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What’s the best way to watch the ‘golden age’ of TV?

A combination of longer nights and lockdowns is a good opportunity to watch some of the best TV dramas of the past three decades – but do you find locating them a challenge?

As the nights draw in, I think it’s the perfect time to get stuck into a boxset or three. And now that we have all this technology, finding something you want to watch is easier than ever, isn’t it?

Or is it? I can’t be the only one who scrolls endlessly through Netflix, Amazon, Britbox etc paralysed by the sheer variety of content that’s there for me to consume.

And then there’s the problem of what technology you need. Plugged in to my ageing Panasonic Viera TV I have an Amazon Fire TV Cube, a new Google Chromecast, a Humax Aura Freeview box, a small-form PC and a Blu-ray player. Yes, that’s a lot of remote controls.

Having devoured The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix recently, and with time on my hands before the new series of The Crown dropped, I decided it was high time I finally watched The West Wing. I’m 20 years late to this party, but better late than never.

With all those services and with all my tech, surely I could find it easily?

Platform perusing

My first stop was All4, Channel 4’s catch-up app. But on which device? It’s not available on the Google Chromecast, the new version of which comes with a full build of Google TV (and a fiddly remote – another one to lose).

It is on both the Fire Cube and the Humax Aura, and yes, all seven series of The West Wing are available on All4.

But after watching two episodes on All4, which seemed more intent on showing me adverts than showing me the actual drama, I abandoned that. I have subscriptions to Amazon Prime, Netflix and Britbox, as well as access to the Google Play store: perhaps it’s on one of those? 

Well, yes – but for a price. Amazon Prime charges £17.99 a season, and Google Play charges £18.99 a season. Ouch. Perhaps I should go old-school and buy the DVDs – but some digging around Amazon reveals that I’d be scrabbling around to assemble a full set of all seven seasons.

Biting the bullet

I decided to bite the bullet and pay the Amazon Prime video price, reckoning that in lockdown I’m not spending money on other forms of entertainment – I’m not eating out, I’m not going to the cinema or the theatre.

But it does grate somewhat that on top of my annual fee of £79 a year I’m going to shell out £125 to watch it all.

Are you paying more for lockdown entertainment?

And that’s on top of having coughed up £75 to Amazon Prime so that I could rewatch all five seasons of Six Feet Under in the first lockdown, which, like The West Wing, isn’t available as part of a subscription to Amazon Prime or Netflix (it’s on Sky/NowTV if you have either of those, though). 

But actually, despite grumbling about the cost and the hassle of juggling multiple remote controls as I chase down favourite boxsets, it does all make me realise that we’re living in a golden age of TV.

As well as brilliant new series such as The Queen’s Gambit and The Crown, we can also access wonderful dramas from the past 30-plus years at the touch of a button. Here are my eight favourites of the past few decades:

📺 Six Feet Under

📺 The Americans

📺 Mad Men

📺 Succession

📺 Call the Midwife

📺 Prime Suspect

📺 ER

📺 Chernobyl

Do you find navigating all the different streaming platforms easy? How are you watching your favourite shows this year?

And what are your top TV dramas of all time? What should I line up to watch over the winter? Let me know your recommendations!

Hannah says:
18 November 2020

Kate – you’ve listed some great choices, definitely agree on Succession, Mad Men and Six Feet Under. If you have many (many) hours to spare I’d suggest Game of Thrones and also a brilliant thriller The Night Of (from 2016)

Surely no TV list is complete without the Wire!?

I’ve been going even older school and catching up on Columbo. Easy to do given it’s on every Sunday, but also a nice contrast from the “gritty crime drama” type.

For cheesiness, you can’t beat ‘Diagnosis Murder’ and ‘Murder She Wrote’.

Why are TV detective dramas always about killings? Why don’t we see how they tackle fraud, embezzlement, domestic violence, burglary, counterfeiting, and telephone scams. A lack of confusable clues and devious motives perhaps, or because the real CID don’t tackle them much either unless the culprit is already known.

I wonder if the police use episodes of New Tricks to teach them crime-solving techniques. It is amazing how the team at the ”Unsolved Crimes and Open Case Squad, simply known as UCOS,” crack crimes with minimal evidence years or decades old. And all in an hour and a half.

They have the old copper’s hunch.

Perhaps it’s just as well that the team’s abbreviation does not include all the capital letters in the title.

I never gathered what special insights the superintendent added to the squad’s investigations. She just seemed to be a stereotypical bossy boots whom the old plodders could rail against. Well cast though!

I liked the first old codgers better than the second. Another remarkable detective’s environment is Saint Marie where each successive sleuth seems to have a Sherlock Holmes mind.

Chernobnyl was good, but fizzled out a bit, I thought, at the end (a son bought it for me on DVD). I don’t subscribe to any streaming services; to be honest I don’t want to be tempted to watch any more tv than I can already access, much of which is junk. I still find Dad’s Army amusing, Inspector Montelbano well made and entertaining (OK, it is relatively recent but easy to find on BBC iPlayer), and Talking Pictures TV on channel 81 show some good older films and interesting short documentaries. Then the garden, workshop, reading (currently re-reading John le Carre) and, occasionally, contributing to Convos are better options.

I don’t think the real Chernobyl fizzled out…

Depends upon what you think of as a fizzle.

OOoh I love a debate like this. I take Kate’s point about The Wire, which I love. David Simon, who created it (and Homicide and many others) called it ‘LEAN TO’ Television – you had to concentrate hard to get into a world presented uncompromisingly – which as a fellow TV writer I LOVED. Breaking Bad isa masterpiece – an exploration of a man’s soul as it gets darker and darker – truly Dostoevsky in the desert. The Good Place is fantastic – a comedy about moral philosophy with heart – and has the perfect ending. And Schitt’s Creek is a gamechanger for LGBT + storytelling – a show in which you start off hating the characters and then totally fall in love with them – Alexis especially. A satire with real emotional depth.

I don’t pay £8 per month for Amazon Prime Video. Instead I pay only BRL 7.90 (£1) per month for it via my Brazilian SIM card. I used to have Netflix funded by my US Amex card, until the US price rose above the UK price, so I changed it to my UK Amex card, and later stopped it. With these video streaming services, the content is based on your IP address in the coutnry where you use the service, rather than the country where you pay for the service. So I get Amazon’s UK content at a Brazilian price.

I’m strongly against geoblocking of services and the charging of higher prices for the same service in wealthier countries. So circumventing the UK’s high prices for streaming services is very satisfying.

The Golden Age of TV? 480 channels of dross?

Years ago I was in a pub with a colleague and a visitor from the US. Seeing the TV in the corner he asked how many channels we had in the UK. I responded that we had four, since Channel 4 had recently been launched. He responded that “we have 44, but there’s nothing worth watching on a Friday evening”. It’s amazing how humour can become dated.

I am given around 140 channels on freeview, quite a few of which are radio, but when I want to do nothing constructive and stare at the screen it can, sometimes, be very hard to find something worth watching.
Having just had a small glass of Argentinian Malbec with some cashew nuts I’m watching one from a series of “Portrait of the year” on Sky Arts. I find these sorts of programmes quite interesting, like the pottery throwdown, where a mix of people use their talents and work hard at what they produce.

Just come from watching “Repair Shop” but apart from Fred Dibnah’s old series that’s all I can find that’s worth watching tonight.

Repair Shop appeals to me because it manages to avoid putting a value on antiques and often focuses on restoring products that have no value except to those who value them as heirlooms. It’s a refreshing change from an obsession with money. I’m interested in anything involving skill and engineering.

Repair shop generally has skilled unassuming people making a good job of putting a cherished possession of an ordinary person back in good order. There is enough detail of parts of the process to make it instructive, as well as entertaining. I watch it regularly.

On the other hand I am neither a fan of the self opinionated and rather sharp salvage hunter nor of some of the restorers who seem to indulge in a bit if bodging – although the upholster and blacksmith are among the exceptions, as indeed is the blacksmith in Money for Nothing. I watch these fairly rarely, usually out if desperation hoping something good may crop up. The general theme of taking someone’s discarded possessions and recycling them has appeal if only most of them were not turned into pretentious junk that is sold for some ridiculous – and suspicious – price. But then I’m perhaps a bit of a cynic.

I don’t have much time for television so on most days I just catch a news bulletin.

I wish it were possible to see the Nine O’Clock News from different dates in the past fifty years. Is such an archive available?

As a young teenager I was gripped by The World of Tim Frazer and would love to see those programmes again.

I like to catch up on older shows by getting DVD box sets cheaply secondand. That way I really do own the shows I buying and I can further share or donate them as I see fit.

I have a friend who does the same and then passes on ones I might be interested in. After that they go back to a charity shop.

The sense of actually owning something and being able to pass it on to someone else to enjoy. Two pleasures that come with a CD, DVD or even a book (or vinyl) you’ll never get with a download.

Radio is far more important than TV for me. I do enjoy watching wildlife programmes and documentaries. Most of the TV I watch is via iPlayer or occasionally other catch-up services.

I don’t watch too many heavy dramas as I have had my fair share of those in real life!!!

I watch a lot of quiz shows but am unable to get to grips with Countdown, rarely reaching more than 7 letter words. I often watch global news channels, mainly to find out what others are broadcasting about us. I stream quite a lot as music helps me to relax – a mixture of country and soul, plus some classical. Last evening I watched Alexander Malofeev playing Grieg’s Piano Concerto – quite a remarkable accomplishment for a 19 year old. I enjoy the Repair Shop mainly because I like to hear the history behind the treasured objects brought in for repair. The one and only soap I watch is Neighbours, a lunch time escape into an Aussie fantasy world of people whose charismatic personalities and presence are a welcome relief from the real world of inflexible autocratic political individuals that tend to dominate our TV screens at every available opportunity.

I have trouble hearing the radio nowadays so prefer to watch TV as there’s always the sub-titles………..

I thought you might like to see Alexander Malofeev playing Grieg when he was young – six years ago!

Thanks Wavechange and Malcolm. Interesting to compare and contrast.

It is also worth watching Malofeyev in the the Saint-Saëns No.2 Piano Concerto at the age of twelve [via the same link]. His interpretation is astonishing and the performance explosive. The conductor set a fast tempo and he kept up with it brilliantly.

Thanks John. Here is a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Ndbwuyt_0g

Thanks for the links. This is classic example of a genius performing but I have concerns for this young mans future. Has he ‘peaked’ too soon and missed out on a normal childhood? He is a joy to watch and listen to. I look forward to watching him play Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto in C (my favourite) when I have time.

Here’s a link, Beryl: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CW6cxApOBg&t=5s Enjoy!

Beryl – his interpretation of the Rachmaninov 2nd Piano Concerto was nothing short of exceptional in its sensitivity and total command in the relationship with the orchestra. You will enjoy it as one of the best ever in my opinion.

Alexander seems to have longer fingers than most and twelve of them!

He’s very gifted, and hand size is crucial for the big works. However, few manage to get first prize and the gold medal in the Tchaik competition, which he’s achieved, but you might be surprised to know the number of 11 and 12 year olds that can play to a similar level.

The Moscow specialist schools are greenhouses for talent, and they work youngsters relentlessly and extremely hard. Musicians who want to achieve a future as professional pianists have to make significant sacrifices in terms of socialisation but they’re very often an only child, so there are fewer distractions.

Mozart was one such, and his father was his own personal greenhouse. He was the youngest of seven, but five of them had died in childhood, so in a sense he was seen as an only child. The consequences of Mozart’s lack of socialisation can be seen clearly in the letter he wrote to his cousin.

I have an Amazon tv cube and my answer is download Kodi on it and also get a VPN, and amongst the addons you install you will fin d 2020 films and every tv show you can think of.

What do they mean “golden age”? What golden age? Today there’s nothing but absolutely abysmal garbage on TV, especially if, like me you’re forcibly confined to freeview because you can’t get a satellite signal because of dirty great FAT obstructions in the way, and even if I could get a signal I bet the only stuff remotely worth watching would be on premium channels only which I’d have to pay extra for. And today nearly all programming and advertising is made totally IMpossible to listen to because of the absolutely criminally INSANE obsession with absolutely intolerable brutal torturing and totally needless sound effects like absolutely insane skull piercing shrieking “whistling” and stupid moronic clicking fingers etc. and then there’s the absolutely dreadful reality programmes where there’s always someone arrogantly bragging about how they so enjoy their work and so on. The 80’s was the last remotely half decent era for British TV, after that came 1990 when the totally idiotic finger click and shrieking routines suddenly became such an obsession with producers which has only become even MORE of an insane obsession ever since. Then there’s all the programmes about “disability” when they NEVER show anyone even remotely disabled like me but instead only show the very tip of the proverbial iceberg, i.e. only the most elite, those who are so “disabled” but who can still go to university and then get a top notch job and who can still indulge in all manner of rowdy socialising and courting and marriage and frying HOT “holidays” etc. But never any mention whatsoever of anyone at the other extreme, oh no, they only ever go out of their way to totally deceive the viewers into thinking that all disabled folk use white sticks and wheelchairs and have such great lives and so on, what absolute total bull! Stuff like the “undateables” , and “without limits”, and the “disability paradox” for instance are totally unrepresentative deceptions. Honestly there was a far better choice of programming back in the 60’s when where we lived in plumstead we could only get bbc1on 405 lines in black and white only, anyone remember that? When TV’s took ages to warm up before they started working?