Jim and Susan’s TV Watching Update

by James Wallace Harris, 4/21/23

Back in December, I wrote about how Susan and I needed a new TV show to binge on. We were wrapping up Downton Abby having rewatched it from the first to the last episode and the two movies. I asked for recommendations and figured I might update that post and let y’all know what we ended up watching.

Here are the series we’ve binged on so far, watching two episodes a night starting at 9 pm.

Time Period Series
1912-1926Downton Abby
1903-1930Upstairs, Downstairs (1971)
1936-1939Upstairs, Downstairs (2010)
1937-1953All Creatures Great and Small (1978)
1938-1939All Creatures Great and Small (2020)

We tried Northern Exposure but it didn’t hook us. I guess we weren’t ready to leave England because we ended up watching Upstairs, Downstairs – both the 1971 and 2010 versions. It wasn’t nearly as good as Downton Abby but we got so we liked it well enough. The contrast in TV production in the 1970s and 2010s was striking. Upstairs, Downstairs (1971) never had elaborate sets, and the costumes weren’t as elegant either. The storytelling in the older show was simple too. Most of the early 1970s episodes only featured one plot line, whereas Downton Abby and Upstairs, Downstairs (2010) switched between several. That’s something that become standard in 21st-century television.

All three shows had an ensemble cast, but Downton Abby’s was much larger. Plus, Downton Abby had lots of exterior shots, which made the period setting far more realistic and enjoyable. The newer Upstairs, Downstairs was quite well done, it just didn’t last long enough for us to get attached to the show.

After Upstairs, Downstairs (2010) we started watching both the new and old versions of All Creatures Great and Small. We watched one episode of each starting at 9pm. This was fascinating for about ten days seeing how they each presented the same material from the book. Episodes of the 1970s All Creatures Great and Small tended to be choppy and episodic, often jumping days between scenes.

The newer show made each episode a solid coherent story. But this meant they’d stretch out some anecdotes from the book and skimp quickly over others. Overall, the storytelling, production, and cinematography were superior in the new version. Of course, widescreen high-definition made a huge difference too. On the other hand, I think we liked the characters better in the older show, although we like both sets of actors a lot. However, I was slightly more taken with the newer Helen. Susan, I think liked the looks of the newer actors, but found the characters in the older show more developed.

After ten days of this dual viewing, we switched to just watching the newest version to finish it off and focused on the old version. All Creatures Great and Small ran for three seasons in the late 1970s and then stopped around 1980. It had 90-minute one-shot Christmas specials in 1983 and 1985. Then in 1988 it started back up and ran another four seasons. The first three seasons covered 1937-1939. The fourth season picked up again in 1949 and the story ended in 1953. The first three seasons of the new show covered 1937-1939. I don’t know if there will be more or not.

We watched Upstairs, Downstairs – and the older version of All Creatures Great and Small on Britbox.

Again, a contrast between TV production in the 1970s and 2020s. Of course, in this show, the exterior shots were important in both productions. I’ve got to say, the old series seems to have spent far more time on the gritty details of being a large animal vet. We see all kinds of animals being born, often with Herriot’s or Farnon’s arm up to their shoulder in a cow’s vagina. And these scenes look very realistic. So realistic I have to wonder if they weren’t assisting in real animal births. They did fake it in the new series, but it’s hard to find out information about the making of the original series. That’s because Google only wants to show me articles about the new series.

I did find this one article that suggests the older version did work with real animals, and the actors did have their arms inside cows. What dedication to method acting. (If you know of any links that describe the details of how they produced these scenes in the older show, leave a comment.)

Now that we’ve finished the 91 episodes of the old version of All Creatures Great and Small, we’ve started rewatching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel so we can be well prepared to view the final season, season 5 which is appearing weekly now. We want to time things so we finish season 4 when all the episodes of season 5 have been released.

Last night, it occurred to me this is our first show set in America. I think we’ve both seen the Mrs. Maisel series twice, but not by watching it together. Susan was working out of town for its first three seasons and I watched it with different friends.

Susan and I have come to really enjoy our 9pm to 11pm TV time. Looking at the shows and the time periods they cover suggests that Susan and I share a love of period stories that feature a large cast centered around a family or family-like structure. We’ve never been into mysteries, thrillers, or cop shows.

It’s a shame that’s not our only TV viewing. It would be great if we were busy and active with other hobbies and only spent two hours a day on television.

However, we’re both TV addicts, and we watch a lot of television that the other doesn’t like by ourselves. Susan in the living room, me in the den. That means we subscribe to a bunch of TV services, all of which are raising their prices. We probably spent less money before we cut the cord on cable. When we had one TV using one cable box, we watched a lot more TV together. I think it was the invention of the DVR that started us watching shows separately.

I prefer watching TV with somebody else. That’s how I grew up. TV was a family social activity. Of course, we only had one TV, and if you wanted to watch it, you generally had to watch it with others. I’d also go to school and talk about the TV I watched with my family with my friends at school, making it even more social. In the 1950s and 1960s there just weren’t that many shows to talk about, so most everyone was familiar with what was shown on TV. Nowadays, TV watching has become almost a solitary activity as masturbation. Plus, there are hundreds of choices customized for every taste that divide us. I think that’s kind of weird.


3 thoughts on “Jim and Susan’s TV Watching Update”

  1. “there are hundreds of choices customized for every taste that divide us. I think that’s kind of weird.”

    I agree! Back in the aughts I explained to my young teen kids how fun it used to be to discuss tv shows with friends, because we were all watching the same shows on the same days. Even though my kids grew up with the convenience of choosing what to watch and when to watch it, they loved the idea of tv being a shared / social experience.

    Streaming really has changed tv viewing from a social activity to something we’re more likely to do alone. And what we’ve lost isn’t just the immediate social experience, but the connection that carries on through the decades:

    FUTURE ME: “Haha, remember when Michael always said ‘that’s what he said’?” … (already laughing in anticipation of our shared recollection of Michael’s juvenile sense of humor.)
    OTHER: “what are you talking about?” ME: “The Office!” OTHER: “Oh. I never watched that.” ME: ….. 😦

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