Watching a lot of TV not on TV

Back in May, I reported that I was fed up with television and was giving up the habit. Well, I did it. Sort of. I did jettison my cable so that I only have the super bargain basement basic cable just in case I need to know what’s going on locally, but other than that I just do not bother.

I get the vast majority of my television from Hulu and Netflix and YouTube and the handful of series I watch on the Web. Google’s somewhat-clunky-but-still-revolutionary Chromecast has eased the transition significantly, I have to say. Here are a few things that have grabbed me lately:

EmmerdaleEMMERDALE — American dramatic serials only wish they were in the same league as this powerhouse from ITV in the U.K. Airing six times a week (twice on Thursdays), Emmerdale is a half-hour drama about the most interesting village in Yorkshire. Fires, floods, famine, good-guys-gone-bad, bad-guys-gone-good, lesbians with children, snarky old people, elder-abusing ex-priests — you can find them all having a pint down the Woolpack. If I don’t watch, I start to twitch. Nowt better, as they say in the Dales. (Tonight, an evil bastard is going to burn down Moira Barton’s farm and this time it has nothing to do with her taking up with village shady character Cain Dingle. Oh, it’s a cracker, this one!)

Pramface Series 2 PRAMFACE — This smart and funny offering from BBC3 tells the story of Jamie and Laura. He’s a 16-year-old who has his first sexual experience at an end-of-term party with a very drunk 18-year-old on her way to university. And, of course, she gets pregnant and decides to keep the baby. From that hackneyed premise, comes a simply lovely, hilarious comedy about class, about age, about finding your own path, and about listening to others. The first two series — 13 total episodes — are on Hulu. A third series has been shot and set to air in the U.K. in 2014. Highly recommended.

Whites_(TV_series) WHITES — Alan Davies stars as Roland White, a chef who is both pompous and potentially past it. Darren Boyd is his ever-suffering sous chef. Set in the kitchen of a restaurant at a posh English country hotel, this BBC offering feels a bit like an update of the Lenny Henry classic Chef! crossed with Ireland’s Raw. The Beeb only produced one season. It’s on Hulu. It’s quite sweet.

Rev_-_main_cast REV. — Tom Hollander plays the titular reverend in this delightful BBC2 sitcom.You know Hollander from, well, every period costume drama produced in the U.K. in the last 20 years it seems. He also plays Hugo Weaving’s lover, Darren, in Bedrooms and Hallways, my entry in the most overlooked comedy of the 1990s competition. Smart and human, this is not your ordinary vicar-out-of-step-with-the-world sort of comedy. It addresses many of the struggles of modern life. It also won the 2011 BAFTA for best comedy. Two seasons are out. A third is to be released in 2014. BTW – watch for Simon McBurney’s fantastic turn as the Archdeacon. Brilliant.

The-Inbetweeners-001 THE INBETWEENERS — Laugh-out-loud funny and often raunchy comedy about a group of teenage boys getting up to what teenage boys get up to — mostly having to do with sex and drinking. But, God, is it funny. I thought I was going to have a stroke, I laughed so hard. American audiences with no knowledge of the English educational system may find terms like “A levels” and “GCSEs” and “Sixth Form College” and “revising” completely and utterly baffling. It might help you to peruse Wikipedia for a minute. For the education references; not for the sex jokes. Well, a working knowledge of “slapper” and “up the duff” and “bell end”  would help, I suppose! On Hulu.

MV5BMTQ2ODgyOTM4NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDI1ODY3OQ@@._V1__SX640_SY720_ HE’S WITH ME — Web series written by and starring Jason Cicci about a friendship between a gay man and a straight man and their close circle of friends. It spirals out from that premise in some interesting ways. By and large, it’s worth a look, though there is one episode in the middle of the first series (I don’t remember which, sorry) that I thought was a total clinker, but, I liked the characters enough to pick it back up. I’m not sure that it didn’t stray a bit from its intended trajectory, but I won’t fault it too much for that. I really liked the way Cicci (and director Sebastian La Cause) buttoned up the first season. Surprise standout: Ryan Duncan as Benny Costa. You can’t help but love him! Available on YouTube.

holding_video MISS FISHER’S MURDER MYSTERIES — Fabulous flapper Phyrne Fisher is at the wheel of her Hispano-Suiza as she careens around 1928 Melbourne searching for clues to solve the latest case dropped in her lap. With the help of her companion and maid, Dot, cabbies Bert and Cec, her able houseman Mr. Butler, and to the consternation of Detective-Inspector Jack Robinson, who harbors a bit of a crush on the freewheeling Miss Fisher, who helps herself to lovers and clues, as well as a “gasper” or two, Miss Fisher is to the 1920s as Mad Men is to the 1960s: costume and set and properties design to die for. Essie Davis is sensational in the title role, but I have a soft spot for Hugo Johnstone-Burt as unsure young constable Hugh Collins. The ABC series (Australian Broadcasting Company, that is) is just wrapping series two Down Under, but the first series is on Netflix. Watch it. (Based on Kerry Greenwood’s Hon. Phryne Fisher novels.)

P.S. — Congratulations to HUSBANDS on two Writers Guild Awards for “I Do Over,”  parts one and two, which aired on CW Seed.

Also kudos to EASTSIDERS on nominations for an International Press Academy Satellite award. The Kickstarter-backed series aired on

Pine Valley Is Open For Business Again

Pine Valley(4.29.13) — Today is Welcome Back to Pine Valley Day. (Or if your preference is just down the road, it’s Welcome Back to Llanview Day.) It’s the day that the Internet reboot of All My Children and One Life to Live begins.

It took me awhile, but I pinpointed my first viewing of AMC to the spring of 1982. I was a senior in high school and I had been, since before I even knew any better, a viewer of CBS soap operas — As The World Turns and Guiding Light, specifically. I couldn’t help it. That’s what my mother and my aunt and my grandmother watched. I couldn’t go anywhere, it seemed, during my childhood without having a CBS soap playing in the background.

That spring, a friend of mine called me on some holiday from school and demanded I turn on All My Children. (There was a lot of watching television while on the telephone in those days; just go with it.) She said that I had to watch this one crazy character because it reminded her of her mother. The actress was Dorothy Lyman, the role was Opal Gardner, and I thought it was hilarious. (And yes, Opal was a lot like her mother, as scary as that may be to contemplate.)

If Opal, Glamorama and all, got me to open the door, the rich, multi-generational tapestry of characters in Pine Valley invited me to the party and demanded that I pull up a chair.

The cast of the "new" All My Children includes many familiar faces, including original cast member Ray MacDonnell and longtime co-stars Cady McClain, Jill Larson, David Canary, Julia Barr and others. Image: Ferencomm/The Online Network.

The cast of the “new” All My Children includes many familiar faces, including original AMC cast member Ray MacDonnell and longtime co-stars Cady McClain, Jill Larson, David Canary, Julia Barr and others. Image: Ferencomm/The Online Network.

One of the creepiest characters in TV history, Billy Clyde Tuggle, assayed brilliantly by Matthew Cowles.

Creepy Billy Clyde Tuggle, assayed brilliantly by Matthew Cowles.

Watching AMC in those days was not just about watching the hot youngsters —Jenny and Greg and Angie and Jesse and Tad and Liza — it was also about watching Benny Sago spar with “The Duchess,” the one and only Phoebe Tyler, it was about the Charles/Mona/Phoebe triangle, it was about Langley and Phoebe and Myrtle and Opal, it was about hooker-with-a-heart-o’gold Donna Beck and Chuck Tyler, it was about Erica Kane and Tom Cudahy, Brooke English and Tom Cudahy, Palmer Cortlandt before Adam Chandler came to town, Nina and Cliff, Ellen and Mark, Joe and Ruth and Grandma Kate Martin, the best soap opera villain ever, Billy Clyde Tuggle. And “Bonkers.”

Great memories of stories well-told, but they are the stuff of television lore. They are the stuff of history as much as this iconic show opening:

When ABC announced the cancellation of AMC, I started to watch it again. I hadn’t watched much in the decade before the cancellation and I have it on pretty good authority that it was nothing like the Agnes Nixon-penned salad days of the 70s and 80s. The first thing I noticed was that Tad Martin had grey hair! Tad the Cad got old? What the hell? I just couldn’t get over that. I mentioned it to a friend and fellow viewer. He suggested that I should look in the mirror. Oh. According to the AMC bible, Tad and I are the same age. Dammit.

MEKnight14tad03Still, I can mourn my lost youth, I suppose, but, then again, I don’t actually want to see the same things I saw in 1983. I don’t want to watch the same stories again and again. I want to be excited about new stories and new ideas. Isn’t that really the point?

(And the other point is that Michael E. Knight and I both aged gracefully and we still look fabulous, grey hair and all!)

Anyhow, today is a new day in Pine Valley. Like Brigadoon, it’s risen again and is ready to let us in. Maybe some of your old favorites won’t be there. Maybe you’ll be looking for The Goalpost or the Valley Inn or the Glamorama. Maybe they won’t be there either. But just like in1970 at the first beginning, Joe Martin will be there (God bless Ray MacDonnell!!).

Dixie Cooney will be there. And Opal Cortlandt. And Jesse and Angie Hubbard. And Brooke English and Adam Chandler. And a whole lot of young people that you don’t know yet. And that shouldn’t scare you away. That should excite you. It’s a new day. In the world and in Pine Valley.

Oft-repeated through the years — and for awhile seen in the opening credits, I believe — is the poem from Agnes Nixon’s AMC bible:

The Great and the Least,
The Rich and the Poor,
The Weak and the Strong,
In Sickness and in Health,
In Joy and Sorry,
In Tragedy and Triumph,
You are All My Children.

Nixon’s All My Children has always been about just those things. Today, they begin telling new stories in a new medium with both familiar and new faces just like always. I have a feeling this day may mark the beginning of a new day of serialized storytelling in this country. That hope — that we can again tune in tomorrow — or at four a.m. or watch from our phone on the train on the way home from the office — makes this a very good day indeed.

The incomparable Ruth Warrick.

The incomparable Ruth Warrick.

P.S. — I spent many years of my working life in the theatre. I don’t get star struck. I have met and worked with many famous personages, but my autograph collection is very, very small. The only person from a daytime drama I have ever deliberately sought out to meet and to sign an autograph was the late Ruth Warrick. I thought she was an absolutely brilliant actress and there have been very, very few characterizations ever that rose to the rarified level of Phoebe English Tyler Wallingford.

Would that the ‘Duchess’ could see Pine Valley reborn. I’m certain that she and the rest of the Daughters of Fine Lineage would be pleased!

Watch Now!

Making Me Laugh, with TV’s Cady McClain

H/T to a tweet from Michael Fairman for this one.

All My Children’s Cady McClain (Dixie, for those in the know) in the guise of Web advice guru Suzy F*cking Homemaker explains how to watch All My Children when it debuts online later this month. Even if you don’t watch AMC, you should watch this!

More of Cady’s, I mean Suzy’s videos.