Need I say that these are terrible times we are living in and may be living in for the foreseeable future? At the moment, we’re in our homes—those of us fortunate enough to not be at immediate risk of losing shelter, food, heat, electricity, etc.—and trying to amuse ourselves. I’m thinking TV watching is high on the list, right? But what is a reviewer to do when the theaters are closed and there are few if any new movie openings to attend and comment on? Do I fold up my tent and take a hiatus?
I do not! In the next several columns I will focus on interesting offerings available on TV and streaming channels. However, as I am only one person who prefers not to partake in daily 12-hour film and program binges, I will need your help. Please, please, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me about your favorite shows—or the stinkers, if you choose. I will credit you in this column (or not, if anonymity is preferred) if I use your suggestions. Deal? Thanks in advance.
This week, I shall extol the virtues of the vast library possessed by PBS. It’s on whatever device you use to stream your shows (Roku, etc.) The truth now: You like what’s on the Public Broadcasting System just fine; you might even be a subscriber. Well done. You watch the occasional news show, and/or “Call the Midwife” and “Downton Abbey” and I’m hoping you caught Mark Rylance in “Wolf Hall.” But there is so very much more, riches beyond the imagination. How about all the shows made by Ken Burns, new ones and ones you could watch again (“Baseball,” anyone?) and be just as happy?
My daughter, the librarian with a counter-culture taste and soul, recently recommended I watch last year’s eight-part “Ken Burns’ Country Music.” It was a revelation to this New York-raised city girl. What we call country music today has been known as hillbilly, rockabilly, bluegrass, country/western, country rock, country pop. Its roots were a sometimes uneasy mix of influences from Negro blues and gospel, church hymns and generations-old folk songs, cowboy tunes and the rhythms of Mexico. Its evolution to a billion-dollar business today is filled with joy and heartbreak-Hank Williams, “The Hillbilly Shakespeare,” dead at 29; Dolly Parton’s ambition and fierce individualism, Loretta Lynn, the “Coalminer’s Daughter” who refused to be a victim, the rise and fall and rise and fall and rise again of Johnny Cash. The music can be simplistic or complex, to your taste or not, but damn, it’s good stuff. And the stories! Time and again, the excellent talking heads on the series tell us that, at heart, Country music values lyrics, is all about tales of love and heartbreak, our shared experiences as human beings made into sheer poetry by the likes of Kris Kristofferson. “Country Music” is not only a grand survey of a musical genre, but a piece of American history. It’s all there, the moods, the wars, the fashions, all the influences of the past 90 years. Do yourself a favor and watch one or two episodes a day. You’ll be glad you did.
More PBS: 21 seasons of “Independent Lens” with a new documentary each week. Forty-sevel years (!) of “Great Performances,” including Shakespeare, pop concerts, Broadway musicals, opera, classical concerts galore. The “Leonard Bernstein Centennial Celebration at Tanglewood,” “Tony Bennett and Diana Krall,” “Eric Clapton Guitar Festival,” “Sondheim! The Birthday concert.” I’ll stop now. Do you love “Antiques Roadshow”? It’s been on the air for 24 seasons. And there are 38 seasons of “Nature”—total heaven! Rivers, mountains, every animal under the sun with one hour devoted to each with gorgeous photography. While we’re on the subject of wildlife, be sure to catch the special three-episode season of “Animal Babies.” Serious oohs and ahs and sentimental smiles ahead.
More next week. Stay safe and be kind.