Archive for the ‘Television shows’ Category


BTASWe round out Batman Week with Penelope’s review of the other Batman TV show.—Ed.

There is joy in Gotham! After decades of legal wrangling, the 1966 Batman TV show is finally coming to home video in November. Starring Adam West and Burt Ward as the Dynamic Duo, the series achieved pop-culture immortality thanks to its campy style and viral catchphrases, which need not be repeated here.

Confession: Adam West was my first Batman. I still love the show, but the parody wears thin, and Batman is a Batusi-dancing buffoon. For a more artistic and complex Batman experience on the small screen, I recommend that you turn your eyes and ears to Batman, The Animated Series, which aired on Fox in the 1990s.

The Animated Series was created by actual comics artists and writers, while the live-action series was not. It is stunning to look at. Don’t take your eyes off the screen, because you are bound to miss something beautiful. The 40s noir atmosphere is enhanced by the use of black backgrounds, against which Batman’s eyes are nothing more than white slits.  Lead artist Bruce Timm’s characters are drawn with stark angularity: Batman’s jaw is literally square. BTAS

Does the Joker’s voice sound familiar? It is Mark Hamill, going against his heroic Luke Skywalker type. Other members of the stellar cast include Kevin Conroy as Batman, Bob Hastings as Commissioner Gordon, Efram Zimbalist, Jr., as Alfred Pennyworth, and Adrienne Barbeau as Catwoman.  Adam West himself was invited on the show to play an aging superhero in the episode, “Beware the Gray Ghost.”

The storytelling is just as strong. The characters, especially the villains, are developed as real people who talk, feel and act like adults. This was not at all the norm for a kids’ cartoon show, which is how Batman was marketed. Take the Emmy-winning episode “Heart of Ice,” written by Paul Dini.  Underneath his refrigerated suit, the seemingly emotionless villain, Mr. Freeze, is a grieving husband bent on vengeance. Woven into this dramatic story is a humorous and clever side plot:  After being blasted by Mr. Freeze’s ice gun, Batman catches a cold, which Alfred treats with chicken soup… and if I told you what happened to the soup I would spoil the joke, so I won’t.

These episodes will keep everyone in your family happy for 22 minutes. Parents, never fear: the Bureau of Broadcast Standards scoured every scene to make sure it was suitable for children. You can read some of the creative team’s comments about the censors in the beautiful companion book to the series, Batman Animated. For example, “Censor wants us to figure out someplace for Catwoman to land other than on her face or breasts.” Or “We have to make it clear… that Batman’s kneeing the Walrus in the stomach.”

Check the WRL catalog for Batman, The Animated Series 


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danceacademyLike many little girls I took dance class as a child. Dressed up in my pink tutu, tights, and soft leather shoes, I would pirouette around the room until I would collapse in giggles on the floor from dizziness. Dance was a fun way to move around but never blossomed into a desire to be a dancer, plus I never had the passion or natural skill to commit to the endless hours of practice. Nevertheless, I remained fascinated by dancers and their dreams to pursue dance professionally, especially ballet. So when I came across the Australian television show Dance Academy, I had to check it out.

Tara Webster’s first dream is to fly, but since gravity gets in the way she takes up dancing instead, because in the moment dance feels like flying. So at age 16 Tara auditions for and is accepted to the prestigious National Dance Academy in Sydney. Little does she know that her education isn’t just about how to be a ballerina but also how to live away from home, work, love, and bounce back from disappointment. She’ll have to assess her dedication to her craft versus her desire to be a normal teenager.

Tara and her friends love to dance for various reasons and work hard to pursue their dreams. They are also typical teenagers living in a metropolitan city, testing their boundaries and their mettle to be professional dancers. The show includes the requisite girl next door, the bad boy, the catty nemesis, and the rebellious best friend, and they have the experiences of the first crush, first love, and first betrayal. But the show also illustrates the hard work and dedication it takes to succeed in dance, incorporating hours of repetitive practice and the drama of competition. Dance Academy doesn’t rely on profanity or shock tactics to navigate the challenges of adolescence. It’s a show that manages to be wholesome without being saccharine and dramatic without devolving into diabolical soap opera machinations. Enjoy this show with the dancers in your life or enjoy it for being a fun glimpse into the world of a professional dance school.

Check the WRL catalog for Dance Academy

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JeevesReading PG Wodehouse’s original Wooster and Jeeves stories is like eating a lemon meringue pie – underneath some light, fluffy, insubstantial sweetness, there’s a hint of acid which livens the palate.  So it is with Sebastian Faulks’s homage to Wodehouse, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells – with the exception of a couple of eggshells in the meringue.

This isn’t the first such recreation Faulks has had a hand in.  I wrote earlier (FSM, has it been five years?!) about his Devil May Care, a James Bond adventure that went straight back to Ian Fleming’s original style and sensibility.  This time around he approaches, with proper reverence, the world of a comic genius and nails the breezy tones that Wodehouse seemingly cast off without thinking.

For those who aren’t familiar with the original stories, they revolve around Bertie Wooster, scion of a family whose bank accounts have thrived as their gene pool has evaporated.  Bertie is a decent chap, though, with lots of time and few demands placed on him.  He spends much of that time evading the matrimonial clutches of the various women of his circle, or helping his friends slip up to the altar despite the disapproval of their parents and guardians.

Wooster’s gentleman’s gentleman is the unflappable Jeeves, the very model of a discreet servant.  Jeeves is also a master practitioner of psychology, and it is he who guides Wooster’s madcap schemes to their inevitable happy endings.  With marriage averted or achieved, angry aunts soothed, and some truculent old man reduced to a buffoon, Wooster and Jeeves blithely return to Bertie’s London home for tea, cocktails, and dining at the Drones Club.

Wooster is surrounded by similar young men with surnames so sophisticated and schoolnames so childish they become a mockery of privileged genealogy – Cyril Bassington-Bassington, “Catsmeat” Potter Pirbright, Gussie Fink-Nottle, and Bingo Little are the usual suspects.  In Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, Peregrine “Woody” Beeching is the stymied lover, and Wooster must plot to help him conquer the hand of his beloved, Amelia Hackwood.  Being a young though gifted lawyer, Woody has more prospects than assets, thus earning the disapproval of Amelia’s father.  At the same time, Amelia’s best friend Georgiana is Sir Henry Hackwood’s ward, and the impecunious baronet wants to marry her off to a wealthy man who might save the family manse, a circumstance that renders Bertie unaccountably jealous.

Due to unforeseen circumstances (and Wooster always encounters circumstances unforeseen), he and Jeeves must reverse roles at a country weekend with the Hackwoods.  Jeeves takes up the part of one Lord Etringham while Bertie becomes his manservant Wilberforce.  Too bad Bertie has never polished a pair of shoes, boiled a shirtfront, or served from the left.  Added to Bertie’s attempts to convince Amelia that Woody is faithful to her, his efforts to drive the wealthy suitor from Georgiana’s side, and to raise a cricket eleven for Sir Henry, it is small wonder that Bertie collapses into his servants’ quarters each night.  As always, Bertie’s plotting goes delightfully astray, Jeeves saves the day, and in this story accomplishes a little more than the reader expects.

Wodehouse somehow created a timeless feel to his stories, a kind of eternal English summer where the fields were planted, the trees in bloom, young lovers gazed adoringly into each others’ eyes, and the most damage the aristocracy could do was to the furnishings at their clubs.  There are cars, telephones and telegrams, jazz and  flashy theater which all signify the Roaring Twenties, but a kind of self-satisfied innocence that predates August 1914.  It seems to me that Wodehouse deliberately avoided bringing events from the outside world into the eggshell that encompasses his stories.  Faulks makes a couple of historical references that crack that shell and momentarily turn Wodehouse’s tartness into bitterness, but steers the rest of the story back to the bucolic.  All in all, Faulks does a masterful job bringing Wooster and Jeeves back to life for one final spin in the old two-seater.

Check the WRL catalogue for Jeeves and the Wedding Bells

And for a masterfully done light comic television series featuring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, check out the PBS show Jeeves and Wooster

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coloradokidTime for a confession. I’ve been binge-watching the SyFy series Haven on Netflix.  Haven is a fictional small town in Maine where people are cursed with unusual gifts–like being able to conjure storms when they are stressed or make monsters attack when they are frightened. It’s not spells or demon powers–it’s what residents call “the troubles.” The series has an interesting (and attractive) cast, and I like the supernatural twist on the solve-the-mystery-in-an-hour format.

In the opening credits of every episode there’s a note that the series is based on The Colorado Kid by Stephen King.  So I read the book.

Newspaper intern Stephanie spends an afternoon with veteran newspaper men Vince and Dave discussing a cold case mystery. It’s a case the older men say isn’t really appropriate for a big newspaper like the Boston Globe because unlike many of the often repeated local stories–like the ghost lights or the mysterious shipwrecked boat–this one doesn’t have a clean “musta-been” explanation. For example, the ghost lights appearing above the baseball field “musta-been” a reflection off the clouds, or maybe it “musta-been” aliens. As Vince explains, the story of the Colorado Kid has too many unknown factors.

He and Dave proceed to tell Steff what little they know about how a man from Colorado went to work one morning and ended up dead on a little island off the coast of Maine only hours later. He was unidentified for months. But even when the police followed an initially  missed clue and identified him, they were no closer to understanding why he was found so far from home or why he had a Russian coin in his pocket.

Nothing fits together, and that can be frustrating for some readers, but I liked the interaction between Stephanie and the old timers. It was nice to see that she was beginning to fit in with the small town community. And I liked that Vince and Dave laid out all they knew about the Colorado Kid and accepted there are just too many things still unknown to be able to give a guess, a “musta-been” explanation, as to what happened. The newspaper can’t print the story because there’s nothing but questions left at the end.

So what’s all this have to do with Haven the TV series? Some character and place names are the same, and some facts about the mystery of the “Colorado Kid” are mentioned in earlier episodes, but you really get to the meat of it in the author notes at the end of the book. King explains that not all mysteries are solvable, and “it’s the beauty of the mystery that allows us to stay sane.” Nicely put, Mr. King. And I think the reminder that everything doesn’t always have an answer is the inspiration for the television show.

Check the WRL catalog for The Colorado Kid

Just for fun, check the WRL catalog for season 1 of Haven

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Orphan BlackA young grifter unwittingly stumbles upon a dangerous conspiracy in the first season of BBC America’s edgy and mind-bending sci-fi series Orphan Black.

Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) is trying to escape an abusive boyfriend and a criminal past. Following a train ride home, she finds herself alone on the platform with a distraught woman who sets her purse down before taking off a pair of stylish high heels. The woman turns and stares at Sarah, who is struck by the uncanny resemblance between her and the stranger. The woman then walks off the edge of the platform and into the path of an oncoming train. In the aftermath of the stranger’s suicide, Sarah makes a split-second decision that puts her in the center of a mystery. With emergency personnel focused on the stranger, Sarah sees an opportunity for a quick score, and she walks away with the woman’s purse. Sarah learns her doppelgänger’s name is Elizabeth (Beth) Childs. Beth shares an expensive house with her boyfriend. She also has a large sum of money in the bank. Sarah decides to use her resemblance to Beth to her advantage and assume Beth’s identity. Once she has emptied Beth’s bank account, she’ll use the money to start a new life with her daughter, Kira, and foster brother, Felix.

Sarah believes she will be able to pull off the scam and quietly slip out of town; however, Beth’s life is far more complicated than she originally thought. First, there are calls from a man named Art and texts from an unknown number. There is also the matter of a safety deposit box containing copies of the birth certificates and photographs of other women who bear a striking resemblance to both Sarah and Beth. As additional secrets from Beth’s life surface, Sarah learns that the women—Beth, Alison Hendrix, Cosima Niehaus, and Katja Obinger (also Tatiana Maslany)—are all clones and she is a clone as well. This discovery is the gateway to a mystery involving a scientific movement called Neolution, led by the charismatic Dr. Aldous Leekie. Will the women unlock the secret of their connection to this group before they become the next victims of a killer who’s on a mission to eliminate the clones?

Orphan Black is a thoughtful and complex show that deftly balances questions of personal freedom and what it means to be an individual with a delightful streak of dark humor. The acting is first-rate. Tatiana Maslany succeeds at giving each clone her own distinct personality and unique set of characteristics. My favorite clone is Alison Hendrix, a conservative wife and mother whose sense of self is completely upended by the discovery she is a clone. The fine supporting cast includes Kevin Hanchard as Beth’s partner Detective Art Bell; Maria Doyle Kennedy as Sarah’s foster mother Mrs. S; Dylan Bruce as Beth’s boyfriend Paul Dierden; and Jordan Gavaris as Sarah’s foster brother Felix Dawkins. In a clever bit of casting, Dr. Aldous Leekie is played by Matt Frewer, who became famous in the mid-‘80s playing a character named Max Headroom.

Fast-paced and well-plotted, Orphan Black quickly builds momentum and maintains it throughout the season. Now is a good time to catch up with the show—or discover it—before the second season starts in April.

Check the WRL catalog for Orphan Black.

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x_filesIt may be difficult to believe, but September 10 marked 20 years since the television premiere of The X-Files. For nine seasons, FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) traveled the country investigating cases involving UFOs, the paranormal, and government conspiracies.

Over the course of the series’ run, audiences were introduced to a memorable supporting cast of characters including Mulder and Scully’s supervisor, Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), and the main villain, the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis). Although agents John Doggett (Robert Patrick) and Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) were added in the final seasons of the show, The X-Files never strayed too far from the central pairing of Mulder, a firm believer in the unknown and supernatural, and Scully, a rational skeptic.

Instead of reviewing the series as a whole, I thought I’d try a different approach and celebrate the 20th anniversary of The X-Files by reviewing my favorite episode: Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space.’

Originally broadcast during the third season, this episode revolves around author Jose Chung (played to eccentric perfection by Charles Nelson Reilly) who is writing a book about a case investigated by Mulder and Scully involving the possible abduction by aliens of a teenage couple out on a first date. As part of his research, Chung sets out to interview: Mulder and Scully; the couple, Harold and Chrissy; and several local witnesses to the abduction and its aftermath. Mulder is reluctant to participate, but Chung is able to interview Scully, the couple, and the witnesses. Each interviewee gives Chung an entirely different and contradictory account of what happened that night. With each account, the events of that fateful evening become more and more outlandish, culminating in the filming of a video purportedly showing an alien autopsy. A baffled Chung ultimately concludes that, “Truth is as subjective as reality. That will help explain why when people talk about their ‘UFO experiences,’ they always start off with ‘Well, now, I know how crazy this is going to sound… but…’ ”

This episode can best be described as a clever homage to Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon mixed with a hilarious satire of the 1995 alien autopsy video hoax. Unlike most episodes of The X-Files, the tone is definitely more tongue-in-cheek, but the humor serves to underscore Chung’s growing sense of bewilderment as the stories become increasingly unbelievable. By the end of the episode, like Jose Chung, I wasn’t quite sure what really happened that night, but I enjoyed seeing the different accounts of the incident unfold.

Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’ is a well-acted episode with a strong narrative structure and great, quotable dialogue. It is a highlight of the third season and worth revisiting by fans looking to commemorate the anniversary of the show.

Fans may also want to check out the two X-Files movies: The X-Files: Fight the Future and The X-Files: I Want to Believe.

Check the WRL catalog for first season of The X-Files TV series.

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Approximately five years ago, I read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as well as her other five novels after receiving an all-in-one collection as a gift. Having only truly read Pride and Prejudice once (I can’t count the Cliff Notes I used in high school), it’s a wonder that I am reviewing this festive micro-history which delightfully illustrates why Jane Austen’s perfect Regency romance has remained so untouchable since its publication in 1813, even as her style and subject matter are profusely imitated, now more than ever!  

Reading Susannah Fullerton’s pleasant homage to the timeless novel upon its 200-year anniversary provided me with all sorts of intriguing details, historical background, and gossipy tidbits about its creation and legacy that enhance my appreciation of the novel.  Fullerton, president of the Jane Austen Society of Australia, effectively demonstrates the reasons for the novel’s perfection and its ever-increasing appeal for readers of either sex, of all ages, in nearly every community worldwide. She cheerfully describes her analysis of individual characters, Austen’s style, and the famous opening sentence on which an entire chapter is devoted.

It was especially amusing to learn of all the various editions, versions, translations, sequels, retellings, mash-ups, adaptations, film interpretations, and other assorted Austen-inspired endeavors that have fueled a sort of Pride-and-Prejudice mania. Darcy-mania culture took off on the tails of the sexy 1995 BBC film version, starring Colin Firth (of the infamous lake scene), and kindled much new interest in the reading of the novel.

Fullerton pretty much concludes that no sequel author or film producer has ever really matched Jane Austen’s masterful style and that what lovers of the novel should really ever do is just keep reading and re-reading Pride and Prejudice. I agree that the masterpiece stands alone, but Austen did very effectively infect most of her readers with a desire to continue knowing Elizabeth and Darcy and to learn ever more about each well-drawn character’s future. Imagine if she’d lived long enough to write her own sequels, or to taste the fame her novels eventually gave her!

Check the WRL catalog for Celebrating Pride and Prejudice : 200 years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece

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MiraclePlanetI imagined it differently. I pictured a warm shallow pool under a friendly blue sky, overseen by a kindly shining sun and gently stirred by a breeze. And in the pool, my far distant slime-mold ancestors were busily evolving into my grandfather. Miracle Planet shows a past that is far more savage and chaotic than my imaginings.

Miracle Planet is a five-part documentary made by a joint Canadian and Japanese team. The first two parts, “The Violent Past” and “Snowball Earth” assert that in the far distant past the entire earth was frozen solid two miles deep all the way to the equator, probably twice. The friendly blue sky that I imagined was, at some points, actually red from the high concentration of methane and then dark from debris from massive volcanic eruptions. And a meteor hit the earth millions of years before the well-known one causing the dinosaur extinction and made the planet so hot that the rocks boiled and melted miles deep. The documentary explains the timing of these events, which were millions of years apart, but I find geologic time hard to keep track of, since the time spans are so unimaginably huge.

But the most amazing part of the documentary (and perhaps the most amazing thing ever) is that life persisted! Scientists used to think that the freezing and boiling catastrophes sterilized the earth and destroyed all life on earth. Then they thought life evolved again.  But now they think that bacteria could have survived, because they know bacteria survive miles deep in diamond mines in South Africa.

I learned many other things such as the greatest volcanic eruption ever in the history of the earth occurred in what is now Siberia and made ninety-five percent of the existing species extinct. Also that dinosaurs were very bird-like, in that they were better at oxygen exchange than the early mammals because they had air sacs. The series moves up in time to early humans.

I came across this series when I created a display on “The End of the World” and it will fascinate buffs of apocalyptic scenarios. Even if I can accept my personal mortality (and less readily the mortality of my loved ones), the extinction of our species is still horrible to contemplate, let alone the extinction of all life on earth.

Miracle Planet has wonderful images and graphics and I also recommend it for those interested in science. The library owns a lot of great science documentaries and I love them because, at their best, they bring an immediacy to a subject that a book can lack, because sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

Check the WRL catalog for Miracle Planet.

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With the popularity of British TV series like Downton Abbey, I think it is time to draw attention to a wonderful television series from 1973, Flambards.  It is set in the period from 1910 through World War I, and it includes many of the same issues of the changing relationships between the British ruling class and the people they felt they ruled over.

Christina is a teenage orphan who is passed around from elderly aunt to elderly aunt living in genteel but shabby conditions until Uncle Russell calls for her to be brought to  Flambards, the family’s crumbling ancestral home.  Christina is a child of her times, who obeys unquestioningly and misses all the deeper family currents.  She has been sent to Flambards because she is an heiress who will come into her fortune when she turns 21.  Uncle Russell requires her fortune to save Flambards which is crumbling into disrepair as he has spent all his money, time, and energy on fox-hunting.  In Uncle Russell’s mind the logical solution is for Christina to marry his eldest son, Mark, who is also her first cousin, and they will spend her fortune to save Flambards.

Uncle Russell is obsessed with fox hunting, even though he is confined to a chair and in constant pain after a hunting accident.  He lives through his sons as they hunt, which is fine for Mark who is only interested in hunting, drinking, and girls. His brother, Will, hates hunting.  Will is an intelligent, sensitive boy who wants to learn to fly in the new airplanes that are being developed.  Christina spends time with both her cousins, but Will is easier to get along with and she enjoys talking to him about planes.  The interest of the handsome groom, Dick, adds to the romantic tension, while the increasing drunken brutishness of Uncle Russell raises the drama.

Flambards is based on the series of novels by K.M. Peyton, which started with Flambards published in 1967, then went on to The Edge of the Cloud (1969), Flambards in Summer (1969), although the TV series doesn’t cover Flambards Divided (1981).  Our library doesn’t currently own the books although they are still in print.  As usual in comparisons between the screen version and the book, the books have more depth and background, but they cannot provide the  the gorgeous scenery, the galloping horses, and the wondrous early planes.

As I already said, Flambards is a good choice for fans of Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs, but also I recommend it for lovers of romance and horses.  Oddly for a historical romance, I also recommend it for aviation fans.  Early planes like the Bleriot are integral to the plot of the story so the series creators made and flew radio controlled model working replicas of these early planes.  I actually thought that they made full-size planes until I researched it for this blog post, so they did a good job of hiding the planes’ size.  Either way, their flimsy, splindliness and air of imminent disaster is fascinating!

Flambards also has wonderful music, written by David Fanshawe.  As I am typing this I have the whistling refrain from the credits going through my head, and I’m anticipating spending some quality girl-time re-watching some of my favorite episodes.

Check the WRL catalog for Flambards


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I am taking another risk this week and recommending one of my favorite TV series. But I am finding that Doctor Who is more difficult to write about than The Pinhoe Egg. How do I even attempt to distill the world’s longest running science fiction TV series into a single blog post? *

Doctor Who has everything you expect from a sci-fi series: aliens, spaceships, monsters, distant planets, distant times and, of course, chases and explosions. Unusual from other sci-fi series I have seen, I care deeply about the characters and their lives. The Doctor is a nine-hundred year old, two-hearted, human look-alike alien who is nearly indestructible. He travels around in a retro wooden blue police box time machine, “the TARDIS – a Time and Relative Dimensions In Space” machine, with one or two young and good-looking companions, saving the universe from evil of all sorts. Despite his power The Doctor likes humanity and some humans in particular. He likes us for the same reason I like humanity – for our capacity for love, laughter, and compassion.  He has seen us from our start in caves to our distant future as the universe is ending. Like a good parent he accepts our failings and challenges us to improve. Perhaps his character is best summed up by a quote from the 2010 Christmas Special, “In nine hundred years I have not met anyone who wasn’t important.”

If your spaceship can travel through both time and space you can go anywhere, anytime, and see anything. And The doctor does. Sometimes he goes to strange worlds with strange aliens but often the setting is a near contemporary earth. Doctor Who is unashamedly British, getting in a few jabs at Americans. It visits many British cultural icons in varying episodes that focus on Dickens, Shakespeare, Queen Victoria, the Blitz in London during World War II, Winston Churchill, and Agatha Christie.

Doctor Who aired its first episode in 1963 in a black-and-white series with clunky props and a much slower storyline.  It was taken off the air in 1989 and then it was revived in 2005 in a season packaged misleadingly as The Complete First Series. The stories have improved, special effects have improved, even the monsters have improved. The Doctor has been played by eleven different actors over the years, a dramatic convenience explained away by The Doctor regenerating if he is killed. Each actor manages to add dimensions to his character, so I am not sure who is my favorite.

Although the monsters may be too scary for small children, Doctor Who can be enjoyed by most of the family. There is no sex (attraction is sometimes implied), no gory violence, lots of suspenseful action but the good guys ultimately win. As the actor David Tenant said in his portrayal of the tenth Doctor, “Defending the earth. Can’t argue with that.”

*Although some will argue that because Doctor Who wasn’t running from 1989 to 2004 that Star Trek wins the longevity prize.

Check the WRL catalog for Doctor Who


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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of wits and good sense must be in want of a Darcy (or to be more accurate, Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice). But there are only so many Darcys (and library copies of Pride & Prejudice) to go round. So, if you’ve watched this BBC miniseries so often you can recite it line for line and are looking for something new, I recommend North & South.

North & South can best be described as a Victorian Pride & Prejudice, but the central romance is laced with powerful and interesting social commentary. Based on the 1855 novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, it tells the story of Margaret Hale, the daughter of a middle-class vicar, who, used to a privileged, slower pace of life in rural southern England, is suddenly uprooted when her father suffers a crisis of faith and gives up his livelihood. He moves his family to a dreary, smoky northern mill town trying to find its feet as the industrial revolution marches onward, but Margaret cannot see beyond the noise, the smell, the dirt, and the conflict between “masters and men.” When she meets the handsome, charismatic mill-owner, John Thornton, North and South collide.

Margaret struggles to come to terms with her new home and feels nothing but contempt for the greedy, ambitious mill-owners, including Thornton, who is one of her father’s new students. Thornton is instantly attracted to the strong-willed and outspoken Margaret, but she is unable to hide her repulsion and disdain for his work and the way she mistakenly believes he treats his employees. Gradually, Margaret’s attitude towards the town and its inhabitants changes, as she becomes friends with the mill-workers, including a local union leader and his daughter. But as Margaret becomes more invested in their lives, the strife between the mill-owners and their workers culminates in a crippling strike, the consequences of which affect every member of the town. Even as Margaret’s opinion of the town and her new life changes, she remains stubbornly prejudiced against mill-owners, and one in particular. Like Lizzy Bennett, it is only later, when the strike and the events that follow threaten to keep the two apart, that Margaret finally begins to recognize the integrity, strength of character, and value of the man she has rejected.

North & South stars Daniela Denby-Ashe as Margaret Hale and Richard Armitage as the brooding hero, John Thornton. It also stars Brendan Coyle (currently onscreen as the self-sacrificing Mr. Bates in Downton Abbey) as the union leader, Nicholas Higgins. The screenplay was written by Sandy Welch, who also wrote the 2006 adaptation of Jane Eyre (with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens) and the 2009 version of Emma (with Romola Garai).

Anglophiles and fans of high-quality BBC period drama, such as Downton Abbey, will fall in love with North & South. Like any good costume drama, it is full of simmering passion and smoldering sexual tension, where one glance, one touch, can carry the weight of a thousand words.

Check the WRL catalog for North & South.


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Besides director David Lynch’s 1990-91 series Twin Peaks, my favorite television show is Mystery Science Theater 3000. Although the series was canceled in 1999, fans and newcomers  can still enjoy the show thanks to periodic DVD releases, and WRL has several sets as well as individual episodes in its collection.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 (often abbreviated as MST3K) ran from 1988-1999, first on the Minnesota-based station KTMA, then on Comedy Central and the Sci Fi Channel. Two mad scientists, Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) and Dr. Laurence Erhardt (Josh Weinstein), aspire to take over the world by means of bad movies. They launch an unassuming man named Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson) into space and force him to watch B-movies so they can determine which B-movie to use in their scheme for world domination. Joel builds four robots (Gypsy, Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot, and Cambot) to help him on the ship and to assist him in watching the movies. Each episode begins with an intro that sets the theme of the episode, then Joel and two of the robots watch and comment on the episode’s featured B-movie. Each episode is roughly two hours, and one movie is featured per episode, although occasionally short films are included as well.

When I first heard about MST3K and its premise, I didn’t think I’d like it, but once I gave it a chance, I was hooked. The writing is clever and inventive. Everything about the movies featured on the show– the opening/closing credits, the music, the acting– is fair game for jokes. The comments are incisive and extremely funny. There are breaks throughout each episode in which the host and the mad scientists comment further on the movie or perform skits related to the film

There were several cast changes throughout the course of the show, most notably new villains, including TV’s Frank (Frank Conniff) and Pearl Forrester (Mary Jo Pehl), and a new host when Joel Hodgson left halfway through the series’s run and was replaced with Michael J. Nelson (playing a character named Mike Nelson).

Because the opening credits of MST3K establish both the premise of the show and the central characters in each episode, newcomers to the show don’t need to start watching from any specific episode. While I’d recommend any of the DVDs in the WRL collection, I am partial to the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 4, which features the following movies: Space Mutiny, Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, Girl in Gold Boots, and Hamlet (a badly dubbed version made for German television in the early ‘60s). I happen to like this collection because it offers a good overview of the different types of movies featured over the course of the show’s run.

I think anyone who enjoys B-movies or making fun of B-movies would enjoy the humor of this long-running show.

Check the WRL catalog for Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection 4


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I feel a little guilty, actually, like I’ve been cheating on Jeremy Brett, but over the course of three 90-minute episodes, I have fallen head over heels for another actor’s Sherlock Holmes. This latest BBC production stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the iconic consulting detective and updates his Edwardian surroundings to modern-day London. (Watson has a blog; Sherlock has a smart phone. He taunts Scotland Yard by text message with the same fervour that Holmes sent telegrams.)

With looks that are alternately angelic and alien and a voice that the Times describes as “like a jaguar hiding in a cello,” Cumberbatch settles into the role of Sherlock Holmes like he was born to it. Brilliant and petulant, dangerous when bored, Sherlock depends on the puzzling and the forensic to distract his high-performance brain from the tedium of daily life.

Fortunately, roommate John Watson is there to remind him that at the other end of his latest delightful puzzle is a terrified human being waiting for rescue. Now, I’ve always had a thing for Holmes, but this is the first time I’ve been quite so smitten with Watson, whose past portrayals have ranged from merely self-effacing to utterly incompetent. Martin Freeman’s Watson, alternately admiring and exasperated, provides exactly the counterpoint, in head shakes and eye rolls, that Sherlock deserves. It’s some kind of feat of acting that Freeman easily holds his own, with the most minute gestures and facial expressions, against Sherlock’s grandstanding dramatics.

Elements of “A Study in Scarlet” and “The Bruce Partington Plans” are just the jumping-off point for these new mysteries, which fly by just slightly faster than the speed of logic. For those who know their Conan Doyle, there are plenty of in-jokes and nifty twists (the identity of Sherlock’s archnemesis, for one). The supporting cast includes Rupert Graves as longsuffering DI Lestrade and Sherlock’s exceedingly swirly, dramatic coat, which all but earns its own line in the credits.

Sherlock was concocted by Doctor Who writers Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss, and if you’ve watched any New Who, the rapid-fire dialogue and the chemistry between a brilliant eccentric and his loyal companion will seem quite familiar. I wouldn’t have been particularly surprised to see Sherlock pull out a sonic screwdriver along with his magnifying glass, or to find that there were Daleks lurking behind Reichenbach Falls all along.

Check the WRL catalog for Sherlock.


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This week we are delighted to have back folks from the library’s Circulation Services division. This first post comes from Ceilidh Mapes.

Twelve footmen. Seventeen maids. Thirty-two chamber-pots. Twenty suckling pigs. Ten thousand candles. Don’t forget to add a dash of intrigue, a splash of scandal and a generous helping of matchmaking, and what do you get? One Regency house party and one bizarre, but fascinating, social experiment.

Ten eligible young men and women spend nine extravagant, exciting summer weeks in a lavish country house in the heart of England, in an effort to live exactly (or as close as possible in the 21st century) as their counterparts did 200 years ago – and that includes the corsets, the chamber-pots, the elaborate courtship rituals and the chaperones.

Everyone is given a Regency alter-ego with a certain status and fortune attached, which in turn determines their eligibility and desirability in the house. There’s the master of the house, a naval captain, a vicar, a countess, a lady’s companion and an industrial heiress (aka “new money”). And let’s not forget the chaperones – four ladies of mature years, whose job it is to guard their young charges’ virtue ferociously and to help to orchestrate a match between their young lady and the most eligible male they can catch.

But these 21st century folks soon learn that this match-making business isn’t as easy as it seems, and as genuine feelings and attachments begin to form, the entire situation becomes even more tangled up. They quickly learn that Regency men and women had entirely separate daily routines, and often they only saw each other at dinner in the evening. The men would spend the day hunting, shooting, fishing, boxing, while the ladies were expected to stay inside sewing, trimming bonnets, taking dance lessons, and when all else failed, gossiping. The women, successful independent products of the 21st century soon find themselves suffocating under the strict social protocols, which would not even let a young lady go down to breakfast alone if her chaperone insisted upon staying in her room. How was a girl supposed to find her Mr. Darcy?

But as soon as the participants begin to grow more comfortable in their Regency roles, new challenges are thrown their way in the form of new arrivals, love triangles and even the odd cat-fight (well, what’s a reality show without a good cat-fight?), and this game of make-believe quickly turns into something much more real. The show is ridiculously funny in parts and touchingly poignant in others. This is an entirely different breed of “reality show” and a must-watch for anyone who has ever read Jane Austen and sighed in longing.

Check the WRL catalog for Regency House Party


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WOOHOO! Daria is finally on DVD!

If you’re not familiar with the show, Daria is a cartoon that aired on MTV from 1997 to 2002. Since then, fans (count me as one) have been eagerly awaiting its arrival on DVD. We waited, and waited, and waited. Because of the hundreds of musical snippets from popular artists used throughout the show, MTV had trouble obtaining licensing at a cost that would allow Daria’s DVD publication at a reasonable price. It took them eight long years, but now the cartoon has been released with music written specifically for the show to replace the popular music originally used. Honestly, I’ve forgotten what a lot of the original music was, so the overlaid music doesn’t make the show any less enjoyable for me. I think it actually makes Daria more timeless, for future generations to enjoy without being distracted by music that might be seem dated (even though it’s an inarguable fact that ’90s music was awesome. Just sayin’).

Yes, this is a cartoon, but it’s not meant for children. I absolutely loved this show as a teenager; re-watching it all these years later from an adult perspective, I love it even more. While the Daria character is ripped straight out of MTV’s popular Beavis and Butt-head series, the show’s humor is completely opposite to the immaturity Beavis and Butt-head are known for. Daria’s life is a satire of suburbia, where her pessimism, wit, and sarcasm contrasts with nearly everyone she interacts with. On her first day of school in a new town, Daria is immediately labeled as the brainy, unpopular girl, while her little sister Quinn is identified as the popular, cute girl who girls want to be friends with and boys want to date. And that’s just where this sitcom begins!

WRL now has Daria: The Complete Animated Series on DVD available for your viewing pleasure. If you’ve ever felt like an outcast in school, watch Daria. If you just want a funny cartoon to be entertained by, watch Daria. Finally, if you want to experience a piece of MTV history, when their shows featured intelligent teens making fun of spoiled teens (instead of the other way around), watch Daria.

Check the WRL catalog for Daria: The complete animated series


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Freaks and Geeks was a short-lived television series that ran on NBC from 1999-2000, with a mere 18 episodes.  The show introduced viewers to the Weirs, a typical American family—mom stays at home to raise the two kids, and dad owns a local sporting goods store.  The kids, Lindsay and Sam, are both teenagers attending the same high school.  Sam is a freshman.  He and his friends, Neal and Bill, are the geeks of the show.  Lindsay, a former geek, has just started transitioning to the freak group, becoming friendly with Daniel, Kim, Nick and Ken.

Part comedy and part drama, Freaks and Geeks portrays your typical high school experiences:  Sam is in love with cheerleader Cindy Sanders, who is dating a football player.  Lindsay is interested in Daniel, who’s dating Kim, while Nick finds Lindsay attractive.  Neal, Bill, and Sam are all targets of bullying on a regular basis.  Lindsay and Sam are chronically embarrassed by their “square” parents.  Lindsay’s former geeky BFF, Millie, doesn’t understand why Lindsay has changed and still hangs around trying to resuscitate their friendship, while Lindsay is desperately trying to change her image and fit in with the freaks.  Although the teenage drama sounds cheesy, the show doesn’t portray it that way.  These are “coming of age” storylines with which anyone can identify.

The show’s backdrop of late 1970s culture—the clothes, cars, and music—will send Gen Xers on a trip down memory lane.  One of my favorite episodes, “Tricks and Treats,” has Bill dressed as the Bionic Woman for Halloween.  In the last episode, Nick is found dancing in a disco competition, which earns him endless teasing by the other freaks.

It’s unfortunate that NBC canceled the series after one season.  The show was never able to fully develop the storylines it introduced and viewers were merely given a glimpse into the characters’ lives.  Nevertheless, Freaks and Geeks deserves a chance in everyone’s DVD player.

Check the WRL catalog for Freaks and Geeks

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Being something of an Anglophile, I couldn’t resist making a list of great (library circulating) British miscellanea. The list includes books, music, movies, and people that help make England more interesting. I have omitted what some may think of as obvious choices like James Bond (my Bond of choice is Scottish) and the Rolling Stones (you can’t like them if you like The Beatles…it’s a rule) so feel free to comment below and add to my list!


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Dr. HorribleThere is something a bit meta about blogging about a DVD about blogging, but I’m doing it anyway. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was originally released as a series of three 15 minute webisodes created by Joss Whedon (of Buffy-fame) during the writers’ strike. It has now been released as a DVD and is definitely worth checking out. It features the acting and singing talents of Neil Patrick Harris as Dr. Horrible, an aspiring super villain. He blogs (and sings) about his efforts to become a member of the Evil League of Evil, his nemesis Captain Hammer, played by Firefly’s Nathan Fillion, and his love for fellow laundromat user Penny.

Dr. Horrible’s current attempt to join the Evil League includes the creation of a Freeze Ray (“It’s not a Death Ray or an Ice Beam, that’s all Johnny Snow”) that will freeze time. When things don’t go quite as planned, word comes down from the Evil League that his application will be denied unless he kills someone.

Dr. Horrible is unbelievably funny, touching, heart-wrenching, and has catchy songs, too. The DVD features a sing-along commentary track and fan-created Evil League of Evil video applications which are, in some cases, just as funny as the blog they were inspired by.  Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from Dr. Horrible’s blog is to be careful what you say on your video blog, since both your nemesis and the police could be watching!

Check the WRL catalog for Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

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