THIS JOURNAL DOCUMENTS MY INTAKE OF ONE BOOK, ZINE, CD OR DVD A DAY. RATINGS ARE: ***** = Godhead, **** = Great, *** = Good, ** = Fair, * = Why Bother?

Sunday, December 20, 2020

2020 TV Eye: A Top 10

My 2020 Year-end Wrap-up: TV Top 10


Svengoolie consistently screens the classic horror B-movies of the '40s and '50s, but this one (an absolutely beautiful print) clearly stood out. The great cast includes Virginia Bruce, John Barrymore, John Howard, Charlie Ruggles, Margaret Hamilton and Shemp Howard!

2. A CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS (1964) - Amazon Prime

Rod Serling's nuclear age update of Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL rings home with relevancy today with a star-studded cast of Sterling Hayden, Peter Sellers, Ben Gazzara, Eva Marie Saint, Steve Lawrence, James Shigeta, Robert Shaw, Britt Ekland echoing his pacifist plea for global awareness and anti-isolationism. Produced by Herman "Mank" Mankiewcz's kid brother Joseph.

3. JACK IRISH, 3 standalone movies and 2 seasons - Acorn 

Guy Pearce, Marta Dusseldorp (A PLACE TO CALL HOME), Roy Billings and Aaron Pederson (MYSTERY ROAD) star in this well-written, character-driven Antipodean ROCKFORD FILES crime series that offsets the topical storylines and sometimes graphic violence with deadpan Ozzie humor. The movies were based on the first 3 novels by Peter Temple and the two series used themes Temple created in the 4th and final Jack Irish mystery, WHITE DOG. Made me a Fitzroy Lions rugby fan! Special mention: Shane Jacobsen as overweight cop Barry "Baz" Tregear gets a Fart Club Lifetime Achievement Award as most flatulent crime-stopper. He has no bodily functions filter (BFF). 

4. THE GOOD PLACE, Season 4 - NBC and Netflix

The Ur show for moral philosophers everywhere, each season managed to reinevent its storyline and prove that network TV could still be relevant. An existential meaning-of-life premise played for comedy - and successful! Like THE DETECTORISTS and EPISODES, also provided a "perfect" and satisfying ending with Ted Danson's "Keep it sleazy!" Isn't that what life is all about? 

5. THE RIPPER - Netflix

Outstanding, gritty 4-part British documentary miniseries on Peter William Sutcliffe, the "Yorkshire Ripper" who terrorized women (mostly prostitutes, like "Jack") from 1975-1981 around Leeds and West Yorkshire. Pandemic justice was served when the Covid-19 led to Sutcliff's passing in NOvember of 2020. In the days before CCTV solved every crime, "proper coppering" brought this villain down, when a wooden top called in the plates of his cruising car. Accents matter: the cops initially ignored promising leads about Sutcliffe due to a hoax tape recording of his voice made by a Sunderland "Geordie," leading detectives to ignore evidence that he was a local Yorkie. Silly buggers!

6. TOAST OF LONDON, 3 seasons - Amazon 

Kudos to my BritCom-loving pal David Cawley for the shout-out about this hilarious Brit comedy show starring Matt Berry (WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS) as a hack actor reduced to doing voiceovers for a bunch of ass-clowns like Clem Fandango while battling (and cuckolding) his actor nemesis Ray Purchase. My fave bit was seeing John Nettles (Inspector Tom Barnaby from MIDSOMER MURDERS) make cameos as a poacher! Viewer's Advisory: Like Ryan Murphy, Berry is prone to musical interludes. 

7. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS Season 1 - Hulu

 The TV adaptation of Taika Waititi's brilliant vampire comedy was a great example of how this story can work in an episodic format. With Matt Berry (TOAST OF LONDON). 

8. SCHITT'S CREEK Season 6 - Netflix

 Though I liked Seasons 1-5 better, Season 6 - primarily focused on David's Big Gay Wedding Day - swept this year's Pand-Emmy Awards. You never want a series like this to end (and I think it probably should have ended after Season 5), so I savored it until the final credits (set to the tune of the Zombies' "This Will Be Our Year"), though I think it was obvious by then that much of its ideas and vigor were retreads of previous seasons. Still, the series finally got the recognition it deserved. And any show with Chris Elliott is must-watch TV! 

9. SINGLE-HANDED, 2 seasons - (Acorn) 

If HAMISH MACBETH was a serious Irish garda instead of a laid-back highlands bobby, he'd be Jack Driscoll (Owen McDonnell) , the star of this picturesque 2007-2010 series set in West Galway. Both lawmen know everyone in their small communities by name, like latter-day Andy Griffiths. Jack has deep-seated father issues and his community has drinking, sex, religion and economic issues. And both coppers have romantic issues that complicate things along the way and make people realize "You don't know Jack!" 


The veteran actress (HARRY POTTER) exudes cheeky charm as she travels by railway along scenic coastal landscapes across Britain, from the West Country up to the Scottish Highlands. Her wit and risque humor is the icing on the cake of this well-done travel series. Amy and I alternated watching this with the other well-done Acorn "These scenes were made for walking" travelogue series: Julia Bradbury's COAST & COUNTRY: RAILWAY WALKS and WALKS WITH DOGS (featuring a rotating cast of presenters with their dogs, including John Nettles on the Jersey channel island and quite a few with Bill Bailey of BLACK BOOKS). By rail or by trail, Acorn made high-production travelogue series its specialty in 2020 - and it never seemed to rain on these travel dates! 

Oopsie, almost forget this one...thanks to Marc Sober for reminding me that this list (in the immortal words of Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel) "Goes To 11!" 

11. THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH TV pilot - YouTube 

Orson Welles' "lost" TV pilot that aired once, made with the support of Desilu Production (Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball), in 1958. As New Yorker critic Richard Brody describes the would-be showrunner Welles' pilot, which was presented and narrated by Welles himself: "The pulp-fiction plot, based on a short story by John Collier and set in New York in the nineteen-twenties, concerns a middle-aged scientist named Humphrey Baxter (Dan Tobin) who falls in love with a twenty-three-year-old burlesque dancer, Caroline Coates (Joi Lansing). When he leaves town for three years of study in Vienna, she leaves him for a muscular tennis star, Alan Brody (Rick Jason). When Humphrey returns to New York and finds himself dumped, he relies on the product of his research—a vial of an anti-aging potion, the titular fountain—to get his revenge." Though the series wasn’t picked up, it was noteworthy for its creative use of photographic stills (anticipating Chris Marker's LA JETEE?) and other effects, later even winning a Peabody award. "In his foray into TV, Welles foregrounded, defiantly flaunted, exulted in visual artifice and confected fantasy." But it fell on eyes wide shut.

No comments: