Netflix Instant Queue–My List

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My last blog on the pleasure of curling up to watch past episodes of favorite TV programs or programs and movies you missed while they were being released for the first time was on February 6, 2012 (“Netflix Instant Queue”–BBC’s Your Best Bet).

Netflix is now a juggernaut.  For me the pleasures of Netflix downloading has tripled just like their stock. And just as Amazon is challenging the distribution of bricks-and-mortar publishing by promoting e-books, so Netflix is challenging the entertainment world of cinema and television with instant streaming.

A few recommendations in the movie category including some oldies as well as original content produced exclusively for Netflix viewers:

1) Blackfish (2013) (see last week’s review of April 19): A searing documentary about how SeaWorld treats the orcas in captivity for the Shamu show.

2) Page One: Inside the New York Times (2011):  A reporter’s perspective on “dead tree” newsprint and the demise of the newspaper world as we know it.

3) House of Cards , seasons 1 and 2 (see my reviews February 11, 2013 and March 12, 2014.  One of the best political thrillers ever.  Not just a remake of the 1990’s British series, but an original drama of the corruption of politics in the US created expressly for Netflix.

4) Orange is the New Black (see my reviews of August 7 and  August 15, 2013) A breathtaking example of narrative writing at its finest.  Loosely based on  true events, this Netflix original raises the question:  How does one survive in a penal institution that can kill your soul?

5) Fargo (1996)  This classic Coen brothers eccentric crime thriller is the basis for the riveting new television series by the same name that has just broadcast two episodes on HBO.  There are very few similarities in story but the TV version of the quirky characters and personalities channel the cinema upon which the HBO series is based.  Watch both!

6) Side Effects (2012) (see my review July 31, 2013)  This limited-distribution Steven Soderbergh drama should have had considerably more traction!  The crime revealed is bad, really bad. But the question is not who did it but who should be held responsible?

7) The World Before Her (2012)  This haunting Indian documentary focuses on two young women, both believing themselves independent and feminist.  Ironically (from an American’s point of view), one yearns to be  Miss India while the other trains to become a militant nationalist.  Riveting!

Try some of these  on my list, let me know ones you would recommend, and continue to discover the more obscure but worthwhile cinematic treasures we have to choose from–more than ever before!  At the click or swipe of a finger!

“House of Cards”–Season 2: The Main Course

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House of Cards–season 2

I just binged on the second season of  the Emmy-award winning “House of Cards,” the Netflix-produced political saga starring Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood and Robin Wright as his wife Claire as it continues its narratively complex drama– even better than 2013’s!  (See my February 2013 review of the first season, “House of Cards”–A Bulimic Buffet for Couch Potatoes?)

In this riveting thriller of political ambition, power, and hubris of Shakespearian proportions, we see the Underwoods cement their lethal relationship as the über power couple on the Beltway, energized by each other’s ruthlessness. Determined to leave no enemy unharmed, the two share everything:  strategy, tactical maneuvers, and annihilation without mercy. But both Claire and Frank have backstories, hinting at the damage that has been done to them.  Their wounds remain unhealed.

Claire and Frank Underwood pursue power without any internalized sense of obligation, morality, or responsibility resulting in the viewer’s fascination and fear of the Underwoods’  impending path of destruction. Frank is unmoved by barbecue vendor Freddy’s refusal to patronize a new butcher who tortuously slow-bleeds the hogs.  Slow-bleeding hogs do not even register on Frank’s radar, a  Vice President who wants policies made his way, and only his way.

In episode after episode of this alarming drama, this pair of frightening anti-heroes–nonetheless earn our reluctant admiration for their brilliant understanding of human psychology.  They can visualize motivations and blind spots even their foes are not fully aware of. Consequently, the Underwoods seem to have no worthy adversary except each other.

In the season finale, Frank is alone in the Oval Office –or rather, talking to us, the viewers on camera.  He taps twice with his ring, a lesson his father had taught him: knock once to toughen your knuckles for a fight and once for good luck.

Prepared, with bare-knuckle fighting almost certainly in his future, Frank knocks twice on the desk in the Oval Office.  But will Claire be the one he has to fight, the blind spot for him? The one he can’t overcome?  We’ll have to wait until February 2015 to see how this immorality play unravels, and how the toy soldiers Frank loves to create symbolize a challenge to his game.

“Time of Death”—Not for the Faint-Hearted

Time of Death

Not since Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s “On Death and Dying” with its study of the five stages of grief or Ernest Becker’s “The Denial of Death”, has there been such a tour-de-force depiction of the process of dying and the way that death impacts  those who are left behind.  This groundbreaking documentary series reminds me that many of us still have forgotten how to say goodbye and how to die. But some of us have figured out how.  “Time of Death”, a six-part miniseries produced by Showtime,   follows three  men and five women ranging in age from nineteen to seventy-seven years.  In six emotionally jarring episodes we are introduced to the final weeks, days and private last moments  in a remarkably unflinching, intimate, and brutally honest  way. These remarkable people face their own mortality with as much drama as a novel.

“Time of Death” also focuses on the caregivers—family, friends, hospice and other medical personnel—who understand and give of their hearts. At the end of this series many viewers will wish that they could have these supportive, brave friends and family at their deathbed.  To have them be there to give a needed hug. While some viewers may be too depressed to watch the inevitability of death, and the finite nature of our lives, to me it was a hopeful and insightful portrait of the natural as well as the inevitable process of the end of life. Some of the dying are sweet and eccentric, others closed and struggling to come to terms with their end.   Nicolle, a 19-year-old dying of melanoma, perhaps is the most gut-wrenching: a teenager who cannot believe—like anyone so young—that she is at the end of an all-too-brief life.  Her parents and little sisters, especially the six-year old, are heroic in their understanding of what Nicolle is going through.

The series, most of all,  reveals how aware children and teens can be when it comes to death.  Witnessing these vulnerable moments, we watch as the dying learn to keep on loving when they are afraid, to keep on making it through another day,  to forgive themselves and others as they surrender to the inevitable, and to let go.  The miniseries is compelling and haunting, even harrowing at times,  especially since we know each of these eight people’s lives are coming to an end.  Yet “Time of Death”  is also surprising.  It made me feel like a privileged guest with something to learn from each scene.  A gift.

 

[“Time of Death” will be available soon on Netflix and is downloadable from the Showtime website.]

 

Engrenages (“Spiral”)–A Vortex of Thrills

EngrenagesInternet streaming and cable/satellite TV have opened the door to some superb international films and television series formerly nearly unknown to the average American viewer.  Think “Borgen”.  It’s not just Denmark, however.  “Spiral” (the English translation of the  French crime series) has been a blockbuster hit not only in France but also throughout Europe (resulting in BBC co-producing for the international market.) As of last month “Spiral” has now found a devout American following through distribution by Netflix, which offers all forty episodes in four seasons (starting production date 2005) .  Season Five will be available in January 2014 and season Six is under contract.  In addition, an English adaptation of “Engrenages” is in development.

“Spiral” is “The Wire” on steroids, with “Homeland” thrown into the mix in Season Four. This police drama centers on the competing strategies of a policewoman and her two lieutenants, as well as a primary judge, a prosecutor and a lawyer. But “Law and Order” this is not.  A sometimes over-the-top violent depiction of the crime (far different from “American” style depiction of corpses), with very little forensic CSI-style technology, “Spiral” captures what real-life criminal police work must be like in Paris.  Similar in this respect to “The Wire”, the gritty, incompetent but far-too-human police officers pursue the culprit, resisted at every turn by  political corruption.  Each season follows the characters as they investigate a central murder case and unveil malfeasance at the highest levels.

Like “The Killing” (also an American adaptation of a foreign television series), the maniacally dedicated heroine, homicide detective Laure Berthaud (the magnificent stage actress Caroline Proust), has no social life and almost no social skills. There is no glamour to the job and Lieutenant Berthaud is far from glamorous.  Her main antagonist, however, is: the beautiful attorney Josephine Karlsson (played superbly by Audrey Fleurot), who seems to embody evil, but in an extremely complex way. You simply cannot take your eyes off her because she is  hypnotically sinister, cynical,  and coldblooded. She is also vulnerable. The investigating magistrate, Judge Roban (played by Philippe Duclos), the brilliant and highly principled outsider, sometimes dominates the story and  mesmerizes as we watch him choose between two equally devastating  decisions, almost inevitably intensifying the personal dilemma for himself. 

The main investigating prosecutor (Gregory Fitoussi) is a handsome lawyer who often seems exasperatingly clueless but is essential to the story’s forward movement.  In addition, a cast of  riveting supporting characters who comprise the  police force, judicial office, and local government as well as the highly original portrayals of psychopaths  are no less spellbinding with their unexpected tactics.

What is so remarkable about this series is the extraordinary storytelling: vivid narrative arcs surprising the viewer at every turn.  Overlaid upon a superb story, full of suspense with a labyrinth of clues, are both the unfamiliar French judicial system and the cultural differences in the depiction of physical combat and sexuality.  This contrast in cultures contributed to my fascination with “Spiral”.

The subtext appears to be  all rules exist to be broken, or at least bent, and so the wheels of justice spiral in a highly charged vortex where the outcome is never predictable.  “Spiral”, available only on Netflix, is a must-see!

The Backstory behind “Orange is the New Black”

51Ce4GvkwWL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_With all the buzz about “Orange is the New Black”, I had fun chasing down facts about the memoir of that name by Piper Kerman after binge viewing the huge hit, “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix.  (See my last post for the review of the hit series).

In two separate interviews on NPR’s “All Things Considered”, Terry Gross interviews first Piper Kerman and then Jenji Kohan. It makes for fascinating listening!

To take a few examples:  In the memoir Kerman does not actually experience solitary confinement.  However, to show the desolation and dehumanizing boredom of prison,  Jenji Kohan has the fictionalized Piper spend time in the SHU (solitary confinement).  To show prison at its most extreme.  In addition, the ending of the series is not the same as in the memoir but leads dramatically to the promised second season, when Piper’s experiences will almost certainly deviate further from the memoir and create its own plot and momentum.

The actresses who played the key roles are also brilliantly discussed in NPR’s interview of Kohan.  The transgender actress, Laverne Cox, is seen in  flashback while a male.  But that was not possible with the actress’s female beauty.  Serendipitously, Cox  has a twin brother who played those scenes, unbeknownst to the producer and casting director at the time they cast Laverne.  Another actress (Uzo Aduba) who plays “Crazy Eyes” was not considered quite right for the role she was auditioning for, so Kohan created a new character because she was so impressed by Aduba’s performance.  That character became pivotal to the plot.

Enjoy listening to both NPR interviews!  I can’t wait until  Netflix’s second season, currently in production.

“Orange is the New Black”–Life Behind Bars

Orange is the New BlackThis is a caged beast financed and produced by Netflix: thirteen episodes available on Instant Queue for binge viewing if you are so inclined.

“Orange is the New Black” (filmed on location in a women’s prison in Chino, California) is loosely based on the 2010 memoir by Piper Kerman (now an advocate for women prison reform.)  Piper Chapman (phenomenal newcomer Taylor Schilling) is a privileged Smith College graduate sentenced to 14 months in prison for the crime of smuggling drugs ten years earlier.  Her former lover from that time, fellow drug smuggler Alex Vaus (the pitch-perfect Laura Prepon), is  sent to the same prison.

The question:  How does one survive in an institution that can kill your soul?  Piper is blond, blue-eyed, terrified, but also an outsider because of an upbringing far removed from the world of most of the other inmates, mainly women of color–young, middle-aged, and old–guilty of crimes undeserving of such long prison sentences. Trying to develop some sort of connection with them as well as with the prison guards, Chapman is determined to learn how to survive and, in the learning process, changes in ways both unexpected and welcomed. Her fiancé (Jason Biggs of “American Pie” fame), a journalist, also changes while separated from Piper.

Each of the thirteen episodes flashes on a different inmate’s backstory: her life before prison.  These women’s snapshots interweave with Piper, whose story is the main spine of “Orange is the New Black”.  Moments of comedy morph so fast into dramatic, painfully dark scenes the viewer feels whiplashed!  Each situation has more than one moral choice, and all choices are lose-lose.  And every single inmate has to give up something with unbelievably high stakes. There are narrative arcs and character development to surprise even the most attentive viewer. “Orange is the New Black” is story-telling at its finest.

Riveting, spellbinding, and infused with dilemmas at every turn, this new mini-series–written by the superlative Jenji Kohan of “Weeds”—is, I believe,  one of the very best ever produced for television at a time when there is a fast-growing bounty of high-quality programs.  The opening footage of faces –just eyes and foreheads, then mouths and chins–is like none seen in what Hollywood persuades us to believe human faces are supposed to be like. And the dialog is terse, mesmerizing, and vibrates with nuggets of truth you want to never fail to remember!

“Endeavour”–A Prequel to the Inspector Morse Series

Endeavour

“Endeavour” is the much-anticipated mystery series currently on Sunday evenings on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery.  A testament to the beloved long-running Inspector Morse series (1987-2000), this series is the back story for young DC Morse before he became the curmudgeonly middle-aged Chief Inspector Morse.

Set in Oxford in 1965 Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans) is a rookie in his late twenties, a Detective Constable (DC) freshly minted from Oxford to assist Inspector Fred Thursday (the awesome stage actor Roger Allam), a rational, insightful policeman who sees Morse’s potential and gives him the latitude to explore unconventional methods for solving a crime.  Inspector Thursday’s superior does not feel the same way about Morse and frequently tries to demote him to a desk assignment.

What makes this series thrilling is the way the middle-aged Morse can be seen in the flashbacks to the younger man. The roots of his moodiness and taciturn nature are evident at every turn–“an old young man”.

But this young DC Morse is not simply a clone without idiosyncrasies.  He has a toughness–an alloy of innocence, determination, and guile.  DC Morse has a life of his own in solving each murder with more convoluted turns than the classic Inspector Morse mysteries. Last Sunday night’s episode, “Girl”, was a finely crafted and intricate tapestry of clues tightly woven and carefully laid out so the attentive viewer could follow the puzzle-solving system of Morse’s mind with cryptic clues, unbreakable codes, wordplay, and obscure literary allusions.

“The Big C”– Memento Mori or “Remember You Shall Die”

Big C 2The last stages in the cycle of life and death have finally attracted film and movie producers. I am talking about the formerly taboo twin topics of aging and death.  Perhaps as we baby boomers and our children, the “echo boomers”, see that the inevitability of death needs to be part of our cultural conscience, movies that sympathetically but unflinchingly portray aging and death have been increasingly gaining mainstream audiences and awards.  To name a few:  “Departures”, “Away From Her”, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”  “Hope Springs”, “Quartet”, “Amour” as well as books such as “The Year of Magical Thinking”.  Is this is a societal flashpoint which marks a cultural change only beginning to take place? The subjects of aging, the changing of the landscape of relationships and friendships, the glibness of those who are trying to offer comfort have never been portrayed in such starkness.

And now the award-winning Showtime television series, “The Big C”,–“C” is for cancer– just finished its four-part special finale to close its four-season run.  The story is Cathy’s (the remarkable Laura Linney):  a middle-aged high school teacher with terminal cancer who wants to be happier with her husband (the subtle actor Oliver Platt),  more involved with her  teenage-son (newcomer  Gabriel   Basso,  a mentor to her college-aged friend (Gabourey Sidibe of “Precious” fame,) and a moral support to her brother (the unforgettable John Benjamin Hickey).   She wants to enjoy her last days with those around her –with a powerful energy to embrace what life she has left. The first three seasons celebrate the joy of fulfilling one’s bucket list and preparing for death with acceptance and positive control over how one chooses to die.

Fearless in its honesty about cancer, people who have to deal with a loved one’s cancer, and the broader topics of death and dying, the final four episodes of “The Big C” are riveting. The viewer cannot look away–even if the uncomfortable connections between life and death seem unbearable. “The Big C” portrays the balancing of living and dying, since death is the most uncertain certainty we know. Cathy decides to die alone: for her a death with integrity and with respect for her family.

Cancer is perhaps the most frightening medical diagnosis one can receive.  It is also, metaphorically, a mutiny of one’s self in which the death of the body is an attack on itself.  Life is savagely unfair at times, and Cathy faces this with triumph, dignity, and uncommon grace.  The horror is not minimized, although I could quibble about the ending not being as bold as it could have been. Nonetheless her journey in the face of death assumes mythic significance.  Dissertations could be written on the beauty with which this unforgettable program deals with the ineffable.

 

“Orphan Black”–Adopting a New Model

Orphan Black2This new BBC America television series premiered on March 30, 2013.

In the opening scene the camera zooms in on Sarah (played by Tatiana Maslany, a Canadian newcomer to television), a grifter desperate to escape her drug dealer boyfriend.  Seizing an opportunity to escape her past, Sarah watches as her doppelganger jumps in front of a subway to her death.  Stealing the identity of the suicide victim (“Beth”) who looks exactly like her, Sarah assumes that the dead woman’s identity will be an improvement over her own, but she is proved wrong.

Proud of her independence, even with its painful repercussions, Sarah is a former foster child and single mother.  Her one friend–a homosexual “brother” from foster care, is her only companion and confidante.  Together these two outsiders try to survive on the streets of Toronto.

While categorized as  science fiction, “Orphan Black” is not your typical sci-fi model.  No flying space ships.  No extraterrestrial costuming.  The focus is on the characters and their relationships to each other as they assume each other’s identity and problems. (Yes, there are more look-alikes besides Sarah and the dead Beth–this makes following the story confusing sometimes.)  The futuristic science and technology are not really the core of the story but an ingenious overlay to hold the viewer’s attention. The series delves into what happens when you steal the identity of someone else and all that encumbers. Both empathy and judgmentalism struggle within each character as each Sarah clone confronts more mysteries and puzzle pieces.  Living dangerously in a world where no one can trust each other and everyone is a potential spy (“monitor”), the price of living in such a world is haunting and heavily tinted with paranoia.

The private hemispheres of each character make “Orphan Black” so much more than science fiction (although it will appeal to sci-fi fans too).  On May 2, 2013 BBC America announced plans to renew the series for a second season. I’m happy that viewers will get another chance to continue enjoying “Orphan Black” and see how compelling adopting a new model for exploring futuristic worlds can be.

“Top of the Lake”–A Top Notch Thriller

While some cable and television distributors fund their own productions (note the excellence of  “House of Cards”, the final season of “Damages”, and the forthcoming “Arrested Development”), Sundance is in the enviable position of previewing thousands of entries for their annual Sundance Festival. “Top of the Lake“is an exciting option from the Sundance Channel, created by Gerard Lee and Jane Campion (who produced and directed the Academy Award winner “The Piano”).

The first episode opens with the disappearance of a 12-year old pregnant girl, Tui, in a remote backwater town in southern New Zealand named Laketop.  The hamlet of Laketop is as much a character in the series as are the main actors.  Laketop seethes with brutal violence, fear and bigoted townspeople, with a history of brutal rapes and missing young girls.  And the plot takes the viewer down slowly as it sinks into this corner of the world which has no place for outsiders, even residents who have moved away and returned.

Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss of  Peggy Olsen fame in “Mad Men”) is  one such former resident.  A furloughed investigator, home to visit her dying mother, Robin  does not want to be in Laketop.   No one else, including her mother, wants her there either.

The incestuous pathology of the townspeople and their dangerous secrets are slowly revealed through seven episodes. Magnificent scenery obscures a cesspool of corruption and brutality. Tui is always the undercurrent that keeps you on the edge of your seat, shocked by her heartbreaking situation.  Brilliant acting with raw emotional nakedness at every turn results in some explosive surprises throughout.

“Top of the Lake” is a remarkable thriller, in some ways similar to the excellent “The Killing”, set in the northwest.  While there is an original storyline in the pre-teen who is at the center of the investigation, “Top of the Lake” has two stories which do not always integrate as well as they could have.  The Paradise commune–a recovery group of middle-aged women with their hippie guru GJ (Holly Hunter)–offers comic relief and some insightful observations that could not have been presented easily in another way.  However, GJ seems wasted in the last episodes and could have been a catalyst for the solving of the crime.  Consequently, there isn’t the dramatic liftoff the narrative should give us.

Nonetheless, I really recommend this as a binge-viewing weekend excursion (available through Netflix).  Enter a dark, sinister world full of menace and deception. The bravery of the women is inspirational and the dramatic energy of a Campion production is a wonder to behold.

“The Following” Redux–Not Going There Again

In February I reviewed and recommended “The Following”, a Fox television drama series starring Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy.  There have been a total of nine episodes so far, but this past week’s episode has made me recant my earlier review.  How disappointed I am in this series!

The story is focused on two main characters:  an FBI agent, Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) and a brutal serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) who has a cult following of wannabe killers, mostly young outliers trying to find a place to belong.  But the last episode has overstepped the boundaries for even the psychologically wounded law-enforcement officer and the psychopath: excessive: gratuitously violent scenes that take attention away from the story.

In February I acknowledged that this is one of the most violent shows currently on broadcast TV (and the series has received negative press because of the extreme scenes), I also found the story compelling enough as well as fearlessly acted by Bacon and Purefoy to justify the violence as necessary for understanding the ferocious nature of a psychopath.  However, with the last episode I fear that the long, bloody narrative has taken a backseat to violence for its own sake–a titillating, visceral thrill at seeing pain and torture.   The difference, I think, between violence which supports the story’s plot and “pornographic” violence” is the degree to which the violent acts give a better understanding of the characters and the consequences of their actions.  However, the story has become formulaic and has not moved forward in development of character or plot.  At its extreme, which this last episode demonstrated, “The Following” has bordered on computer-game violence–visual images for their own horrific impact,  appealing to an addictive fascination for some (especially young) viewers..  In this last episode the serial killer appears to have an orgasm after the kill.  Enough is enough!  Take this off the air.  Too bad– not even Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy can resurrect this sickening and exploitative violence, a malignant chemistry that does not belong on either mainstream television or in cinema.

 

“Parade’s End”–An Historian’s Downton Abbey?”

 

The five-part BBC/HBO miniseries “Parade’s End” premiered on HBO last week (February 26) and is also available on video-on-demand.  The playwright Tom Stoppard has adapted  Ford Madox Ford’s monumental 900 page, four-novel series “Parade’s End” for television:  the intellectual’s  Edwardian-era alternative to “Downton Abbey.”   Both series take place in the same time period, beginning with the decade before the First World War.  But the view of the British class system, the end of the Empire, and the attitude towards the war could not be more radically different.

Take the British class system as one example.  The mansion of the main character, Christopher Tietjens, is no less opulent or aristocratic than Downton Abbey but is not populated by kindhearted masters who confide in their servants.  Moreover, unlike “Downton,” which used the trench warfare in France mostly as a heroic experience for its young hero Matthew Crawley,  “Parade’s End” is a scathing indictment of the “Great War.” The massacre of an entire generation of young men on both sides of the front, and the distancing of the entire British elite in their club chairs and literary salons is mercilessly presented.

“Parade’s End” tells the story of a bad marriage, in an inner world tiny and self-contained, in  a privileged highly stratified society. Christopher Tietjens (brilliantly played by Benedict Cumberbatch) believes in a code of conduct as well as high ethical standards no longer upheld by the majority of his peers (if they ever had upheld them).  Most of his social class is solely determined to hold on to their positions in society.   The era appears to be dying, and this is the tragedy.  Tietjens is clear-eyed about some of the impending changes and blindsided by others.

A brilliant statistician and analyst, Tietjens is also an anachronistic English gentleman, righteous to the point of rigidity and loyal to a fault towards Sylvia ( an astonishing Rebecca Hall), a haughty beauty who finds her husband’s punctiliousness and moral standards insufferable.  She will inflict any humiliation to elicit a response from her affectless spouse because he is the only one among her many male admirers not to find her irresistible.  Without Christopher’s desire for her, the other lovers are meaningless.

Tietjens’s morals are tested when he meets a lovely, intellectual young suffragette, Valentine Wannop (a winsome Adelaide Clemens), who returns his affections and his wit. He remains faithful to Sylvia, but the two are disgraced by gossip anyway.  Only Tietjens believes that war in Europe is imminent.  He volunteers to fight with the French, out of a sense of honor and duty, only to see that the war is cruel and futile.

“Parade’s End” is a more focused and darker story than “Downton,” as it gazes into its characters’ twisted souls and their self-destructiveness. The viewer needs to embrace the contradictions in human nature– the way one person can be both insightful and hateful (especially Sylvia).  While you always understand the connections among the characters on “Downton Abbey,” you have to piece them together yourself in “Parade’s End.” Critical elements of the characters often aren’t revealed but must be inferred.

This mini-series is much more subtle and moves slowly, as the early 20th century British aristocratic life did, with everything looking good on the surface but simmering with scandal and sensuality underneath.

Cumberbatch can convey volumes by simply curling his unusual Cupid’s Bow upper lip.  As an emotionally stifled Brit  small facial shifts can seem glacial.  He is a shift-changer: moving from nobility to foolish lover to respectful and generous, to broken and surviving.

“Parade’s End” has a different sort of entertainment value than “Downton Abbey”, but no less a visceral and addicting experience, without a shred of unnecessary dialog or emotion.