Sunday, 26 October 2008

Things we noticed watching tv this week 10 (spoilers)

You can all breathe a sigh of relief. I'm back. And although the DVR let me down with Imagine's Love Story episode (did anyone catch this - what was it like?) I've caught up on a few other shows. And because it's been a couple of weeks since I did this column, here is a round up of what's been on:

Sunshine was a three part comedy drama on BBC1 starring Steve Coogan as 'Bing' Crosby. He played a good guy who loved his partner and his son, but with the catch being that he was a compulsive gambler. I mentioned last time that it was refreshing to see a character who was, because of his addiction, potentially unlikeable, but had charm, wit and it was interesting to see what he was going to do next. The overall tone was a bit wonky, with moments of extreme pathos and moving scenes set to dramatic music, offset by the sugary child voiceover. There was also a crucial mistake at the end of the first episode. Crosby loses the family savings by betting, having promised his partner he wouldn't. It was then revealed to us, but not him, that he was the victim of a scam. This was a clumsy attempt to make us sympathise with him but it missed the point. In fact, when he discovers the truth and tells Bernadette, she says "so what? You gambled when you promised you wouldn't." Well exactly. Interestingly, Episode Two concentrated more on the drama, and not comedy, but what was important was that this actually helped the show. Without going for the laugh, it made the lighter moments funnier and they really did act as relief for the pathos. It's a fine balancing act and good writing. At the close of Episode 2 we are led to believe that Crosby has stolen his sons savings to gamble, only to reveal that he couldn't go through with it. He had finally recognised he needed help. The problem with this was that he attends a Gamblers Anonymous meeting within the first five minutes of Episode three and ta da, he's cured. He doesn't bet again. Doesn't even come close. So the drama, as it was set up to be, was over. It therefore needed to shift focus and became more about the grandfather's illness and death, and of course whether Crosby would be reunited with his family, which he was. But for all this, I actually enjoyed the series. It was well written and the performances were excellent. It had real heart and emotion. I wondered last time out why it was only going to be three parts? But in hindsight, with the character arc set up as it was, a 90-120 min one off might have served the story better.

Another show I'm enjoying is Sanctuary on ITV4. I checked this out because it's rare to get an original series on this channel (can they bring back the superb Friday Night Lights please!) and it's become a bit of a guilty pleasure. A cross between Torchwood and Primeval, it deals with a secret group finding and providing sanctuary for 'alien' like beings that take all different forms, whilst fighting off the attentions of darker forces. The high concept factor is that a lot of it is shot using blue screen technology. I know, I know, it sounds awful. But it's not bad. I think I'm a sucker for this sort of thing, but I like the ambition of the show and it's another one for the 'not every show has to be cops, docs or any other precinct for that matter' movement.

Speaking of which, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, is back for a second season on Virgin. Goodness knows what else this channel actually provides, but its worth it just for this brilliant show. The first season was awesome, and because of the disaster that was Terminator 3, it's easy to forget that the first two movies were fantastic. This series enhances the mythology and scope of the whole Terminator story, and it's breathtakingly written, shot and performed. It's a great example of the boldness and execution of American TV at its finest.

Finally, a special mention must go to Desperate Housewives. Like everyone else I enjoyed the first season, and stuck around for the second. But it became dull and I gave the third a miss. But for some reason I got back into it during the fourth and it had notable picked up. But the reason for the special mention has to be for the decision to whizz five years on for the beginning of season five which has just started. What a brilliant idea! Can you imagine a British TV series doing this? Whatever the motivation behind the decision, it immediately eliminates the danger of the show becoming monotonous again, allows for big changes in characters and provides interesting back stories to explore that we know nothing about. Very, very smart.

So what to take away from all that? Well, I think Sunshine showed the importance of tone and although 'comedy-drama' can mean all things to all men, it's not an excuse to chuck in an uneven mix of both. Picking the right format (one off, series etc) can also impact on the story telling. But it's the three US shows that again show that a certain boldness in creative choices can go along way. I think to be fair we have indeed come a long way since Russell T. Davies resurrected Dr Who, without which we wouldn't have the likes of Torchwood, Primeval, Merlin etc. But the success of these shows, and the US imports that I've mentioned, together with Lost and Heroes, prove there is an appetite for ambitious, original shows.

The big TV news this week is the return of Spooks. But I realise that all I've been talking about in this slot is TV. So whilst I'll certainly be tuning in to one of my favourite British shows, I think it's time to catch up on some movie watching. So come back next week to find out what I've been watching.


Andrew V. said...

What bugged me about Sunshine was why on earth did the people who scammed Bing go to so much trouble (there were at least four main players - Bulldog, the club owner, the Irishman and the doorman; plus presumably everyone else in the club knew about the delayed TV signal, so would need to be paid off; plus the cost of the venue, plus the TV equipment to delay the signal by a few minutes, plus all the time they presumably spent rehearsing all this to get it perfectly synchronised) re-enacting The Sting for a measly £900? I reckon the main players made less than £100 each.

In The Sting (or Hustle, who did their own homage) the whole idea was to do one massive sting, then disappear, not to take a few quid and stay in exactly the same place for possible repurcussions by repeating the scam.

Like a lot of things in Sunshine it didn't belong. (Like that bloody voiceover - there was a lovely scene of Bing and his dad on the bus, both subtly lying to each other about losing their job/bad news from the doctor. It was really neatly done, then the voiceover goes "MY DAD AND GRANDAD WERE BOTH LYING TO EACH OTHER!")

But I did enjoy most of it.

Jez Freedman said...

yes good point. I meant to mention that. I would've thought you'd want to keep a compulsive gambling close for the long haul. So like you say, it was ill conceived and stuck out like a sore thumb.

Lisa said...

I've finally managed to catch up with Sanctuary this week (due to being massively distracted by life and the fact that I can't get's catch up tv to work on line). It's great to have something so original on. You know, I think this is what Bonekickers should've been.

Nice to have you back, Jez. Hope you had a good festival.