A crusty police detective who is close to retirement age relocates to a small North England town from London, where he still continues to work as a police inspector and gets a new partner instead of retiring. One of the reasons he cannot retire is that he is continually haunted by the brutal murder of his wife…back when he was living in London. Set in the 1960s, the George Gently character seems, at first, like all of the other grumpy, old British police detectives and this will be like all of the other British police series…ala Frost, Morse, etc. But, Gently has an edge that carries through all of the episodes and makes this one stand out among the crowd.

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There are just some things that make people laugh. And, no matter how many times I watch it, Fawlty Towers is my thing. I finally had to buy the set since I don’t think I’ve ever really seen an episode uninterrupted since I’m always in fits of giggles. Shot in the mid-to-late 1970s in England, this show is a true cult classic…still on public television late at night sometimes and still has a VERY loyal, avid fan base…both in Britain and around the world. The premise all stems from the B&B in Torquay, England run by a husband and wife team, Basil and Sybil Fawlty. There is the flighty receptionist, the temperamental chef, and a whole cast of guests who are not exactly getting the best service possible. Only 12 episodes were produced but each of them is funnier than the next. Yes, humor is relative so what I find funny, you might not. But, give this one a try. Chances are, you will, at the VERY least, find it entertaining.

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In the world of show business, there is a lot of material for comedy. And The Office (the British television show) creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant use every last one of the opportunities for humor until the well is dry and until the audience is laughing so hard they cannot get off the couch to put the next disc in. Again, Gervais acts in the series also, as he did in The Office and his comic timing is just brilliant. He plays a struggling actor who makes a living as an extra in movies and TV. Unlike most extras, his character sees all of his “extra” roles as small, bit parts which will lead to larger and better roles. Naturally, this is not always the case, which adds to much of the humor. A series of “real” famous actors as guest stars helps make this comedy series a real winner.

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It took me a little while to get into my first season of Cracker Mysteries but once I did, I couldn’t stop. Robbie Coltrane is simply perfect as the highly-flawed psychologist, Eddie “Fitz” Fitzgerald. I mean, he’s smart and good at “seeing” into people’s minds and souls to help solve cases, but this guy really has a messed up life. He drinks too much, he gambles uncontrollably and his marriage is usually on the rocks (because of the gambling and drinking). But, somehow, someone that is that messed up can really pull it together when it comes to solving crimes. And he not only is able to help the police find the right man or woman, but he also helps the criminals themselves by being able to help them work out their demons. After all, Fitz knows a lot about inner demons…he has more than his fair share himself.

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Before you assume that this review is about that silly American television show that came and went in 2003, think again. This is the British BBC show that gave us silly Americans the idea for our paltry version. My guess on the reason the American version didn’t fly (aside from the fact that it just was not good): prime time network television. Like HBO’s raunchy and sexual Sex and the City, Coupling revolves around what 30-somethings do or don’t do in the bedroom. American TV is not ready for something like this to be shown on a major network in prime time. Thankfully, Americans now have the chance to see the BBC comedy on DVD. Coupling is a smart, risqué, show that challenges any viewer to think about her or his own relationship(s). There are six major players, all of whom deal with their own battles of lack of sex, volume of sex, fears of commitment, worries about never finding their soul mate…etc. The men have one view and, of course, the women another. Together, they clash sometimes and get it right others. Unlike Sex and the City, this show is more about talking about sex, rather than showing it. But, the conversations alone, given how sharp and witty the dialogue is, provide for enough humor to go around…with some left over to spare.

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For a British police show with a female main character, comparisons will always be made to Prime Suspect, the Helen Mirren series that has won over audiences all over the world, in addition to accolade after accolade for Ms. Mirren. In Blue Murder, DCI (Detective Chief Inspector) Janine Lewis is tough (like Mirren), has problems with her supervisors because she’s a woman (like Mirren), and also has issues controlling and getting respect from her staff because she’s a woman (like Mirren). What makes Lewis stand out above the other detective shows, including Mirren, is that this female detective is a single mother, which gives her even more complications and more of an edge than Mirren’s character. A great series that is for anyone who likes cop shows…with either male or female leads.

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Edina and Patsy, the two main characters of Ab Fab are two of the funniest, rudest, crudest, most vulgar ladies ever to hit the TV screen. And, I love every second of it. Somehow, they both convey a sweet, sensitive side…mostly because of their tight, though highly dysfunctional, friendship. They are former Hippies who never really “out grew” the 1960s…they still think they are flower children, yet somehow they woke up in 40-50-year-old bodies (in Patsy’s case, we don’t know how old she REALLY is). Ab Fab is a British institution. It has been trying to become an American one as well, almost since it started in 1992, but it has never gotten off the ground. And if you don’t mind my two cents on why… The British, though considered stuffy and aloof (wrongly, most times), have a sense of humor (or humour) that is unexcelled in its weirdness, raunchiness and general chaotic cleverness. When The Office show appeared here, I was nervous, because the British counterpart that was such a success was nasty…really, really nasty. It made me feel uncomfortable with its unabashed humor. But, the American version has changed into a lighter comic romp…more of a skit show than a dark, devilish one. Changing Ab Fab under those same guidelines would ruin it. No question about it. You soften the characters, take the edge away, not to mention the chain smoking, drinking and harsh dialogue, and what do you have left…Roseanne? Or some similar lame sitcom that has nothing to do with the British show? Americans are not ready for Edina and Patsy. We would want to tone it down…people would not allow the smoking…and the sex talk, well “let’s put it on cable.” Even on cable, shows with certain edges have hard times finding their audience. Basically, what you and I will have to keep doing is watch the DVDs or find it on BBC America. Trust me, it’s worth all of that work.

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One of the best endings in film…not the best movie, per se…or even the best thriller. But, the ending makes the movie payoff. You really do not see it coming…at least I didn’t. Doris Day shines as the tortured wife of an overly hardworking businessman. She begins hearing voices and then starts getting crank calls. Is she making this up to get more attention from her husband? Is she really in danger? And if so, by whom? Being a huge Hitchcock fan, I?m always skeptical of thrillers that try to copy the image and style of the Master of Suspense. Thankfully, I feel this one is not something Alfred Hitchcock would have disappointed with.

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Rupert Everett adds his name to the lengthy list of men who have played the Arthur Conan Doyle classic detective. Here, Sherlock Holmes starts off this case on a sour note with a look into his habitual and problematic drug use. Watson, his pal and partner-in-crime (played here by British actor Ian Hart), tries his best to pull Holmes out of the addiction but when it comes right down to it, what gets Holmes clean is the work. The work of crime and investigating and putting all the investigating together to solve the case. The case, in this instance, is the murder of a series of young women, all from affluent families, who are found with different clothes on and a silk stocking lodged in their throats. Holmes and Watson begin on the trail of plodding and prodding until they find their man or woman. The relationship of the two men is key here, as it always was in the Doyle books and the subsequent many, many movies based on the character of Holmes. Without convincing chemistry between Holmes and Watson, the story is almost guaranteed not to work. Thankfully, here it does work.

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An unassuming little British film turns into a power-house of emotion and impact with one of the most powerful performances on film in years. Mostly know for her stage work in her native England, Imelda Staunton delivers a tour-de-force turn as a 1950 London abortionist. Vera Drake’s transition, from a contented lower-middle-class housewife/mother/domestic to a wanted felon is seamless. In the beginning, we see someone who does not have a lot but is always happy…always upbeat about all of the trials of her life…a good-hearted, good-natured person who does way more for others (including strangers) than she would ever think of doing for herself. Then, the little secret she’s kept from everyone in her life comes out with a vengeance and her whole demeanor/persona changes. She’s no longer Vera, whistling while she cleans up after others…she’s Vera, lawbreaker with years of hidden secrets. A less skilled actress might have taken this role and relied more on clichéd shifts in emotions. Staunton brilliantly transforms Vera from a strong-willed woman to a helpless victim of an unjust system. Yet, the sparkle in Vera’s eyes never dies, no matter how hard the fight. It’s a depressing story but the performance of Staunton gives the audience something to hope for…

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