Saturday, December 29, 2007

Television that's Good for the Brain?

Speaking of brain power (which we weren't but I've been thinking about it lol), maybe television can help. I know that's not the usual take on this supposedly mindless activity, but bear with me, will ya?

The Cuppa and I have been catching up on some programs that we missed over the hols but recorded on our handy dandy little machine. The programs that we regularly record include British series such as Waking the Dead, Judge John Deed, Inspector Lynley, and Midsomer Murders (among others). In this round of catchup, we have been privileged to watch two episodes of Midsomer Murders, each episode being composed two separate hour-long segments.

We found ourselves, not for the first time, being totally confused by the first episode that we recently watched: The Fisher King. In this, a typical case by the way, we were so quickly introduced to so many characters that we easily lost track. It's not so bad when you can see who Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby and his assistant are talking to, but when they just reference these suspects in passing dialogue, it can become mighty confusing.

So, I decided to take notes in our next episode, Sins of Commission. It's a good thing because, in total, we were introduced to 15 characters (16 if you count one person who changed identities and not counting the regulars), mostly in the first hour. Dems allotta characters, eh? So, you can perhaps see why one might become a trifle lost when someone whom you've barely met is referenced as Sam Callahan or Neville Williams later on. You tend to think Sam Who or Neville Huh?

But the notes helped. It seems to me that they helped me engage my grey matter by forcing me to focus more clearly. Even before I referred to the notes, I found that my brain was working harder to recall the particulars. In other words, the experience became more active rather than simply passive, and that would seem to be good for the noggin rather than bad.

As I said, within reason, we watch as much British television as we can. I think it all started when we chanced upon Cracker many years ago. It was great stuff which blew North America TV out of the water (poor metaphor, I know). If you ever have a chance compare the British Waking the Dead to the American Cold Case, two programs based on similar premise. In point of fact, there really is no comparison. Waking the Dead is deep and variable while Cold Case employs the same banal and predictable formula every darn week. The ghosts (you know what I mean if you watch it) and the music do help to make Cold Case watchable, but I think that most would agree that it's pretty thin.

Over the years, we have watched Prime Suspect, Inspector Morse, Frost and others, some of which I've listed at the outset. At one time A&E was a good source for such programs, but it doesn't seem to be any more, but PBS still has its share. I think we pick up Midsomer Murders on our local PBS-like (but not PBS) station, but I'm fairly confident that it can be found elsewhere. Now, in Canada we have BBC Canada to help to feed our addiction for these types of programs, and if there's a BBC Canada, there surely must be an American version too? Hint, hint.

FYI: here's how describes the program that I've gone about today, Midsomer Murders.

The programme possesses a unique style. It is almost entirely set within the closed, backwards-looking fictional English county of Midsomer. Midsomer is a world whose inhabitants are a collection of wealthy, amoral and snobbish eccentrics often obsessed with the fairly small lives they lead in these isolated communities. This provides for an enormous amount of friction between them which is observed with a self-mocking, sardonic humour.

The show often highlights the facade put up by people. To the eye Midsomer is a picturesque, peaceful and prosperous county but in fact behind the well-trimmed hedgerows and cricket on the village green is a society brimming with all kinds of vices. Barnaby by contrast offers a stable homelife and an exceptional morality.

Each story is built up carefully, with underpinning currents and unsolved mysteries adding to the bemusement of the detectives. There are usually a number of false leads, such as those who have committed petty crimes, or harbour some dark secret that they attempt to conceal from the world. Despite the sinister, atmospheric edge that runs through the show, it maintains a constant humour.

One feature of the programme is the extremely large number of deaths, especially considering that Midsomer is a small, rural county. Because of the slightly bizarre nature of the place, this does not seem entirely improbable. The show at times even plays on this lack of realism, with characters within it often commenting on the astoundingly high numbers of deaths.


Ruth said...

We love British television too. My brother gave us Set One of Foyles War for Christmas. Excellent!!! We just have basic cable, but fortunately our public library carries most of the good BBC series on DVD.

thailandchani said...

I like many of the British shows.. when I can get them, particularly the mysteries.

TV can definitely be good. It's all about choosing wisely. I watch Qi Gong, yoga and other shows on PBS and have learned a lot that way.

Pam said...

I, too, like British television, when we can get it. And I liked your idea of taking notes, it was a lot of characters.

I'll take brain exercise anywhere I can get it!

PBS said...

I like watching those good shows on BBC. Plus our library has some of them, too.

Anonymous said...

I used to LOVE the British comedies. No one can do it better or funnier than the British.

Donna said...

Sorry, but there's Nothing American, to compare with PBS or the BBC broadcast. Bravo might come close. Agatha Christie's Poirot, Miss Marple...Doyle's Sherlock Holmes..fantastic shows. Midsomer it! Absolutely Fabulous...geez, what a hoot That is....TV? Only British stuff when I can get it. OR, I buy it on DVD. I,Claudius...saw it once in the '70's. Never saw it again, so when it came out on dvd, I bought it. Whew!!! Have A Wonderful Day...and stay warm!!

Ginnie said...

I watch almost no television. Our shows here in the US are pitiful and not worth the time...but I do like the British ones when I can find them.
I hope you and yours will have a wonderful New Year's, AC and I'll be back in 2008.

Donna said...

Also, just want to wish you and Cuppa a very Happy New year!!

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

Taking notes on a TV show!!!!! I thought you retired from the eduction industry. Hard to shake those old problem solving techniques, eh!

I am old enough to remember daily listening to British news radio, "This is London Calling!"

I thought I watched a lot of British programs but you mentioned one's I have never seen.

Happy New Year! May you get another grandchild in the new year so each grandparent can have one to play with.

dabrah said...

I love Midsomer Murders as well, and this will make you jealous, I'm actually in England, and there's a new 2 hour episode on tonight. I'm recording it. I really enjoyed reading your blog entry and like watching the same programs you do. However, I also enjoy a lot of American programs. You guys have some really good shows too.
Now I'm going to nip over to the Snowdrops blog and see what that's about!

Maya's Granny said...

We have BBC America, which gives us Jeckyl and Torchwood, two of my favorites. Lots of good BBC mysteries on PBS.

A & E did a wonderful job with Nero Wolf, but they seem to be currently out of the classy mysteries business. I loved it when there was N Wolf on A & E and Poirot, I'm not sure what network that was on. Both were really class acts, which isn't at all usual for American mysteries these days.