No shrink could devise a more effective treatment for “Downton Abbey” withdrawal than “Parade’s End,” HBO’s five-hour miniseries about sacrifice, Tory love and stiff upper lips in Edwardian England.
Not quite fit for “Downton”-level frenzy, this BBC co-production has a more languid appeal and at least one unmissable performance in its slow march from the gardens and boudoirs of British society to the bloody trenches of the Great War.
Directed by Susanna White (“Generation Kill”) and written by Tom Stoppard from Ford Madox Ford’s novels, the show stars Benedict Cumberbatch (“Sherlock”) as Christopher Tietjens, an aristocratic government statistician committed to upholding fast-fading notions of honor, duty, God and country.
Married to the cruel, promiscuous Sylvia (Rebecca Hall, the unmissable one), Tietjens pines for the young suffragette Valentine (Adelaide Clemens) with whom he once shared a near-kiss on a misty morning.
Whether fighting for an ideal England that he believes is history or enduring the reputation of a cuckold, Tietjens perfectly embodies Ford’s long-suffering good soldier.
“I stand for monogamy,” he pronounces at one point. “Monogamy and chastity.”
Neither of which is nearly as entertaining as the captivating Sylvia, who energizes “Parade’s End” with every sneer, barb and knife twist.
“He’s making corrections in the ‘Encyclopedia Britannica!’” she scoffs, after tossing a plate to startle her doodling husband. “If I’d killed him no jury would convict!”
Best known for her supporting role in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” Hall is a marvel here, at once vicious and vulnerable. We’re on her side from the first episode, when she casually dismisses her doting, possibly suicidal dolt of a lover.
“Oh Potty, I do hope you’re not going to behave badly,” she sighs. “I miss my husband. He’s a block of wood, but it’s like being with a grown-up man rather than trying to entertain a schoolboy.
“I say, you’re not going to kill yourself, are you, Potty?”
“Parade’s End” debuts Tuesday, Feb. 26, on HBO at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***1/2
Inside every man, says a wise detective on CBS’s “Golden Boy,” is a good dog and a bad dog, and the dog that gets fed is the dog that wins.
Jumping between the present day and seven years into the future, “Golden Boy” is a before-and-after chronicle of Walter Clark, a fresh-faced flatfoot destined to become the youngest police commissioner in New York City history.
Clark (smoothly played by James Franco lookalike Theo James) becomes an overnight hero when a shoot-out leaves two bad guys dead, starting the chain of events that will culminate with him in the top job.
So which dog did Walter feed on his meteoric rise? Did he follow the path of his good-guy partner (Chi McBride) or of his violent, corrupt department rival (Kevin Alejandro)?
That’s a fine, quirky premise, but based on the four episodes available for review, the time-jumping device doesn’t compensate for standard-issue crime plots.
A single mystery, however intriguing, isn’t enough.
“Golden Boy” airs Tuesday, Feb. 26, on CBS at 10 p.m. New York time (moving on March 8 to Fridays at 9 p.m.). Rating: **
Early in “House of Cards,” Kevin Spacey’s wily congressman Francis Underwood says he loves wife Claire more than sharks love blood. I wasn’t feeling it. Played by Robin Wright, Claire struck me as a one-note Lady Macbeth.
But affections and allegiances shift quickly in “House of Cards.” Claire won me over, as did Netflix’s decision to stream the entire first season of this prickly political drama.
Quibbles with the show that might fester over a three-month season came and went in a blink when watching in binge mode.
Would I have committed weeks to Kate Mara’s off-putting young reporter Zoe Barnes before she evolved into the drama’s heart and conscience? Probably not, and it would have been my loss. Zoe’s moral awakening is one of the series’ great payoffs.
“House of Cards” is available on Netflix. Rating: ****
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Good ** So-So * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Jason Harper on cars and Rich Jaroslovsky on tech.