Here are two key things about many cable dramas: 1) You really have to pay attention; they get complex and confusing; and 2) You really want to pay attention; they get compelling.
The latest example is "The Honorable Woman," which debuts Thursday on the Sundance Channel. Here's the story I sent to papers:
By MIKE HUGHES
There is a difference between Englishmen and Americans, it
seems, that goes far beyond cricket, croquet and tea-time. It involves
(sometimes) how to make a TV series.
“In the U.K., sort of the buzzword of the broadcasters is
always ‘authorship,’” said Greg Brenman, a veteran British producer whose eight-week
“The Honorable Woman” debuts Thursday.
Occasionally, Americans work that way. An Aaron Sorkin (“West
Wing”), Shonda Rhimes (“Grey’s Anatomy”) or David Chase (“The Sopranos”) has
other writers, but keeps strong control. More often, that doesn’t happen;
Roseanne Barr once had so many writers that she gave them numbers.
Now “Honorable Woman” reflects the British approach, with a
tale too complex for a committee to wrangle. Hugo Blick, its sole writer, calls
it a “thriller mosaic”; Brenman compares it to “this kind of Russian doll that
you keep on sort of peeling, peeling, peeling back.”
And Maggie Gyllenhaal views the complexity of the character
she inhabits: “She’s very powerful and graceful and intelligent. She’s also really
childish and broken and hungry and desperate and all of the things … I
recognize in myself.”
Gyllenhaal plays Nessa Stein, half-Israeli, half-British, all-business.
Ever since a girlhood tragedy (shown in the first minutes), she’s been in
public view and in control. She has money, power and now a title; the story
begins as she enters the British nobility, being named a baroness.
The role places demands on Gyllenhaal. Like her character,
she reflects mixed cultures (her father is Swedish, her mother is Jewish);
unlike her character, she doesn’t have a British accent.
“I kind of wish I could talk like that all the time,”
Gyllenhaal joked. “I remember someone telling me, ‘You sound so much smarter’”
with a British accent.
Her character also sounds calm and soothing – until a jolt,
late in the first hour. Filmed in London, that scene starts in splendor and
ends with a desperate Nessa overshadowed by the giant Albert Memorial, which
Blick calls “a huge mega-statue of establishment power.”
Such complex visions spring from Blick, who wrote all eight
hours. “It’s important that it’s authored and come from one angle,” he said.
And that, most of the time, isn’t the American way.
“The Honorable Woman,” 10 p.m. Thursdays, repeating
at 1 a.m., for eight weeks, Sundance.
Opener (75 minutes) also airs at 9 p.m. Tuesday