Period dramas that are more Cold War than Corset
September 2, 2016 4:32 AM   Subscribe

I've realised that I really like period dramas that are a) set in the 20th Century, particularly post-war b) often feature a workplace environment. Mad Men, Mr Selfridge, Halt and Catch Fire, The House of Elliot. Are there any others I should know about? Extra points if it has interesting costumes and has me looking up historical details on Wikipedia after an episode.

Oh, and while Downton Abbey and Call The Midwife don't interest me (former has given me hype fatigue, latter isn't for me because I don't really care about babies) I do have The Paradise on my list of stuff to watch too. I'm open to things that aren't necessarily workplace set but I like following the stories of multiple people.
posted by mippy to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
It is yet to be released, but look out for the adaptation of Sarah Waters' "The Little Stranger". Not so much workplace-related but definitely interesting/just-post war.
posted by kariebookish at 4:35 AM on September 2, 2016

Do you like mysteries? Foyle's War is excellent; the first seasons are set during the war, and the last two are just after. They center on the British home-front, though, not the war itself. One of my favorite shows ever.
posted by backwards compatible at 4:49 AM on September 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

Literally cold war, last year we had Deutschland 83 (FF), about a GDR Grenztruppen turned into a spy across the border. A spy on military barracks, so I guess that would qualify as "workplace environment".
posted by lmfsilva at 4:56 AM on September 2, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'm not sure if you're limiting it to television, but This Is England came to mind, about skinheads in the 1980s. Channel 4 did a few follow up television mini series, but I haven't seen them.

The heart of All Creatures Great and Small is pre-war, but it looks like the later series pick up after the war. It's about a vet in rural Yorkshire in (mostly) the 1930s. My love of All Creatures Great and Small is from childhood, though, so I can't really give you an objective opinion.
posted by hoyland at 4:59 AM on September 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Life on Mars, maybe? I never watched it myself but lots of people liked it.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 5:04 AM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Americans is a 1980s cold war series.
posted by Karaage at 5:08 AM on September 2, 2016 [13 favorites]

Bletchley Circle.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:12 AM on September 2, 2016 [7 favorites]

The Hour, definitely.
posted by songs about trains at 5:14 AM on September 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

The Hour is good
posted by Hugobaron at 5:16 AM on September 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

Life on Mars and Bletchley Circle are both great! I'm going to argue with you on Call the Midwife - I really don't care about babies and found a lot of the birth-related stuff shown on the show very gross - but it's still one of my favorite shows. The characters are so great and the show does a wonderful job on the history and setting (my mom grew up in England during the time period shown on the show and she said it feels completely right). If you haven't given it a try because of the baby thing, I'd encourage you to give it a chance!
posted by snaw at 5:35 AM on September 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries - It's on the early end of your scale (1920s), but is Australian so not too WWI heavy, does feature workplace (police station) settings, and has hella costuming up ins.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:46 AM on September 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

Seconding the Americans. It's not technically a workplace drama, but it does follow the lives of several different characters, including some FBI agents at the Washington, D.C. field office. It's also just the best show on television right now.
posted by ronofthedead at 5:46 AM on September 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

nth The Americans. It truly is one of the best things on tv right now and while on the surface it is a 1980s spy drama, it is so much more that as all the characters are fully fleshed out. They are also pretty scrupulous about pegging drama and character motivations to real historical events that were happening at the time.
posted by mmascolino at 5:50 AM on September 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Very Canadian (per Wikipedia, "the show was a favourite of Rush drummer Neil Peart"), set in the Depression -- Wind at My Back might appeal? It has some cheese but I was surprised by how caught up I got in it. It has a slightly slow start; wait at least until they are dealing full-time with May Bailey. May owns a mine so there is a bit of workplace what-not, and it does a good job at "following the stories of multiple people."
posted by kmennie at 5:53 AM on September 2, 2016

There's a French dramedy on Netflix called A Very Secret Service that is a combo of Mad Men, James Bond, The Stranger, and Inspector Closeau.
posted by infinitewindow at 5:56 AM on September 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have to echo Bletchley Circle and Call the Midwife -- incidently, the book Call The Midwife is even better than the show. I highly recommend it. Better to read it after having seen the show.

Another I'd recommend are Lark Rise to Candleford (again, the book is GREAT), which features Julia Sawalha.

Also, The Knick, which is about the Knickerbocker Hospital in NYC, is very gripping.
posted by OurOwnMrK at 5:58 AM on September 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Peaky Blinders is good fun, though set in the 1910s. Dancing On The Edge is really great as well.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:02 AM on September 2, 2016

Oh, you very much want to watch The Hour.
posted by gideonfrog at 6:10 AM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

nth The Americans.
I'm going to also suggest:

The Man in the High Castle, which is technically post-war, but in an alternate universe where Hitler/Japan won. Its not a workplace drama, it's a espionage/revolution drama.

Peaky Blinders: Early 1900s, a family running an illegal-turned-legal-through-illegal-means gambling business. Cross between business and mob drama.
posted by FirstMateKate at 6:12 AM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

During the war, but I loved Manh(a)ttan.
posted by functionequalsform at 6:23 AM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Studio 60 on the Sunset strip, if you're ready to call the bush years a 'period'. Its just one season but an interesting exploration of doing the 'work' of a show like SNL for a polarized country. Its an Aaron Sorkin show if thats a plus or a minus for you.

As for whats already been mentioned, Bletchly Circle is awesome and my wife loves Call the Midwife. I can also vouch for 'A very secret service' being a very good show.
posted by deadwater at 6:23 AM on September 2, 2016

I have some reservations about it as a series, but Masters of Sex exactly fits your brief, so it’s worth a mention.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 6:30 AM on September 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

Seconding Deutschland 83.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:37 AM on September 2, 2016

The miniseries "11.22.63" based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. Depending on how old you are, you might notice the little liberties it takes with details of that era.
posted by fuse theorem at 7:00 AM on September 2, 2016

Stephen Poliakoff's Friends and Crocodiles. Set in the 80s and 90s, stars Damian Lewis. I saw this when it was broadcast and am surprised to see that it was a one-off, I'd have remembered it as a series. But I do remember it striking me as really unusual in that the relationship at the heart of it (which it traces over a 20 year period) is a working relationship, not a romantic one.

Clocking Off - not quite period (I think it was contemporary when first broadcast in 2000) but each episode traces the story of a different member of staff working in the same Manchester textile mill. Cast list is a Who's Who of awesome British actors.
posted by penguin pie at 7:02 AM on September 2, 2016

Also, 6 feet under. Drama about family morgue business. Takes places around the same time as Halt and Catch Fire
posted by FirstMateKate at 7:28 AM on September 2, 2016

There is not enough love in this thread for Foyle's War, which is outstanding (although obviously, War and not Cold War.)

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries are a bit light but the costumes are tremendous and win a bazillion awards. You will look things up on Wikipedia afterwards, for sure.

Also for superlative period settings, the BBC Miss Marple series (the one with Joan Hickson, not the Margaret Rutherford one) was meticulously researched for period and is excruciatingly precise.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:59 AM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Takes places around the same time as Halt and Catch Fire

6 Feet Under is contemporary to air time.
posted by lmfsilva at 7:59 AM on September 2, 2016

Have you seen Our friends in the north?

Also, depending on how far down the "cocklewarming" route you want to go, try Heartbeat and The Royal. Given you are British I'm sure you've already seen them, they're on constant repeat (and they can be pretty twee), but they do fit your criteria.

My mum, who was a teenager in Yorkshire in the 60s, loves watching them so she can shout out "Ee, I had a dress like that!" every five minutes. She also says the slow pace of life is completely accurate, fwiw (apparently nobody in Yorkshire had sex or took drugs in the 60s, that was all people down in London).
posted by tinkletown at 8:21 AM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Grantchester, assuming you can count a vicarage as a workplace.
posted by BibiRose at 8:45 AM on September 2, 2016

The BBC miniseries Tinker Tailor Solider Spy and Smiley's People
posted by caek at 9:13 AM on September 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

Not a series, but the German film The Lives of Others is incredibly engrossing and good. It's about the East German surveillance state and features a lot of great interior home and office shots, and good interpersonal drama too.
posted by witchen at 9:32 AM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Americans, dude. It's an excellent show on so many levels. Great acting, great characters, great premise, great setting. Great spy show, great 80s Cold War period drama, arghh, I get angry thinking about how good it is. Lots of workplace drama.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:47 AM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm amazed no one has mentioned Bomb Girls yet. WWII era, outfits, great stories.

For something silly and lighter, Jeeves and Wooster with Stephen Fry/ Hugh Laurie is fun.

Seconding Foyle's War and The Paradise, both of which give me a very solid sense of place and time.
posted by tchemgrrl at 4:54 PM on September 2, 2016

If post-WWI isn't too early, I'd suggest Peaky Blinders. Good British mob drama with some interesting twists.
posted by MsMolly at 12:00 AM on September 3, 2016

The Duchess of Duke Street is a really good two season series set between 1900 and 1925, made in 1976 and 1977.

Here's the first part of the first episode. Have a look and see if it takes your fancy!
posted by h00py at 1:01 AM on September 3, 2016

The Doctor Blake Mysteries. An Australian mystery series set in the 1950's.
posted by kjs4 at 2:40 AM on September 3, 2016

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