Sunday, 25 January 2009

Things we noticed watching TV this week 20 (Spoilers)

How good is Waterloo Road? It doesn't get a lot of coverage or buzz. It's not really one of the flagship shows for BBC1. But it's been of a consistent quality right from the word go. And what I particularly like about this show, is that it started in season one as 8 episodes, was given the backing to increase to 12 the following year. And then three and now four are both twenty odd. I think this is a great example of how to build a series in this country. We're not the US and we know this. We neither have the infrastructure or money to whack out shows of 20+ episodes right from the off. But there is nothing wrong with building a series slowly, bringing together a team of creative people, and allowing them to hit a stride and rhythm to increase the output but not decrease the quality.

From a writing point of view, what Waterloo Road demonstrates once again are the importance of characters. Thinking about it now off the top of my head (albeit a little sleepily) I can't really remember any specific story lines. But I can tell you quite a few of the characters that have been in the show across the series. Waterloo Road is essentially a grown up Grange Hill, a school based soap opera (seriously it's not a derogatory word.) You can see a point where it will match the episode volum of Casualty or Holby. And like those two shows, this is the school where everything happens! I mentioned in my last post my love of Sky One's Dream Team. And you knew if you signed for Harchester United you were going to be in for a torrid time. This was the football club that went through plane crashes, bus explosions, assassinations, bombs, armed police raids and much more. So there was a certain suspension of belief needed but this was all part of the fun and if you couldn't get into it on that level, then why bother watching TV shows at all! So to with Waterloo Road. Fires, knives, shootings, a former prostitute head teacher and so on. Of course it's ridiculous. But that's missing the point. These are precinct dramas. If it's not Holby then it's Albert Square. I personally think soaps can get themselves in trouble when they go for the bigger and bigger stories. It's not really about that. It's about bringing together a group of interesting characters and letting them interact. Do it properly and they'll generate stories for you. Do it well and we'll care about them too. Waterloo Road brings together a nice mix of older characters (played by talented, experienced actors) and (no less talented) youngsters. Maybe it's not as edgy as Skins. But in its prime time weekly slot on a mainstream channel, I think it's a great example of how to go about creating a returning series.

Speaking of which, take a bow over at Hustle. I love Hustle. Generally speaking, for a TV series, I usually prefer a continuing story rather than stories of the day to dominate. If I watch your show, I am a loyal audience member. And so I like being engrossed in a story that runs and runs. But Hustle, with it's different con and therefore story every week, is just such great fun. And again, I don't think it's necessarily about the plots. Sure they are cool and I like trying to work them out (got the first two this season but not episode three.) But it's more that I like spending time with these characters. It's great to have Micky Stone back and whilst Sean and Emma are no Danny and Stacie yet, the two new members have brought a new dimension to the show and freshened it up a little bit. (Although I still think Ash is my favourite.) I love the jokey amorality about the show. Yes the gang have a strict code (you can't con an honest man) and they are like modern day Robin Hoods (well, without the giving to the poor bit) but it's great watching Micky rob this bloke of his wallet and car, inside the first few minutes of the season opener. We fantasize vicariously through them as they take down the rich and corrupt in a society that is on its economic knees.

Characters. Characters. Characters. I'm not saying anything ground breaking here. I know that. But here's a little secret. I've never written a series pilot before. Never looked to create a series and a world where characters have to live beyond the 60 to 120 minutes of one off TV or Film features. And I'm just about to. So it's worth reminding myself, if nobody else, that you better come up with a set of characters that people are going to be interested in and care enough about, to spend hours and hours of TV time with.


mark said...

Wise words about characters, Jez. Although I've become a tad tired of Hustle's mannered direction and knowing winks to the audience.

Jez Freedman said...

Fair point. I could take or leave that aspect too.
Congrats on your new blog by the way, which thanks to your comment I've now discovered!

mark said...

Thanks for the link, Jez, I shall, of course, reciprocate!