TV doesn’t get much bet­ter than these two

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - BRAD OSWALD

IF you count your­self among the folks who can be heard com­plain­ing that there’s noth­ing good on TV these days...

Lis­ten up. This col­umn’s for you.

The pair of se­ries fea­tured to­day — one new, one re­turn­ing — are just two more el­e­ments in the over­whelm­ing wave of ev­i­dence that we are, right now, liv­ing in tele­vi­sion’s golden age. There’s still plenty of room for nos­tal­gic dis­cus­sions about how great the clas­sic TV shows were in the medium’s early years, but the sim­ple fact of the mat­ter is that there’s more great tele­vi­sion be­ing pro­duced now than at any time in the tube’s his­tory.

It might be a bit harder to find, be­cause there are hun­dreds of chan­nels car­ry­ing thou­sands of hours of de­press­ingly soul-suck­ing garbage TV like Jersey Shore and any­thing whose ti­tle ends in Honey Boo Boo, but if you’re com­mit­ted to find­ing qual­ity, there’s more than enough to keep any PVR filled.

From main­stream net­work fare like The Good Wife, Mod­ern Fam­ily and New Girl to spe­cialty ca­ble of­fer­ings such as Break­ing Bad, Mad Men, Jus­ti­fied and Boss, the good list is a big list. And what fol­lows are de­scrip­tions of two se­ries that fully de­serve to be in­cluded.

First up is Call the Mid­wife, the de­light­fully charm­ing pe­riod drama that pre­mieres Sun­day at 8 p.m. on Prairie Pub­lic TV. Based on the mem­oirs of the late mid­wife-turned-au­thor Jen­nifer Worth, the se­ries fol­lows a young nurse named Jenny Lee (played by Jes­sica Raine) as she takes her first Star­ring Jes­sica Raine Sun­day at 8 p.m. PBS

½ out of five Star­ring Claire Danes, Damian Lewis Sun­day at 9 p.m. Su­per Chan­nel

½ out of five job work­ing as a mid­wife in Lon­don’s im­pov­er­ished East End.

The year is 1957, less than a decade af­ter the in­tro­duc­tion of Bri­tain’s Na­tional Health Ser­vice, and Jenny has no idea what she’s in for. She be­lieves she has been hired to work at a small pri­vate hospi­tal, but when she ar­rives at her new em­ployer’s ad­dress, she finds it’s a con­vent, Non­na­tus House, and learns she’ll be work­ing along­side a hand­ful of nuns and a cou­ple of other nurses to pro­vide pre- and post-na­tal care in an over­crowded and des­per­ately poor work­ing-class neigh­bour­hood.

In the precinct to which she has been as­signed, more than 100 ba­bies are born ev­ery month, which means the nurses and nuns are con­stantly, fran­ti­cally on the move, con­vey­ing them­selves by bi­cy­cle through the filthy cob­ble­stone streets of the dockside community.

It all sounds rather des­per­ate and bleak, but the fact of the mat­ter is that Call the Mid­wife — which de­buted in the U.K. last year as the BBC’s top-rated new drama ever — is a won­der­fully lay­ered se­ries filled with com­plex and cap­ti­vat­ing char­ac­ters, metic­u­lous his­tor­i­cal de­tail and sto­ry­lines that range from the heartwrench­ing to the flat-out hi­lar­i­ous. It re­ally is must-see TV. Next on to­day’s Wow-is-TV-ever­good-these-days docket is the sec­ond­sea­son pre­miere of Home­land (Sun­day at 9 p.m. on Su­per Chan­nel), the made- for-U.S.-ca­ble (Show­time net­work) se­ries that swept the Em­mys last week­end, tak­ing home awards for best drama se­ries and best ac­tress (Claire Danes), best ac­tor (Damian Lewis) and best writ­ing in a drama se­ries.

If you haven’t seen it — which is quite likely since its Cana­dian home is Su­per Chan­nel — you should find the first-sea­son box set and find out why folks in the TV biz think it’s so great. Sea­son 1 fo­cused on the ef­forts of an emo­tion­ally crip­pled CIA agent (Danes) to prove that a U.S. sol­dier (Lewis) res­cued af­ter eight years of cap­tiv­ity in an Al Qaeda prison was not the hero ev­ery­one thinks but had in fact been turned by his cap­tors and was work­ing for the ter­ror­ists.

By the end of its rookie sea­son, Home­land re­solved sev­eral huge plot points and an­swered most of its ini­tial who’s-right/who’s-wrong ques­tions — in as grip­ping a man­ner as any drama se­ries could — but as the sec­ond sea­son opens, it’s clear that the show’s writ­ers have found many more dark nar­ra­tive al­leys to ex­plore.

In the role of now-for­mer CIA op­er­a­tive Carrie Mathi­son, Danes is sim­ply amaz­ing. Her por­trayal of a tor­tured soul who would rather do any­thing but be right about her sus­pi­cions is so deeply nu­anced that ev­ery mo­ment on­screen is mem­o­rable.

And Lewis, whose char­ac­ter has now made a quick tran­si­tion to life as an elected of­fi­cial, is eas­ily Danes’s equal as a man car­ry­ing so many se­crets that he’s no longer cer­tain what, or who, is true.

Home­land fully de­served its first­sea­son ac­co­lades, and there’s ev­ery rea­son to be­lieve its new episodes will live up to the Emmy-win­ning stan­dard it has set for it­self.

NEAL STREET PRO­DUC­TIONS

Left, Jes­sica Raine (cen­tre) stars in the British drama Call the Mid­wife. Be­low, Danes in Home­land.

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