A Show Worthy of Bingeing On: River

December 14, 2015

151119_StellanSkarsgardCRLeft: Sketch of Stellan Skarsgård as D.I. River in his pinched and stylish suit, contemplating life. Permanent pigment ink and watersoluble dye-based ink on Nideggen in a 7.5 inch square handmade journal turned on end vertically.  

Brother of my friend: Have you seen “Man in the High Castle”?

R: No I’ve seen it advertised, isn’t it an adaptation of a book by Philip K. Dick?

The friend’s brother begins to outline the plot. I’m nodding, we’re having an interesting and engaged conversation. It’s a large dinner party and there are enough people that everyone has someone with whom they can converse easily.

Suddenly there’s an interruption.

Wife of the brother of my friend is speaking quickly, without pausing for breath: You told me you watched it all in two evenings. You were BINGE watching. If you didn’t like it all that much then why were you BINGE watching? Why talk about something that you were BINGE watching and didn’t really like, because you’ll never get that time back. That’s over 10 hours that you wasted in two evenings.

I felt badly for my friend’s brother. We were having a fun conversation and now he’s being publicly taken to task about his TV viewing.

I turn to the wife, and with the biggest smile I can put on my face (and if you’ve met me in person you will know that I have an enormous smile that reaches all the way to my eyes) and say sweetly—

But you’re saying "binge" as if it’s a dirty word? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with watching multiple episodes of a TV series in a row. Episode BINGEING is a great thing. Most series are better for it.”

I pause, holding both thumbs up in front of my now amped up smile.

I am, and always will be, the poster child for the Age of Television.

Some people you can never win over. Some people you shouldn’t try to win over, like this woman. The real issue is something other than binge TV viewing habits. 

But if you’re a true believer in binge TV viewing too I have a great show suggestion for you. Watch Stellan Skarsgård as Detective Inspector John River of the Metropolitan Police, in the eponymous “River” on Netflix.

There are six episodes that explore the relationship and events in the lives of River and his sergeant Stevie Stephenson, played by Nicola Walker.

Skarsgård is mesmerizing. Silent, contained, propping up the air in the room in some scenes, while busting out on the edge of an emotional breakdown in others. (Walker plays Stevie as gutsy, irrepressible, and the perfect foil to River. Adeel Akhtar is touchingly sincere and pragmatic as another member of the police force.)

There are six episodes and I recommend you watch them two at a time over a three day period. You’ll want to savor the experience but not become overwhelmed by the dark mood and themes.

Ultimately it’s Skarsgård’s acting which lifts the mood from the humdrum pop-psych of other “challenged-detective” dramas and delivers the resonance contained in the excellent script.

Binge viewing, even at only two episodes a day often leads to withdrawal symptoms. This drama will have you thinking about it and the “what ifs” of life long after you watch the final episode.

I've been particularly vague about the details of this show because I didn't want to spoil it. I came upon it without any advance notice. Everyone should have a fresh experience. If you comment on this post please keep that in mind. I'll remove comments which discuss specifics, but I might not get them fast enough.

Written by award winning screenwriter Abi Morgan. Tim Fywell, Jessica Hobs, and Richard Laxton each direct two episodes.

  1. Reply

    Love your portrait of Skarsgård! I am eagerly awaiting “River” and hoping it will soon be shown on a channel near me. We binge watch recorded episodes all the time, I don´t know how else one could fit in any tv in a busy life. I was just told that a cinema ticket to “Star Wars” is going to cost me 170 SEK = 20 USD! When did prices rise to this ridiculous level? :-O

    • Carmel Campbell
    • December 14, 2015

    Great portrait and show. We watched the last four episodes
    last night. No self control! I have been fascinated with his eyes. Sat there with my sketchbook to catch them. We also watched High Castle and the second season of Broadchurch in the last week. Such good shows with great lighting for portraits!

  2. Reply

    Julana, I hope it’s clear in my blog post that I have nothing but compassion, on so many levels, for the man who binged on “Man in High Castle.” And I haven’t even seen that show!

  3. Reply

    I can see how it’s easy to keep watching. I haven’t watched the Second Season of Broadchurch. It’s been so long I couldn’t remember where season 1 ended. Of course I can rewatch that last episode. I think Netflix and Amazon and Acorn are FABULOUS.

    I have other shows to recommend coming up. (And all are great for sketching!)

  4. Reply

    Wow, that’s a lot for a ticket. We are paying about $13 for 3-D movies with the glasses. We haven’t been to a regular movie in ages. I assume they cost less than that.

    I have been totally underwhelmed with the commercials for the new Star Wars so I won’t be lining up to see it. It looks so tinny (like it’s shot on a stage with weird lighting) and thin (visually and plot). I’ll wait to see it sometime on demand at home, just to round things out, but frankly the prequels lost me—they didn’t succeed in generating sympathy for a planet murderer.

    I’m tempted to go see the new Ron Howard as the Moby looks cool even on a small TV.

    Speaking of Skarsgård—I seem to remember you’re in Canada, Any idea when the new “Artful Detective” episodes are coming, were they there this fall????

    • Julana
    • December 14, 2015

    Yes, it is! I was referring to the reproving wife. If she hasn’t seen the show, she probably doesn’t have a clue how traumatizing it might be, quite different than a “normal” binge. I googled “man high castle scary” the next, to find I had company. 🙂

    • Julana
    • December 14, 2015

    Will make a note of River.:-)

    • Carmel Campbell
    • December 14, 2015

    The second season of Broadchurch is good. Yes I would watch the last of Season 1. It follows directly on. Some of the same people are behind Broadchurch and River. Love those twists and turns until the very end!

    • Ivy
    • December 14, 2015

    Hi Roz,
    I’ve only recently started following your blog and it’s fabulous! Thanks so much for your generosity. I have a question about TV sketching. Have you written a blog post about it, your techniques, keeping up with changing scenes, etc? I’d love to read how you do it when watching with others. I’ve only done it once or twice but paused at a scene for drawing. Obviously, I was watching on my own 🙂

    Do you have any suggestions, thoughts? Thanks!

    • Julana
    • December 14, 2015

    (I don’t do well with violence and torture. Back to cozy mysteries for me.)

  5. Reply

    Glad you enjoy the blog Ivy, thanks for writing in.

    Do I have a post about tv sketching? HAHAHAHAHA. I write about it a lot because there have been times in my life when I haven’t been able to get out of the house, like the first 5 months of this year when I had flu, bronchitis, a cold, and then pneumonia. (I was picking up everything my two 94-year-old in-laws were getting.)

    But even before this year, there are posts going back and back. I do it because I love to sketch faces and there are some great shows, like Perry Mason, which are all talking heads.

    Here’s a post on keeping the TV running

    It’s a great way to practice for sketching people at the Fair because you only get to see most people for a couple seconds there too!

    Here’s one on why I like wonky faces

    Here’s a post where I stopped the action to sketch for 15 to 30 minutes.

    And here is a post with sketches made in less than 30 seconds with instructions on what to do.

    There are tons of others. Check under TV, TV Sketching, Project Friday, Portraits, you’ll find more.

    How do I watch TV with someone else? Well I always have the con at our house so it’s a moot point for me. If I’m watching to sketch Dick is obviously 1. not in the room, or 2. interested in talking while I sketch. I spend a lot of time on my own. I can let the tv run or stop as I wish.

    If you find you can’t stop the TV because someone else is viewing with you and that would be rude in your house, do what I do, turn and sketch the other person. That’s WAY more fun than sketching the TV.

    I’ve got tons of blog posts on that as well. Start with “Richard.”

    • PeggySu
    • December 14, 2015

    Thanks so much for this. I was going to sign up for the Netflix free trial on my Smart TV to watch “River” (hadn’t done this as I have A Prime) but discovered that house guests who were here a while ago had never signed off their Netflix account so we watched the first 1/2 hour. You are right: mesmerizing. Hadn’t recognized the name Nicola Walker and was delighted when she turned out to be the actress who plays one of my favorite characters on “Last Tango in Halifax”!

    All of a sudden there’s a surfeit of marvelous TV shows — too many to watch. I remember years ago looking forward to the one show a week on PBS that was worth watching. I’ve “binge watched” (even before I knew the term) the earlier seasons of a few good shows I’d somehow missed when our local library has the DVD. Too bad the person you mentioned hasn’t had this wonderful experience. Watching an episode or two every day gets one immersed in the story and characters the same way reading a good book does. And, of course, with services like Netflix or a DVR making it possible to avoid commercials (and to take breaks at will) watching TV can be a delight when one needs entertainment.

    • Pat Wafer
    • December 14, 2015

    A few months ago I read an interesting letter written by the actor Anthony Hopkins who was writing to one of the cast of “Breaking Bad” after he had just binge watched the whole series over a couple weeks. He thought it was the best thing ever on TV (I agree it was excellent but my best thing ever on TV will always be “The Wire”). Patti Smith writes in her latest book that she binge watches detective TV series and thoroughly enjoys it. If it’s ok by Anthony Hopkins and Patti Smith it certainly is ok by me. (I just binge watched Fargo season 2 – it was brilliant!!) Last winter a drunk driver drove onto the sidewalk I was standing on in the middle of the afternoon and broke both my legs. Binge watching saved my sanity for 3 months. Thanks for the tip about “River”! I’ll sign back up with Netflix for the winter. And thanks as always for the great info re: sketching. I plan on doing Sketchskool Beginning this winter just for fun so I will be seeing your online class there.

  6. Reply

    Pat, I think more significant than Anthony Hopkins or Patti Smith validating your bingeing because they do is the fact that when you were recovering for 3 months after the accident that YOU found binge watching saved your sanity. That means it’s working for you and I hope that you keep availing yourself of it. (And I hope you’ve made a complete recovery after such a horrible accident!)

    I’m glad you’ve signed up for SBS Beginning. I think you will love the six weeks with a different teacher’s lessons each week. It’s a fun group and I know you will find the lessons fun. I hope you enjoy it so much that sometime in the future you will join me in one of my classes that include teacher participation, so we can continue to work on your sketching.

  7. Reply

    PeggySu, yes Nicola Walker is wonderful in “Last Tango”…

    I totally agree that watching an episode or two everyday allows for immersion. Some of the show I watch are full of cliffhangers and with all the other stuff I’m juggling right now including limited sleep, I find that if I had to wait a week to watch another episode I wouldn’t remember what happened the week before. It’s so seamless to move to the next episode and it increases my enjoyment without a need for notetaking!

    Having Netflix has also allowed me to catch up on some shows I missed the first time around because of limited time and choosing to use my TV time watching something else.

    Thanks for writing in. Good luck with your Smart TV. Let me know if you find some really great shows.

    • katybee
    • December 15, 2015

    I keep trying to get everyone to watch “River.” I watched it weekly on the BBC and it took some time to get really immersed but I did. And no spoilers but it has one of the most satisfying endings of anything I’ve seen in a long time. By that I don’t mean some neat smaltzy ending, just one that hit me emotionally and felt absolutely right for the story and the characters. And Skarsgard was wonderful. Just a treat to watch.

  8. Reply

    I agree katybee. I’m glad I could watch it over 3 days though.

    • Julana
    • December 17, 2015

    Two shows we liked were The Worricker Trilogy (on Amazon) and The Broker’s Man (on Acorn). That Bill Nighy -Christopher Walken match up in The second Worricker is quite a performance. The actor from Lewis stars in the Broker’s Man, which is interesting partly because of how well his family stories are integrated into the plotlines.

    • Julana
    • December 17, 2015

    A broker’s man investigates insurance fraud.

  9. Reply

    Julana, I found the Broker’s Man a couple years ago on Acorn and sped through them. I love Kevin Whately (can’t remember exactly how he spells his last name).

    I’ve seen Worricker on PBS so I’ll have to find it on Amazon as I have not seen the second series and I love both Nighy and Walken. Thanks for the heads up!

    • Julana
    • December 19, 2015

    Those guys are amazing. 🙂

    • joanne
    • December 19, 2015

    Thank you Roz for mentioning River. Loved the first episode but will have to watch when the husband isn’t around. He couldn’t “follow” the plot. That song Stevie sang in the first episode—would love to know who is singing so I can get it on iTunes. Got it stuck in my head.

  10. Reply

    Joanne I think they might have referenced who it was in one of the chats in the car, but I might be misremembering. You can look at the CREDITS at the end of an episode, they should tell you who is singing.

    You can go on the IMBD page
    and scroll down to the FAQ section and ask a question.

    Tina Charles sang it in the 70’s and you google her you’ll get to places like this.

    It doesn’t sound the same to me but it could just be the recording production values.

    Hope that helps.

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