How do you cure ignorance?

I started rewatching ER at the beginning of 2020. It has kept me company throughout the pandemic, during the first scary lockdown, the milder second lockdown in October 2020 and the never-ending lockdown at the start of 2021. (And I’m still not finished, partly because there are 15 seasons but also because I’ve been watching lots of other things as well.) In April and May last year, when I was very anxious about everything, it helped to watch someone else’s terrible day play out on ER. It also helped that the first few seasons are really good. The storylines are diverting and the writing is quirky and fun. It feels like an ensemble, workplace drama. It’s about more than just the hospital. It stays pretty good until around the end of season eight, when Mark Green dies and Dr Romano has his first run-in with the helicopter. After that they start recycling storylines, and it gets a bit sanctimonious. By the end of season 12, you start to see the influence of Grey’s Anatomy – the final episode ends with a Snow Patrol song and the lives of several beloved characters are in peril.

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TV shows I watched in 2020 – an incomplete list

This list is vaguely in the order of when I watched things or when I started watching them. Almost half of them are on Netflix, others are on All 4 or NowTV. There’s a few I watched on a proper tv channel. I actually streamed The Good Fight on the RTE player and it wasn’t terrible.

1. Sex Education (Series 1 & 2)
2. Big Mouth (Series 1 – 3)
I started watching both of these on my tablet on the plane back from Spain at the start of the year. They’re both a bit saucy and maybe not completely suitable to watch in a public place, but it was a late flight and I was tucked in against the window. Unlike the time I watched the first episode of You’re The Worst on another flight. It was on Aer Lingus’s in-flight entertainment list and I wanted to have a look to see what they’d cut. The answer was nothing. They had cut nothing. I was sitting in the aisle and I had to turn if off during Jimmy and Gretchen’s first sex scene out of sheer embarrassment.
Sex Education is sweet and fun and Gillian Anderson is wonderful in it. Big Mouth is surreal and subversive and deeply weird. I loved them both.

3. This Life (Series 1)
This kicked off a year of rewatching tv from the 90s. I wrote a bit about what it was like watching something after a 15 year gap here. I enjoyed it immensely, for the nostalgia factor and because it’s great telly.

4. ER (Series 1 – 9)
Anther rewatch that I’m really enjoying, and I still have 6 more seasons to go. I saw lot of it the first time round and it’s really interesting to revisit a much loved show. It’s still very good, especially the first handful of series when I think they were really doing something new. We’re now up to series 9 and it’s getting a little bit ropey – Rocket had had his first run-in with the helicopter. I’ll say no more.

5. Unorthodox
I watched this around the beginning of the first lockdown. It’s ridiculously good, and a good distraction from unpleasant world events.

6. Collateral
There’s a bit too much going on in this BBC drama and not all of it added up. It wasn’t terrible.

7. Press
This confused me. The set-up is tabloid v’s broadsheet but everyone keeps switching sides, and the overall message seemed to be the press are terrible.

8. New Girl (Series 1 – 7)
I’d seen the first couple of series but it was lovely to revisit and to watch to the very end. It’s a very charming show, and it’s also really funny. The characters are ridiculous and I love them all.

9. Chernobyl
I watched this around Easter time when everything was pretty grim. It kinda helped. It reminded me that things could be worse. I learnt a lot about something that I thought I knew about but didn’t really. I didn’t know the level to which the government lied about what happened. I thought it was a great series.

10. Succession
I tried watching Succession a couple of years ago and gave up after two episodes. I hated all the characters and I just didn’t have time for them. (That baseball game in the first episode is so horrible.) In lockdown, I gave it a second chance and it was either the pandemic or the numerous awards and accolades it has collected since then, but it clicked for me the second time around and I enjoyed it immensely. I still think they’re all terrible people but now I enjoying watching them be terrible to each other. I also enjoy seeing the similarities between it and Peep Show. With Succession, you don’t need to hear the inner monologue, you just see it on their faces.

11. Run
This was a bit of a disappointment. It started rather beautifully with two college sweethearts abandoning their old lives and getting back together on a whim, after not seeing each other for 10+ years. They run away together by train and there’s some lovely scenes in the first couple of episodes where they’re working out where they stand with each and how much they want to disclose about their current life. Then they get off the train and the whole thing goes off the rails. There’s a big bag of cash and an accidental murder. Phoebe Waller-Bridge turns up as a taxidermist who sings karaoke, and there’s a mysterious man we never meet but who loves mac & cheese. It’s gets strange and confusing. It’s a shame. The other snag for me is that Domhnall Gleeson plays a motivational speaker, and an Irish man. Are there any Irish motivational speakers? I don’t think as a people we have the right temperament for it.

12. Normal People
This show made me miss everything. It made me miss college. It made me miss parties and pubs and wandering through Trinity on a sunny day. It even made me a little bit sentimental about the Leaving Cert. When I read the book, I read it in short bursts. It felt too intense and I needed to take frequent breaks from the characters because being inside their heads felt claustrophobic. For me, the tv show did a great job of capturing that same feeling.

13. I May Destroy You
In a throwback to the way we used to watch television, I missed the first episode of this series and instead of trying to find it online, I just watched from episode 2. This might be why the show always felt slightly off kilter to me, but I also think that might be what they were going for. I feel like it broke a lot of tv rules, especially for a half-hour show which are usually sitcoms, and instead this was pitch dark. It also jumped around time-lines and switched protagonists a lot. Some of the scenes had a dreamlike or fantasy quality even when they weren’t. It used social media really well, and it played with addressing the audience directly without breaking the fourth wall. It was sublime. I read a lot about the show when I finished because I wanted to know more. It left room for me to interpret things for myself and decide what I felt had happened and I loved that.

14. Schitt’s Creek (Series 6)
The final series of Schitt’s Creek was so nice. I loved being reunited with the Roses during lockdown, and it was such a happy reunion. Seeing them win all those Emmys later in the year was also very nice!

15. The Umbrella Academy (Series 2)
I love this ridiculous show about a dysfunctional family of superheroes. It just makes me happy. I also love a bit of time travel and setting the series in 1963 really worked for me.

16. What We Do In the Shadows (Series 2)
This vampire comedy was as wonderful as the first series. I really enjoyed Guillermo learning to value himself and his unique talents, and all the petty grudges between the vampires. It’s just really, really funny.

17. Mrs America
I loved this show about the feminist activists in America in the 1970s and their work to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed. It was about a period of American history I didn’t know much about and I thought it was told really well, particularly as they covered big chunks of time. I liked the story and the characters. It also felt very relevant, especially in relation to politics in America this year.

18. Jane The Virgin (Series 4 & 5)
I finished this wonderful series this year and I miss the Villanueva women terribly. It took me about a year to finish the first series and then it clicked for me and I watched the second series in a matter of weeks. It is an unusual show; it takes a bit of getting used to. It’s part telenovela, part magic realism. There’s a narrator who drops clues about what’s going to happen next. There’s lots of fantasy sequences and a few song and dance numbers. There’s a lot to romance and love triangles. It has the most ridiculous soap plots – like the central premise of a woman who gets pregnant before she has sex – but it also has such heart and such wonderful characters that you really feel for them when they are entangled with criminal masterminds or evil twins.

19. Homeland (Series 8)
I have watched Homeland since the beginning. It has had its ups and downs. I’ve almost given up on it many times but I keep coming back because I love Clare Danes and Mandy Patinkin. And I am so glad I did because they did a really good final series and gave those characters a great ending and I was so glad.

20. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
I’m only a couple of series in to this rewatch, which was prompted by Emily Nussbaum’s tweets about her own rewatch. I remember so much of this show so clearly, particularly the terrible monster costumes. I love it, though some episodes make me really wish I could go read a recap on Television Without Pity after watching. I feel that way about ER as well sometimes. Recaps made every show better, I miss the snark.

21. I Hate Suzie
One of my favourite things I watched this year. It had this really dark centre that showed all the shit women put up with, but then dressed it up with jokes and songs and dream-sequences and fabulous clothes. (Personally I was very taken by Suzie’s fringed dressing gown.) In a way, that’s what being a woman in a patriarchal society is like – pretty shit but we do our best to dress it up and get on with things. I loved the characters, I loved the writing, I loved the visual style of it. I want to watch it again.

22. The Deceived
This murder mystery is written by Lisa McGee and set in Cambridge and Donegal. It’s pretty good, though I didn’t really like the vague supernatural aspects of it. I did like that almost everyone in it was a bit of a baddie, or at least telling a few fibs.

23. Misfits (Series 1 & 2)
Another very enjoyable rewatch. It’s such a ridiculous premise – a bunch of teenagers suddenly get superpowers, while they’re doing community service – but it’s done so well. They have so much fun with it that it’s just really enjoyable. There are three more series but we stopped after two, before it starts taking itself a bit too seriously and is a lot less fun.

24. The Good Fight (Series 4)
I love this show so much. I started watching the new series the day after Joe Biden was officially declared the winner of the US Election, and I think that was the perfect time to see the weird and wonderful series opener. This series is slightly shorter than usual but includes eccentric bosses and a good old-fashioned conspiracy. It also has it’s usual episodes inspired by real-life events.

25. The Undoing
This was all a bit of a mess really. Far too many red herrings and too many scenes that were maybe memories or maybe imaginings. Some of the clothes were fun and I enjoy Donald Sutherland but if you haven’t seen it, I wouldn’t bother.

26. Stath Lets Flats (Series 1 & 2)
This is a very sweet show. There is something of Kimmy Schmidt about Stath, if Kimmy was a Greek estate agent. He and his sister Sophie are just too pure for this world. I’m delighted that there’s going to be a third series, I can’t wait.

27. Glow (Series 1 – 3)
I rewatched this after it was announced that the previously commissioned fourth series had been cancelled. So it was a bittersweet rewatch but I did get to watch it with my sister who hadn’t seen it before and that was nice. It’s a wonderful show and I love how it branches out and goes deeper with each series. I’m still so disappointed that we don’t get to see what happens next. Are the series four scripts anywhere on the internet?

28. His Dark Materials (Series 2)
This show feels Christmassy to me. Partly because it’s on at the tail-end of the year but mostly because it’s on Sunday evening, which is when I watched The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a tiny child which is another snowy series based on a book with a Christian allegory at its heart that also makes me think of Christmas. It’s also an enjoyable adaptation.

TV that’s worth your time: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

This is my fourth and final tv pick for the moment. Our usual (ir)regular blog posts will resume shortly. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a show on Amazon Prime. Now, I don’t like Amazon – I’m a fan of bookshops so Amazon feels like a natural enemy but I also really don’t like how they treat their staff. I don’t use Amazon as a rule. I watched the first series of Mrs. Maisel with a free trial of Amazon Prime and consoled myself with the fact that I wasn’t actually giving them any money. Now I’m in a bit of a bind because I want to watch the second series of Mrs. Maisel (and I really want to see Dietland because I loved the book when I read it last year) and I’m going to end up giving them money and I’m a little bit disappointed in myself for that. I would be very grateful if someone else could please boycott Amazon for the next month on my behalf.

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TV that’s worth your time: The Bisexual

My third tv pick is actually something that was on this year and doesn’t feature the after-life or clones or anything other worldly at all. The Bisexual started on Channel 4 in October and all six episodes are available on All4 in the UK and Ireland, and Hulu (I think) in the US. It’s set in London and revolves around a group of young people but it’s not like the happy, shiny portrayal of adulthood that I grew up on.

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TV that’s worth your time: The Good Place

Last summer, while waiting for the new series to start, I rewatched The Good Place and found myself getting a little weepy at one of the late series 2 episodes. It was a Sunday and I was hungover and feeling a bit delicate but also it’s a lovely, heart-felt show with characters that you really care about and definitely worth having a little cry over! Have you watched it? Do you love it?

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Are you watching The Good Wife?

After a number of political posts and an accidental month-long hiatus, it’s time for something completely different. Are you watching The Good Wife? The legal drama with Carol from ER and Mary-Anne from Cybil? GoodWife I became a bit obsessed with the show last year and sped through the first four seasons, then felt bereft when I got caught up and had to wait for new episodes.

The show is about Alicia Florick (Carol from the ER) who has to go back to work after her husband – the State’s Attorney – is arrested on political corruption charges. He’s also been involved in a number of very public sex scandals. After 13 years as a wife and mother Alicia has joined a big, fancy law-firm in an entry level position and has to get used to the world of work again, while competing with graduates half her age.

If that synopsis doesn’t have you rushing to Netflix, don’t worry – I understand. My sister has been raving about The Good Wife for years but I wasn’t interested. I over-did it on court-room dramas in the nineties – Ally McBeal, Murder One, Perry Mason – and I wasn’t interested in watching another show about lawyers. Even when I did start watching it, it took me four or five episodes to decide I actually liked it. Trust me, it’s worth sticking with it.

Here are four reasons why you should do yourself a favour and watch The Good Wife.

1. Great characters that grow on you
And at the beginning, Alicia is pretty annoying. She is the political wife who stands by her man; she’s a bit of a pushover, a bit too nice, a bit of a giant cliché. She gradually comes out of that bland, catatonic shell and starts kicking ass. It’s a joy to watch. The show is very good at making you like characters that you think you’re going to hate. Cary Agos – Alicia’s competition at the firm – is played by the same actor who played Logan in Gilmore Girls. At first he seems like the same annoying, spoilt brat who is used to getting his own way with a smile and a bit of smarm. And yet, somehow I ended up liking him. Nobody was more surprised than me. (I never really warmed to Logan.)

Even the non-regular characters are great. Clients like Colin Sweeney or other lawyers, like Louis Canning, a disabled lawyer who is a master of manipulation and regularly plays up his disability in court. They are awful people that you can’t held getting attached to. It doesn’t hurt that Canning is played by the magnificent Michael J. Fox!

And then there is the wonderful Alan Cummings who plays the State Attorney’s campaign manager Eli Gold. He is sublime. I’ve been a fan since Bernard and the Genie, but in this show, which has so many fantastic, female characters – Alicia, Kalinda, boss lady Diane, crazy hot-shot lawyer Elsbeth Tascioni, scheming Patti Nyholm (who is played by one of the Goonies!) – Eli Gold is probably my favourite. He is a bit of a man’s man who has landed in a world full of strong, bossy women. I love watching him learn that he can’t tell them what to do and then slowly figure out how to work with them.
EliGold

There’s also Alan Cummings excellent facial expressions.

2. It’s all about the relationships between the characters but it’s not about relationships.
The relationships between the characters are allowed to grow slowly, the grudging respect that blossoms between Alicia and Cary, the friendship between Alicia and Kalinda, the firm’s private investigator. Alicia’s rocky relationship with her mother-in-law Jackie is great to watch, particularly when Alicia squares up to her. Alicia’s relationship with her children is also given plenty of screen-time – we see her juggling all the different aspects of her life.

It’s a show that focuses on female characters yet doesn’t revolve around their love lives. It’s probably not a coincidence that I started watching The Good Wife around the same time that I got bored of Grey’s Anatomy. (How many weddings or almost weddings has that show had?)

3. It’s a very feminist show.
Often overtly so in the cases they take and the causes that Diane supports but it’s also great to see so many women on screen at the same time. When I ran out of episodes of The Good Wife to watch and switched to House of Cards, the lack of women in that show was jarring. It felt like something was missing.

All the main characters are allowed to be flawed and have messy, complicated lives.

As an extra boost to it’s feminist credentials, it’s been name checked in Girls and Broad City, both times in weirdly sexual situations, and you know Lorelai and Rory would be tuning in religiously.

3. Great storylines – both individual cases and season arches
We see a lot of the characters personal lives but it’s still a show about lawyers so we spend a lot of time in the court room, in briefing sessions and depositions. However, the cases are interesting in their own right and not just an excuse to get the characters in the court-room together. They cover really interesting, contemporary topics. I know more about the NSA because of The Good Wife. I have a half-formed opinion on bitcoin and how it can be used to circumnavigate the law. There was a case that focused on sexual assault in the military. They created their own search engine – ChubHum and take regular pot-shots at it, often about how it’s search results are manipulated. The most recent season featured a real life, covert detention centre that is on the edge of legality. (I didn’t know that it was real until I read this article in the Guardian – ‘We’re all news junkies’: why The Good Wife writing team is one of TV’s sharpest. (WARNING: contains spoilers))

4. Great guest-stars
Surely I’m not the only one who gets great joy from seeing a familiar face pop up in another show. It pleases me to imagine that some of the guys from The Wire moved from Baltimore to Chicago and got a new job with a different drug dealer. Ugly Betty turns up in a couple of episodes, as does Chandler Bing. Gary Cole (who for me will always be the devil from American Gothic) plays a gunshot expert and Wallace Shawn (who was in The Princess Bride and Clueless) plays a frankly terrifying lawyer. Others famous faces include Nathan Lane, Rita Wilson, Parker Posey, Christina Ricci, Sarah Silverman, Jason Biggs, Jeffrey Tambor and Gloria Steinem, playing herself.

They are my reasons why you should start watching The Good Wife immediately. If you are still not convinced here’s another article from the Guardian, spoiler-free this time: Mad Men has the buzz – but The Good Wife is the better show