As I discussed ever so long ago, I love Netflix, and I love it more as time goes by. Not only is it really convenient and easy, but whatever software they use for making recommendations is actually pretty good. Not only does it recommend popular, current stuff I might not have gotten around to adding to my queue without a little prodding, but it also manages to recommend older, more obscure stuff I might never have heard of any other way.
One such example is a television series I recently finished watching, To the Manor Born. It was recommended to me because I had just finished watching a bunch of British period pieces--the various renditions of the life of Elizabeth Tudor, the really fabulous adaptation of Bleak House. I read the blurb of TtMB: recent widow Audrey fforbes-Hamilton (played by Penelope Keith, and no, that is not a typo in fforbes) is forced to sell Grantleigh Manor, the estate where her family has lived for 400 years, when she discovers that her husband's death has left her bankrupt. The estate is purchased by one Mr. Richard De Vere (played by Peter Bowles), a dashing self-made millionaire (he runs a grocery store empire), social climber, and (gasp!) foreigner: although he can pass as English, the truth of the matter is that his parents were refugees who left Czechoslovakia at the beginning of World War II. Although she has to leave the manor, Audrey cannot leave her old way of life, despite the presence of a new landlord.
And I thought it sounded interesting enough and I ordered it.
But then it arrived and I saw on the dvd jacket that the series was made in 1979, and that put a different spin on things. I generally hate American tv from that time: Dallas, Love Boat, Laverne and Shirley--I can't watch that crap, and I didn't watch it when it was current--I hardly watched any prime-time television when I was in high school. And while the little British television I'd seen from that time occasionally seemed better written, the production values were often pretty dreadful.
I nearly returned the disk without watching it, but then I decided, what the hell, I might as well check it out. And I was surprised by two things: one, how much I actually enjoyed it, and two, that anyone could actually hold some of the attitudes Audrey regularly expressed. It was that whole sense of entitlement and privilege--the way she talked to her neighbors and servants! The references to the British class system and the "right" sort of people! It all seemed so outdated and antique. Of course I've read plenty of novels dealing with those very issues--but I can't think of a one of them set before the beginning of the Great War. And yet, I'm sure those attitudes still exist.... The whole thing was quite educational.
Despite the educational content, I wouldn't have kept watching if I hadn't been interested in all the characters, hadn't wanted to see what would happen next. But as I said, I actually enjoyed it--quite a lot, to be honest. I finished the last episode over the weekend. The entire series, which spanned three years, involves a mere 20 30-minute episodes. (And they really are 30 minutes long, not 22.) The fact that a season consists of only six or seven episodes might be one reason the writing was pretty good: they had time to get things right. And it also might be a reason why they didn't invest in better sets or more costumes--why lay out all that money when you won't be using something that many times?
So this is a really careful recommendation: if you like period pieces (it really does feel like one), if you're interested in the British class system, and if you like tv that is "unusual" by the standards of American network fare, watch this. It doesn't suck.