Two shows that we've previously looked at in this column ended this week. The Cup and Lost in Austen were both largely successful but their finales brought up a couple of points worth examining.
Last week I expressed concern that the lead in The Cup, Terry McConnell, bordered on being so unlikeable, that it was actually affecting the comedy and making it hard to buy into the show. So I was delighted to see three beats, three brief moments, in the final episode that addressed this very point. Early on in the episode, Terry argues with his rival, Steve. Steve makes some derogatory remark about Terry's short lived career and his son, but Terry reacts passionately, telling him that his son is a better player than either of them ever were. And he means it too. He puts his son in front of himself. Later, after Terry and his wife have rowed, and she has made him choose between her and football (the choice every man dreads), and after he has initially chosen football, he turns down the chance to manage the team to watch the game in the stands next to his wife instead. It may sound a small thing when written on the page here, but in context of the show it was a massive moment and choice. Finally, after his son misses a last minute penalty, costing his side the cup, Terry consoles him with genuine, selfless, tenderness. Three brief moments which for me rounded out this character so much that it was then no problem laughing at the usual crap he pulled during the rest of the episode. The finale was then the strongest one of the lot and I hope it returns for a second series.
Amanda Price made it back to present day in Lost in Austen, but only briefly as it turned out. When I first looked at this show I confessed that I loved it, but wondered how long it could last, as this new take on Pride & Prejudice seemed to have a built in limited shelf life. What I didn't realise at the time was that its run was only going to be four episodes! Two shorter than the standard series run in the UK. And with apparently very little avenue available for a second run. Big shame. Not sure whether it was a lack of confidence in the show, a budget issue, or what, but there was surely more scope and fun to be had reworking the famous story of Elizabeth and Darcy. Oh well. As it happened, the final episode was completely bonkers. Amanda found a door back into contemporary London, followed by Darcy, who then found Elizabeth working as a nanny, using all the latest mod cons, but still talking like she was two hundred years old. Then, they all made it back through the key hole, as it were. There was some fast talking to be done, and playing hard and loose with restoring Jane to Bingley because she had married Collins instead. But never mind all that. What everyone wanted to know was who was going to end up with Darcy. My wife, an ardent Pride & Prejudice fan, promptly declared that after loving the series, if Amanda didn't end up with Darcy instead of Elizabeth, she would hate it. And there in lay the challenge. There was a lot of talk of destiny and fate, and Elizabeth seemed resigned to hers with Darcy, even though she clearly preferred 21st Century living. But really, there was only one logical conclusion. Elizabeth would follow her dream, and Amanda would live hers. The series closed as Amanda and Darcy kissed and embraced for the first proper time. It was hard to argue with that... and it made the missus happy too. But the standout moment of the episode, in fact probably the whole series, was when Amanda made Darcy come out of the lake, shirt all wet, and as she put it, "having a very post modern moment." It mimicked Andrew Davies' adaptation and the infamous Colin Firth scene, which of course was never even in the original novel. It was hilarious. And it perfectly summed up what Lost in Austen was all about.
Finally we come to our first look at Merlin. When I heard about this series and how it was going to fill what is now known as the Doctor Who slot, I thought what a great idea. Kind of like Robin Hood with magic. Interestingly, in a forum over at TwelvePoint.com three separate people revealed they also had Merlin projects in various stages of development, now effectively up in smoke. All no doubt had different takes on a classic story. The BBC have, naturally, gone for family friendly, PG, Merlin and Arthur as teenagers. The pilot showed a lot of promise and I really liked it. The young leads meet, clash, and hate each other, unaware that their destiny's lie together. And there was a lot at stake too. In Camelot magic is banned, but an evil sorceress tries to kill young Arthur. Merlin saves him and a mutual respect, if not quite friendship yet, is born. The acting was okay and the special effects not bad (the dragon has come in for a bit of stick but I thought it was fine.) The set seemed a bit monty python to me but they just about got away with it. But for me, and I guess for most of us, story telling is everything. Sometimes a pilot, strangely, is the weakest episode in the show. But when you think about it that's not so surprising. Everything is new, everything has to be established. And they did that well. But the second episode is where I expected things to kick on. But early signs are there will be a heavy story of the week format and very little serial element. Personally I think this is a shame. The second episode had a knight tournament as its main, and only story really. When one considers that Arthur is hardly likely to be killed off in episode two, what was really at stake? Why should we have cared who won or not? Both Doctor Who and Robin Hood were built around a different main story each week, but with distinct series elements. Merlin now needs to introduce something that is going to keep us coming back each week. There needs to be an overarching story, a hook, something at stake for the whole of Camelot or at least the main characters. But I will certainly tune in next week to see more. One thing though. Merlin was deemed to be special in the first episode because he had never studied magic, had been born with the gift, and just had to look at stuff to do it (jedi style.) In the second episode he was uttering spells left, right and centre?? Any old teenage wizard can do that!
This time next week - Heroes is back!!!!