Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: On Sunday Night TV

Hey busy-people, you know how you let your DVR box overflow with recorded episodes? Some just sit there and percolate. Some go unwatched and unloved. A few programs (HOUSE on FOX for me) are so stressful you have to save them to watch on the weekend when you have more strength. And perhaps a cocktail.

Then...there are the programs you love so much you have to watch them in real time. No tiVo shenanigans for these gems. The moment they are available, you're in front of the set, focused and ready to roll. Heck, if they have'll even watch the commercials.

I find it very odd that the two series that fall into this "must see" category for me couldn't possibly have less in common. On Sunday nights at 8pm on HBO, there is the absolutely delightful No. 1 Ladies Detective agency. I wrote about it a few weeks ago when it premiered, hoping that it would live up to my immense expectations for HBO prime. It has actually surpassed them. The characters are so wonderful you want to invite them all for dinner. The South African music is fantastic (I will download from iTunes), and the photography of wild and suburban
Botswana so mesmerizing and colorful, I would book a flight there in a heartbeat if I had the cash (or time) to actually go on a vacation. Jill Scott is amazing as main character Precious Ramotswe and Anika Noni Rose is hilarious as the tightly wound over achieving assistant Detective Grace Makutsi. Both are American actors, but their accents are spot-on and melodic. Rounding out the perfect cast are JLB the mechanic who pines for Precious but is too shy to admit it; and more comic relief from BK the hairdresser, who helps the ladies solve a case from time to time. I am transported when I watch this program. It's an hour that will make you forget your worries. And I would really like to know where MME Ramotswe gets her earrings, they match her fabulous outfits every week.

On the opposite side of the television spectrum is the Ultra Dark one hour dramedy, "Breaking Bad", Sunday nights on AMC at 10pm. Starring Bryan Cranston as Walter White, the mild mannered high school chemistry teacher with a brain tumor who Jeckyll and Hyde's into a blood thirsty Meth cooker and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman, his hapless and hopeless (but increasingly sympathetic) young side kick. This series has some of the best writing on television. Leave it to AMC to come up with another brilliant drama...isn't it enough that they won barrels of awards with Mad Men? Breaking Bad is just as riveting. Yet it is also seeded with unexpected jolts of shocking violence. Two weeks ago, Mexican drug lord "Tortuga" met an unusual demise. I don't believe I've ever seen this one on TV before. The picture above tells the story. But not the entire'll have to watch the episode to see a twist that will make your jaw drop.

This week's episode "Better Call Saul" introduces a new character who is without question the sleaziest, foulest, and most relentlessly funny lawyer you will ever see on the small screen. Frankly, you won't even see a more crooked lawyer on the big screen. Saul is an ambulance chaser with a wide clientele he has culled from running thousands of commercials in late night TV. Here's a little taste of Saul from episode 8. Saul tries to get a cut of Walt's burgeoning drug business. Referencing The Godfather, Saul offers to play Tom Hagen to Walt's Vito Corleone. "I'm no Vito Corleone," Walt says. "No s___," Saul replies. "Right now, you're Fredo."

The producers of "Breaking Bad" pay very close attention to details, from the dusty sun lit streets of Albuquerque, to the opening credits where the letters from each character's name are highlighted to form elements from the Periodic Table. Mine would be Co, by the way. Cobalt. A hard, brittle metal whose name is taken from the German word Kobald, which means evil spirit or goblin. Sounds like a pretty good description of "Breaking Bad".


Lisa said...

Wonderful post, Jane! I must catch up with the ladies and their detective agency -- haven't watched them, really, but with this glowing recommendation I'll be on it. Love "Breaking Bad" of course -- quite savage and wonderful so far this season. What a terrifically bleak show! Like Kobalt, as you say!

Jane said...

Thanks Lisa! One hour scripted dramas are fast becoming a television endangered species. We have to support the good ones! This morning I realized one of the reasons I love No. 1 Ladies is because it's like an Andy Griffith Show set in Africa. Only MME Ramotswe is Andy (the kindly detective who intuitively knows good guy from bad...and Grace is, the jittery Barney Fife. BK is Floyd the Barber. I'm also hoping that the darling new little office boy (Wellington) will be a regular. Then he can be Opie!

Anonymous said...

the german word is "Kobold", not "kobald"