Couch Potato Corner

When I wonder why I became such a devoted Couch Potato, I am certain it has to do with the great influence in my life of my parents who were both film buffs. Apart from the film shows they took me along to watch with them in the big cinema houses of Bombay (Regal, Metro, Strand, Eros), we spent our Sunday mornings, for years on end, watching films in the auditorium of St. Mary’s School in Mazagoan. Each Sunday, the good Jesuit fathers who ran the school selected a film to be screened for just 50 paise a pop to their film-loving faithful. My Mum would cook our Sunday lunch the previous day to allow herself to indulge in this weekly passion. I saw hundreds of Westerns and war movies, light romances and musicals in that auditorium. As the years passed, as TV became a part of my life in India and then in the USA, my great delight in the varied thrills of the visual medium was revived.

This section is for folks who share my passion for Cinema and Television. In addition to information about my personal favorites, I will invite some of the most knowledgeable film lovers  I know to give suggestions and recommendations for Must-Watch movies–Prof. Tim Tomlinson and Prof. Robert Jeske, for instance, close friends of mine who also teach Film Studies at NYU, will recommend movies that have struck them as landmark films and among their own favorites.

Favorite films become favorites for many reasons–they make us laugh, they make us cry, they carry us off to a fastasy world that we wish we could inhabit, they whisk us off to some nostalgic childhood realm that we once explored, they are associated with certain people or places in our past lives, they inspire us…the list is endless.

Here, for starters, are my own Top Picks and the reasons why I have chosen them. Won’t you recommend your own favorites?

My Top 25 Movie Picks

(Not in any order of preference)
1. Like Water for Chocolate
Based on the novel by Laura Esquivel, this film is a visual feast. Every single frame is like a Diego Rivera painting. The ambience of colonial Mexico has been evocatively captured through costume, setting and language. Yes, this film is in the original Spanish and I watch it with English sub-titles. I am always glad for the authenticity of the sound of the dialog on the lips of the native Mexican actors who star in this film. The plot revolves around the stranglehold in which the main female protagonist Tita is captured by an antiquated Mexican tradition which dictates that the youngest daughter of a widow must remain unmarried to take care of her ageing mother.  
2. Galileo
I saw this film, many many moons ago, in the company of my American neighbor Roberta Skaggs Naik whilst I still lived in Bombay. Directed by Joseph Losey and based on the play by Bertolt Brecht, the visuals are stunning, each frame seeming like a reproduction Impressionist painting. Especially memorable was the scene in which Sir John Gielgud who plays the Pope is seen enrobing for a major formal occasion. The role played by the  Chorus in Brecht’s play is superbly interpreted by a choir of altar boys in the film who have the most angelic voices.   
  3. Waterloo BridgeThis is a chick-flick from the 1950s. Apart from starring an exquisite Vivienne Leigh and an exceedingly handsome Robert Taylor, the film is set in London during the Nazi blitzkreig. Being the confirmed Anglophile I am, I loved the poignancy of the story as well as the dereliction of a war-torn England as depicted in this heartbreaking romance. When I was a teenager in Bombay, my parents took me to see this movie during a re-run at the Regal Cinema. It is one of my mother Edith’s favorites films as well.

4. Witness for the Prosecution
I saw this film also in Bombay in the company of my parents who being film connoisseurs themselves, always ensured that I saw the old classics when they were released as repeats. Performances by Charles Laughton and Marlene Deitrich make this film unforgettable. If you like a good whodunit, you will love this one. My natural penchant for mysteries, which I now watch on TV by the shoalful, makes this one of my all-time favorites. 
 5. The Sound of Music
I saw The Sound of Music in Bombay when I was eight years old and I have loved it ever since. What’s not to love about the sing-along compositions of Rogers and Hammerstein, the glorious setting of Salzburg, Austria, the backdrop of World War II and the superb acting of Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews assisted by a bevy of lively kids? When I visited Salzburg for the first time, I took The Sound of Music Tour that winds the film’s fans through the main locations used in the movie including the church in Mondsee in the Salzkammergut Region (Lake District) where the wedding of Maria and Captain Von Trapp takes place. Perfect for hopeless romantics!
  6. Mary Poppins
Mary Poppins is another one of those films, like The Sound of Music, that you see for the first time as a child and love for the rest of your life. Victorian England at the time of the Suffragette Marches, sooty chimney sweeps and stern governesses are the ingredients for a rollicking musical that stars a delightfully vivacious Julie Andrews and a comical Dick Van Dyke (playing multiple roles). The songs, the excellently choreographed dances (I once performed the Chim-Chimney Song and Dance routine in middle school) and the performances made this movie every film buff’s favorite.  
7. Schindler’s List
This is the kind of movie that I watch only once because much as I admire and have been moved by it, I cannot allow myself to undergo the emotional turmoil that follows. I watched this movie in a theater in Forest Hills, New York, a predominantly Jewish enclave of Queens. Many of the viewers left the theater mid-movie in tears, choking on what they saw. The genius of Steven Speilberg coupled with stellar performances by Ralph Fiennes, Liam Neeson and Ben Kingsley remain etched in my mind. This is the true story of the unselfish efforts of German industrialist Oscar Schindler  (Neeson) to save  his Jewish employees from the Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust.  
  8. The Pianist
Like Schindler’s List, this film, set during the Holocaust, is one of film-maker Roman Polanski’s greatest. Introducing a gangly Adrian Brody in the male lead (his Acting Oscar role), the film was shot in the Jewish ghetto of Krakow, Poland, which I subsequently visited. The aridity of the landscape comprising bombed-out shells that were once grand buildings contrasted with the sublimity of the classical piano compositions that play throughout, make this film especially startling for me. 
9. The Piano
Set at the end of the 19th century amidst the stark landscape of coastal New Zealand, this film starring Harvey Keitel, Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin (her Acting Oscar for Best Supporting Actress won when she was nine years old!) is painfully moving. The plot revolves around the arrival of an English widow (Hunter) with her daughter (Paquin) to New Zealand to become the wife of a pioneer (Keitel). She insists on bringing her grand piano with her, hauling it across continents to keep her company in her voluntary muteness, a result of previously suffered emotional trauma. Her interaction with her new husband is as fascinating as is the extra-marital affair that develops; but the shocking end of the film leaves one’s psyche bruised. Great acting and the period setting of the film make it one of my favorites.
10. The Shawshank Redemption
Despite the fact that this film is triumphantly uplifting at the very end, I found most of it so profoundly disturbing that I don’t think I could ever watch it again. However, it was so superbly directed and acted and its plot so ingenious, that I have never been able to get it off my mind. Based on a novel by Stephen King orginally entitled Rita Haworth and the Shawshank Redemption, Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman take this plot to unimaginable heights in its exposure of corruption in police and prison circles in the 1940s in the USA.  
11. Four Weddings and a Funeral
This 1994 British romantic comedy written by Richard Curtis and directed by Mike Newell was my favorite romantic film of all time until Love Actually came along! Starring Hugh Grant (my favorite actor) and Andie McDowell (whom I really dislike), it won a slew of BAFTA awards and made a star of Grant. Set in the UK, it follows the fortunes of a group of friends who have reached marriagable age and begin to settle down to domesticity. Seen through the narrative eyes of Charles (Grant), a bumbling but very lovable protagonist, the film presents the many facets of romantic relationships including a deeply moving gay one featuring Matthew (John Hannah) and the Scotsman Gareth (Simon Callow) that involves the recitation of one of my favorite poems by W.H. Auden (“Turn Back the Clocks…”) at the only funeral in the film. See this and be charmed.
12. Love Actually
Ah, here it is! My favorite romantic film of all time. Released in 2003, this British film, written and directed by Richard Curtis (who had also written Four Weddings and a Funeral), stars a portrait gallery of British actors. Indeed everyone who is anyone (save for John Cleese!) makes a cameo appearance in this film. Based on the same concept as Four Weddings–that Love is a many splendored thing–the many unpredictable twists and turns of the countless sub-plots will warm the cockles of your heart. As if this touchy-feely backdrop is inadequate, the plots are set in the days leading up to Christmas which (like yet another character) plays a huge role in the film. Amazingly, the diverse characters that make up the canvas are interconnected in the strangest possible ways so that they weave in and out of each other’s individual stories, bringing a marvelous cohesiveness to the film as a whole. 
  13. An Affair to Remember
This is yet another chick-flick that I have watched repeatedly. Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr star in this film that involves a chance meeting between two people on the observation deck of the Empire State Buidling in New York City. They resolve to meet again at the same place at a later set date but Kerr is prevented from doing so by a personal tragedy. The manner in which the lovers are reunited at the end became the inspiration for the final scene in the film Sleepless in Seattle, another hopelessly romantic chick-flick starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Don’t you just love how one film spawns another, each becoming a well-loved classic in its own time?  
14. My Cousin Vinny

I just love this movie! Every single aspect of it cracks me up–from the unlikely plot to the hysterical performances by Joe Pesci and Marissa Tomei (who won an Academy Award for this role). Set in the South, the story deals with Vinny, a small time lawyer who travels from New York to represent his cousin, a young student, who has been falsely accused of running away from the scene of an accident while on vacation. Tussling against a cultural framework that he barely understands (both literally and figuratively–the Southern accents are incomprehensible to this Brooklyn-raised lawyer as much as Vinny’s lines are Greek to them) , Vinny is most certainly losing the case until his girfriend (Tomei), a former auto mechanic, comes to his rescue as an expert  witness and gets the suspects acquited. Totally hilarious!

15. Roman Holiday
I watched this film as a re-run whilst in high school in the company of my parents in Bombay. Like every romantic school-girl who has ever watched this film, I was enchanted. Based on the chemistry that develops between a gorgeous Gregory Peck who plays a reporter in Rome and a European Princess named Ann (Audrey Hepburn) who explores the city incognito in order to foil the papparazzi, the plot is just heart-warming. The backdrop of their romance, the ancient city of Rome, provides a terrific touch, allowing the two joyous individuals to cavort around the city on Vespas and to lick gelato cones while sitting on the Spanish Steps.  Ummm, lovely!  
 16. Casablanca
Everybody’s favorite film, Casablanca remains memorable for its strange and twisted plot set in the Moroccan city of Casablanca during World War II. Starring the beautiful Ingrid Bergman and a brusque Humphrey Bogart, the complicated twists and turns constantly surprize as they move towards an unexpected denouement. Featuring such oft-quoted lines as “Play it again, Sam” and “Here’s looking at you, kid”, the film’s ambience (most of it set in Rick’s Place, a bar-restaurant in Casablanca run by Rick Blaine–Bogie) is as evocative of mystery, secrecy and understated romance as is the mood created by the sparkling chemistry of the Bogie-Bergman coupling. 
This Oscar-winning film documents the lifelong rivalry that existed between the Italian composer  Antonio Salieri and the child prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Austria  in the mid-eighteenth century. In doing so, it presents the musical genius of Mozart as became evident in Salzburg, where he was born, and later in the capital city of Vienna. His marriage, his constant state of impoverishment, his idiosyncrasies and his sheer bouts of inspiration are brought out through the brilliant direction of Milos Forman and performances by Tom Hulce playing Mozart and F. Murray Abraham in the role of Salieri. 
18.E.T.  (The Extra Terrestrial)
This Steven Speilberg masterpiece  is as appealing and fresh today as it was when released in 1982. Featuring the affectionate relationship between a fatherless little boy and an alien (presumably an adult) who has been left behind on the earth by mistake, this is a depiction of the kind of enduring friendship that can exist between beings who have absolutely nothing in common except mutual trust. The linking of fingers that became a symbol for the film is a nod to Michelangelo’s famous painting  The Creation of Man in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.  This work removed science fiction from the realm of the wierd and the inexplicable and gave it a human face and feelings.
19.The Godfather I and II
Mario Puzo’s best-selling novel The Godfather comes to celluloid in this Francis Ford Coppola directed masterpiece that features a stellar cast–Marlin Brando plays the title role, ably supported by Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duval and Diane Keaton. Set in the 1940s in New York, th film presents the feuds that wreak havoc in the Corleone family of which Brando is Don (or Head). As benevolent as he is ruthless, the plot unravels slowly, exposing the fierce loyalty that is demanded from members of the Mob and of the unspeakable punishments that await any who stray from the straight and narrow. This film sets the standard for Mafia movies of all time since every single one of them is now measured against the yardstick created by Coppola. The Godfather II is a sequel to the first and most critics consider it the superior of the two.
20. Goodfellas
Martin Scorcese directs this Mob masterpiece starring Ray Liotta, Robert de Niro and Joe Pesci as a bunch of mobsters conspire against one another in plotting a major heist at an international airport. Based on the novel Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, the true story of mob informant Henry Hill, there is not one dull moment in this swiftly moving film that engulfs the viewer in its unbelievable brutality. With a fine performance by Lorraine Bracco as Hill’s wife, the feminine presence does nothing to soften the mood created by the massive amounts of testosterone that  overwhelm the viewer from first frame to last.
21.Sense and Sensibility
What’s not to love about a pair of sisters in Regency England on the lookout for suitable husbands? In the finest traditions of Jane Austen’s plots, this film reproduces the era to perfection, producing an Oscar-winning screenplay (by Emma Thompson) who also stars in the film together with Kate Winslett and Hugh Grant (did I mention that he’s my favorite actor?). The film-maker Ang Lee who through his body of work has shown a remarkable ability to experiment with varied cultures, each time understanding and delivering them to audiences with the subtlest sensitivities, has created another winner. I love everything about this film including its use of my favorite Shakespearean sonnet, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”
Ever since I first heard about it as a little girl from my father, I have been fascinated by the tragedy of the sinking of the Titanic. An opportunity to see it unfold on the big screen in the hands of a master film-maker was something I anticipated eagerly and I was not disappointed. In James Cameron’s hands, the plot (though some consider it “cheesy”, to quote my students) remains credible and allowed for the development of a tender shipboard romance between the protagonists played by Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslett that emphasized the class boundaries that existed at the turn of the last century. Amazing footage of the real Titanic at the bottom of the ocean, coupled with magnificent reproductions of the vessel as it might have looked when it sailed the high seas, make this film superbly compelling. I can’t stand Celine Dion’s song though and I’m glad it only makes its presence felt at the very end when the credits are rolling.    
23.Shakespeare  in Love
This is one intelligent movie–but then what else can be expected from playwright Tom Stoppard who wrote Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead based on Shakespare’s Hamlet? The Bard facing Writer’s Block during a middle age crisis? Say this is not so! This dissipates completely and he becomes a creative volcano once again, however, whist deeply immersed in the writing of Romeo and Juliet when he makes the acquaitance of a young woman with whom he falls passionately in love and has a clandestine affair. Mingling with the Elizabethan ambience is every conceivable contemporay piece of gossip and local hearsay. Featuring a tiny cameo appearance by Judi Dench in the role of Queen Elizabeth I, this film stars Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow and won Dench and Paltrow their Acting Oscars. I am especially partial to the role played by  Geoffrey Rush as the hapless owner of the  Company of Players. The Globe Theater is superbly reproduced on the sets of this film, showing exactly how it might have seemed when drama-crazed Elizabethans sat under the stars in a roofless theater and watched young boys play female roles in works that contained the most dramatic poetry.  
24.Lawrence of Arabia
Lawrence of Arabia is one David Lean’s masterpieces–the other two, in my opinion,  are Doctor Zhivago and A Passage to India. Based on the biography of T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia), the film stars a gorgeous Peter O’Toole playing one of the most challenging roles of his life and making it seem like a piece of cake.  There are some memorable scenes inthe film–wo can ever forget the one in which the young boy is almost swallowed up by a pool of sinking sand? Or Lawrence’s triumphant entry into the city to the rousing cheers of his supporters? Shot entirely on location in Egypt and featuring a major performance by the gorgeous Omar Sharif, it is worth watching this movie if only to feast your eyes on the main actors. 
This film directed by Peter Glenville stars two of the greatest British actors of all time–Peter O’Toole in the role of England’s King Henry II and Richard Burton as Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury. Based on Jean Anouilh’s play Beckett or The God of Honor, it underscores the deep friendship between these two men–a friendship that is deeply threatened by Beckett’s unwillingness to ignore the high-handedness of his leige which causes him to become a champion of his country’s serfs. Unwilling to brook challenge from his best friend, Henry has Beckett nurdered–the historical episode of which also spawned T.S. Eliot’s famous play Murder in the Cathedral. The dialogue, the performances and the magical chemistry between these stalwart method actors is what makes this film shine. 

I wanted to stop at 25 but I just couldn’t resist including this last one–perhaps my all-time favorite:

26. Gosford Park

Gospark Park is an old-fashioned whodunit, directed by one of the most brilliant film-makers of all time–the late Robert Altman. Set on a country estate called Gosford Park in the 1930s–that era just before Empire crumbled and the privileged lifestyle of the English country squire became history–this movie probes into the class distinctions that demarcated the Upstairs-Downstairs boundaries of Edwardian England. The amazing star cast featuring the biggest names in British drama (Michael Gabon, Kristin-Scott Thomas, Jeremy Norton, Kelly McDonald, Clive Owen, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Derek Jacobi, Richard E. Grant) and a smattering of American actors (Bob Balaban, Ryan Phillipe), makes this a thoroughly thrilling visual treat. Fo me, the plot is the least important part of the film, though that too is excellent . The sets and costumes, the props, the house’s interior that provides clues to the interiority of the characters themselves–all of these move me deeply and whisk me off to a world within which I strongly believe I would have thrived. But don’t just take my word for it–get yourself a DVD and prepare to be awed!

My Top TV Picks

(Not in any order of preference)

Here are my favorite TV shows.  You will see that I have a marked partiality for popular British TV classics which I watch on my local PBS channels and on video and DVD through my neighboring Westport Public Library that has a fabulous audio-visual circulating section. I make a once-weekly pilgrimage there and return with a stack of DVDs that allow me to spend the most blissful evenings with Llew wrapped in the fantasy world of these amazing series.

1. Inspector Morse Mysteries

I believe this is my all-time favorite TV show. I can watch endless re-runs and never feel bored. Set in Oxford, one of my favorite places in the whole world, the show’s protagonist, Detective Chief Inspector Morse (played by the late John Thaw) is probably the most suave, sophisticated copper ever created. Based on the lead character found in the novels of Colin Dexter, Morse  is a hard-drinking, crossword-solving, opera-loving, Jaguar-driving bachelor whose penchant for a pretty face often finds him romantically entangled with the women whose troubles he attempts to soothe. Assisted by his sergeant Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whatley), Morse solves a series of murders against the academic backdrop of the university that falls under the jurisdiction of the Thames Valley Police.  I love this series for the complexity of its plots, the superb musical score (by Barrington Phelong) and, of course, the locations that I recognize easily as among my most familiar Oxford haunts (the Botanical Gardens, for instance, the High Street, the college quadrangles, etc.). A couple of episodes have actually been in shot in my own Exeter College. The most classy, most successful British detective TV series of all time, it was rumoured to be one of Queen Elizabeth’s favorite shows and, following Thaw’s demise, has spawned a TV series that is currently being shot, entitled Inspector Lewis, starring, of course, Kevin Whatley in the lead .

2. As Time Goes By

This is another popular favorite in the UK and many parts of the English-speaking world. In the USA, it enjoys repeated re-runs on PBS. I first began watching it about six years ago and have seen each episode a gazillion times. Starring Judi Dench (who plays, Jean Pargiter) and Geoffrey Palmer (as Lionel Hardcastle), this show is about an elderly couple who run into each other thirty-five years after they first became engaged. Because the acting of every single one of the characters is so incredibly natural, I keep forgetting that I am watching a TV show and often believe I am a fly on the wall of their living room or kitchen as they go about the bumbling complications of their daily lives–lives that involve ups and downs in the lives of Jean’s daughter Judy, her secretary Sandy and Lionel’s publisher Alistair Deacon. Other memorable characters are Lionel’s father Rocky, his wife Marge, their housekeeper Mrs. Bale and a general dogsbody Lowell, Jean’s sister-in-law Penny and her husband Steven. Action moves between the couple’s lovely town house in London’s Holland Park (which I once visited simply to catch a glimpse of the street on which the series is shot!) and Rockie’s country estate in Hampshire  which Lionel inherits and to which they retreat at weekends. Needless to say, after almost nine successful seasons on BBC TV, the series ended with Jean and Lionel and Judy and Alistair and Sandy and Harry happily married. A recent airing of The As Time Goes By Reunion brought revived audiences to the telly and became a mighty fundraiser for the Public Television channels that air the show.

 3. The Office (British Version)

The Office made a star of Ricky Gervais, who co-wrote the show with Stephen Merchant, his business partner. An experiment that became a runaway success, it was not shot before a live audience and did not carry a laugh track in the background. The result is a situation comedy featuring the wierdest of employees led by a boss (David Brent played by Gervais–below left) who is so full of himself and so determined to be more popular than a business success that he jeopardizes his own career. The series, set in a paper company called Wernham-Hogg in Slough, was filmed on a shoestring budget and won a ton of BAFTA awards. It has spawned an American version starring Steve Carrel (executive co-producers are Gervais and Merchant)  which though eminently watchable and quite hilarious, has  plots and dialogue that lack the wry British sense of humor that always makes the original shows so much more entertaining for me.

4. Fawlty Towers

Though I watch occasional re-runs of Fawlty Towers on PBS today, I first watched this series when it aired in the late 70s on Bombay TV while I was in college. John Cleese stars as Basil Fawlty, a completly moronic innkeeper in Torquay, Cornwall, who is assisted in his daily duties by his no-nonsense wife Sybil (played fabulously by Prunella Scales), a housekeeper named Penny (played by Cleese’s former wife Connie Booth) and a Spanish bellboy named Manuel (Andrew Sachs). Though the total number of episodes in this series is a mere thirteen, Cleese’s inimitable style holds this slapstick romp together with great aplomb.

5. Keeping Up Appearances

I developed such a fondness for Patricia Richardson who plays Hyacinath Bucket (pronounced by her as “Bouquet”) in this series that one of the best parts of a recent visit to London was seeing her at the West End in a play entitled Solid Gold Cadillac. Set in Hyacinth’s impeccable home in a small English village, the show pokes merciless fun of the pretensions of the middle class as they aspire towards the lifestyle of the aristocracy. Hyacinth’s long-suffering, hen-pecked husband Richard (Clive Swift) provides a quiet foil for her histrionics as do the supporting cast comprising neighbors Elizabeth and Emmet, Hyacinth’s sisters Daisy, Violet and Rose, gruff brother-in-law Onslow and Hyacinth’s “Daddy”. Richardson has said in TV interviews that she drew inspiration for the interpretation of this character from Lucille Ball. Be that as it may, she has a style entirely her own, and she is able to draw strength from deep within herself, to re-create the character with all her endearing qualities and irritating foibles in episode after episode, much to the delight of her adoring fans.

6. Nigella Bites

Nigella Lawson developed a huge fan following after her first series entitled Nigella Bites was aired on British television. Since then, audiences around the world (moi among them) have responded enthusiastically to her distinctive style of tutoring viewers on cooking. Apart from the fact that she herself is so delectable to look at, I also love that voluptous abandonment with which she talks about ingredients and describes the look and texture of food. Lawson is an Oxford-educated mother of two who turned to cooking on televison after becoming widowed at age 40. She has, since then, re-married (her husband is Charles Saatchi, the advertising whizkid) and has created a global empire that comprises the production of cookbooks and cooking utensils. I love the fact that unlike the straight-laced and frightfully perfect Martha Stewart, she is not averse to messiness, both in her pantry and her kitchen counter . Give me normality over perfection anytime!!!

7. The Barefoot Contessa

Ian Garten, aka the Barefoot Contessa, is another completely lovable TV cook. I deliberately call her a cook, not a chef, as she has never been to culinary school, but learned everything she knows the way most of us learned our cooking–through trial and error. She has, of course, taken some master cooking classes from such folks as Anna Pump and Patricia Wells, but her completely unintimidating persona, her lovely infectious laughter, the sheer simplicity of the dishes she cooks and their incredibly taste–I know because I own all her books and every single thing I have ever made from them has turned out fabulous– make watching her shows a completely enlightening and entertaing experience at the same time. The show is named after the gourmet food store she owned for two decades in the Hamptons that she purchased after giving up a career in budgeting and finance for the White House.My favorites from her several books are her Outrageous Chocolate Chunk Cookies , her Crab Cakes and her Summer Pudding that I make over and over again.

8. Nigella Feasts

Yes, Nigella Lawson appears on this list again–this time in a different avatar. Gone are the tiny morsels of the first series. This one, as the title indicates, features a number of dishes that involve a lengthier list of ingredients and more complicated cooking techniques. The informality and the earthy enjoyment of food remain unchanged. Lawson’s unusual use of imagery, her superior vocabulary, her superbly refined accent and her awesome fluency make her a delight to the ear as much as the camerawork and her sure fire cooking techniques are treats for the eye. It beats me thats she can consume food with so much pleasure yet remain as trim and gorgeous as she is.

 9. The Two Fat Ladies

The Two Fat Ladies is a screen name adopted by the duo that once comprised Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson-Wright. As long as Jennifer was alive, they traveled around the English countryside on a motor-bike with an attached sidecar as personal chefs to a number of institutions (Boys’ boarding schools and seminaries, for instance). In the course of a day out (and one program episode), they visit neighboring country farms and farmers’ markets in search of fresh produce, cheese and home-cured bacon that they use in the creation of their fat-laden dishes. The TV series is a treat to watch not just because their personal verbal interaction is amusing, even comical, not just because they take viewers into scenic English vistas that provide opportunities for armchair travel but mainly because it makes a good game guessing the amount of lard they will lavish on each recipe. Indeed, the ladies (as their size suggests) are not fat-shy and tons of butter, cream and cheese are poured into their concoctions. While they create standard British favorites such as Bubble and Squeak and Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding, they have also presented somewhat daring (for them, that is) ethnic culinary creations including Kedgeree (a Fish and Rice Casserole that originated when the British ruled India) and Colcannon (an Irish Mashed Potato and  Cabbage combination). With the demise of chain-smoking Jennifer, a few years ago, the series ended, but they continue to hold a special place in my heart.

10. Father Ted

Father Ted is a hilarious look at Irish religious life. Set on Craggy Island, in a remote fictional parish, miles away from civilization, Father Ted Crilly holds sway over a parish community of priets that includes a nitwit called Fr. Dougal McGuire and an alcoholic named Fr. Jack Hackett. The trio of priests is fed by a housekeeper named Mrs. Doyle who keeps them awash in an ocean of tea. Apart from the fact that the episodes so superbly convey the ethos of Irish Catholicism, albeit with an irreverent tongue firmly held in cheek, the antics of this foursome are so funny that they’ll have you rolling in the aisles. And, needless to say, I love their Irish accents and simply can’t get enough of them.

11. Chef

Comedian Lenny Henry became a TV star in Britain following his success on this show which seemed tailor-made for his formidable talents of articulation and dialog-delivery. As the vainglorious Michelin-starred culinary genius of the British Isles, Chef Gavin Blackstock presides over the Chateau Anglais, a fancy-schmancy French restaurant in the Cotswolds that is managed by his ascerbic wife, Janice. His arrogance, his inability to suffer inferior chefs (such as the hapless Everton) gladly, his insistence upon only the finest ingredients, his legendarily long hours, his impatience with the press and ignorant food critics and his disinterest in sex or any kind of marital intimacy, are the stuff of which this series is made. You will relish the witty, intelligent dialog and the speed and dexterity with which Henry dishes it up. You will also become introduced to the discipline that is involved in running a kitchen whose quest is to remain the best French establishment of its kind in the country. For those interested in such trivia, Lenny Henry emceed the Performance Extravaganza held in Hyde Park to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee and is married to the British TV comedienne Dawn French (who plays the Vicar of Dibley–see #14 below)

12. Coupling (British version)

Coupling is a combination of America’s Friends and Seinfeld with a great deal more English sophistication. If you loved those runaway American successes, you will adore this show. Featuring six young 20-somethings in search of life partners in the heart of London, this show made a huge success of the husband-wife writing-producing duo of Beryl and Simon Vertue. Three young women (Susan, Sally and Jane) and their three young male friends (Steve, Patrick and Jeff) fall in and out of love with each other and with other partners throughout this series–somewhat in the Friends and Seinfeld vein. Their phobias, their hangups, their self-obsessions are so humorulsy delienated in this series that oozes intelligence and amusement that you will look forward to the airing of each episode week after week.

13. Seinfeld

I loved Seinfeld so much, I actually watched the final episode with tears in my eyes! Since the show ended a few years ago, my Thursdays have never felt the same! Though I became introduced to the series only in its fourth season, I have caught up on the early episodes through multiple re-runs over the years. Featuring the now-famous foursome (Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine) with a pelthora of minor characters that include their parents, friends, neighbors, innumerable dates, etc. this is the quinessential New York show. Anyone who has ever lived in New York City will identify completley with the ridiculous situations in which these idiosyncractic characters find themselves in their attempts to cope and come out winning. The superb writing of Larry David and the extraordinary comic genius of Jason Alexander playing Geroge Costanza make this an especially endearing show for my family and myself.

 14. The Vicar of Dibley

British comedienne Dawn French (who made her TV debut in the UK with the hugely successful French and Saunders) plays Geraldine, the female vicar of the Church of England posted to a tiny village called Dibley in Oxfordshire. Madcap supporting characters like her verger Alice (expertly played by Emma Chambers) and as assortment of farmers and the local landlord Gary Horton, make this series side-splitting. Written by Richard Curtis (who wrote screenplays for the films Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually), this show is so heart-warming that you will await it eagerly each week to find out how just way-out-of-whack this unconventional vicar can be. Needless to say, despite their reservations about having a female vicar, her warmth and humor so win over her congregation that they show her their affection in the strangest possible ways (Alice names her first-born Geraldine Lala Ainsley Harriot Horton, for instance, combining in the choice of name her favorite vicar, her favorite Tellytubby and her favorite TV chef in one–that’s how hysterically funny this show can be). Good clean fun–a kind of counterpart to Father Ted within the Anglican context!

 15. Midsommer Murders

I have only very recently become introduced to this show, thanks to the DVD collections in the Westport Library. Set in the heart of rural England, this series, in the finest traditions of British murder mysteries, attempts to find the perpetrators of crimes in the picturesque country of Midsomer. The problem-solving duo in this series are Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby and his handsome Sergeant Gavin Troy (later replaced by Sergeant Scott). What I love best about this show, apart from the rivetting plots, are the lovely locations featuring the prettiest villages in the heart of England complete with thatched roof cootages, duck-filled ponds and ancient stone churches.

 16. Foyle’s War

Foyle’s War is another British murder mystery series with a twist. Set during World War II, with England in the midst of a devastating tussle with Germany, the series of crimes that Detective Chief Inspector Foyle (played by Michael Kitchen) pursue, occur in Hastings, on the Sussex coastline. Assisted by his Sergeant Paul Milner and his chauffeur Samantha “Sam” Stewart, Foyle methodically unravels the reasons behind the wrong doings of his fellow-men. His quietly polite manner and his unthreatening personality camouflage his razor-sharp intellect. To the credit of the show, it manages to reproduce the ethos of that era so authentically that you can lose yourself completely in those war-torn years and entirely believe that  you are personally affected by the vagaries of war.

17. Ballykissangel

I saw this lovely show soon after I returned from Ireland and had fallen in love with the unspoiled countryside. When I chanced to fall upon this DVD in the Westport Library, I snatched at it eagerly, then spent many a fabulous evening, coiled up in a cashmere throw in my family room watching the episodes entirely on my own and hanging on to every scene and sound. I love everything about this show–the lovable cast of characters headed by Fr. Peter Clifford, an English Catholic priest who finds himself posted to the tiny Irish village of “BallyK” and Assumpta Fitzgerald, the bar-tending pub owner, a lapsed Catholic who can’t stand the Church but finds herself magnetized by Fr. Clifford. It is the marvelous acting of the eccentric villagers that give this show its unmistakable flavor that is also unmistakably Irish. Everytime I want to relive my time in Ireland, I play an episode of this show and I am back there again amidst those forty shades of green and frothing glasses of Guinness.

 18. Monarch of the Glen

Monarch of the Glen is the Scottish equivalent of Ballykissangel. It brings the Scottish Highlands to life as it documents the attempts made by its male protagonist Archie MacDonald to take his position as the new Laird on his family estate Glenbogle. Heavy with tradition (there are kilts, oatcakes, porridge, grouse-hunting trips, lots of Scottish whiskey, salmon fishing, etc. sprinkled liberally into the episodes), the trappings of the show (the locations, the dialog, the Scottish accents) are as much fun for me to watch  as are the confusions of this young man who must choose a life partner for himself from among a selection of smart and shrewd women. Other characeters who make the show special for me are Richard Briers who plays Archie’s father and Julian Fellowes who plays Killwillie, the McDonald’s scheming neighbor. Based loosely on The Highland Novels by Compton Mackenzie, fans of the swashbuckling world of Robert Louis Stevenon and Sir Walter Scott are sure to find this show mesmerizing.