Hank’s Recommendations 12/2/14

hank_paperOUR TV WATCH

Ever since that game-changer, THE SOPRANOS, TV has found itself in a second Golden Age of television: cable shows and HBO movies that don’t have to pander to commercial sponsors, that don’t have to broadcast inoffensive series and films targeted to a dumbed-down, common denominator demographic — shows that offer sophisticated adult fare, that have given freedom to the writer rather than the director in becoming the creative moving force.

It’s hard, of course, to follow on that masterpiece BREAKING BAD, but we’ve come close, at home, with HOMELAND, BOARDWALK EMPIRE, HOUSE OF CARDS and, as a Bronx-born Jersey boy raised in the 50s, my favorite series, MAD MEN.

We’ve recently come late to IN TREATMENT, a finely focused, character-oriented series about a psychotherapist and his patients. We’ve relished each shot (and he’s in most of them) of Gabriel Byrne’s sympathetic, emotively responsive face engaging his therapy patients, engagements that allow us to get involved in their slowly revealed life histories and, hopefully, progress. (Each disc makes up a week of therapy sessions with the five regular patients; four or five discs comprise a season.)

This HBO series was adapted from the original Israeli TV series that starred Assi Dayan (yes, Moshe’s son) as the psychotherapist. What is particularly clever in this series is the way it eventually opens up what would otherwise be a staid structure by, in part, coming to focus on the doctor himself — his restive home-life and questioning of his own abilities. While it took us (as is often the case with ultimately rewarding series) two or three episodes to get into, we found it richly and thoroughly absorbing throughout its four seasons.

Finally, on the cutting edge of TV viewing, we have been totally taken with the HBO series, FARGO, more exploration than exploitation of the multi-Oscar winning movie. While not directed by the Coen Brothers, they are executive producers of the show. It has their whimsical fingerprints all over it. With a superbly gifted cast, humorously surreal plot and engagingly bleak Minnesota atmosphere (it was actually filmed in Alberta), this offbeat character-oriented mystery thriller offers adult fare and one surprise after another that exemplifies how all these TV series invite addictive binge-viewing. Fair warning: these series are hazardous to your free time.