When my friends and coworkers tell me about a TV show they’re really excited about, saying, “You really should watch this now,” I typically respond with “TV shows are such a commitment. I prefer movies. They’re more of a one-night-stand.”
KIDDING, of course! But TV shows are a huge commitment. Regardless, my goal in 2019 was to watch at least one season of a TV show (or a mini-series). You’ll see how I did below. I did see more TV shows this year than I probably ever have in my adult life, and on the positive side, I enjoyed most of them very much. On the negative side, I watched far fewer movies this year than I did in 2018 (almost 100 less). My biggest problem is that I tend to buy a lot of TV shows, so I feel I need to work through them. (Yes, I own everything on the list below.) So here’s what I saw:
Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Season Two (1956-57) Universal DVD (January)
39 half-hour episodes
I never tire of this anthology series, delighting in all the great guest stars as well as watching for who wrote the screenplays and source material. Season Two included some of my favorite actors: Robert Emhardt, Hurd Hatfield, Henry Jones, Royal Dano, Inger Stevens, Patricia Collinge, Gladys Cooper, Herbert Marshall, Claude Rains, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, and John Williams (who appeared in at least five episodes). Writers include John Collier, Evan Hunter, Fredric Brown, and even A.A. Milne. My favorite episode from this season is “One More Mile to Go,” featuring David Wayne as a man who murders his wife and has quite a time disposing of the body. This is one of only three episodes from Season Two directed by Hitchcock himself.
Columbo, Season Two (1972-73) Universal DVD (February)
8 episodes, at least 74 min. each
As with Alfred Hitchcock Presents, I never tire of watching Peter Falk’s work, especially on Columbo. Although he’s brilliant here, I hope fans of the show will see everything Falk did beyond Colombo. Guest stars include John Cassavetes (who worked frequently with Falk), Ray Milland, Robert Culp, Leonard Nimoy, Martin Landau, Paul Stewart, Julie Newmar, Anne Baxter, Richard Basehart, Honor Blackman, and more. I liked all of the episodes, particularly “Double Shock,” with Martin Landau in a dual role.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1984-85) The Complete Grenada Series, MPI Blu-ray (March)
13 episodes, approx. 50 min. each
Before this year, I’d only seen bits and pieces of this show starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes and David Burke as Watson (for The Adventures only). If you check out nothing else from my TV list, do yourself a favor and buy this set. It is stellar. All 13 episodes are tremendous. I don’t think I could pick a favorite. For my money, Brett is the definitive Sherlock Holmes.
Quatermass and the Pit (1958) BBC Blu-ray, Region B (April)
6 episodes, 30-36 min. each
I’ve had Quatermass fever for a couple of years, ever since I saw the movie The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) a few years ago. I wrote further on this BBC TV series and more back in May. I feel the Quatermass universe is one that's largely unknown and unexplored (especially in America), and it can be confusing knowing where to start, but I hope more people will discover this series.
Hit & Miss (2012) Network Blu-ray, Region B (May)
6 episodes, approx. 45 min. each
I’m always looking for British TV shows I’ve never heard of, and Hit & Miss looked like it might land in noir territory, and mostly it does. Chloë Sevigny plays Mia, a pre-operative transgender woman who’s a contract killer, doing just fine until she learns she fathered a son with her ex-girlfriend, recently deceased from cancer. An even bigger surprise: Mia has been named as the legal guarding for the boy and his three half-siblings, while continuing to work as an assassin. (No, this is not a comedy.) For me, Hit & Miss was just that: an often-thrilling contract killer series with an interesting twist, yet it too frequently included unbelievable plot points, cliches, and lack of control. Sevigny is excellent and so are the child actors, but I wish the writing had been tighter. Lots of violence and sexuality - definitely not for the kids.
Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season One (1987-88) Paramount Blu-ray (June)
26 episodes, approx. 45 min. each
By the time Star Trek TNG aired in 1987, I’d already seen every episode of the original series multiple times, but I was still excited for this “new” incarnation. Even so, I missed many of the original episodes and it was fun to catch up, especially to see film noir heavy Lawrence Tierney in one of the Season One episodes. Season Two (complete with Riker’s beard and without Worf's melon head) is up next.
The Avengers, Series 4 (1965-66) The Complete Emma Peel Megaset DVDs (August)
26 episodes, approx. 50 min. each
Another show which I’d seen in scattered episodes as a kid and was delighted to rediscover. Ah, the contrasts: Englishman John Steed (Patrick Macnee) with his bowler hat and umbrella, matched with Emma Peel (Diana Rigg), usually dressed in leather and practiced in the martial arts. A delightful pair in a delightful show. Series 4 is all in black-and-white and I absolutely love it.
Jack the Ripper (1988) Network (UK) DVD set (August)
Mini-series, 183 min. total
Very few people talk about this mini-series starring Michael Caine as Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline, who’s battling the bottle and trying to solve the murder of prostitutes in London’s East End. This is a gripping show with fine performances from Caine, Lewis Collins, Armand Assante, Susan George, Jane Seymour, Harry Andrews, and many more. I got my set on DVD from the UK, but you can also find US editions.
Deadwood, Season One (2004) HBO Blu-ray (September)
12 episodes, 48-60 min. each
I watched the first season of this superb, dark western many years ago (probably from Netflix before streaming was a thing), but never went further in the series. Revisiting it after all these years, I am astounded at how good it is on every level, particularly the acting. There are no weak performances here, but Ian McShane as Al Swearingen, the owner of Deadwood's saloon, steals every scene he's in. The show took some hits for its extensive use of profanity, probably more for issues of historical accuracy than for offending viewers, but I can't really imagine the show without it. (Obviously, another show definitely not for the kids.) I took notes on most of the episodes and hope to write something on the entire series when I’m finished.
Johnny Staccato (1959-1960) Timeless Media DVD set (December)
27 episodes, approx. 25 min. each
I’d never even heard of this show until I read about it in a Noir City eMagazine a couple of years ago. John Cassavetes stars as the title character, a jazz piano player who’s also a private detective. Most of the series uses a Greenwich Village jazz club called Waldo’s as its base of operations. The series is filled with jazz (including an amazing score by Elmer Bernstein) and a parade of incredible guest stars including Elisha Cook, Jr. (twice), Elizabeth Montgomery, Charles McGraw, Paul Stewart, Martin Landau, Mary Tyler Moore, Jack Weston, Susan Oliver, Cloris Leachman, Gena Rowlands, and many more. It's been said that Cassavetes took this series only to finance his own films, but it certainly looks like he's having a good time. If you’re even remotely interested in film noir, you must check out Johnny Staccato (and listen to the terrific score on Spotify or wherever).
So I suppose I’d have to give myself a B or B- for my TV goal for 2019, since I didn’t complete anything during October or November, and some of these shows were quite short. But I certainly had a great time. So let me know what you watched as far as TV shows, old or new.
Next time: My 2020 Movie and TV Resolutions