Two weeks ago, I talked about the more manly side to period dramas, with shows such as Boardwalk Empire and Peaky Blinders- shows with crime and guns and all that other manly stuff, instead of the love stories and pretty dresses that period pieces are typically associated with.
Today, I talk about the less 'manly' old time shows that even the manliest of men can't deny that they enjoy, but probably wouldn't admit; because let's face it, nobody can resist a gripping story and period dramas tend to have that in spades- manly or not, especially if you're additionally interested in the history. This'll be like my own personal guilt list so don't worry guys, I'm right there with you! Baring in mind that this'll be on shows that I've actually seen- Downton Abbey, the ultimate period drama, I have not. So with that in mind, lets begin!
First stop, Washington University, St. Louis Missouri, 1956.
4. Masters of Sex
At the number 4 spot as it's more a gender neutral kind of show than the others, Masters of Sex is a multi-award winning and nominated series and actually isn't as girly as you might initially expect from a show where the primary focus is love and well, sex. Masters of Sex is much more Mad Men and much less 50 Shades of Grey, and is absolutely one of the best shows currently on television.
It tells the story of Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, who's pioneering studies of human sexuality, sexual response and arousal have a lot to do with our understanding of it today. It is based primarily on the biographical book, Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love. There are parts of the series that are fictional for dramatic purposes but all of the research and findings presented in the show are fact.
The show starts out with the ever curious Dr William Masters watching a prostitute see to clients through a peep hole whilst taking notes of what is seemingly happening to the body, length of orgasm, that sort of thing; creepy, right? As things progress, Bill is met with endless controversy surrounding this taboo subject as he tries to put it forward as a serious study, eventually realizing that for the best insight, he needs a female partner, which comes in the form of Virginia Johnson, an under qualified secretary that proves her worth.
In addition to sex, the show deals with themes of feminism, homophobia, abusive relationships, the ever growing curiosity of Masters and Johnson's individual children and plenty of other insightful topics. The show stars Michael Sheen as masterful but troubled William Masters (a la Don Draper) and Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson, a woman challenging a male dominated workplace (a la Peggy Olson). Cast also includes Caitlyn Fitzgerald as Libby Masters, Bill's loving but frustrated wife and Teddy Sears (The Flash) and seven time Emmy winner, as well as many other honours, Allison Janney.
When Mad Men (my favourite show of all time) started to come to a close, I went on the hunt for a spiritual successor to help with my withdrawal symptoms, and I found it with Masters of Sex. It will be returning for it's fourth season some time this year.
Lets now travel further back in time to London in 1906,
3. Mr Selfridge
Mr Selfridge is the story of Harry Gordon Selfridge and his founding of the department store chain, Selfridges. If anything, It's just interesting to see how this American man came to London in 1906, investing £400,000 and sought to create the best department store in the world in what was then the unfashionable, "dead end" of Oxford Street.
Selfridge wanted people to be able to shop for pleasure rather than just necessity, he wanted people to be able to just look without having the pressure of buying. The detail put into the sets and costumes are stunning. It isn't often that we get high budget period dramas showing the glamorous side of post Victorian London, however that didn't last long as we moved into the 1910's but the, for lack of a better word, fabulous hats and Gibson Girl style was a refreshing site amongst all the Downton Abbey looking period pieces that we typically get.
Jeremy Piven stars as ambitious businessman Harry Selfridge. As with all great leads, he is a troubled man with a lot on his plate. The show deals with themes of wanting more from life, relationships running on the fast track and who will be there when you need them most. The show reminds us that everybody has flaws, makes mistakes and is susceptible to passion.
Each character, especially Selfridge, is well fleshed out. Piven plays Selfridge as a driven and ambitious man, willing to pull out the stops to be a success, even at the expense of his supportive but frustrated wife Rose, played by Frances O'Conner. Even with all of Selfridge's flaws, You tend to root for him; Piven gives him a likability despite his often over-driven personality. Other cast includes Aisling Loftus, Amanda Abbington and Katherine Kelly. Mr Selfridge is stylish and elegant, and even though I stopped watching it mid-way through its third season, it remains one of the best period dramas to come from ITV, and just ended it's fourth and final season.
And now even further, Colorado Srpings, 1867.
2. Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
This long running and multi-award winning series starring Jane Seymour and Joe Lando, which ran from 1993-1998 with two television movies, has remained one of the most beloved television dramas of all time. Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman tells the story of wealthy female physician Michaela Quinn, setting out from Boston, Massachusetts to the small western town of Colorado Springs to set up her own practice in 1867.
We follow her difficult transition and adjustment to life in the rougher ways of Colorado. She is aided by Byron Sully, a rugged outdoorsman (Joe Lando), later obviously developing a mutual attraction; and a midwife named Charlotte Cooper (played by Diane Ladd). Charlotte puts her three children in the care of Dr. Quinn following a snake bite, and Dr. Quinn settles in Colorado Springs and adapts to her new life as a mother, with the children and Sully. And that's just the first episode!
The show presents a feminist dynamic whilst Dr. Quinn is on a mission to prove to the narrow-minded townspeople that a female doctor can successfully practice medicine. Dr. Quinn had a large supporting cast- bigger than what was typically seen at the time, and high concept storytelling. It is relatively straight forward and viewer-friendly, with period drama norm themes such as gender and race roles and homophobia. It has a lot of heart without being soppy and is essentially a family-drama.
By the show's final season, viewers consisted mainly of middle aged women and not the male and female 18-49 demographic that the network was attempting to reach. This resulted in the show taking a darker turn and dealing with more serious subjects such as the deaths of several characters, miscarries and mental disorders. While many fans did not like the alterations, there were many that felt it was a welcome change in atmosphere and giving the show higher stakes and tension.
Despite the mixed response, the ratings remained steadily consistent. The sudden cancellation of the show caused an uproar, the likes of which had not been seen since the cancellation of the original Star Trek series in 1969. Two TV movies were produced to wrap up the series by 2001. Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman is well acted, beautifully filmed with great costumes and sets, and an often simple but gripping story that can appeal to everybody.
We end our journey in London's East End, 1957.
1. Call the Midwife
British series Call the Midwife is one of the most successful series to come from the BBC in recent memory. Attracting more weekly UK viewers than any other show in weekly transmission and was renewed for a second series immediately after the airing of the pilot episode. It has also enjoyed great success in the U.S, airing on CBS.
The series follows newly qualified midwife Jenny Lee, played by Jessica Raine along with the work of the other midwives and nuns of Nonnatus House, a nursing convent, and part of an Anglican religious order in London's desperately poor East End, in the 1950s. We follow the Sisters and midwives carrying out many nursing duties across the community and trying to ensure the safe deliveries of new-borns whilst the number of monthly births increases.
Other cast includes Pam Ferris as the tough and witty fan favourite, Sister Evangelina, Helen George as the more adventurous and boisterous of the nurses, Beatrix "Trixie" Franklin and Miranda Hart as the shy and awkward at first, underdog, Camilla "Chummy" Browne.
The show was originally based on the memoir of the same name by former nurse, Jennifer Worth; however the content of the book had already been stretched by the end of the second series, now expanding upon the memories to include new historically sourced material.
Let's cut to the chase, the miracle of birth is a beautiful thing, even the manliest of men would have to admit that, and when a baby is born on this show, seeing the love and relief in a mothers eyes, it does something to you. Having said that, there are many a times in this show where the birth isn't all teary eyed smiles. Essentially, this is a medical drama, and as with all medical dramas, there are plenty of serious and depressing topics that come with it. This is a poor part of London and many resources are unfortunately not available.
In addition to this, however, the show follows each of the character's lives outside of Nonnatus house, dealing with the struggles of everyday life, commitments to your trade, love and later things like alcoholism and abuse. Call the Midwife has layers of drama that can appeal to both males and females alike, even if the men don't want to admit it.
I enjoy this show, my younger sister enjoys it, both of my parents enjoy it, my grandparents enjoy it, my uncle and auntie, the list goes on. Call the Midwife broke through those period drama barriers and created a beautifully crafted story that makes you laugh, cry with both sadness and joy, leaves you feeling uplifted and sometimes depressed; and it can do it all in 60 minutes. The series had already been announced to return for it's annual Christmas special for 2016 and a sixth series in 2017 even before the start of it's fifth season, which just ended this past March. Call the Midwife doesn't look like it'll be slowing down anytime soon.
There you go, 4 dame friendly period dramas that are the guilty pleasure of manly men everywhere. Don't hide it! Be proud and embrace. I did, putting it all on the internet, and so should you!