So, some of my TV and film writing will be appearing at The AV Club in the near future, which I think is pretty cool. In fact, some of my writing already has! I contributed some foreign-language TV shows for one of their recent Inventories. (You can read the whole list here; there are some very interesting picks here, including some stuff I hadn’t realized was initially made for TV, don’t tell anybody, let’s all just be cool about it.)

I came up with three that have stuck with me, for very different reasons: Anno 1790, the Russian Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson, and My Lovely Sam Soon. I want to go into them a little more, though, because all of them give me complicated feelings and we know how I like those.

Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson.

Somehow I operated for years thinking I had no particular investment in Sherlock Holmes, only to realize that if you poked me about it, essays fell out. And that I think when people talk about the truest-to-canon Sherlock Holmes, if Vasily Livanov isn’t at least tied for first, it’s probably because they haven’t seen it. Livanov, who starred alongside Vitaly Solomin as Watson, made this Russian series a masterpiece of the form. They managed to stay almost painstakingly true to canon while highlighting thematic similarities that perhaps even Conan Doyle himself hadn’t considered, and occasionally taking direct shots at him. (At one point, Watson’s war wound migrates without explanation, just like Conan Doyle wrote. That’s dedication.)

Their Hound of the Baskervilles – a good litmus test since it’s one of the most popular (though it’s not particularly Holmes-heavy, which is a fascinating proof of the invisible power of Watson) – features one of the warmest moor reunions on film, a greeting earned by their truly outstanding rapport. One of the most affectionate and well-matched pairs in the canon, these two live in a 221b that everyone should know.

My Lovely Sam Soon

My Lovely Sam Soon is an iconic K-drama, and was my starting point for the genre, following the exploits of a patissier who gets a job in a schmancy restaurant whose owner decides they should sign a love contract pretending to date but never, ever, EVER developing real feelings for each other EVER, OKAY? (Dig it.) While I mainlined it, I do have some mixed feelings on this that prevent it from being a flat-out recommendation.

Kim Suna, as Kim Sam Soon, is delightful – flawless comic timing as a character who’s allowed to be a little messy, who calls people on their crap, who has strong family bonds. Unfortunately, her love interest, Jin-Heon, pulls a ton of shit on her. Some is par for the course in the soap sense, but by the time he’s slapping his ex for revealing her medical condition (what) and physically dragging Sam Soon away from dates (whaaaaaat) and hiring muscle to prevent Sam Soon from changing her name because he decided she shouldn’t change it (WHAT), I was sort of hoping he’d fall into a pit of lava. Her ex is not a pinnacle of respectful adulthood, either, but at least he never hires anyone to bully her. Still, Daniel Henney, whose acting is not great but whose face is A+, plays the love interest of Jin-Heon’s returned ex, charismatically communicating his feelings yet not expecting more than anyone’s promised in the friendship/relationship continuum. (His scenes with Kim Suna, where she tries to communicate and then just monologues at and about his amazing face, are some of the funniest in the series.)

So, really, there are reasons to watch, and if your Telenovela Index is high then you probably have nothing to worry about! But I did end up feeling like the bullshit level was sometimes too high for me to personally enjoy. Still, Sam Soon is awesome enough to follow for several hours. You can always use the fast-forward as a lava substitute if necessary.


Anno 1790

Ugh, I fell for this show like a ton of bricks. A period piece that uses procedural elements to highlight both the science and the politics of the day, with an ensemble cast acting out people caught in moral ambiguity in realistic conflict with one another, plus one random angry woman who’s always storming in and making pronouncements and ordering assassinations because TV? I’m in.

Peter Eggers, who should be in everything, is an internal but compelling actor, and it’s ceaselessly interesting watching him try to navigate his obligations as chief of police while dealing with his religious investigation assistant/only friend (turns out being a medical doctor with a bunch of anatomical sketches and some political-radicalism in your past, plus being head cop now, sort of prevents a large social circle), his boss (who is by the standards of the day pretty centrist and still manages to make your hair stand on end about once an episode), and his boss’s wife (who used to be a midwife and is a pretty sharp tack, and misses having a purpose in life so acutely that much of her love for the good Doctor stems from the fact that he actually listens when she talks). There are a lot of other themes at play (many of the cases deal with issues of class, politics, and the sense of upheaval that was permeating the age). I’ll probably end up writing more about it at some point, because it’s awesome.