The holiday season is traditionally a TV dead zone, so over the past week or so I’ve been catching up with a couple of older series on DVD: the BBC’s “Wallander” mysteries and the defunct Fox sitcom “Kitchen Confidential.”
The first two seasons of “Wallander,” a series of 90-minute TV movies, aired earlier this year on PBS’s “Masterpiece Mystery,” and I’m loving them now. It’s the British adaptation of a hugely popular Swedish TV series, which in turn was based on a hugely popular series of Swedish detective novels. Kenneth Branagh stars as the title character, Kurt Wallander, a moody, depressed police detective who finds himself plunged into one dark, twisted mystery after another. Branagh is excellent — no surprise there — as is the rest of the cast, the writing is smart and the cases are intense (ax murders, self-immolation, serial killing, that sort of fun stuff). The series also looks fantastic in HD, with a visual style that mixes hyper-real, pseudo-documentary camera shots with beautifully dreamy landscapes of the Swedish countryside and coast that feel exotic yet somehow familiar. Fans of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” series of books and movies would feel right at home watching this, they have a very similar tone.
“Kitchen Confidential,” based on the book by (and life of) chef Anthony Bourdain, aired for a handful of episodes on Fox in 2005 before getting canceled. I think it was a case of being too early to the party; in the past five years, TV has made chefs the cool profession of the moment. If it aired now, it might have found a more receptive and savvy audience. Thirteen episodes were made (only four ever aired), so you can breeze through the sole season pretty quickly. Bradley Cooper (post-“Alias,” pre-“The Hangover”) stars as Jack Bourdain, a talented chef trying to revive his career by weaning himself off self-destructive addictions (sex, booze, drugs). There are plenty of familiar faces in the supporting cast: Nicholas Brendon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), John Francis Daley (“Freaks and Geeks”), Owain Yeoman (“The Mentalist”) and John Cho (“Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle”) among them. It takes a couple of episodes to get going, but it quickly settles into a light, surprisingly risque workplace comedy filled with a ridiculous amount of gratuitous cleavage and at least one laugh-out-loud moment per episode (Daley’s missing eyebrows just kill me). It’s not exactly “30 Rock,” but it was one of the best of Fox’s many, many failed sitcoms over the past decade.
So is anyone else out there catching up with old shows? What are a few under-the-radar series that are worth checking out? And if you’re looking for a few yourself, check out this list of brilliant-but-canceled series I put together last year.
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