April 19, 2024

Must-See TV

FX and Hulu have resurrected James Clavell’s novel and produced another limited mini-series called “Shogun.” I cannot recommend it enough.

You will have to forgive a piece that is not at all about politics and the current cultural contretemps of modern American society. Instead, I want to use these words to recommend as forcefully as possible a television show that you should be watching. But first, you must have a history lesson.

In the 16th century, Ferdinand Magellan discovered what became known as the Strait of Magellan, a passage around South America that spared ships the treacherous open waters of the Atlanta, Pacific and Antarctic waters. The Spanish intended to keep it a secret. Concurrently, Spain and Portugal divided the world in half, intent on shutting out the Dutch, English and others from global colonial development.

Among the lands discovered was Japan, to which the Portuguese sent missionaries and began a campaign both of Catholicizing the island nation and also plundering it. The Spanish headed to the new world, and the Portuguese went to the outer edges of the old world.

As the Netherlands entered war with Spain and sought freedom and Protestantism, belligerences expanded and rumors spread of a land from which the Portuguese were gaining wealth. The Dutch went out in search of it, having gathered intelligence about the Strait of Magellan and a path around the new world back into the old.

In 1598, Tokugawa Ieyasu, a feudal Japanese leader, became one of five ruling elders to preside over the political power of Japan. Ieyasu ultimately consolidated his power becoming Shogun of Japan. He frequently consulted an Englishman named William Adams, who also served as an obstacle to the European Catholic powers consolidating control over Japan.

In 1975, James Clavell wrote a novel of historical fiction based on the relationship between Ieyasu and Adams and Ieyasu’s rise to the Shogunate of Japan, a position he allegedly had no desire to resurrect. The novel was turned into a miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain in the early eighties. Now, FX and Hulu have resurrected Clavell’s novel and produced another limited mini-series called “Shogun.” I cannot recommend it enough.

The serialization of Clavell’s novel combines knowledge of European naval tactics and Japanese society. It treats Japanese society, culture and customs respectfully and captures the European divisions between Protestants and Catholics. In this modern retelling, there are lots of subtitles. The Japanese speak Japanese. The Europeans speak Portuguese, but that is portrayed as English in the show. The embrace of the Japanese language, customs and culture make the show both foreign and intriguing. The spectacle is captivating. The character development is marvelous. The plot keeps you on the edge of your seat. There are no slow episodes. There are no misplaced episodes.

We are beyond the golden age of television when so many Americans all shared a few television shows we all watched. Now Americans are as divided on their entertainment choices as they are their politics. “Game of Thrones” was the last major shared cultural entertainment experience. We were all, globally, left disappointed by its ending.

The era of shared, communal experiences in television has ended except for sports. None of us subscribe to the same streaming services or watch the same shows. If we do watch the same shows, we do not watch them at the same time. Some are released as complete seasons that can be binge-watched. Some are released each week. Instead of 20 episodes in a season, we might get 10 and then struggle to find something new to watch.

In this era, Apple TV+ has consistently performed well. The service, perhaps with the fewest subscribers of all the major subscription streaming services, rarely has a clunker. The television show “Slow Horses,” now three seasons in, is one of the best shows in streaming.

Between FX, Hulu and Disney Plus, many more Americans have access to “Shogun” than “Slow Horses.” If you are one of the ones who does, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It deserves to be a part of our shared cultural entertainment experience. The show is that good, its actors’ performances are some of the best on television, and the pacing and plot leave viewers on the edge of their seats wanting more. It is must-see TV.


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