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TV doesn't get much better than these two

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If you count yourself among the folks who can be heard complaining that there's nothing good on TV these days...

Listen up. This column's for you.

The pair of series featured today -- one new, one returning -- are just two more elements in the overwhelming wave of evidence that we are, right now, living in television's golden age. There's still plenty of room for nostalgic discussions about how great the classic TV shows were in the medium's early years, but the simple fact of the matter is that there's more great television being produced now than at any time in the tube's history.

It might be a bit harder to find, because there are hundreds of channels carrying thousands of hours of depressingly soul-sucking garbage TV like Jersey Shore and anything whose title ends in Honey Boo Boo, but if you're committed to finding quality, there's more than enough to keep any PVR filled.

From mainstream network fare like The Good Wife, Modern Family and New Girl to specialty cable offerings such as Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Justified and Boss, the good list is a big list. And what follows are descriptions of two series that fully deserve to be included.

First up is Call the Midwife, the delightfully charming period drama that premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. on Prairie Public TV. Based on the memoirs of the late midwife-turned-author Jennifer Worth, the series follows a young nurse named Jenny Lee (played by Jessica Raine) as she takes her first job working as a midwife in London's impoverished East End.

The year is 1957, less than a decade after the introduction of Britain's National Health Service, and Jenny has no idea what she's in for. She believes she has been hired to work at a small private hospital, but when she arrives at her new employer's address, she finds it's a convent, Nonnatus House, and learns she'll be working alongside a handful of nuns and a couple of other nurses to provide pre- and post-natal care in an overcrowded and desperately poor working-class neighbourhood.

In the precinct to which she has been assigned, more than 100 babies are born every month, which means the nurses and nuns are constantly, frantically on the move, conveying themselves by bicycle through the filthy cobblestone streets of the dockside community.

It all sounds rather desperate and bleak, but the fact of the matter is that Call the Midwife -- which debuted in the U.K. last year as the BBC's top-rated new drama ever -- is a wonderfully layered series filled with complex and captivating characters, meticulous historical detail and storylines that range from the heart-wrenching to the flat-out hilarious.

It really is must-see TV.

Next on today's Wow-is-TV-ever-good-these-days docket is the second-season premiere of Homeland (Sunday at 9 p.m. on Super Channel), the made-for-U.S.-cable (Showtime network) series that swept the Emmys last weekend, taking home awards for best drama series and best actress (Claire Danes), best actor (Damian Lewis) and best writing in a drama series.

If you haven't seen it -- which is quite likely since its Canadian home is Super Channel -- you should find the first-season box set and find out why folks in the TV biz think it's so great. Season 1 focused on the efforts of an emotionally crippled CIA agent (Danes) to prove that a U.S. soldier (Lewis) rescued after eight years of captivity in an Al Qaeda prison was not the hero everyone thinks but had in fact been turned by his captors and was working for the terrorists.

By the end of its rookie season, Homeland resolved several huge plot points and answered most of its initial who's-right/who's-wrong questions -- in as gripping a manner as any drama series could -- but as the second season opens, it's clear that the show's writers have found many more dark narrative alleys to explore.

In the role of now-former CIA operative Carrie Mathison, Danes is simply amazing. Her portrayal of a tortured soul who would rather do anything but be right about her suspicions is so deeply nuanced that every moment onscreen is memorable.

And Lewis, whose character has now made a quick transition to life as an elected official, is easily Danes's equal as a man carrying so many secrets that he's no longer certain what, or who, is true.

Homeland fully deserved its first-season accolades, and there's every reason to believe its new episodes will live up to the Emmy-winning standard it has set for itself. Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 29, 2012 G4

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