BINGE-R #58: The 10 Best Second Chance Series
THE 10 BEST SECOND CHANCE SERIES
Something slightly different today: a selection of great series that for whatever reason – they aired before you were born and you never caught up, you missed them when they debuted, or the original rights holder buried them – may have slipped past you. They range from the very good to the flat-out brilliant, so if you can’t find a new show that you like, chances are one of below will more than fill the gap in your streaming schedule.
Absolutely Fabulous (Netflix, three seasons): Jennifer Saunders’ sitcom about two women behaving very badly has reached the nostalgia stage with last year’s middling movie spin-off, but the first three seasons of this BBC sitcom, which aired between 1992 and 1995, remain essential. Riffing on middle age obsessions, horrible entitlement, and the cruelty of family, Saunders’ London publicist and Joanna Lumley’s permanently soused fashion mag editor are hilarious as they fill a handful of studio sets with crackling quips and comic co-dependency.
Damages (Amazon Prime Video, five seasons): Built around a twisty plot structure and a formidable lead performance by Glenn Close, Damages amped up the legal drama with each season tackling a controversial case handled by Close’s ruthless litigator Patty Hewes and her increasingly tarnished associate, Rose Byrne’s Ellen Parsons, who makes a memorable entrance. A succession of adversaries – played by Ted Danson and William Hurt, amongst others – are featured, but the show is a star turn for Close, who is compellingly alert to her alter ego’s strengths and weaknesses.
Deadwood (Stan, three seasons): Devotees still lament the 2006 cancelation of David Milch’s revisionist western, which turned a burgeoning 1870s gold rush town into a microcosm of America’s evolution, full of interlocking narratives and era-specific roles that steadily revealed deeper layers. Ian McShane and Timothy Olyphant, as a cunning saloon owner and righteous former lawman respectively, headlined the ensemble cast of top character actors who used the tone of the times to correct history’s myths and invoke ornery drama.
Fawlty Towers (Netflix + Stan, two seasons): Everyone has caught a stray scene or even an entire episode of John Cleese and Connie Booth’s definitive British sitcom, but it’s another thing to watch these 12 perfectly crafted episodes from 1975 and 1979 as a single, sublime body of work. Cleese’s Basil Fawlty, who towers over everyone but often ends up trying to shrink into pained insignificance, is a middle-class British snob whose wayward efforts to improve his social standing and that of the seaside hotel run by his wife, Sybil (Prunella Scales), invariably end in farcical situations exacerbated by Basil’s repressed fury.
Freaks and Geeks (Netflix, one season): Bittersweet and beautifully observed, this series about the travails of two groups of suburban Michigan high school students in 1980 is the perfect streaming show: nuanced, truthful and a touch nostalgic. Unfortunately it aired in 1999 on American network television and hence it was swiftly cancelled. Paul Feig and Judd Apatow illustrated their teenage kicks with a young cast who truly did go on to bigger (but not always better) things.
Millennium (SBS on Demand, one season): The original Swedish screen adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s best-selling trilogy of crime novels, beginning with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, were condensed into a trio of films for international cinema release, but in Scandinavia they were released as six 90-minute small screen episodes. Though a little prosaic, the longer television version fills in gaps in the latter movies, accentuates the themes of state complicity and fouled masculinity, and provides more of the bracing interplay between Noomi Rapace’s anti-authoritarian hacker Lisbeth Salander and the just deceased Michael Nyqvist’s investigative journalist Mikael Blomqvist.
Party Down (Stan, two seasons): The comedy that launched a bunch of careers – including Lizzy Caplan and Adam Scott – Party Down was about life at the bottom of the food chain in a status-obsessed society. Raucous, improvised and occasionally imperfect, it follows the staff of a Los Angeles catering crew who (mostly) work increasingly odd parties (exhibit A: Steve Guttenberg’s Birthday). Twisted ambition, petty rivalry, and a surprising soulfulness permeate the presenting of Hors d’oeuvres.
The Returned (Stan, two seasons): Apologies, this is confusing. I’m recommending Les Revenants, the magnificently eerie French series, where a mountain town’s menacing history is exhumed when the dead start calmly walking back into the lives of their family and friends. In the mistaken bid for accessibility, Stan is promoting it under its English name The Returned, despite there being a subsequent and needless American remake titled… The Returned. To recap: this is the top French version. It has dread-filled pans, a skewering of mortality’s grip, and an underlying mystery that is slowly but surely unfolded.
The Shield (Amazon Prime Video + Stan, seven seasons): If you have a taste for pulpy law enforcement action, then this series about a group of Los Angeles Police Department detectives whose corner-cutting extends to both corrupt activities and fixing wrongs can supply the necessary thwarted investigations and street hassles. Michael Chiklis and Walton Goggins, respectively as team leader Vic Mackey and his increasingly unstable offsider Shane Vendrell, top the cast, and while the show is lengthy it does reach a fitting conclusion.
The Thick of It (Stan, four seasons): Before he crossed the Atlantic and created Veep, the British satirist Armando Iannucci strafed the British political system with this cruel, compact send-up of governmental deviousness, ruling party, and general British stupidity. Politicians are spineless, advisers are ruthless, and public servants are ineffectual in the series, which more than ever feels sadly descriptive of everyday realities. The performances are deft, but the scene stealer is future Doctor Who Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker, a 10 Downing Street spin doctor whose expletive-laden observations attain a rarefied air of comic rage.
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