Oct 08, 2021
9 mins read
I got excited to write this post, I was halfway through - then I realized that I'm going to lose some cred with you peeps.
After all: my friends and fans think of me as a pure horror freak! I mean I watch, and talk about, and podcast about, and write about, and post about horror ALL THE DAMN TIME! And while loads of people dislike this particular bloody genre, there's still some kind of grudging respect for we aficionados, tough as nails, who consume butter-drenched popcorn bucketfulls of the stuff.
I love horror and horror will always, always be my go-to.
But I've got another little habit: British mystery soporifics!
So first: yes, I am one of those naughties who watches a show at bedtime.
I fire up something, doze off, come to, rewind (or not), watch the show for a bit longer. Repeat.
I've flopped through entire seasons of shit doing this (like... all of "Teen Wolf" season two)!
And I know I'm not alone in this wretched habit!
Now I don't fall asleep to TV every night. Sometimes I literally just lay my head on the pillow and that's it: Slumbertown, population Me. Sometimes I read a little book (on Kindle or on paper) and doze off that way.
But most nights after my partner falls asleep, I'm queueing up some bullshit.
Finding the perfect viewing for this practice, if you're not familiar with it, is actually quite tricky. The show has to be good enough you're not irritable, annoyed, or bored-in-a-bad-way.
But it can't be so good that it keeps you awake.
Sleep-telly also has to be at least a bit comforting, familiar - or at least not overtly triggering or engaging. I remember starting season one of USA Network's "The Sinner" and within about twenty minutes my eyeballs were flaming peeled grapes in my skullcase and I was thinking, Shit, can't stop now and I binged 80% of the content into the wee hours until my body failed me and I lapsed into unconsciousness, dawn rolling her eyes through my window.
So I find it's best to watch something I've either already seen, or something that is unlikely to have an upsetting plot device. That can be tricky. I was snoozing to a perfectly lovely parlor room murder show and suddenly one of our lead characters (previously portrayed as a good guy) cheated on his wife with a young employee of his and it was so annoying and I was instantly, BOOM, awake and irritated.
And some shows are just a bit too nasty! For a while I was enjoying (a bit) the four hundred seasons of UK's "Silent Witness" but that show will straight up like, murder an entire schoolbus full of children or something - in dramatic slow-motion - so it wasn't relaxing enough for me to settle into (although damn that Tom Ward is a coroner-slab hottie)!
Sometimes a comforting show that is very promising for sleep-viewing will descend into maudlin pap - like the surprisingly thoughtful 1979 "Danger UXB" and 2003's medical drama, "The Royal".
If it gets too corny: I'm out!
So - finally! - here are some of my tried-and-true small screen soporifics:
Let's not fight. I am firmly in the John Nettles camp - no disrespect to Neil Dudgeon who is lovely but damn the show just wasn't the same without the OG Tom Barnaby. As much as I adore MM now, I stayed away from even starting for too many years because a review or two called the show "nasty" and pointed out rife homophobia (especially obvious in earlier seasons). But despite a few problems, it's one of the better British provincial whodunits out there and - despite having a hilariously high per-episode body count and some very nasty murders - it's weirdly low-stress to watch. Each episode is about an hour and a half long, and the mysteries themselves are usually pretty inventive and not entirely predictable. It's quite re-watchable and of course, like many British shows, features a lot of great guest stars and cameos!
Faith, I will not hear a word said against this show! Holy shit, Cadfael. He is the GOAT. I drink every moment of this series up, and I've devoured the books as well (which boast an impressive mastery of vocabulary that is quite pleasing to read). "Cadfael" is low budget, adorable, whimsical, a bit predictable but honestly this shizz is all about Sir Derek Jacobi, who is riveting and fantastic anytime he graces screen or stage but is in TOP FORM as a delightful herbalist and monk, committed to his vows but nevertheless worldly from his former life as soldier and Crusader. He's a nosy m-fcker always surprising everyone with how much of a secret free-love hippie he really is! I'm telling you, this shit is gold. Plus: you also get to see a lot of British actors before they made it big - and some of the worst haircuts ever committed to film. The only reason "Cadfael" isn't at the top of my list is I've seen each precious episode so very very many times they are a bit well-worn for me and I don't always feel like firing them up for an umpteenth viewing - even a sleep-viewing.
A period piece set in WWII England through the early sixties, this thing is mystery television crack. A first viewing is too compelling to sleep through (at least for me), but upon repeated viewings this program is an old friend who's held my hand through many snoozes!
My husband has a little joke about this show. He'll say he's going to make a montage of all the times Christopher Foyle GOES OFF on camera - then he'll do a parody of Michael Kitchen's incredibly nuanced micro-expressions: raising eyebrows, pursing lips disapprovingly, hesitating just slightly before donning his sedate trilby. Keep in mind an American show would have our eponymous hero PUNCHING TERRORISTS IN THE FACE WITH DYNAMITE, and Kitchen's Foyle is just the direct antithesis to that. Devastating acting by Mr. Kitchen! You could tell by the somewhat onerous finale episodes a little luster went out of the proceedings, but damn if this isn't one of the most re-watchable dramas out there.
"Secret Agent" aka "Danger Man"
Patrick McGoohan was not on my hottie list before I saw this show since the fellow was born in 1928 so I didn't exactly grow up seeing him in a Teen Beat centerfold - just as treacherous LONGSHANKS in the rather silly Braveheart. But he's an astonishing actor, screenwriter, producer, and director most known for his turn in 1967's "The Prisoner", which holds deserved critic approvals and cult following. His charisma is off the charts - in this humble viewer's opinion anyway - and this show is pretty cracking good fun!
Described as a kind of a proto-Bond spy vignette series, "Secret Agent"'s titular hero is John Drake (McGoohan), a NATO agent who's always getting involved in brief Intelligence affairs that are to a plotline quite clever and lean. Season one's episodes are about 25 minutes long and they later stretched out to more like 45 minutes; it matters little as I've rarely finished one because as much as I love them, they knock me out like a shot!
I actually think this show is legit good and reminds me of the clever morality-type plays I enjoyed from some of Gene Roddenberry's early work, especially "Have Gun Will Travel". Like Bond, "Secret Agent" is sexist AF with the notable difference there is absolutely nothing overtly sexual or exhibitive about the way the women are portrayed - blessed relief there, at least. McGoohan's Drake is fantastic, he's a hotshot, but he's human and makes mistakes. A fantastic show but somehow not so gripping I don't pass out comfortably, dreaming of a dapper suit and a cool sleight of hand.
"Colonel March of Scotland Yard"
This is not a good show. Do you hear me? THIS IS NOT A GOOD SHOW. This is a SLEEPYTIME show! This show knocks me out faster than anything I've ever viewed. I cannot stress this enough!
If you've seen any Boris Karloff you've likely seen him portraying a creep, monster, or ghoul: but in "Colonel March" he plays a sexist, doddering old noseybody either invited into, or inviting himself into, everybody's business. This incredibly dusty, quaint little mystery starring Karloff in an eyepach and about five metric fucktonnes of tweed, is my absolute wakefulness kryptonite. If I had to undergo an emergency amputation without anesthetic, I'd queue this chestnut up. I swear each episode is something like seven minutes long but to this very date I've never completed one. Don't ask me what any episode is about. I know there's a few good cameos in there and that's about all. The program is described by one critic as "intellectual content of which is the nearest thing to a black hole I have ever seen". Sounds about right.
Honorable Mention: "Lark Rise to Candleford"
Holy cow I don't even know how to describe this show. What the fuck IS IT, even?! Provincial, sweet, sappy. Pretty lightweight but occasionally quite moving in its Realness. Full of great actors - regulars and cameos. It's also kind of soapy in that you can pretty much guess who the regulars are and so if you doze through an episode or two you can just pick up where you left off with little trouble. Easy to watch, corny but still engaging. I grant it Honorable Mention status because I do sometimes tire of its preciousness and I have a huge grudge against mainstay Brendan Coyle due to my loathing of his Bates character on "Downton Abbey", but that's a topic for another post! (Give me the SLIGHTEST encouragement to write an "I Hate Bates" screed because I WILL!)
So there you have it!
I'm unlikely to have impressed anyone with my trash bedtime habits but what I will say is this: if you find an easy-to-sleep-with show, treasure it like fine gold - and share it in the comments! I'm always looking for a new thing to nap through!
And: hat tip to my TV mystery friend, Tamara Winfrey Harris! Thanks for being my Parlour Murder Mystery Buddy!