Original television programming was one the sole purview of the big three – later big four — networks: ABC, CBS, NBC, and later, Fox. They were the only ones with the budget and the facilities to produce episodic programs for consumer viewing. That strangle hold has all but disappeared now, challenged beginning in the 1980s by cable networks HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax, and more recently completely obliterated by content providers such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and smaller networks like AMC and Starz.
We’ve been watching a few of these series. I find it an interesting quirk of mine that I am reluctant to jump in on something that has become overwhelmingly popular; Stranger Things being an excellent example. It took me well over a year to even begin watching this Netflix original series about kids in small-town Indiana the 1980s, dealing with topics of gaming, school, and discovering that their little town had some very dangerous and earth-shattering secrets, among others. It’s a storyline that seems like it popped straight out of my dreams, and yet, I resisted. Since then, I’ve watched partway through season one, and found it to be mostly pretty good, but for some reason it hasn’t held my attention very well; I haven’t watched an episode in months.
The same cannot be said of another Netflix series, The Witcher. This Henry Cavill vehicle is set in a psuedo-medieval world, with the title role being a character who hunts monsters for a living, surviving on the bounties offered by local authorities for ridding the area of such beasts. I’ve been intrigued by the world-building involved, but also by the beautifully developed characters and the magic. Based on a series of novels and short stories by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, season one comprises only six episodes – a far cry from the golden age of television when a TV series ran for twenty episodes or more. We tried to ration our viewing to make it last, since season two won’t arrive until 2021; we failed, and while we didn’t binge watch them all in one sitting, it only took two or three weeks for us to run through all six of them.
Also captivating to me was Good Omens, based on the novel by Neil Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett and available in the US through Amazon Prime. I loved the novel; I bought a second-hand paperback copy to read on a trip, and left it in the library of a Nile River cruise ship when I was finished.
Michael Sheen and David Tenant are magnificent in the roles of angel Aziraphael and demon Crowley, respectively, and it’s been said that both could’ve played either role. David Tenant has a podcast that’s well worth listening to: in one episode he and Michael Sheen talk briefly about the series, as well as about some of Sheen’s other roles. The series lived up to my expectations: not only that, it did so as a limited series (six episodes) and covered the novel thoroughly and faithfully.
The same cannot be said for American Gods, another series based on the writing of Neil Gaiman. Produced by the Starz network, the first season was solid, but departures from the novel became gratuitous in my opinion. The decision to make it into an ongoing rather than limited series meant that substantial amounts of material had to be spun up out of nothing, and the show suffered for it. After two seasons, they’ve only covered perhaps a third of the book, at best. I was completely unimpressed by season two – so much so that if there is a season three, I just won’t bother with it.
I was completely unfamiliar with Umbrella Academy, but must admit I was hooked by this Netflix series from the start. Based on the comics and graphic novels created by Gabriel Ba and My Chemical Romance lead singer Gerard Way, Umbrella Academy tells the story of a group of children, all born under mysterious circumstances on the same day in 1989. Seven of these children are adopted (acquired might be a more accurate term) by wealthy industrialist Sir Reginald Hargreeves, who developed their extraordinary powers and trained them to save the world. Season two is in production now and should premiere late in 2020, and I can’t wait!
There are more series out there to be sure – MANY more – but for now, this is a good summary of some of my recent TV viewing.