It’s Friday and this fangirl is raving mad for mysteries and sweet concoctions.
Mad, that is, about those brilliant Brits and the fabulous fare they keep churning out on the small screen.
Two series. Both addictive. One is a gripping mystery, the other a lovely reality show about baking. There is nothing in common between the two but excellence in programming.
Broadchurch-a murder mystery about the death of a young child in a fictional seaside town-has wrapped up two seasons now on the BBC (both now on DVD) after winning millions of fans, a Peabody award and Best Drama at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). Entertainment Weekly called it a” bona fida national obsession in the U.K”.
The British tend to take their whodunits like they take their tea: dark, slow-boiled, and so bitter that you need a while to finish.
Not so fast: the Brits had to wait for the weekly unfolding. Over here, I watched the first episode on Netflix and then burned through the remaining episodes as I once did my Nancy Drew mysteries as a kid: up past my bedtime.
Can’t. Stop. Watching.
Must. Find. Out. What. Happens. Next.
Here was an ordinary enough mystery- a murder, a bunch of suspects, a pair of detectives, a town in turmoil. What lifts this one to soaring heights is hyper attention to atmosphere, pacing and soundtrack, all contributing to an intensity that never lets up. The brilliant sunshine and crashing coast offer a sharp contrast to the tragic storyline and lend the show a very specific character. Then there’s the cast, all delivering performances with emotional punch.
Season 2 deals with the trial of the killer and the introduction of new characters and storylines not quite as satisfying as the first but wound me up yet. A third instalment is in production. An American version, Gracepoint, was also produced but died in the ratings, despite using the same lead, Scottish actor David Tennant, known mostly from Doctor Who. I didn’t watch this U.S remake as the trailer told me enough-what was special has now become cliché and they changed the ending which I found disappointing and stupid. Some remakes work (House of Cards, The Office). Most lose their authentic sheen in the cultural wash.
The Great British Bake Off, the other show worth championing, has also been remade but not just here in North America. Versions of the show, also a BAFTA winner, are now seen in fifteen countries around the world. Here is a winning premise: a dozen amateur bakers compete weekly on what look to this Toronto home baker to be seriously tricky baking challenges.
In Britain, the show is a massive hit, making two household names of judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. He’s now become a sex symbol, the George Clooney of the kitchen, while she is the twinkly perfectionist everyone tries to please.
I can hear you groaning. Reality shows bite, right? Yes but not here. There are no inflated egos (except maybe for Paul Hollywood but I’d never kick a man out that has his eyes, his hands and his ability to whip up something sweet in a flash) nor are there sappy profiles of contestants with pumped up narratives. We hear only where they come from and a tidbit about their lives. There’s little time for lengthy puff profiles as it’s all about getting down to the business of baking. Only in the finale do we hear more of the top contenders and even then, it is restrained. Still not impressed? The series I watched (only Season 6 has showed up on PBS but you can watch other seasons online) may have been the nicest show in television. Contestants worked at a feverish pace but never without an encouraging word to each other. Indeed, the whole thing would reek of one giant sugary kumbaya but for two cheeky comics, Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, who dish out saucy double entendres (soggy bottoms, dough balls and erect biscuits).
An homage to the DIY movement-all the honour is simply in producing a tasty and beautiful confection-this kind of show is catnip for me, even as I know my own sweets might never pass the Mary Berry test.
It won’t stop me trying.
Happy Binge Time.