During the heat blast that was this summer, I spent a weekend shacked inside with the AC blasting with a wife suffering summer cabin fever. She has become a "Downton Abbey" fan, and I suggested we watch the well reviewed miniseries "The Way We Live Now". With alcohol in hand, we ripped through the entire series in a weekend. Just about everything in this miniseries is top notch. It is an adaptation of the Victorian mega-serial book of the same name, and it is wonderful social commentary of that 1870s Victorian era. The characters are rich, three dimensional people, the storylines are mostly specific to that time yet some are timeless, and the male-female relationships are fantastic. I definitely recommend you add this to your Netflix instaque as it is a fun and thought provoking miniseries. I can just see Spielberg or some Hollywood bastard adapting this to contemporary America and setting it in NYC in say the late '90s or mid-2000s. It would be awful, but suckers would watch it anyway as the story's framework is so good. Even if a US version were made with a huge budget, this would still rank as my favorite TV miniseries.
When discussing the series, my wife asked me who my favorite character was. There was not one particular character that really drew me in, but I did love whenever certain pairs were in a scene together. It was as if the pairing made the characters better than they were on their own. The pairs would be Augustus Melmotte and his daughter Marie (or as I called them Poirot + Moaning Myrtle), and Felix Carbury and his mom. When Augustus is in scenes with his daughter, the actors conveyed that sense of history that the characters shared. There is mystery to Melmotte's past, his money, his business, and his aura. His daughter knows where the bodies are buried. She pierces the cloud of BS, and the street level schemer in Augustus comes out. There is a line they share where Melmotte says (paraphrasing) "don't you remember when we were in the gutter with nothing". Melmotte is making reference to their obvious past living in a Jewish ghetto somewhere. Felix and his mother amplify each other's faults. Felix is a bit of a rake. His mother only encourages his schemes. He also manipulates his mother because he knows the prize that he is. Felix has a distant chance at inheriting a title, as well as charm and good looks, and he can marry for money. When you see his mother solo, you know where Felix gets the manipulation skills. Together they are wonderfully devilish. The interesting thing about both pairs is that the same gender parent is deceased so the duos have a weird partner as well as parent-child thing going. All four actors were good onscreen, and their chemistry made the pairings realistic.
A final thought is that despite being set nearly 150 years ago, the running theme of the series is love and the sexual marketplace. Who does what to whom, who is reaching, who is settling, who is conning who, and what makes a person valuable are all on display here. Just about every current 'type' is on display even then: the plain jane, the handsome in a rich way, the alphas, the betas, the high value young virgin, the lower value pretty + loose older woman. Considering that this was set well before the social welfare state was created, one does see how that external money transfer system as well as middle + upper middle class women working more has completely overthrown the systemt hat was in play for centuries. We are living in dating chaos, but it is of our own doing.