Monday 19 December 2011

Just Henry

Great cast, bad characterisation, dull cliches, mad ending.  With more subtlety in the script it could have made a decent enough children's teatime drama.

Sunday 11 December 2011

Without You

We admit, it was hard to concentrate while watching this.  Has Ms Friel had plastic surgery?  We know we shouldn't get distracted by such things.  Why should we care?  Well OK, Dan doesn't, really, he's just mildly curious, but Ali....  The thing is, she looks slightly odd.  This is the beautiful actor who broke new ground with a lesbian kiss, and, umm, put her dad under the patio, but hey, he deserved it?  Yes?  No?  See how one distraction leads to another?  Anyway, it's absurd, because either she's just had some other kind of Hollywood makeover that makes her look odd, or she's been so dissatisfied with her looks, in her thirties (or has succumbed to others' criticism) that she's changed them.  So here's the disclaimer, because first consideration was given to an examination of facial features from various angles shown.  This didn't, we must add, stretch to slo-mo, stills or HD, so it stops short of an obsession.  YES IT DOES.  But...

... not much happened, which may seem strange for a drama based on a Nicci French novel.  Ellie Manning (Friel) finds out her husband Greg has died in a car accident with another woman.  For plot, that's pretty much it.  She runs about emoting.  Did he have an affair?  Her friends think so, even his friends think so, but no-one has a clue.  By the end of the first episode, of three, she's got precisely nowhere in finding out.

Friel's performance is anything but plastic, and she's matched by Marc Warren as her expired but conveniently handy husband.  They even manage to make corny lines like "That's the woman I'm going to marry" sound, if not good, then at least slightly less corny.  But that still leaves us in the position of having no TWNH moments because not enough has actually happened.  Watch on?  We'll see.

Life's Too Short

When we started this blog we were only going to write about drama, but the latest Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant project can't pass without comment....

The show, starring Warwick Davis, has bombed, had a critical mauling, and lost millions of viewers.  Gervais, Merchant and Davis himself have appeared in the media to defend it from accusations that it exploits Davis, and is offensive to dwarves.  Our main complaint though is that it's very, very lazy.

Good sitcoms surely tell a funny, well-plotted story, where the characters end up pretty much in the same position as they started in?  With this it feels far more like they sat down and brainstormed some situations, then added some pretty straight dialogue to get them from one situation to another.  For example, in episode five, Warwick went to a psychic, who told him to "get back out there", so the next scene was him trying to pull in a bar, then you had him at a dating agency, and so on, with a couple of trips to different churches to quiz the preachers thrown in, each as a short sketch.

Good sitcoms have genuinely surprising twists, but here they're all very predictable.  The boy who wrote abuse on Warwick's website, and whom he goes to confront?  He's in a wheelchair.  The woman with whom he gets set up with by the dating agency?  She's also a dwarf.  Never saw either of those coming.  (In fact I did wonder whether the date was going to be in a wheelchair, or even a dwarf in a wheelchair.)

Good sitcoms have good characters.  Here Warwick Davis plays a dwarf version of David Brent as he was in the Christmas specials of 'The Office' - a bit arrogant, a bit of a loser, a minor celeb whom no one recognises.  All of his lines sound like they could have been said by Brent, and all they've done (it seems) is revive Brent, with someone else playing him, but give themselves more to work with by making him a little person, so we get jokes about him being locked in the toilet because he can't reach the door handle.

There are a lot of sitcoms that have been written very quickly; once you have the characters and the situations it can come together very fast.  When Graham Chapman was writing 'Doctor in the House' (or a subsequent 'Doctor' series) he and his co-writers used to write an episode a day, according to the stories in the excellent A Liar's Autobiography.  However, Graham Chapman knew he was bashing the scripts out, and didn't have much respect for his audience.  Do Gervais and Merchant have any respect for theirs, or are they just too busy to do better?

Ultimately 'Life's Too Short' could be the perfect example of a show that people were too scared to turn down, or at least insist on changes.  Gervais and Merchant are such big stars now, with projects on Sky and films to juggle, and it seems that the BBC weren't able to get them to put more effort into making it better.  Sadly, this happens far too often elsewhere, with second novels double the size of the first and with half the impact, and dramatists like Poliakoff writing self-indulgent, much-heralded dramas that, were they submitted by an unknown, wouldn't get the green light.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Black Mirror

If only Rory Kinnear were PM.  He has all the attributes, namely the ability to keep a straight face while saying ludicrous things.  Cameron manages too, but would he simulate sex with a pig on television if the Duchess of C were kidnapped and de-fingered?  It ought to be the acid test.

We declare an interest as Charlie Brooker fans, but his ┼▒ber-spiky cynicism seems even more suited to satirical drama than to column inches.  Elegant may be a strange way to describe a story involving scoop-hungry journalists, a prurient public and an MP’s bestiality with a sow, but it was a simple premise, fitting neatly into its fifty-minute slot and brilliantly served by its cast.  We wouldn’t play poker with any of them.

Does the fact that it’s satire negate TWNH moments along the lines of mistaking a man’s finger for Suzannah’s?  Or the security forces finding no trace of her kidnapper, whose talent for art was questionable beside his flair for publicity and skill at staging a crime?  Maybe not, but if the absurd realities of modern Britain aren’t slapping you in the face already, this should shift some cogs into action.

There’s also the matter of the PM rising to the occasion when faced with a porcine rear end, but we live in an age of duck-house moats, retail riots and the Murdoch media, and we can believe anything.