Sunday, January 21, 2018

Must-See TV for Writers

As a writer, I love TV shows that use intricate plots and settings to show the ups and downs of being human in a less-than-perfect world. As a crime writer, I am especially fond of shows in the mystery genre. Regardless of the genre, the best TV features conflict as a common denominator.

The following are my top picks:

Cast of As Time Goes By from BBC
As Time Goes By (1992-2005) was a BBC-produced romantic comedy of manners about Lionel and Jean, who were lovers in their youth only to be separated due to a communication failure (communication issues dog every relationship, don’t they?). But they meet up again thirty eight years later and resume their relationship, in fits and starts.

As Time Goes By portrayed well-drawn characters in relationships that were very real. The humor was natural and not manufactured. Lionel and Jean loved each other, despite occasional minor conflicts. My husband and I share the same affectionate marital banter that Lionel and Jean enjoyed. Their story has gladdened the hearts of romantics everywhere.

I try to emulate this tone and interaction for my characters. Most stories have a romantic component and my Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries are no exception.

Beck is a Swedish police procedural, based on the novels of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. The characters are sharply drawn, from the plodding, methodical Martin Beck to his hot-tempered, politically incorrect partner, Gunvald, a loose cannon if ever there was one. The writers allow the characters to grow throughout the series, giving them plenty of opportunities to reveal their humanity, warts and all. There is violence, especially when Gunvald gets involved, but it’s not on a par with the Girl with a Dragon Tattoo series.

Writers can learn much about creating riveting stories and compelling characters from watching Beck.

Downton Abbey Talk about conflict! This acclaimed British period drama revels in it. It’s educational to see how the fast-paced stories keep us glued to our seats. The secret, I believe, is to supply each character with back-to-back personal challenges, whether they be related to money, marriage, death, birth—the list goes on.

Midsomer Murders Don’t be fooled by the idyllic-looking county of Midsomer—its murder rate beats that of any urban area. Passions run high and evil lurks everywhere. Midsomer Murders is a slightly quirky British detective drama based on the crime novels by Caroline Graham. The main characters enjoy satisfying relationships, and the guest characters tend to be eccentric and harbor pasts (and often presents) ridden with secrets and scandals. They are often involved in the arts, academia, and the occult: painters, actors, writers, professors, fortune tellers, etc.

I especially liked the episode “Written in Blood,” where murder took place in a writing group.

Miss Marple Ah, the beloved Miss Jane Marple, created over eighty years ago by Agatha Christie. The elderly spinster lives a quiet life in the village of St. Mary Mead—quiet until a villager is murdered and that happens with alarming regularity. Miss Marple nails the murderer(s) every time, using her powers of observation. Sometimes she disguises her shrewdness with a dithery manner. Living in a village, she is well-acquainted with the vagaries of human nature, and she can always draw a parallel between the latest crime and a villager, or village incident.

There are countless adaptations of the stories and a number of actresses have played Miss Marple. Joan Hickson is my favorite as she best matches my picture of how the character looks, acts, and speaks.

Agatha Christie has influenced many crime writers over the years, especially with plot development. I expect that she’ll do so indefinitely. I think the Columbo character played by Peter Falk often channeled Miss Marple, with his bumbling ways that concealed a sharp mind.

From Wikipedia
Taggart, one of the UK’s longest-running series, is an unflinching police drama from Scotland. I rent the DVDs from my local library. The story lines are intricate as are the personal relationships of the recurring and guest cast members. I enjoy the depictions of the relationships, many of which are unenviable and riddled with friction between characters who are far from perfect. Twists and turns in the plot culminate in the killer, or killers, being identified. More often than not the end comes as a stunning surprise.

These gritty stories are set against Glasgow’s grand architecture.

In my estimation Taggart is a must-see show for crime writers.

Touched by an Angel was a popular American series that ran for nine seasons. I’ve long been attracted to stories of people who have reached turning points in their lives. Sometimes they’re between a rock and a hard place. As they’re grappling with personal demons, conflict, and tough choices, along comes an angel in human form to guide them and impart God’s wisdom.

This show inspired me on many levels. At the beginning of my debut mystery, Murder at the Book Group, the main character, Hazel Rose, is standing at a crossroads. She is at loose ends in her life and is hard pressed to make even the smallest of decisions. Solving the victim’s murder gives her the opportunity to grow and get out of her rut.   

Writers can get inspiration from many more great shows: Brokenwood, Janet King, Inspector Morse, Maria Wern, Wallander, West Wing, and Winds of War/War and Remembrance are just a few.

Tell us your favorites.


Charles Gramlich said...

A show I like called "lucifer" has inspired me of late

Amy Reade said...

I love lists like this. I have to confess that the only show on your list that I have watched is Downton Abbey and I haven't even watched the last season of that. I must further confess that I rarely watch tv. But I think I might look in my local libraries for Taggart--that sounds like a great show. I'm on Season 2 of Outlander, far behind most viewers, but I'm not sure that's inspired my writing. I tend to be inspired more by books, since I spend so much more time with them. Excellent post!

jrlindermuth said...

Interesting assortment and three of those would go on my 'must see' list, also. I loved both As Time Goes By and Midsomer Murders and Miss Marple is probably my favorite Christie character. Looks like I favor quirky in my TV watching. But I agree--there is a learning factor in most shows, provided you're willing to look for it.

Sally Carpenter said...

I admit I prefer older shows. "Columbo" is a classic on clues and red herrings. "Mission: Impossible" is not a mystery as such, but the story structure and plotting are impeccable. I love how the various threads (the different IM team members) pull together at the end to complete the mission. The Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series was the most faithful to the books.

Patricia Gligor said...

I watch a lot of reruns. Rizzoli & Isles, Without a Trace and Murder She Wrote to name a few.
New shows I watch include: Law & Order SVU, Bull, Finding Your Roots, Man with a Plan, Young Sheldon and, of course, The Big Bang Theory.
In other words, I mix murder/crime with good comedy. :)

Maggie King said...

Thanks to all for sharing your favorites. Amy, with your affinity for Scotland you'd definitely like Taggart.

Linda Thorne said...

I haven't watched most of them either, but how nice to read about these TV shows that gave you motivation. Right now I have a day job with heavy demands and I'm lucky to write anything. I see very little TV.

Liane Spicer said...

I don't watch TV, but every now and then a series intrigues me and I end up watching it from end to end. The last two that captivated me this way were "The Good Wife" and "Big Bang Theory". I already have Downton Abbey earmarked, and I love the premise of "As Time Goes By". "Taggart" looks like a great one too.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Like you, I love TV mystery series. From your list, I see I've missed a few: Taggart and Beck. I'll look for them. Recently, I've enjoyed seeing Agatha Raisin on the small screen, as well as "Murder in Suburbia," another English import.

Maggie King said...

Liane, I understand that The Good Wife is one to watch. Marilyn, I've seen Murder in Suburbia and Agatha Raisin. The TV Agatha is very different from the one on page.

Grace Topping said...

Terrific post, Maggie. The thing I find amazing, and probably accounts for the popularity of “As Time Goes By” is that all of the episodes were written by a single writer. My husband and I really enjoy “Midsomer Murders.”

G.B. Miller said...

I recently binged watched all 11 seasons of "Frasier". I didn't watch the 1st time around as I'm not a fan of spin-offs, nor did I watch it in reruns as I find I very difficult to watch a show that has good continuity from season to season (in other words, you can't skip any shows and expect to pick up the plots later). I only got into it after reading a good book about the pop culture influences it had piqued my curiosity. So I highly recommend the show for anyone who longs for exceptionally solid writing and acting.

Dana McNeely said...

Last year we subscribed to "Acorn TV" thru Amazon Prime and I have loved the "Vera" and "Shetland" series, based on the fine mysteries of Ann Cleeves. It's great to hear some new recommendations. I think I'd like "As Time Goes By". Loved Downton Abbey!

Mary Adler said...

I love the shows on your list. Another of my favorites is "inspector Montalbano" set in Sicily. Another series that has much to teach mystery writers is "Life" with Damien Lewis. Only two seasons, but the way his character evolves and is revealed is masterful. Jeremy Brett is Sherlock for me. Great post. Thank you.

Maggie King said...

Thanks for all your comments and recommendations. G.B. I enjoyed Frasier. Great characters and stories, plus it stayed enjoyable season to season. Mary, have you seen Young Montalbano? The stories are set in the early 90s. Great characters. Dana, I love Vera and Shetland and look forward to season 7 of Vera.