As previously mentioned, my left hand is currently at extremely limited usefulness because I broke a thing in it. For the first eight days following the injury, I had a huge, ungainly splint bracing the broken finger, which was then taped to my little finger (because urgent care made me) and then also taped to my middle finger (which I did in addition to the other taping, because that was the only way it didn’t hurt all the time). So I had a flimsy claw to work with. Or kind of a floppy lobster pincher.
Point being, I rapidly found that many tasks I either enjoy or take for granted had become, if not impossible, then far more difficult. Here are some examples, roughly in the order that I discovered I could not do them as usual:
- Pour tea
- Play piano
- Type things
- Put on tights
- Tie shoes
- Wash dishes
- Play video games
- Take a shower
- Dye hair
- Read a book larger than a smallish paperback
- Build the new IKEA desk sitting in boxes in the front hall
- Run a hard wired Ethernet connection from one end of my home to the other
They were starting to get really specific and depressing so I stopped there. But see what I mean? Basically everything I enjoy involves full use of my hands. Some things I'm trying to adapt to -- who knew pouring tea with my right hand would be so spill-prone? -- and others I have almost entirely despaired of, like how I keep trying to crochet "just a little" before realizing that no, it still hurts, and another couple rows are not worth potentially delaying my healing process.
So what have I been doing with my hands-free downtime? One of my least favorite activities: the binge watch.
This isn’t another “ew, television” rant. I like television a lot. I just get really cranky and tired and annoyed when I watch more than an hour or two of it at a stretch. Unfortunately, my husband loves bingewatching, and we had some spirited conversations over the rate at which we would jointly consume the last season of "Orange is the New Black." I also wind up bingewatching some series with my father almost every time I visit him in Florida (usually "Homeland" or "House of Cards," depending on what’s new, although the habit began back with "The Sopranos"). So I’ll do it, occasionally, but I’m usually crocheting at the same time.
Bingewatching is actually terrible, according to practically all the research. Apparently it makes you more likely to die (“For every two extra hours of watching TV over and above one hour a day, the volunteers were 44 percent more likely to die from heart disease or stroke, 21 percent more likely to die of cancer and 55 percent more likely to die from something else…”) and more likely to get cancer (“[F]or every two hours spent sitting in front of the computer or television, the average American raises his or her risk of colon cancer by 8 percent, of endometrial cancer by 10 percent and of lung cancer by 6 percent.”). It can also function similarly to addiction, lower your overall alertness levels, and increase anxiety and unhappiness. So I am probably already dead.
But at least I went down entertained. What follows are the mostly under-the-radar (in the US, anyway) TV series* that I’ve devoured since my injury.
"Ripper Street" (Netflix)
I had trouble getting into "Ripper Street" for the longest time, which is odd because it ticks so very many of my interest-boxes: takes place in the 1890s, is somewhat historically accurate, is bleak and often over the top, is British. I suspect I had problems detaching its story from that of "Copper," the BBC America series set in New York with a suspiciously similar premise ("Copper" is also very good, just FYI).
Detective Inspector Edmund Reid heads Whitechapel’s H Division, six months after the Jack the Ripper killings stopped, so naturally they’re constantly on everyone’s mind (although, interestingly, despite the title, Reid’s sense of personal failure, and a couple short-lived “MAYBE IT’S THE RIPPER” moments, this doesn’t really factor into the story much at all). Detective Sargeant Bennet Drake is his right-hand man and (often his punch-throwing goon), and American Homer Jackson is the American police surgeon who is also an American. (And also a former Pinkerton agent.)
There’s a lot of conflicted broody anti-hero-ing going on, obviously. And "Ripper Street" has its irritating aspects, like the fact that virtually all the women in it are broad caricatures of saints or whores -- of the three main female roles in the first series, one is a brothel madam, one is a prostitute, one runs an orphanage (although she does get some additional depth later on) and one is a charity-obsessed mother grieving her lost child by throwing herself into her work at a shelter for abused women. But overall it’s a fun ride and worth a look.
"The Fall" (Netflix)
I realize "The Fall" already has a pretty loyal following, but I just caught up, so I’m including it anyway. This series is like the anti-"Dexter," and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. I was never fond of "Dexter" -- well, okay, I was fond of the first season, but his charm wore off pretty quickly after that. I just think it’s odd for a show to work so hard to make a serial murderer sympathetic. Just let him be unlikeable and creepy! He doesn’t need to be a nice guy!
In "The Fall," Paul Spector (played by Jamie Dornan, soon to turn up in the "Fifty Shades of Grey" movie as Christian Grey) is the kind of preternaturally handsome, superficially banal, but deeply terrifying sociopathic killer that Dexter could only aspire to be. He works as a grief counselor and to all appearances is a loving husband and father. He also likes to kill ladies and then masturbate to pictures of their carefully posed corpses later on.
Spector is the quarry of Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (played by Gillian Anderson doing her very best ice queen persona, and I mean, the woman is a pro at that). "The Fall" mesmerizes because Gibson is every bit the enigma Spector is; she is brilliant, but also difficult to read and her motivations for her actions -- both personal and professional -- are often unclear.
Still, Gibson sees Spector’s killings as a reflection of misogynist sexual politics and she quickly proves herself to be one of the most unapologetically feminist television leads in recent memory. For example, when she is caught in a difficult position with her superiors following a late-night tryst with a man she just met, she pointedly states, “That’s what really bothers you, isn’t it? The one night stand. Man fucks woman. Subject ‘man’ -- verb ‘fucks’ -- object ‘woman.’ That’s OK. Woman fucks man, woman subject, man object. That’s not so comfortable for you, is it?”
A second series completed filming earlier this year, and I dug the first one so much I cannot wait.
"Line of Duty" (Hulu+)
If you dig complicated and eminently confusing detective dramas about police corruption with no real heroes and only a bunch of conflicted characters that are mostly frustrating when you want them to be heroic, "Line of Duty" is sooo the series for you. I remain conflicted myself about this show -- it’s smart and totally addictive and great for bingewatching, but holy crap is it bleak.
The first series follows the machinations of DCI Tony Gates (played by the awesome Lennie James), a beloved hero cop recently awarded Officer of the Year, whose life suddenly becomes unbelievably complicated when an anti-corruption squad starts asking questions about how he maintains such a high success rate on his cases. Oh, and when Gates himself makes a seemingly manageable error that it turns out could destroy his whole career, and his life besides.
The second series tracks DI Lindsey Denton (played by Keeley Hawes, who I always love, although this is a very different role for her) after an attempt to quietly move a witness under police protection goes horribly, horribly wrong. The first series was depressing, but somehow the second is even worse. Denton is a deeply unsettling character; sad, lonely, and yet utterly unsympathetic most of the time, boiling with unexpressed anger that explodes out of her in unexpected moments. She may be a strange and offputting person, but throughout the story it’s still hard to judge whether she’s guilty of the particular corruption she’s accused of.
"Happy Valley" (Netflix)
Do you like having hope and cheerfulness in your life? Do not watch this series if so. In many ways, "Happy Valley" makes "Line of Duty" look like a sunny picnic. Catherine Cawood is a tough, straight-talking police sargeant in a small town with some big drug problems. She’s also still reeling from her daughter’s suicide following a vicious rape that left her pregnant with her rapist’s child, the child Cawood is now raising in her daughter’s stead.
When Cawood spots the man she believes to be her daughter’s rapist on a street in the town following his release from prison (on drug charges, as he was never charged with rape), she becomes fixated with locating him.
Meanwhile, another town resident, whinging accountant Kevin Weatherill, is frustrated by a perceived lack of support from his boss when he asks for a raise to help cover the cost of sending his daughter to a highly-ranked private school. Weatherill impulsively suggests to a shady real estate developer (and drug dealer) that he could kidnap his boss’s daughter (y’know, without hurting her or whatever, because criminals are super trustworthy that way) and get the money as ransom. Naturally, said shady dude hands the task off to one of his newest employees -- the alleged rapist Cawood is seeking. You can imagine how things go from there. Actually you can’t, because it’s so much darker than whatever you’re thinking.
It’s a compelling and intense series, but for real, don’t watch it if you’re in a good mood, because it will ruin everything.
Have you binged on any under-the-radar TV series lately? Let us know about them in comments.
* Yes, they’re all British. I mean, that should surprise no one.