One of the coolest things about my trip to the International Emmys last November was the chance to meet the British nominees. Hobnobbing with the Americans was fun and all, but I'm a British writer, living and working here, and it was the chance to meet other British talent at the top of their game that was not to be missed.
This last couple of weeks or so has shown me again that I did just that. First came the second season of Ashes to Ashes. Co-creator Ashley Pharoah was in New York winning with Life on Mars, and whilst I enjoyed the first series of Ashes, I understood the feeling that it was a bit like Life on Mars lite. We knew Alex Drake was in a coma, we knew all about Gene Hunt and it had the tricky job of both being a follow up to a hugely successful show, and an original one in its own right too. This series seems to be more confident about what it wants to do and the continuing element of the police corruption is more interesting than the truth behind the death of Alex's parents (which we knew wouldn't send her back cos there was another series to come!) It's really funny too, with Gene delivering some cracking lines and then shooting that dog, Indiana Jones style, out of nowhere, on Monday night. Brilliant. And when all said and done, even if you take out all the coma time travel stuff, what Ashley and Matthew Graham have done (with Tony Jordan too previously) is make a fantastic cop show. And I believe that's all they wanted to do really. The time travel stuff was just a way in for a contemporary audience to be sold The Sweeney all over again. But what I've really liked about this second season are the references to Sam Tyler and the world back in Manchester. I like that sort of mythology. I've said so many times on this blog that I'm a loyal, very addicted TV consumer. But I think Broadcasters in particular get a bit jumpy that one person won't know about Life On Mars, for example, and therefore won't get the reference and decide to turn over and watch some 'documentary' about what happens when celebrities get drunk. That may have been true at one time, but in this day and age, with full on media through newspapers, TV mags, internet etc, who on earth didn't know that Ashes to Ashes was a follow up to Life On Mars? I mean really, what is the likelihood? It was like when the Friends spin off, Joey, came out. Yes of course it had to work in its own right (which it didn't cos it was rubbish) but I just found it weird that the rest of the gang, who we'd watched for ten years, had been erased from existence. No mention at all post the pilot. It just feels wrong. So I really hope the Sam Tyler references continue, and we can all keep our fingers crossed that he may yet make an appearance!
Also in New York were David Aukin and Hal Vogel from Daybreak Pictures. And on Bank Holiday Monday they (together with writer Paula Milne and director Pete Travis) treated us to surely the best piece of television so far this year. Endgame told the story of the secret negotiations to bring about the end of Apartheid in South Africa. I was completely dismayed at the apparent low viewing figures the feature got (partly I think because it was up against Ashes to Ashes!) and I really hope Channel4 or More4 repeat it. If you didn't catch it, I urge you to do so when you can. From a writing point of view, it was a masterclass. A couple of explosions and one car chase aside, this was mostly about characters sitting around talking to each other. And it was absolutely gripping. Like God on Trial and Conspiracy before it, Endgame proved once again that for high drama, all you really need is some excellent characters, in conflict with one another, put them in a room, and see what happens. What happened here was that Jonny Lee Miller delivered the performance of a lifetime and William Hurt, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Mark Strong proved once again what brilliant actors they are. You know there's something pretty effective about a true life drama, where by its very nature you know the outcome, and yet can still make you sit on the edge of your seat.
What Endgame also reiterated was David Aukin's belief that any period piece should have something to say about the world we live in today. End titles revealed that the ANC had advised the IRA when they decided to lay down arms in favour of political negotiation and were now talking to Hamas (which came as a shock and I would certainly like to know how that conversation went.) So the political message and themes of the screenplay were clear for all to see, without at any point hitting people over the head with them.
With dramas such as these on British TV, created by British talent, it's certainly gratifying with the general doom and gloom state of the nation. I met up with Ashley again at Masterclub on Monday night, where there was more discussion about where the British industry is at this time of global downturn - more of which I will be posting about next time.