A retired detective pressed back into action in Amsterdam. A 14-year-old boy accused of killing his classmate in the suburbs of Boston. A 60-year-old woman in London who finds herself the object of desire of a man half her age. And a Scottish medical doctor at the center of a gruesome village tragedy. These are some of the characters from TV and streaming services that I have been spending quality time with the last couple of housebound weeks.
These shows have brought me a much-needed sense of escape without feeling guilty for spending as much as nine hours with some of them. While all of these limited series are more about entertainment than the kind of social commentary television I love best, these are definitely dramas for grown-ups. Here is a list — that I came up with after a growing number of requests from readers for shows to watch during these stay-at-home days and nights — of some of the best I’ve seen.
He’s the wounded hero and the retired lawman reluctantly answering the bell as he’s called back into action one more time. He’s grandpa with a noticeable limp and a recent operation for a brain tumor under his belt who tells everyone he meets, “I’m not the man I used to be.” He’s Baptiste. And played with pitch-perfect understatement and confidence by Tcheky Karyo, there’s still more than enough of him to make for a fine crime drama.
If you saw the “The Missing,” I probably do not need to say more about the character or the actor. One of the reasons that limited Starz series became such a hit was the performance of Karyo as Baptiste. And the veteran performer can more than carry his own series here with a little help from Tom Hollander, one of my all-time favorite British actors.
If you have not seen Hollander’s performance in Armando Iannucci’s political satire “In the Loop,” do it now while you have the time. And then hunt down “Rev.” — a British sitcom co-created by Hollander that features him as the beleaguered minister of a struggling inner city London church. These were peerless comedies.
In “Baptiste,” Hollander goes dramatic, deep and dark as a businessman wandering the streets of Amsterdam desperately trying to find his niece, a sex worker who has gone missing. The police commissioner, an old friend of Baptiste’s, leans on the retired detective to help find the young woman. Bapiste, who seems to be enjoying his retirement even if he is a bit of the bull in a china shop at home with his wife, daughter and grandchild, is reluctant to go back down the rabbit hole of drugs, sex trafficking and international gangs in the underworld of Amsterdam. But once he commits, he’s all in even as he keeps repeating that he’s “not the man” he used to be.
Baptiste insists he’s “slower,” and indeed he is physically in a street chase. But mentally, he is still sharp, and that is one of the joys of this series: watching Baptiste systematically sort through the lies and misdirection thrown his way and then peel back the layers of deception in the characters around him.
Almost no one is who they seem to be in this series. Keep that in mind as you follow Baptiste down the alleyways of Amsterdam.
“Baptiste” premieres Sunday (April 12) on PBS.
‘DEADWATER FELL’ (Acorn)
An idyllic looking Scottish village is the setting for a murder mystery involving the deaths of a mother and her three young children in a house fire. The only surviving family member is the father, the village doctor played by David Tennant.
After “Broadchurch,” just saying Tennant is starring in a dark British crime drama is enough to guarantee an audience. But as strong as Tennant’s performance is, there is more that makes me recommend this four-part series.
Writer Daisy Coulam is surgical in stripping away the facade television so loves to depict and sell of family being more important than anything else in the world. Not so much here.
Once you get beneath the surface of the family life in this remote village, there is adultery, betrayal, depression, violence and murder. It’s not a pretty picture, despite the fabulous scenery. Only American TV believes in the myth of the ideal family. British television seems far more interested in exposing it as a lie. I’m with the Brits on this one, which is part of the reason I like “Deadwater Fell” so much.
The series launched on Acorn April 6. That first episode is available on-demand for viewing and a new episode arrives each Monday.
‘DEFENDING JACOB’ (Apple TV+)
Michelle Dockery, Lady Mary Crawley of “Downton Abbey,” plays an upper-middle-class suburban Boston mom who gets up early to run and works at a nonprofit children’s center in this limited series. She is married to an assistant district attorney (Chris Evans), and the couple has one child, a 14-year-old son (Jaeden Martell) in middle school.
A perfect-looking American family until the son, Jacob, is charged with stabbing a classmate and leaving him in a park to die. Not only is the son instantly judged guilty by the community and ostracized, so are the parents for supposedly raising such a monster. You don’t have to be a Ph.D. in American Studies to know how New England communities tend to react to what they see as evil in their midst.
The father, who had been investigating the murder for the DA’s office, commits serious ethical sins, like disposing of his son’s knife, the potential murder weapon. So, it’s easy to see why the DA thinks dad needs to step away from his job. Mom gets eased out of her job, too, amid fears her son’s infamy could hurt fundraising.
I am not a fan of Dockery or Evans. Both go through most of the movie with their faces frozen into one expression: that of someone with a really bad headache. But the script based on a novel by William Landay is a strong one, with plenty of twists and turns. And despite the limited performances of Dockery and Evans, Cherry Jones, as the boy’s attorney, and J.K. Simmons, as his grandfather, offer outstanding supporting performances.
I don’t want to give anything away, but if you enjoyed Simmons chilling performance as Vern Schillinger, leader of the Aryan Brotherhood on the landmark HBO prison drama “Oz,” you are going to love his performance here as well. This is an actor’s actor. Watch him in scenes with Evans, and you tell me who the real actor is. Ditto for Jones in scenes with Dockery and Evans.
“Defending Jacob” premiers April 24.
‘GOLD DIGGER’ (Acorn)
Speaking of great acting, Julia Ormond is the one to watch in “Gold Digger.” She is in every frame that matters in this six-part series, and her performance never flags. She makes you believe in the 60-year-old woman, Julia Day, at the heart of this story. And before it’s over, she might even have you rooting for her.
Julia’s husband, (Alex Jennings) has left her to move in with her best friend. The friend is the larger loss given some of the uglier issues of her ex. But the former husband won’t stay out of her life.
And then there are her grown children. The oldest is a money-hungry lawyer who is cheating on his wife and is overly concerned about a potential inheritance from mom. Her middle child is a struggling comedian with her own commitment issues with the woman in her life. And the youngest son, forget it. He’s a smart-mouthed dropout who is too lazy and self-indulgent to hold a job and leave the nest.
Yeah, another ideal British family, I know. I told you the Brits don’t sugarcoat family life the way we do.
This show also challenges the way we look at age and gender. On Julia’s lonely 60th birthday comes this handsome young guy (Ben Barnes) in his 30s who wants nothing more in life than to make love and be with Julia. In our culture, it’s fine for 73-year-old Donald to be married to 49-year-old Melanie. But when you flip the script as this series so deftly does, it’s a different story.
“Gold Digger” will make you care — and think.
The series debuts May 4.
ABOUT THE WRITER
David Zurawik is the Baltimore Sun’s media critic. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @davidzurawik.
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