November 13, 2018

The Americans on Amazon Prime Video

Many moons ago, I wrote about the FX series The Americans after watching Season One. As I stated back then, the first few episodes did not grab me, but once the story took hold, I avidly watched all of the series episodes

Season Six, which just ended, is the final chapter in the saga of the Jennings family. Joe Weisberg, the creator of this based-on-fact series, depicts a fictional imbedded Russian couple living in the Virginia D. C. suburbs in the 1980s of the Reagan administration. The stakes become fever pitch when an FBI agent moves into the home across the street.

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys masterfully play Elizabeth and Philip Jennings. The all-American appearing husband and wife are actually Russian-born and have a penchant for disguises, different personas and violence. Every episode lets them demonstrate tour de force acting. Russell and Rhys have actually become a real life couple and are perfectly matched in theatrical skill and chemistry.

Equally marvelous are the couple’s daughter, Paige, played by Holly Taylor, Margo Martindale as their Soviet handler and Noah Emmerich as neighbor, FBI agent and friend, Stan Beeman.

As a whole the series is on par with The Wire, The West Wing and Breaking Bad. All six seasons of The Americans are available with an Amazon Prime membership. The theme of the show has great resonance today. Maria Butina, a current-day suspected Russian spy has been living in my old home town of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Talk about truth emulating fiction! Or is it the other way around?

Le Chalet, French tv suspense series on Netflix

The French are noted for their romantic comedy movies, but a six-episode series on Netflix called Le Chalet highlights the Gallic penchant for murder mysteries.

An accident occurs which destroys the bridge to civilization, setting up a Ten Little Indians scenario as bodies begin to pile up. The screen play does not rival vintage Hitchcock, but plot lines concerning greed, rape, revenge, hidden identities and murder keep the viewer engaged.

The acting is generally excellent, but I was delighted to see three actors from the French Village series in this production as well. Nicolas Gob who was collaborating cop Jean Marchetti on FV is the bully/villain of The Chalet, while Thierry Godard and Nade Dieu play smaller but key roles in this 2017 tv program.

The cinematography is eye-popping, having been filmed in a picturesque village in the French Alps.

My only quibble is the alternation of scenes from present day and those of twenty years ago. Most of the time, it’s clear what time period we are seeing but every so often, one has to puzzle out the past from the present.

Kudos go to Netflix for carrying foreign tv material, especially shows with suspense and high production values like Le Chalet. As the tagline says in French, “When Stephen King meets Agatha Christie” which is quite apt.

A French Village/Un Village Francais Season 7 on MHZ

I wrote a blog post on Un Village Francais/A French Village a while back, but an update was definitely needed since MHZ recently made the seventh and final season available on its streaming service.

The wrap-up season has been somewhat of a let-down after six previous engrossing seasons, but most fans of the show will want to see the characters through to their respective ends.

The creators of the program use flash-forwards to future decades including the 21st century. Make-up artists were tasked with aging people in some cases into their 90s with mostly believable results.

Just a word of warning, if you expect the aftermath of the French Occupation to be a “feel good” affair, you will be greatly disappointed. Many of the characters are forever damaged by their experiences. The final episodes have intricate and confusing plot points that may need some further clarification.

If you complete all seven seasons, here is the MHZ page with 41 comments about the final season and possible interpretations:

https://mhzchoice.vhx.tv/a-french-village/season:7/videos/afrvil-c-07006?anon=17dcf608-2acd-428d-9a3e-1784dbc70976

Wataha on MHZ

Readers know that I periodically mention European dramas streaming on the MHZ web site, but instead of proffering a series title in French, German, Italian or a Scandinavian language, I can now add a television show from Poland. Wataha is a 2014 Polish action crime drama about a border patrol that polices the Polish-Ukrainian border.

The series starts off with an explosion that kills a whole group of border patrol officers with one man escaping, Captain Wiktor Rebrow. A young female prosecutor comes in to investigate the case and her prime suspect for the murders is Rebrow himself.

We see the Border Guard unit deal with the illegal smuggling of drugs, weapons and humans while the ambitious woman from the district prosecutor’s office keeps them under close scrutiny. Political intrigue and murder all figure into the intricate plot.

HBO Europe broadcast the six episodes of Wataha‘s Season 1 as The Border Season 2 with another six episodes was shown in Europe in 2017. It is my hope that MHZ secures the streaming rights to Season Two postehaste. Dziekuje Ci. That’s “thank you” in Polish!

The Team, Danish crime drama on MHZ

The Team is a Danish crime drama television series which premiered in 2015 and is currently streaming on MHZ network. Lars Mikkelsen (seen in Borgen) is the Danish point detective Harald Bjorn working with Belgian homicide detective Alicia Verbeek (Veerie Baetens) and police superintendent Jackie Muller (Jasmin Gerat) from Berlin on a cross-border crime case.

Murders occurring in various European locales are suspiciously similar. The crime team connects the dots to determine the guilty party or parties.

We get glimpses of the European sex trade, human trafficking, political in-fighting within the police and pretty gruesome scenes containing waterboarding torture, the slaughter of chickens and the mutilation of corpses. If that does not put you off, you will be drawn into this story of international crime and intrigue.

For those that like a little emotional drama, there is also a sub-plot with two of the main detectives having had an adulterous affair that resulted in a child.

MHZ continues to offer some of the best European crime dramas. Danish, English, Dutch, French, German and Swedish are the languages heard in this production with English subtitles. Besides the scenes with subtitles, the principal actors all speak very clear English, with Mikkelsen having a scarily good British accent.

The eight 57-minute episodes of The Team are typical Scandi-noir with great cinematography, crisp dialogue, graphic crime depiction and an intricate plot. Is this perhaps your mug of glogg?

Scott & Bailey on Hulu

I had a ho-hum reaction when someone recommended the police procedural Scott & Bailey with it’s Cagney & Lacey parallels. Two women are detectives working together on major crimes, murder in particular. I watched a couple of episodes on Hulu and pretty quickly changed my mind about the appeal of the series. This show may have a boiler plate premise, but the acting, scripts and production values are first rate. The Manchester, England setting and the curious accents add to the entertainment.

Members of the Manchester Incident Team, Detective Janet Scott played by blonde actress Lesley Sharp and Rachel Bailey portrayed by dark-haired Suranne Jones are the major focus of the show, but boss Gill Murray (Amelia Bullmore) seems like the Third Female Musketeer on the program. Bullmore is also listed as the scriptwriter for seven episodes.

There are men, to be sure, co-worker police staff, ex-husbands, lovers, witnesses and criminals, but the plot concentrates on the women of the show. Each episode has a stand-alone crime, but there is an over-arching storyline that involves love lives, friendships, ambition and problematic family members.

As a side note, Lesley Sharp’s real life husband, actor Nicholas Gleaves has an engrossing dramatic story line as her detective colleague and sometime adulterous lover, Andy Roper.

Season One has six episodes, followed by Seasons 2, 3 and 4 with eight episodes each, ending with a brief 3-episode Season 5. Bullmore is not in Season 5 which robbed the series of a little magic.

Nevertheless, if you like female-centric police procedurals, especially set in foreign countries, the 33 episodes of Scott & Bailey on Hulu might be a good candidate for your watch list.