll find at least 6 eps to be terribly funny.

There's a massive collection of "Dr. Who," if that's your thing (I've never watched). Episodes from every recent season, Christmas specials (that's a thing, I guess), and lots of old shows too. The sci-fi choices are rounded out by "Primeval," "Torchwood," "Red Dwarf," "Lexx," and "Hyperdrive" (of course). Only that last is really my sort of series, but I've heard good buzz about the post-apocalyptic "Survivors." It might be your sort of thing.

The seasoned Anglophile should also note the wide selection of TV movies. The Brits do them right, and they tend to have some of the finest actors on the other side of the Atlantic. This includes "The Scarlet Pimpernel" starring Richard E. Grant!

Other notables include "Wire in the Blood," and the UK "Skins," in case you'd like to see what all the controversy is about. For any of you who deeply miss "24," you might want to look at "MI-5." It was called "Spooks" in the UK, and it's well-liked for many reasons. It's original, thrilling, and loaded with great action and performances.

The series is also incredibly gritty, and you really get the sense that the characters have been put through a crucible. It's quite an achievement, as there's a reasonable portrayal of how certain characters get "twisted," do the wrong things for the right reasons, and find that government-sanctioned "greater-good" type work can be as filthy as pushing drugs... I strongly recommend "MI-5"/"Spooks."

I guess I would only add a few notes. For one thing, there should be much more available for streaming; the BBC puts out a lot of great productions, and I'd be happy for a chance to see more of their mindless entertainment instead of just American mindless entertainment. What I really want is for someone like Netflix or Hulu to offer shows from France, Australia, Italy, Germany, etc.

It's true that no one else puts so much money into their A/V entertainment - that particular shame goes to America. But I can't believe that France (or Argentina or Spain) never made a tv series worth watching.

So, some requests: the famous dark comedy "The League of Gentlemen" is only available on DVD. Just look at their wiki page, I should say no more. Same goes for the brand-new Sherlock series; bring it on, please!

Also, check out the DVD-only, perfect crime drama "Cracker." It's about a police-assisting psychologist whose life is a complete trainwreck. It's not just a great drama with brilliant stories and fine acting, it was made at a time when most shows did not have leads whose lives were a complete trainwreck.

I also love the choice of Robbie Coltrane as the main character. It's nice to see someone in the media who doesn't look like they walked out of a clothing catalog. If anything, I'm slightly appalled that they have the 2nd series available, but everything else must be "Saved" until it's available.

In closing, let me again stress: foreign series from other countries should be available too. Copyright clearances should not keep my countrymen from getting to know what the rest of the world enjoys. Hell, one of my favorite BBC series (I'll tell you later)  took over 8 years to reach the states, and it was mostly due to soundtrack copyrights...

If anyone countered me by saying that these shows "would be in foreign languages and subtitles blah blah blah…" - if anyone said that, I have an easy reply. "Well, couldn't we at least see a better showing for series from Australia and Canada?" I mean, Da Vinci's Inquest and ReGenesis are nice, but they're just not enough.  I think viewers deserve more, and hopefully Netflix (and Hulu, Amazon Instant, & Redbox) will deliver some day soon.

That’s all for now, see you Wednesday,
Half a Film Student

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