Aug 14 2013
I recently played through Myst for the first time ever (cross that one off my backlist of shame, thank you), which is very much a game about mood and atmosphere. Each age was a lot of stony greys and rusty browns, and the music and sound design were fantastic. I was pulled into a world over-explored then abandoned to time and the elements, and I visited almost daily.
I guess it’s no surprise my television habits followed suit. The past few weeks I’ve found myself trolling Netflix’s Watch Instantly selections for shows with grey days and slightly grey-faced protagonists, and thankfully it didn’t disappoint. I found four series that really hooked me, and after delving into each I realized they all featured at least one actor who was beloved to geeks and/or nerds, which is always good news for a geeky nerd like myself. The shows happen to be quite good, also.
Featuring Gillian Anderson as Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, The Fall follows Gibson’s investigations into a series of murders in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It also follows the killer as he stalks and claims his prey, a storytelling mechanic I always love to see in crime dramas. The cinematography rivals that of most HBO original series, and the sound design is incredible. Plus, Gillian Anderson is once again donning a badge and a trench coat, which makes teenage me almost unbearably delighted. Scully was my spirit animal for so long, I’d be hard pressed to name another. Though if you put a gun to my head and told me to choose between Ripley and Scully, I might just tell you to do what you gotta do.
Longmire is close to my heart because it takes place in Wyoming, which is just north of my home state and shares similar scenery and ways of life. Among the featured cast are Robert Taylor (Agent Jones in The Matrix), Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck in BSG, as if you didn’t already know), and Lou Diamond Phillips (Ritchie Valens in La Bamba, for all you music nerds out there). It’s a fairly typical crime drama, with most of its mysteries getting solved by the end of each episode, but you can’t beat the setting. It sometimes has a Deadwood-in-the-modern-age kind of a feel, and as I worked my way through the first season, I found the characters had quietly gotten under my skin.
Luther stars Idris Elba as the titular character, a Detective Chief Inspector who combines the crime-solving skills of Sherlock Homes with the attitude and methods of John McClane. Elba is definitely vying for King of the Nerds, appearing in Pacific Rim, Thor, and Promethus, among other nerd-friendly fare (The Wire? There’s such a thing as HBO nerds, right?). His name was also bandied about recently as a possible twelfth Doctor before Peter Capaldi was finally announced as successor. You can’t earn much more nerd credibility than that. Luther also has elements of the Hannibal Lecter series: throughout the first series Luther gains insight into the minds of criminals via a sociopathic murderer who eludes him in the pilot, and she and the DCI form an electric, if uneasy alliance.
Top of the Lake
Top of the Lake is the show that led me to most of the others on this list. It’s a five episode miniseries often compared to Twin Peaks, which Top of the Lake openly invokes with its end credits. Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss plays a detective investigating the disappearance of a twelve-year-old pregnant girl in rural New Zealand, and as she digs deeper into the case, more secrets about the tight-knit town of Laketop are revealed. She’s aided by David Wenham (Faramir!), who has secrets of his own. There’s also a colony of women living rough on a patch of land called Paradise, led by a guru (Holly Hunter) who’s less new age and more tell-it-like-it-is. With cursing.
This plays out like an extended feature film, and indeed some of the episodes cut to the credits with absolutely no sense of closure or even a cliffhanger. It’s a little slow going, but seriously beautiful. It gets scarier and more surreal as the story unfolds, though not quite to the level of Twin Peaks. Don’t go in expecting any backwards-talking dwarfs in red rooms. Do expect religious allusions and a creepy, understated, and unrelenting sense of menace.
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