Yay, finally - Amazon is sending me my "Doctor Who" box set ten days early! Am I looking forward to it: the preachiness of "Fame", the clevery camouflaged right-on-ness of "The West Wing" and the sheer length of "North and South" (US civil war version) are beginning to pall. As to English series, there is very little going on at the moment. But Swedish TV is sending "From Lark Rise to Candleford", and I suppose one has to be grateful to be able to watch any costume drama at all.
"Lark Rise" is not really a favourite series of mine, but it has its charm. This is a series which lives on its cosiness. Inserting any "darkness" to speak of would be fatal. It's what you see on a dark Monday night when you're feeling exhausted and a little depressed and are not up for any intellectual challenges. Once in a while, the series throws in a plot line which is not entirely predictable and exceeds my expectations - which admittedly are not that high. A well-known trick is to suddenly flesh out the emotional life on one of its paper-thin characters. Nevertheless, very much remains the same in both Lark Rise and Candleford. I've heard of "drinking games" being constructed around series like "Friends", when you're supposed to take a drink every time a particular event takes place - when a character displays a certain mannerism, say, or uses a certain catch phrase. "Lark Rise" seems an ideal candidate for a game like that. Please take a drink every time:
1) Laura intones something ominous in the voice-over which starts and ends every episode, though no great momentous change is in fact forthcoming
2) Miss Lane dispenses good advice with a brave smile
3) Miss Lane puts someone in their place with a triumphant smile (not unlike the brave one)
4) Twister does something kooky
5) Thomas Brown says something supposedly pious but trite with somewhat fake fervour ("It is our CHRISTIAN DUTY to take out the trash" say - not that he's said that yet)
6) The Pratt sisters show up in matching over-the-top clothes
7) The Pratt sisters spread malicious gossip or complain about the service at the post office
8) Laura flirts with someone who is not her childhood sweetheart Alfie
9) Mrs Arless fritters away money with some jolly "seize the day" excuse
10) In the first season: Sir Timothy very inappropriately confides in Miss Lane about his marriage problems, or his wife stalks jealously out after having caught him being over-friendly to Miss Lane
11) In the second season: Mr Dowland is spooning around and not daring to confess his love to Miss Lane
12) Laura's proud artisan father is grumbling over some perceived slight or voicing opinions which make him sound like the most left-wing 19th century "liberal" you are likely to meet anywhere
I could go on. I suppose the familiarity adds to the cosiness factor of the series, but it also makes it suffer from the "status quo syndrome". In one episode, Miss Lane fell passionately in love with a radical school teacher, but when he was sacked and had to move away, she didn't move away with him. Why not? Lately, Laura's latest flame has left town, and she doesn't follow him. Again, why not?? At least Miss Lane is the proprietor of a post office which she has inherited by her father: Laura had nothing to keep her, except a decent-ish job - and the status quo rule. The series relies on Miss Lane and Laura staying where they are and continuing to do exactly what they are doing, which means their romance prospects are severy limited. You find the same kind of thing in other series: it's no surprise, for instance, that every single time one of the students in "Fame" goes to an audition which could mean his/her big break, he/she blows it. Well naturally: if they made it, they would have to leave the school - and the series. The series which suffered most from the status quo syndrome, as I remember, was "Doctor Bramwell": not only could she not find love until the series was over, not even her nurse was allowed to walk down the aisle. The only one who braved the Bramwell curse was the doctor's charming dad, who found a new wife: this change actually improved the series and got it out of a depressing "Doctor Bramwell has good intentions but messes up" phase. There's a lesson there somewhere: a bit of change now and then does no harm to a series. In the next episode of "Lark Rise", Mr Dowland apparently finally proposes to Miss Lane. This could be the start of a new era where Miss Lane and Mr Dowland take on the challenges of a shared life. Or not. I'm not holding my breath.