Much is made these days of binge-watching. Most of the discussion focuses on Netflix, although there are other outlets for the practice of watching entire seasons of television series in a short period of time. I’m not a big fan of binge-watching … the only recent occasion when I did it was probably Orange Is the New Black. What I end up doing is watching in a piecemeal fashion rather than all at once. It’s a case of out-of-sight, out-of-mind … I can easily see what recent episodes are waiting on my DVR, but it takes a bit of work to switch over to Netflix. Not a lot of work, but enough that I often forget to bother. Take House of Cards, a fine Netflix show that won three Emmys for its first season. We still haven’t seen a handful of episodes. It’s as if the ability to watch all of the episodes at once removes the urgency. I’ll watch a series week to week, and I don’t miss episodes because I want to keep up. But House of Cards? It will still be there tomorrow. The very thing that makes it possible to watch the entire season at once ends up allowing me to get “behind” without concern.
And so, The Fall. It’s a BBC production that was a great success in the UK, five episodes long but with a second season approved. The U.S. rights were grabbed by Netflix, where you can binge-watch the five episodes in one longish evening if you’d like.
But we fell into the slow eating routine, spreading out those five episodes for so long I forget the length. This meant that each time we watched a new episode, we had to remember what had happened before (and “previously on” didn’t fulfill our needs). Which is all a way to explain that I’m not doing the series justice.
Having said all of that, I liked The Fall quite a bit. On the surface, it’s just another procedural with a serial killer, which isn’t my cup of tea in the first place. What raises The Fall is the care taken to establish characters, and the manner in which life in Belfast is integrated into the narrative with restraint. That, and the acting, mostly by actors about whom I know nothing. Well, Archie Panjabi shows up, and while I don’t remember seeing him in anything, Jamie Dornan has been in the news lately after being cast in the film version of Fifty Shades of Grey. The star power behind The Fall, though, lies with Gillian Anderson as the detective in charge of the case. I’ve never developed an opinion about Anderson, since I didn’t watch X-Files. She is excellent here, underplaying in a way that is appreciated when compared to contemporaries like Claire Danes in Homeland and Diane Kruger in The Bridge (both of them are also excellent, but in a far more showy fashion). Anderson’s Detective Gibson is a bit like Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennison … although in this show, office sexism is mostly hidden, Gibson makes explicit connections between the acts of the serial killer and misogyny (as if the sexism had moved from the office to the outside world). Anderson does a fine job of delineating Gibson’s intelligence. It’s a performance that simmers without often boiling over.
There are a lot of these small, fine dramas on television these days. Mo Ryan gave a nice list when urging us to watch The Returned, a French series which begins soon in the States on Sundance: Top of the Lake, Rectify, Broadchurch, The Fall. Top of the Lake was probably the closest of these to The Fall, although I thought it reached a higher level. Both have prominent actresses in lead roles as a detective (Elisabeth Moss in Top of the Lake). Moss’s character had more depth than Anderson’s, and that show, helmed by Jane Campion, made marvelous use of its New Zealand setting. Broadchurch did more to put us inside the community where the events took place than does The Fall. But all of these series have their own strengths, and all of them are very good. To put it in modern terms, all are worthy of a binge-watch session. Grade for The Fall: A-.