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The Duchess of Duke Street. Series 1 (1976)

The Duchess of Duke Street, a BBC production of Edwardian England, is plain old fun to watch. Gemma Jones, who plays the duchess, immediately engages us by her super strong performance of a servant girl who becomes a notorious chef who also catches the eye of the Prince of Wales.

Many times she is a victim of Victorian strictures, but meets these challenges head on with verve and style. The story is offbeat but keeps you thoroughly entertained. After watching season 1, I immediately looked for season 2.

Mad Men. Seasons 1-4 (2007-2010)

This critically acclaimed series is a must-watch television show. Set in the 1960s, it focuses on Don Draper (Jon Hamm), the creative director at an advertising firm with a complicated past. The show addresses issues of racism, adultery, and alcoholism with elegance and pose. This masterfully written show is fun to watch as it captures the era perfectly, down to the details with the excessive drinking, beehives, and Eames chairs.

See what's on shelf today: Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, and Season 4. The show has also influenced a number of recently published books: The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook, Mad Women: the other side of life on Madison Avenue in the '60s and beyond, and Mad Men Unbuttoned: a romp through 1960s America.
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Mildred Pierce (2011) TV-MA

This beautifully presented and acted miniseries of James M. Cain’s classic sets you right down in 1930s Southern California. Mildred Pierce is a divorced woman with two young children, loving Ray and haughty Veda. Working first as a waitress and the in her own restaurants, Mildred tries to give Veda all she demands--only to be betrayed by Veda time and time again.

The houses, the clothes, and music all set this production firmly in time and place. With Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce. Visit HBO's website for more about the show, including behind the scenes interviews with the stars and the costumes of the production.

Check to see if our copy of Mildred Pierce is on shelf.

Spotlight: Doc Martin TV Series

Spotlight: Doc Martin TV Series (2004-2011)
I’ll watch most anything with British accents. This is one of the funniest! You must watch from Season 1 to Season 3.

Check out a story on NPR about star Martin Clunes. Visit TV.com for more about the show.

Going Postal

Going Postal (2010)
Based on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, Going Postal is the best movie between Color of Magic and Hogfather. It’s a nice balance of fantasy, humor, and soul-saving life observation. I believe it’s so good for teenagers!

You can also check out a 2010 review.

Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle

Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes (2000)
Fact: in the late 1800s, Arthur Conan Doyle studies for his degree in medicine. One of his teachers, Dr. Bell, introduces Doyle to his singular style of crime detection.

At first a cynic and skeptic, Doyle is slowly drawn to Bell’s ability to solve high profile murders. Bell uses profound observation, inference, and deduction as his main tools. Subconsciously, Doyle absorbs Bell’s style and method. Later the idiosyncratic Bell will become the most famous sleuth of all, Sherlock Holmes.

However, several brutal murders near the college and surrounding areas catch Bell and Doyle in a cat and mouse game that challenges them to the max. Be aware there are many gruesome aspects to the chase.

The acting, direction, and storyline are top of the line. It’s riveting. I watched it alone and survived.

Garrow’s Law. Series 1 and 2

Garrow’s Law. Series 1 and 2 (2009-2010)
I have not watched such a compelling TV series in the last ten years. It defines the word excellence on all levels—casting, acting, characterization, direction.

The storyline explores the historical evolvement of the law, gradually progressing to the “radical” idea that a man is innocent until proven guilty. Each episode covers the outcome of one courtroom drama. But the emotional changes in the main characters are pivotal to our gut response. I found this series intensely satisfying. Ah, yes!

“Courtroom drama gold”—The Sunday Times (U.K.)
Did you know the show is based on the life of pioneering 18th century barrister William Garrow? Check out the show's website on BBC One for more details.

Emma

Emma (2009)
Jane Austen's Emma is either your favorite Austen or the one you can't stand. It is my favorite, and for over ten years I have loved the Gwyneth Paltrow movie version (1996).

Then I saw the 2009 three hour BBC production with Romola Garai as Emma, and my love is pulled two ways. Garai is delightful as the well-meaning but interfering Emma. The set and costumes are beautiful and the pacing is just right. But Jeremy Northam (from the 1996 movie) will always be my favorite Mr. Knightley.

The Pacific

The Pacific (2010) TV-MA
This ten part HBO miniseries offers a realistic and horrifying view of World War II in the Pacific. The series is based on the memoirs of two marines who were there, Robert Leckie and Eugene Sledge, and the story of Congressional Medal of Honor winner Sgt. John Basilone. Some episodes are devoted almost entirely to specific battles: Guadalcanal, Peleliu, and Iwo Jima. Others show the marines on R&R in Australia, on medical leave, or in basic training.

The producers (who include Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg) purposely used relatively unknown actors so that the viewer wouldn't be distracted by recognizing well-known stars showing up in cameos ala The Longest Day (1962).

Check out the books that served as inspiration:
Did you know? The 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and America's entry into WWII is Wednesday, December 7.

Grey Gardens

Grey Gardens (2009) TV-PG
The story of a mother and daughter’s descent into madness from riches is spellbinding. Drew Barrymore plays an exceptional role as Little Edie, the daughter of eccentric Edie Bouvier Beale, as they rebel against the mores of their time.  Based on the true lives of the two Edies.

Find more about the two Edies at the library.
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Covert Affairs. Season 1

Covert Affairs. Season 1 (2010)
With a love of travel and penchant for languages, Annie Walker (Piper Perabo) joins the CIA two years after being abandoned in Sri Lanka by her mysterious boyfriend. Suddenly that past experience is somehow embroiled in the present. Can she trust anyone in her division?

With more questions than answers, each episode brings a new case, a new adventure, and a new threat. Annie is a very likeable character; you see her grow and struggle and deal with the shades of gray her job brings. And she couldn’t survive her new job without Auggie (Christopher Gorham), a blind computer geek with a biting sense of humor.

Fans of Alias and Chuck should try Covert Affairs.

Changi

Changi (2001)
This Australian miniseries follows the fortunes of six young Australian soldiers who are captured early in the war against the Japanese in WWII and spend over three years in the notorious Singapore POW camp Changi. Each of six episodes focuses on one of the men as 55 years later he prepares for one last meeting with his mates and, through flashbacks, remembers the time they were all together in the camp.

As the series progresses, your attachment to these irreverent and closely united men grows and the poignancy of seeing them both as cocky yet fearful young POWs and elderly men with their lives all behind them becomes almost too much.

The George Segal movie King Rat (1965) is also set at Changi.

Visit the official website for more information about the series and the Changi prison.

Treme: The Complete First Season

Treme: The Complete First Season (2010)
This HBO series is about the human spirit responding to the greatest man-made disaster in American history: Hurricane Katrina and the destruction of New Orleans. Treme is a working class neighborhood of the city. The storylines focus on people trying to cling to their unique culture and trying to put their lives together again after the storm.

The music is amazing. It spans multiply genres. Every episode features at least five performances. The story lines are compelling. Topics range from political corruption, police clashes with the Mardi Gras Indians, public housing problems, bringing tourism back to the city and many more. Highly recommended for an intense experience.

Treme is like Cajun food—it’s spicy, it’s weird and it’s good.” – NY Post
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Spartacus, Blood and Sand. The Complete First Season

Spartacus, Blood and Sand. The Complete First Season (2010) TV-MA
Watch the house of Batiatus rise with aid from their gladiator Spartacus. If you like movie 300 with its realistic battle scenes, you’ll love Spartucus. Be warned – there’s lots of blood; it’s not for the faint of heart. Also, it’s a show on the Starz network – so expect graphic content.

What got me through the winter doldrums might get you through the summer heat wave. It has something for everyone – really hardcore battles, some drama, and a bit of humor. Plus, the Romans know how to party.

Due to a serious illness, the second season is a prequel without Spartacus himself (Andy Whitfield). Spartacus, Gods of the Arena will be released on DVD in September. Place your hold now!
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Lie to Me. Seasons 1 & 2 (2009-2010)

Lie to Me. Seasons 1 & 2 (2009-2010)
This is a really interesting show about a guy who is a “deception specialist.” That is, he reads people’s facial expressions and body language to determine if they’re lying or telling the truth. He is hired by local and federal law enforcement agencies to help solve a variety of cases.

I like the way they occasionally show clips of famous people, such as Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, etc., to compare their expressions to the suspects in the show. I also enjoy the main character’s wry sense of humor, as well as his interactions with the supporting cast of characters.
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