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Friday Night Lights. Seasons 1-5 (2006-2011)

For five brief seasons, this emotionally rewarding television series gave us the trials and triumphs of high school football coach Eric Taylor. Set in a mid-sized town in Texas for which the high school football team’s success is everything, we get to know all the regulars, the coach’s high school guidance counselor wife, the head of the boosters, the football player stars and hopefuls, and the girls that date them. For many of these players, success on the football field means a scholarship and the hope for something more than life in Dixon, Texas.

One of my favorites is Tyra, who is from a family of women who live by finding a man to take care of them but who wants to go to college and make a change. Sweet Matt gets thrust into the role of QB1. Not the most talented athlete, he uses his brains to take his team to the state finals. And of course Tim Riggins, the bad boy we all had crushes on in high school, a well-intentioned and noble character from the wrong family. And Coach Taylor and his happy marriage to Tami hold the whole series together.

Enjoy all five seasons of Friday Night Lights.

Homeland. Season 1 (2011)

After hearing the nonstop buzz about Homeland, I watched the first season and I was not disappointed. The plot centers on CIA agent Carrie Mathison, who was warned by an Iraqi source that an American prisoner of war had been turned by Al-Qaeda. When Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), a U.S. Marine Sergeant, is rescued after being held captive by Al-Qaeda for nearly eight years, Carrie is suspicious. Claire Danes does a tremendous job playing the role of Carrie, who is determined, almost to a fault, to prevent another terrorist attack. This heart-pounding, suspenseful drama will keep you questioning who is really telling the truth.

The Good Wife. Seasons 1-3 (2009-2012)

The Good Wife is a fascinating legal drama that centers on Alicia Florrick’s (Julianna Margulies) return to her former profession as a litigator after 12 years spent at home raising her children. Her husband is the disgraced Cook County attorney, who is currently incarcerated due to a very public sex and corruption scandal.

The show chronicles Alicia’s struggles as she deals with a new job, her conflicted feelings toward her husband, and the pressure of raising her two children. It is such a smart and well-acted television show and definitely one of my favorites.

 
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Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season (2010)

The HBO series opens on New Year’s Eve, 1920, the moment Prohibition becomes the law of the land. Local politician Nucky Thompson runs Atlantic City and wants to control all of the liquor coming in off the shore and distributed across the country. The likes of Lucky Luciano, Al Capone, and other real-life gangsters appear in Boardwalk Empire.

The sets, the costumes, and most particularly the soundtrack transport you to the early days of 1920s Atlantic City, where the magnetic Nucky Thompson pulls all the strings. Because the series was first shown on premium cable and portrays gangsters and prostitutes as many of the characters, this show does have graphic violence and nudity.

Want other gangster movies and TV shows? Check out our list.

True Blood. Seasons 1 and 2 (2008-2009)

Vampires have always existed in the shadows of Bon Temps, Louisiana, but with the invention of the artificial blood product “True Blood,” vampires have come out into the open. Some residents welcome them, like heroine Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), but others need a little persuading.

As so often happens when vampires are around, other supernatural creatures make appearances as well. Be prepared for great characters, violence, gratuitous nudity, goofy humor, and a touching love story in seasons 1 and 2 of True Blood. Seasons 3 and 4 are also available on DVD. Based on the novels by Charlaine Harris.

Revenge: The Complete First Season (2011)

This new dark drama takes getting even to the next level. The show centers on the beautiful Emily Thorne who rents a beach house in the Hamptons for summer. It is revealed through flashbacks that Emily is not there to soak up the sun, but instead to exact revenge for the people responsible for her father’s wrongful imprisonment. Her cold and calculating plan ensures that everyone involved in the plot to frame will suffer, especially the powerful Grayson family. Revenge is a deliciously wicked show that shows how far someone will go for justice.
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Treme: The Complete First Season (2010)

Treme, an HBO series by the team behind The Wire, is a detailed portrait of life in New Orleans, weaving together stories of the music, people, traditions, and recovery of the city, post-Katrina.

Season One begins three months after the hurricane when many residents are still unable to return to their destroyed homes, some people are missing and unaccounted for, and those that are home are struggling emotionally and economically with the aftermath. The city’s rich musical traditions are particularly well-represented and the characters whose lives we follow are a fascinating cross-section of society with their devotion to New Orleans and its traditions the common theme.

The Complete Season Two is also available on DVD.
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The Duchess of Duke Street. Series 1 (1976)

The Duchess of Duke Street, a BBC production of Edwardian England, is plain old fun to watch. Gemma Jones, who plays the duchess, immediately engages us by her super strong performance of a servant girl who becomes a notorious chef who also catches the eye of the Prince of Wales.

Many times she is a victim of Victorian strictures, but meets these challenges head on with verve and style. The story is offbeat but keeps you thoroughly entertained. After watching season 1, I immediately looked for season 2.

Mad Men. Seasons 1-4 (2007-2010)

This critically acclaimed series is a must-watch television show. Set in the 1960s, it focuses on Don Draper (Jon Hamm), the creative director at an advertising firm with a complicated past. The show addresses issues of racism, adultery, and alcoholism with elegance and pose. This masterfully written show is fun to watch as it captures the era perfectly, down to the details with the excessive drinking, beehives, and Eames chairs.

See what's on shelf today: Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, and Season 4. The show has also influenced a number of recently published books: The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook, Mad Women: the other side of life on Madison Avenue in the '60s and beyond, and Mad Men Unbuttoned: a romp through 1960s America.
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Mildred Pierce (2011) TV-MA

This beautifully presented and acted miniseries of James M. Cain’s classic sets you right down in 1930s Southern California. Mildred Pierce is a divorced woman with two young children, loving Ray and haughty Veda. Working first as a waitress and the in her own restaurants, Mildred tries to give Veda all she demands--only to be betrayed by Veda time and time again.

The houses, the clothes, and music all set this production firmly in time and place. With Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce. Visit HBO's website for more about the show, including behind the scenes interviews with the stars and the costumes of the production.

Check to see if our copy of Mildred Pierce is on shelf.

Spotlight: Doc Martin TV Series

Spotlight: Doc Martin TV Series (2004-2011)
I’ll watch most anything with British accents. This is one of the funniest! You must watch from Season 1 to Season 3.

Check out a story on NPR about star Martin Clunes. Visit TV.com for more about the show.

Going Postal

Going Postal (2010)
Based on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, Going Postal is the best movie between Color of Magic and Hogfather. It’s a nice balance of fantasy, humor, and soul-saving life observation. I believe it’s so good for teenagers!

You can also check out a 2010 review.

Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle

Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes (2000)
Fact: in the late 1800s, Arthur Conan Doyle studies for his degree in medicine. One of his teachers, Dr. Bell, introduces Doyle to his singular style of crime detection.

At first a cynic and skeptic, Doyle is slowly drawn to Bell’s ability to solve high profile murders. Bell uses profound observation, inference, and deduction as his main tools. Subconsciously, Doyle absorbs Bell’s style and method. Later the idiosyncratic Bell will become the most famous sleuth of all, Sherlock Holmes.

However, several brutal murders near the college and surrounding areas catch Bell and Doyle in a cat and mouse game that challenges them to the max. Be aware there are many gruesome aspects to the chase.

The acting, direction, and storyline are top of the line. It’s riveting. I watched it alone and survived.

Garrow’s Law. Series 1 and 2

Garrow’s Law. Series 1 and 2 (2009-2010)
I have not watched such a compelling TV series in the last ten years. It defines the word excellence on all levels—casting, acting, characterization, direction.

The storyline explores the historical evolvement of the law, gradually progressing to the “radical” idea that a man is innocent until proven guilty. Each episode covers the outcome of one courtroom drama. But the emotional changes in the main characters are pivotal to our gut response. I found this series intensely satisfying. Ah, yes!

“Courtroom drama gold”—The Sunday Times (U.K.)
Did you know the show is based on the life of pioneering 18th century barrister William Garrow? Check out the show's website on BBC One for more details.

Emma

Emma (2009)
Jane Austen's Emma is either your favorite Austen or the one you can't stand. It is my favorite, and for over ten years I have loved the Gwyneth Paltrow movie version (1996).

Then I saw the 2009 three hour BBC production with Romola Garai as Emma, and my love is pulled two ways. Garai is delightful as the well-meaning but interfering Emma. The set and costumes are beautiful and the pacing is just right. But Jeremy Northam (from the 1996 movie) will always be my favorite Mr. Knightley.