This article is not about wristwatches or travel. It is about three, maybe four, television series that I have enjoyed and recommend to those of you who have some time on your hands.
I considered offering up some “summer reading” ideas, and if I were to do that I would begin with “Educated” by Tara Westover. It is a very good, indeed compelling, book, well deserving its current status at the top of the best seller list. But, truth be told, I seem to spend as much time these days watching as reading. So, I’m devoting this column to multi-season dramatic programs that I found both entertaining and informative. None of them, it happens, was made in the United States or features American performers.
“A Place to Call Home” is a seven-season Australian production in which a nurse named Sarah (born Bridget) Adams, a Holocaust survivor played by Marta Dusseldorp, returns to her birthplace to visit her ailing mother, who insists on calling her by her birth name. As the saga unfolds, in a fictitious Australian town named “Inverness” with periodic detours to Sydney, we become engaged with a great many characters, including members of the Bligh family and its matriarch, the formidable Elizabeth Bligh, performed by Noni Hazlehurst; her son George, played by Brett Climo; and a host of others played by actors you’ve never heard of.
I use the word “saga” advisedly. This post-World War II multi-generational story combines plot with character to produce historical drama of the highest quality. Sarah owns the show, with Elizabeth a close second, but its other heroic characters include a war-damaged doctor haunted by demons, a homosexual Bligh son confronting a homophobic society, a meddlesome town gossip you’ll never forget, and an aboriginal war veteran who is unwelcome in his native land. The story is, ultimately, about love, forgiveness, and redemption.
The next one is “Poldark,” also a post-war story but from a different war – the American Revolution – and a different place, Cornwall, on the southwest coast of England. The principal characters, Ross Poldark, played by the Irish actor Aidan Turner, fought on the losing side (the British) and returned home to find that Elizabeth, the girl he left behind, is now the woman married to his cousin. And there is Demelza, played by an English actress named Eleanor Tomlinson, a “scullery maid” at the beginning who soon turns out to be a lot more.
This BBC series, with five seasons down and one yet to be released, is based on several historical novels by Winston Graham. Watching it is like taking a course in late 18th century English culture – how they dressed, what they ate, what they thought about sex (they liked it), and how the “upper class” treated their “inferiors” (not very well). It also features bare-knuckled politics, assizes (courts) that hung people without batting an eye, and copper mining with hammer and chisel.
The characters in both of these series speak English, but unless you’re Australian or British, you may find some of the dialogue challenging. That’s what subtitles are for.
The third of my recommended watches comes from Canada. “Murdoch Mysteries” stars an actor named Yannick Bisson as Detective William Murdoch of the Toronto Constabulary, and Hélène Joy as Dr. Julia Ogden, a knockout pathologist who can smile and dissect dead bodies at the same time. What makes this show so interesting is the combination of clever plot twists and the frequent appearance of such late 19th century personages as Arthur Conan Doyle (working on his latest Sherlock Holmes mystery), Nikola Tesla (busy conducting experiments on various types of electrical equipment), and science fiction writer H. G. Wells (unsympathetically portrayed preaching that eugenics is the way of the future).
I don’t know whether these people actually visited Toronto in the 1890s, but they have nothing on Murdoch when it comes to being clever. The forensics of that time bear little resemblance to those of today’s “CSI” and its progeny, but Murdoch proves it’s possible to solve crimes with shoe leather, a blackboard and chalk, and an inquiring mind.
If you’re willing to trot the globe 9000 miles from Australia to Israel, let me add one more, a series called “Fauda.” It will bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into your TV room, and of the four, it’s the hardest to watch, but worth it.
So, these are my recommended watches. Let me know how you like them.