So much to watch, so little time, but I’m doing the best I can. Oh, wait. I’M RETIRED. I can watch whatever I want, whenever I want, and here’s what I’ve been watching this summer …
(8 seasons, 33 episodes)
Normally when a friend raves about a TV series, I listen and nod politely with little or no interest in actually watching the show. Same with books. I have no idea why I’m like this … I love my friends and—for the most part—trust their judgment, but there’s a certain part of me that is outraged that anyone would tell me what to watch or read. The nerve of some people!
But after numerous prodding from a friend, I finally caved and watched the first season of friend-recommended Endeavour, a British copper show that is a prequel to a legendary British copper show, Inspector Morse, which aired for 33 episodes from 1987 to 2000 and was based on novels by author Colin Dexter. Endeavour is the first name of Inspector Morse, and this series follows his early adventures as a detective constable and eventual detective sergeant in Oxford, during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Each season is three or four 90-minute episodes (one season has six episodes). Morse (seldom, if ever, called Endeavour during the series) is a bit of a savant, always seeing clues and connections no one else can. He’s also a bit of a misanthrope who definitely marches to the beat of a different drummer. He’s mentored by Detective Inspector Fred Thursday, played by the absolutely wonderful Roger Allam, a man who should be the photo next to the word “gravitas” in the dictionary. Morse is played by Shaun Evans, one of a series of shaggy-haired, introspective British actors like David Tennant (okay, he’s Scottish), and Eddie Redmayne, who could all very convincingly play brothers in a BritBox series, I’m sure.
Endeavour perfectly captures each year each season takes place in without hitting you over the head with it. Evans is a thoughtful and very precise actor (I listened to a rare podcast that he was a guest on and he seemed so much like Morse, it was scary), and the character has an air of melancholy about him, alongside his relentless quest for justice. He carries a torch for Thursday’s daughter, Joan, played by the also wonderful Sarah Vickers, who moves gracefully in and out of the series. Anton Lesser as Chief Superintendent Reginald Bright, Sean Rigby as DS Jim Strange, and Caroline O’Neil as Mrs. Thursday are all equally good, too. I’m about to start season 7 (it’s available on both Amazon Prime and PBS, but the latter seems to be missing some episodes in a season or two, so I’d recommend you go with Prime). Season 8 premiered on PBS in June and a final season, number 9, is in the offing. I’ll be sad to see it go. It turned out to be a very welcome surprise, so I thank you, my friend, for gently persevering with your recommendation.
The Ipcress File
(1 season, 6 episodes)
I really liked this 1960s-flavored spy series which is streaming on AMC+. It stars Joe Cole (Gangs of London) as Harry Palmer, a low-level grifter and fence, who gets caught up in the spy game. If that “Harry Palmer” name sounds vaguely familiar, Michael Caine played the character in a series of 1960s movies (Including one titled The Ipcress File) produced by James Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman. Lucy Boynton plays Jean Courtney, a British secret agent who reports to Major Dalby (Tom Hollander), the head of a top-secret spy organization, The plot is reminiscent of The Manchurian Candidate, with Palmer undergoing mind manipulation to assassinate someone. I think this may be a one-and-done series, but I sure hope not. I really enjoyed the ‘60s vibe of it and its weird camera angles and oh-so-groovy clothes, especially on the winsome Ms. Boynton, who is not quite Mrs. Emma Peel, but maybe could be, one day.
(1 season, 6 episodes, renewed for season 2)
This evocative series based on the novels of Tony Hillerman explores the relationship between two Navajo police officers on a reservation in the 1970s. Starring Zahn McClarnon, who was so great in both Fargo (season 2) and in a similar role as a reservation cop in Longmire, as Joe Leaphorn, who is desperately trying to keep the peace on the reservation. He gets a new deputy, Jim Chee, played by Kiowa Gordon, who joins his small staff, which also includes Bernadette Manuelito (Jessica Matter). The three of them become embroiled in a case that involves a bank robbery that used a helicopter as the getaway vehicle, multiple murders, a missing Mormon family, a young pregnant girl, and a pair of Native American radicals. Throw in the FBI for good measure. Oh, and there’s a witch, too. It all comes together surprisingly well in a series that makes the most of southwest as an amazing background. The bulk of the show was filmed on tribal lands in New Mexico, with special permission. One small quibble with this show: It has the fakest green-screen driving scenes ever. Maybe executive producers Robert Redford and George R. R. Martin can kick in a little extra dough to fix that. Dark Winds has been renewed for a second season and streams on AMC+.
(1—and done—season, 10 episodes)
I loved this Paramount+ series on the making of The Godfather movie, even if some of it is fictional. It’s told from the standpoint of producer Al Ruddy (whose other productions include Hogan’s Heroes and Cannonball Run on either side of The Godfather). This year marks the 50th anniversary of The Godfather and this series explores all of the behind-the-scenes drama in making it, from Paramount Studio’s reluctance and interference with the making of the movie, to the mob trying to first quash, then embrace, the New York City-based production. Miles Teller is excellent as Al Ruddy, as are Juno Temple as his assistant, Bettye McCartt, Dan Fogler as director Francis Ford Coppola, and Giovanni Ribisi as mobster Joe Colombo, but the real stars as far as I’m concerned are Matthew Goode as Paramount head of production Robert Evans and Burn Gorman as Gulf+Western CEO Charlie Bludhorn. Both Goode and Gorman nail their real-life counterparts in over-the-top performances and both deserved Emmy Award nominations. The actors who play Marlon Brando (Justin Chambers) and Al Pacino (Anthony Ippolito) are also great.
And while Ruddy in this series seems to be Coppola’s staunchest supporter (lobbying for Brando as Don Corleone and Pacino as son Michael, among other go-to-the-mat actions), it’s my understanding that Coppola didn’t speak to him on set, so that’s where the fictional aspect comes in, along with Ruddy insisting in the series that he can’t do The Godfather Part II because he wants to do The Longest Yard with Burt Reynolds. Supposedly Coppola’s contract for Part II dictated that Ruddy not be a part of the production. Still, the series is highly enjoyable and it actually made me like Miles Teller for once, something that I thought would never happen.
The Old Man
(1 season, 7 episodes, renewed for season 2)
This FX series is extremely frustrating to me. I loved Thomas Perry’s book of the same name from a few years back, but the show has substantially changed parts of it. The series tells the story of Dan Chase (Jeff Bridges), a former CIA agent who served in Afghanistan during the Russian-Afghanistan war in the 1970s and worked with a warlord there. Decades later his work comes back to haunt him and he finds himself on the run from assassins.
The series started with a bravura first episode that totally engrossed me and drew me in, but it quickly descended into a much too talkative mess; the fifth episode in particular is just talk-talk-talk. While it has fine performances by Bridges (who suffered from cancer and Covid during the shooting), John Lithgow as his old CIA handler, Amy Brennerman as a woman who gets caught up in Chase’s slipstream as he flees and tries to get to the bottom of who is hunting him, and Alia Shawcat as a young CIA agent with a couple of secrets, the whole thing just gets muddier and muddier. The final episode of the season (#7) just seemed to give up and ended in such an extreme cliffhanger that it seems like they just couldn’t finish the series, maybe due to Bridges’s illness (he’s totally recovered now). It was an incredibly awkward ending and I know it’s been renewed for a second season, but it just seemed wrong. Seeing Bridges (who is 72) kick ass in the opening episode was a revelation and one that really made me want to love this show … but unfortunately by the time it wrapped up its first season, it became more of a tedious chore to watch. I hope season 2 solves that problem.
Mayor of Kingstown
(1 season, 10 episodes, renewed for season 2)
I have really mixed feelings about Mayor of Kingstown, the Paramount+ series that stars Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) as a fixer/go-between/“prisoner advocate,” who is acting as the “mayor” of Kingstown, a small city which has prisons (four of them within 20 miles) as its main source of income—40,000 residents serving 20,000 prisoners. Both the acting and the story are incredibly compelling, but this series is the most oppressively dark and dirty TV show I’ve ever seen (and I watched all four seasons of Banshee and three seasons to-date of The Boys). Honestly, everyone in this show is absolutely corrupt … the cops, the prison guards, the inmates … EVERYONE. While Renner’s Mike McClusky seems to have some kind of (fractured) moral compass that—at times—borders on vigilantism and seems to—at times—do things for the greater good, everything and everyone is so dark and so dirty, it makes the residents of the similar-sounding Mare of Easttown seem like the happy-go-lucky singing munchkins of The Wizard of Oz. I have seen things on this series that I can never unsee (one scene in particular is a very heavy-handed metaphor for what prison does to men and I could not believe they were showing it), but like a train wreck, I couldn’t stop watching the show and continued to its end (I’m glad I did … the final two episodes of the season are the best).
One thing I don’t get: Dianne Wiest as the McClusky matriarch, who adds nothing to the story and is a giant momentum killer every time she appears. She plays mom to Mitch (Kyle Chandler), Mike (Jeremy Renner), and their cop brother Kyle (Taylor Handley). When she’s not teaching history to the inmates of the women’s prison, she’s judging and pissing off her sons. I almost want to hit fast-forward every time she appears. I’ve never seen a more negative character on a TV series and I question what she’s supposed to be adding to the storyline. Mayor of Kingstown has been renewed for a second season.