I’ve enjoyed science fiction ever since I was a kid, but it’s mainly written science fiction that I like. When it comes to movies and television shows, well, for every 2001: A Space Odyssey, there’s a plethora of truly brain dead films like Back To the Future or, perhaps one of the stupidest movies ever made, Alien (I keep intending to write a blog post about that piece of crap every time I see it praised as a classic).
So when it comes to science fiction shows, I’m not an easy sell. Which is why I was absolutely delighted with the two season TV series Counterpart. In truth I was almost ready to drop it during the first few episodes as it was extremely confusing with lots of characters and I found it difficult to follow. I wasn’t sure whether this was another example of the writers tossing out a bunch of wild ideas and not connecting the dots.
But I needn’t have worried. By the fifth episode I was completely sold, and by the end of the sixth I was filled with admiration that the writers were not only connecting the dots but that they had waited so long to do so.
I’m not going to reveal any details of the plot, because that’s how I approached the show, and I think that’s the best way to view it. Suffice it to say that it’s a science fiction spy story set in, shall we say, an alternate reality—a reality that diverges from ours around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In fact it takes place in Berlin. But don’t worry—90% of the dialogue is in English.
J. K. Simmons and Olivia Williams headline an all round excellent cast, and the two seasons make up a perfectly satisfactory beginning, middle, and end—although there are enough threads going that it could easily have been extended for several more seasons.
Oh, and although it was created by a man, most of the writers and many of the directors were women, so it features some very strong, well-rounded women characters—actually all the major characters are quite complex, there are no clear heroes or villains.
All that said, the show isn’t perfect. It does have a higher body count than I’d prefer, and there is a lot of smoking by many of the characters (actually, smoking is a plot point, so it’s justified, but still…). Also, as well written as it is most of the time, there are a few plot holes here and there—nothing major, just enough to keep me from giving it a ten star rating. Still, the show is even more relevant now than it was when it first appeared a few years ago.
You can find both seasons streaming on Amazon Prime.
While I’m recommending shows, I may as well put in a good word for two others. Probably most folks who are apt to read this have heard me mention these before, but so what?
First up is Episodes, a delightful dramedy about a British married writing team (Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig) who, after receiving many awards for their hit show in Britain, are offered the chance to recreate the show in the states. On one level Episodes is a British dramedy about how coming to LA tears apart their relationship; on another level it’s a comeback vehicle for Matt LeBlanc; but perhaps most of all it’s an absolutely scathing no-holds-barred satire of the American television industry.
In any case it’s often hilariously funny. I’ve watched the entire series, which is currently streaming on Netflix, at least twice, and I’ll probably watch it several times more.
By the way, in the series Matt LeBlanc plays “a version of himself” (for which he won a Golden Globe and was nominated four times for Emmys), and it’s a decidedly unflattering version at that. According to Tamsin Greig, when she was on the Graham Norton Show, the “version” isn’t that far from the actual Matt.
And then there’s a little Canadian series called Slings and Arrows, which you can find on Acorn TV right now. It’s about a Shakespearean repertory company and each of its three seasons is built around a different play by the Bard—Hamlet, The Scottish Play, and King Lear. (And yes, they have a lot of fun with the superstitions surrounding that second one.)
Paul Gross, whom many people may recall from the original Tales of the City series, stars as an actor haunted (literally, as it happens) by his past. But once again, a great all round cast and laugh out loud scenes in every episode.
OK, now that I’ve recommended three shows for you to watch, what have you got for me? Leave your recommendations in the comments.