I know the anticipation has been building for what is the final instalment of my article on Under-Appreciated TV Shows 😉
As I mentioned last time, I’ll be focusing my attention back to the UK, and though I hinted at what I was going to write about here in Part 2, I’ve decided on a change.
Originally, I was going to put in Baddiel & Skinner: Unplanned in my list, but it’s not really something you can watch since I doubt it’ll ever get a release on DVD due to its topical nature, and I’m not sure whether or not it’s repeated or even available to download anymore.
So that’s out.
Instead, the focus of this article will be (mainly) on four shows that were appreciated when they were on TV in the 1970s but have since been largely passed over and ignored by my generation. Before I get to that though, I will nominate a show that was ‘criminally’ underrated at the time…
11. Crime Traveller (BBC1 1997)
You might have vague memories of this show, but unless you’ve got the DVD, the chances are that it’s something that you’ve largely forgotten about or haven’t even heard of.
Made in 1997 – a time where ‘Science Fiction’ was a dirty combination of words within the walls of Television Centre – Crime Traveller only lasted one series before being passed over in favour of the admittedly wonderful Jonathan Creek,
But that doesn’t take away from what a good show it was.
Starring Michael French (David Wicks off Eastenders) and Chloe Annett (Kochanski from Red Dwarf) it’s about a Detective who has access to a time machine that lets him go back in time by 24 hours, so he can try to witness crimes as they take place.
Now admittedly it sounds a bit far-fetched, but it was actually a stellar programme.
Particularly good was the one episode that wasn’t actually about solving a crime at all. Instead it focuses on French’s character Jeff Slade, and his attempts to go back in time 24 hours and buy a lottery ticket knowing the winning numbers.
For anyone who has ever considered The Grandfather Paradox this is probably one of the best examples of that I’ve ever seen on TV.
Anyway, the show is available to buy on DVD and can be watched on Youtube
12. Survivors (BBC 1975-77)
Moving on to the shows that have largely been forgotten by people in my generation, and I’ll continue in the science fiction vein.
To many people, Science Fiction is all about drama happening in space. In a lot of cases it is, but not always and not here.
Survivors is a show many of you will know of from the rather crap reboot recently done by the BBC. Believe me when I say the original was far better – both in terms of scripting and acting.
Set in 1970s Britain, Survivors is about a time when a killer flu has wiped out most of the British population, and focuses on the problems that that causes those who survive.
There are three series, and it could be argued that each one is an individual ‘act’ of a larger whole.
Series 1 is about the struggle to bring the survivors together to form a community.
Series 2 focuses on the problems associated with maintaining and rebuilding a community without the modern comforts that people had come to expect
Series 3 takes a different approach as the cast split up and go their separate ways in a bid to find sources of fuel and power
The show has a strong – and constantly varying – cast of well-known actors from the era. People like Ian McCulloch, Dennis Lil, John Abineri etc. It also has the usually comedic actor Talfryn Thomas putting in a fantastic performance as a ‘Shifty Welshman’.
Each series has its lulls as it can at times become almost an agricultural show, but it also has some fantastic episodes. In Series 2 there’s a great episode where some of the characters have to try to get back to London, where – as you can imagine – the death and decay has taken its toll, while Series 3 has one focussing on how all the dogs have gone feral.
But it’s an episode in the first series that stands out. In it, one of the characters rapes and then accidentally kills another one, but pins the blame on a member of the community with severe learning difficulties. Because there are no police, the community has to take law & order into their own hands. They take a vote on what to do, and after many a tense scene, it’s left to the leader of the community to take the unassuming and completely innocent simpleton out and shoot him dead.
Does the culprit admit the truth in time? I won’t say, but the fact is that political correctness means that you simply couldn’t do something like that in 2012, and that’s what makes the drama so good.
13. Blake’s Seven (BBC1 1978-81)
Once Survivors had run its course, its writer, Terry Nation (he of Dalek fame) moved on to another science fiction drama. This one though was set in space.
Blake’s Seven is set roughly 700 years into the future, at a time where a totalitarian government rules its population using mass surveillance, brain-washing and drug pacification. It centres around Roj Blake, a political dissident who – in a bid to discredit him and imprison him on a penal planet – is framed by the government on charges of child molestation (again…you just couldn’t do that these days).
On his way to the prison planet though, the transport ship ends up stumbling across a massive and luxurious space craft that has presumably been abandoned after some space battle. When the crooked crew of the transport ship try to salvage it for their own ill-gotten gains it appears as though something on the ship is killing people as they go aboard. So they send Blake and some of the other prisoners over as guinea pigs. Long story short, they escape, and Blake – along with his crew of criminals – set about bringing down the Galactic Federation.
Over the course of the four series the show develops and there are some inevitable cast changes, but it’s a very strong series on the whole. It also has one of my favourite TV characters of all time in Paul Darrow’s wonderful Avon.
It’s also got a great theme tune…
14. Dad’s Army (BBC1, 1968-77)
I know you’ve heard of Dad’s Army, and I also know you’re probably thinking ‘Why is this on the list?’.
So let me explain…
Dad’s Army is a show that is ingrained in British culture, but when it’s repeated on TV, how often do you actually give it a chance and watch it? Personally, I was always aware of it, I’m sure I’d watched some repeats as a child, but that was about it.
But on Christmas Day last year there was an episode on TV around the time we sat down to eat Christmas Dinner, so I watched it and I laughed. A lot. I found that I personally had under-appreciated this TV show.
So I went onto Amazon that night and bought the Complete Boxed Set on DVD for a mere £25, and I’ve loved every bit of it.
Though it is always of a high standard, the key to Dad’s Army is not in the writing. You look back at all the comedies I suggested in Part 2 of this article and it was all about the slickness of the scripts. In Dad’s Army it is about the quality of the acting. I think people look at guys like Arthur Lowe, Clive Dunn and John Le Mesurier and dismiss them as rather limited actors of a by-gone era, but they aren’t. Arthur Lowe in particular is sensational as Captain Mainwairing. He’s able to command a scene with only an expression. He also manages to act ‘drunk’ better than anyone I’ve ever seen.
I think with the exception of the Verger and the Vicar, the entire cast is brimming with top quality, experienced actors who were mostly coming to the end of their careers/lives. But they don’t make them like that anymore.
As I say, you all know about this show, but how many of you have really given it a chance?
I think you should. I did, and it’s the best £25 I spent all last year.
15. I, Claudius (BBC1 1976)
And so we come to the last in the list, but by no means the least.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
In terms of the acting on show and the quality of the scripts throughout the entire series, it really does not get any better than I, Claudius.
You’ve probably heard of I, Claudius but discount it as an old-fashioned 1970s BBC show that wouldn’t hold up today.
There’s no question that from an artistic point of view, this show looks old. These days, a show like I, Claudius would be filmed on location in the Mediterranean with a host of extras and probably copious amounts of blood and nudity (like Game of Thrones for example). In 1976 this was filmed using sets in the BBC studios and that was it.
But I don’t really think that matters one bit.
This show is all about the acting and the delivery of Jack Pulman’s fantastic scripting of Robert Graves’s books.
It’s like all the top actors of the time got together and decided to put in their very best performances for the sake of posterity.
The cast is a whose who of the time, starring well-known actors like Derek Jacobi, John Hurt, Brian Blessed (don’t be fooled by the Brian Blessed of today; this man could act), Sian Phillips, George Baker, the always great Kevin Stoney, Patrick Stewart, Stratford Johns, Bernard Hepton, Jimmy Bree, Kevin McNally, John Rhys Davies, Ian Ogilvy…the list goes on and on.
It’s about the life of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (Claudius for short) and his rise from a stuttering and stammering joke in the court of Augustus Caesar to his role as Emperor of Rome.
But this isn’t a tail like House of Cards; this isn’t about the secret machinations of a power-hungry sneak. No, Claudius ends up as Caesar because he survives. As Rome is ruled by a succession of unscrupulous politicians and/or maniacal deviants, Claudius with his unassuming nature and pitiful stammer and limp ends up surviving all of those around him. He’s the only one left to rule.
But that’s not a spoiler, because the show is told from the perspective of a near death Claudius writing the memoirs of his life.
There isn’t even a ‘good’ performance in this show. Nothing dips below the standard of excellent. Particular praise must go to Derek Jacobi for his brilliance in the main role, John Hurt for his turn as the utterly mad Caligula, Sian Phillips as the simply evil Livia and George Baker for his understated but crucial role as Tiberius.
There’s a fine scene in the fourth episode where Brian Blessed’s Augustus Caesar dies and it is awesome in the truest sense of the word. The camera focuses on a close-up of his face while his wife Livilla talks to him off camera. As you pay attention to what Livia is saying you don’t even realise that Augustus actually dies while the camera focuses on him. He starts off alive and ends up dead and the acting and direction is so good…so subtle…it just hits you. As I say…awesome.
And the scene that finishes that particular episode…well, it’ll give you goosebumps.
Yes, I love Doctor Who. It’s the show I’ve watched ever since early childhood, but if you were to ask me for a recommendation on a show to watch right now, I’d say I, Claudius.
I just don’t think drama gets any better.
So at last it is finished.
15 Under-Appreciated TV shows I think you should watch
House of Cards
Parks & Recreation
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Let me know?
What about any TV shows that you think are Under-Appreciated? I’d love to hear them.