Crime Dramas

I really enjoy British crime dramas. They are better than the vast majority of American crime shows in just about every way. First, the seasons run two to six episodes, generally, and tell a complete story. There may be a "monster of the week" (hat tip to Mr. Fish) but there is almost always an overarching story line that drives the series. And a really successful show might run two or three seasons. None of this CSI bullcrap. Second, the acting is really good. These shows almost exclusively use trained, professional actors. Looking through the IMDb pages for the actors is like browsing a list of British universities with drama programs. The point is, these shows are worth watching and thanks to Netflix and Hulu we can.

Here are some of my favorites.

Broadchurch

Broadchurch is first on this list alphabetically and may be my favorite of the genre. It stars two of my favorite actors, David Tennant and Olivia Colman. Season one is about the investigation into the death of a young boy in the town of Broadchurch and season two deals with the trial of the suspected murderer of the boy and goes further into the backstory of David Tennant's character by re-opening the case that has been haunting him throughout. Don't be fooled into watching the American remake, Gracepoint, even though David Tennant (sort-of) reprises the role. He speaks in a terrible American accent and the show is terrible in comparison to the original.

The Fall

The Fall is a dark, brooding show following a Detective Superintendent hunting a serial killer in Northern Ireland. Gillian Anderson – yes, that Gillian Anderson – is the DS brought in to work the case after the local police reach a dead end and Jamie Dornan – a.k.a. Christian Grey – is the killer. It's a great show with lots of intrigue with many great actors with interweaving storylines. They've done three seasons but I've only seen the first two. Hopefully we'll get season three here in the States soon.

Happy Valley

Happy Valley is a great example of fine, British actors doing great work. Seriously. Sarah Lancashire's portrayal of police sergeant Catherine Cawood is amazing. And her sister is played by Siobhan Finneran, who Mr. Fish will no doubt recognize as O'Brien from Downton Abbey. Not to take anything away from the story in this show, which is great, but Happy Valley's real strength is in the performances from the actors. There are two seasons out and there have been preliminary talks about filming a third.

Hinterland

Hinterland is the English-language version of a show produced in Wales, Y Gwyll, which translates to "The Dusk". This was part of a BBC initiative to have more Welsh shows, so they filmed it in both languages concurrently. Most of the cast and crew are also Welsh, obviously. If you're looking for a dark, moody, contemplative show this is the one for you. There are lots of shots of people being still and thinking. But the atmosphere and the cinematography really shine here. It's a beautifully shot series. There are two seasons.

Luther

Luther is so good a show it almost deserves its own post. It's about DCI John Luther, a brilliant detective with lots of personal problems and demons haunting him (not literal demons). John Luther is played by Idris Elba at his Idris Elba-est. He's excellent. Much of the series he's pursuing a psychopathic murder played by Ruth Wilson who is also excellent in this series. There are three full-length seasons and a shortened fourth, which I didn't think lived up to the first three. But Luther is a worthwhile watch for any fan of good tv.

Prime Suspect

Helen Mirren plays DCI Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect and, as you would expect from Dame Helen Mirren, she's excellent. Tennison is a driven detective in a male-dominated environment trying to solve a series of brutal murders. For some reason I haven't seen all of this one but there are seven mini-series of two episodes each - except season four which has three – and I plan on restarting and seeing all of them soon. Bonus: Ralph Fiennes is in season one in one of his first acting roles.

River

I don't want to ruin the excellent moment in the first few minutes of River so I'm not going to tell you too much about it. It's about John River, played superbly by Stellan Skarsgård, a Luther-esque detective whose brilliant mind is offset by his internal demons. Specifically, River is haunted by the murder victims he couldn't save. There is one season of six episodes so it's very binge-watchable.

Southcliffe

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Southcliffe is the story of a series of shootings told from various perspectives and in a non-linear fashion. It is very good, but may be a little weird on first viewing. Rory Kinnear and Eddie Marsan (two of my favorites) have prominent roles and Sean Harris (who plays the shooter) won a BAFTA for his performance. There are four episodes so you can knock this one out in one long evening.

Top of the Lake

Top of the Lake is an outlier in this list. It's set in New Zealand and stars an American. The series was co-created, co-written, and co-directed by Jane Campion (she wrote, produced, and directed the film, The Piano). Elizabeth Moss, who is a much better actor than I think most people give her credit for, plays Detective Robin Griffin. She's searching for a missing school girl who is also pregnant.

Wallander

There are two different Wallander series, both based on the series of novels by Henning Mankell, one Swedish and one British. I'm sure the Swedish one is great but I've only seen the UK one. It stars Kenneth Branagh – and he's excellent, as you would expect – but you'll also get some Tom Hiddleston and friend of the show David Warner as Kurt Wallender's dad. There are four seasons of three episodes each.

Whitechapel

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The first two seasons of Whitechapel are great. Season one is about a Jack the Ripper copycat killer and season two is about a series of copycat crimes of the Kray twins. The series also stars one of my favorite British character actors, Phil Davis, who Sherlock fans will remember as the taxi driver from the A Study in Pink episode. The problem with Whitechapel comes in seasons three and four. They changed the format and the storylines started getting weird. Feel free to just watch seasons one and two. They have three episodes each.

A Couple of Related Shows...

These shows are different enough that I wanted to keep them separate from the main list, but they both deserve an honorable mention.

Vexed

Unlike all the other shows here Vexed is a comedy-drama. It centers on DI Jack Armstrong, a lazy and disorganized detective who's partnered up with a by-the-book, efficient female detective in season one and a strong, competent female detective in season two. It's basically an Odd Couple situation but with cops. Season one has three episodes and season two has six. It's a good, funny cop show.

Sherlock

I don't think any description I could give of Sherlock could do it justice. It's just a great show. If you are unaware, it's a modern re-imagining of the Sherlock Holmes stories starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson. It's great and you should watch it. There have been three seasons of three episodes each and a special (which I think was a bit underrated). Season four starts in January of 2017 and season five is in the works.

Books


Note: This summer was crazy. I posted next to nothing here on the site and we had several long gaps between IrrConPod episodes. The good news is I've got several things in the pipeline for the blog. I just need to find time to get them written...


I finished 1Q84, by Haruki Murakami, and started Nemesis Games by James S. A. Corey. One of them I really can't recommend and one of them I definitely do recommend, but you'll have to read four other books first.

1Q84 is a strange book. I'm not sure if it's just the author's style or how it was translated from Japanese, but it's strange. It's very readable – if you don't count the references to Japanese culture that I don't get – but it is extremely long and there really isn't that much that happens. The plot, even when it seems like it should be very exciting, is subdued and predictable. And my biggest questions were either answered in a really boring way or just not answered at all. I can't really say it's a bad book but it's not a great story and you could probably spend that time with much more entertaining books.

Nemesis Games, on the other hand is really entertaining. It is book five of the excellent Expanse series of books. They all revolve around the same core characters with many other characters coming in and out of the story from book to book. I really love everything about these books from the awesome, retro-sci fi cover art to the thoughtful and realistic way space travel works in this universe. They're all great and Nemesis Games may be the most interesting one yet. I've heard it described as the Expanse's Empire Strikes Back. I haven't finished it yet, but it seems like an apt description so far.

If you want to get started with the Expanse books, which I highly recommend you do, the first book is Leviathan Wakes and all of the first five books are available in paperback.

Maymont

We went to Maymont Park this morning and I took photos...

I seriously need to get out more and take photos. I am very out of practice...

Screens and Apps

I have been told that I am overdue on another apps post. To be honest, I'm overdue on posting, period. Either way here is a look at my current iPhone setup.

Here are my screens...

The first screen is self-explanatory: it's my lock screen. It's my kiddo taking some BP with her Uncle Randy pitching.

I'm not going to go through every app on every screen (and I'm certainly not going through all the folders) but I'll hit the highlights...

First Screen

Top row is photo stuff. I use Instagram to share and VSCO to edit. I often use the standard Camera.app to actually take photos and putting it in the top right corner reminds me where the lens is on the back.

Rows two through four are kind of a mess of things I use a lot. Weather Line is my all-time favorite weather app. Ditto Fantastical and calendars. I prefer the interface and (still) the directions in Google Maps. I use Fastmail to host my, and Erin's, email so I use their app to do email. PCalc is a great calculator app and I use good old Clock for alarms and timers.

I use Droplr a ton to share links and gifs and such on twitter. I probably use the IMDb app about twenty times a day looking stuff up. NPR and Apple's News apps are there because for some reason I like to stay up on current events.

The fifth row are apps I check a lot. Overcast for podcasts and Music for, well, music. And NASCAR and At Bat speak for themselves.

Down in the bottom bar is stuff I want access too quickly. Wunderlist is my to-do, lists app. I can and do put anything and everything in there. My wife and I can share lists, too. It works really well. Instapaper is there just because, I guess. I really don't need quick access to that. Same with Reeder.

I've gone back to Tweetbot for my twittering. Twitterrific was getting too flaky and using Tweetbot across all of my devices lets me sync my timeline and my mutes.

Second Screen

This screen is mostly utilities and things I want quick access to without having to see all the time. The only things there that aren't obvious are Bonza, a crossword-like game; Paprika, a recipe manager; Viki, a Wikipedia client; and Soundboard, which is what I use to do sound drops on the podcast.

In the News/Info folder I have some interesting things. Hi-Def Radar is there because as much as I love Weather Line it doesn't have a radar map. The NASA app lets me check the NASA TV schedule and see when launches are. WOIAF is the World of Ice and Fire app. It's like a wiki for Game of Thrones. I need it when I'm reading the books because there are a million characters to keep track of. ESPN is for keeping track of JMU Sports and I use WolframAlpha and Convertible for odd calculations.

Most of the games on my phone are dumped in the Games folder. The Travel folder has my stuff for when were on the road or going to Disney. The TV folder has links to the activation pages for the TV apps that make you sign in every goddamn time you want to watch something.

Third Screen

The third screen is where everything else is. Most of it is just dumped in folders. I have a max of nine things in each folder so I can see the icons without opening each one up. And since there is no reasoning behind which folder anything is in I just numbered them instead of trying to think up names. The apps not in folders are games I either haven't tried or just haven't played enough yet to know if I want to keep them or put them in the Games folder, or – like with Alto – I want them out so I don't forget about them and never play them.

And that's it. All of my screens. They're a big mess for the most part but I'm so used to this mess that it's not worth fixing it.

Softball Scrimmage

Bea had her first softball scrimmage match this evening. These are crappy iPhone photos because I left the good camera at home but they show her catching in the first and her second AB in the third. She didn't get a hit tonight but she had two good at bats.

I really could not be more proud of this kid.