Okay, this is the viewers’ guide I was born to write. I have probably seen the entire run of the series “As Time Goes By” at least half a dozen times–my local PBS station has been running in nearly continuously for the past twenty years and even though I could watch it that way on any given Saturday night, I’ve also watched it on YouTube.
Yes, I know, I have a problem.
But really. Have you ever seen this show? It’s so, so great. It’s deliciously British and wonderfully romantic and it stars Dame Judi Dench. The basic premise is this: Jean Pargetter and Lionel Hardcastle bump into one another in London, many decades after they first met and fell in love during the Korean War. Jean worked as a nurse in England during that conflict, and Lionel was eventually posted to Korea, where they lost touch (with Lionel’s first letter to Jean never reaching her, Jean didn’t have a return address to reply to him at, and he thought she was not longer interested*). When they meet for this second time, Jean is a widow with an adult daughter, and Lionel is divorced and newly back from Kenya, where he ran a coffee plantation for many years.
Even though they are both, ahem, advanced in years, their second courtship has all the angst and hilarity of a relationship among teenagers–will they or won’t they? It takes a surprisingly long (luckily for the viewer) time to find out.
This show also features a very satisfying supporting cast; Lionel’s publisher (Lionel has written a memoir, titled, scintillatingly, My Life in Kenya) Alistair, who becomes an eventual love interest for Jean’s daughter Judith, is one of my favorite British characters of all time.
Years aired: 1992-2005
Episodes and seasons: 67 episodes over the course of 10 seasons (30-minutes episodes). Season 10 consisted of a two-part “Reunion Special,” with each part running for an hour.
Christmas episodes? Actually, no. That’s interesting. There’s a lot of weddings in this series but no Christmas specials.
Primary Stars: Judi Dench as Jean Pargetter, Geoffrey Palmer as Lionel Hardcastle, Moira Brooker as Judith, Philip Bretherton as Alistair, Jenny Funnell as Sandy
Creator and primary writers: Colin Bostock-Smith (creator), Bob Larbey
Setting: London (urban)
First aired on: BBC One
So, you’re out of As Time Goes By? Watch this next, luv:
Last Tango in Halifax. A recent program from Sally Wainwright, the writer and creator of “Happy Valley,” except it actually is much happier. Wainwright based this story of young sweethearts who have a misunderstanding, marry others, and eventually rekindle their romance with one another in their “mature” years, after the deaths of their respective spouses. Starring Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid, whose love is all the stronger for all the intervening years of life which they didn’t get to share together.
A Fine Romance. Judi Dench was no stranger to playing a wry older woman who’s still up for romance when she starred in “As Time Goes By”; in this earlier series, she played a similar role opposite her real-life husband. I never found this one as sweet or funny as “As Time Goes By” (in parts it’s mostly just awkward, as both lead characters can’t quite seem to decide if they really like each other or not), but let’s face it, Dame Judi is compulsively watchable in anything. This series was also written by Bob Larbey, who wrote much of “As Time Goes By”; also of interest might be another series penned by Larbey, “Brush Strokes,” featuring a gently Casanova-like house painter named Jacko. “Brush Strokes” is dated but features humor very similar to that found in “As Time Goes By.” (It’s also a bit harder to find but can be tracked down if you look.)
Coupling: Okay, “Coupling” is not like “As Time Goes By” at all. It features an ensemble cast and modern love; nearly everyone in the group of six friends ends up sleeping with each other. But the writing is so good and so witty and the show actually ends up being quite romantic in its own way. Kudos also to this show for recovering, in its fourth season, from the exit of one of its most enjoyable actors; this is also one of the few shows I’ve ever seen that deals with pregnancy in the context of a relationship (and is also hilarious).
To the Manor Born. Okay, this one is even more a “classic” than “As Time Goes By” (read: older). In 20 episodes that ran from 1979 to 1981, the two very charismatic leads, Penelope Keith (as the former lady and now widow of the manor house, Audrey fforbes-Hamilton) and Peter Bowles (as the nouveau riche businessman, Richard DeVere, who buys the manor after Audrey has to vacate it) fought and outmaneuvered and smoldered with one another. Totally awesome and easily binge-watchable.
*Many thanks to D. Dillard in the comments for correcting the error in my original post (I thought Jean’s letter to Lionel got lost, but it was the other way ’round).