onsdag 14 augusti 2013

TV bits and pieces

Blimey. I've forgotten how tired work makes you, and how much time it takes out of your day. I certainly don't feel up for any in-depth discussion of anything, which means this will have to be one of those bitty blog posts about all kinds of things like:

Richard II - well done, BBC: I know I've been hard on the Beeb since... ooh, forever now. Since they axed Dombey, in fact. So it's only fair to mention that I was extremely impressed by the first part of The Hollow Crown which I watched during my vacation. I was no fan of Ben Whishaw's Sebastian Flyte in the mainly disastrous film version of Brideshead Revisited (don't get me started!), nor of his journalist Freddie Lyon in The Hour. They both shared a trait of whinyness, which was a pity, considering Whishaw's nervy good looks - I really wanted to like him. He was great as Richard, though - still not exactly a stoic, but able to skewer his usurping cousin Bolingbroke (Rory Kinnear, satisfyingly conscience-stricken from the first) with wry conviction. First-rate acting and verse-speaking all round: yep, if it has to be high-brow, it should be like this rather than like the soporific Parade's End.

"New grit"? No way! As if The Village wasn't bad enough. Now another gloom-and-doom-and-indignation-politics costume drama has aired in the UK, called - wait for it - The Mill. Well, at least it appears to do what it says on the tin. Apparently, the series starts off with a child worker getting his hand mangled and a woman worker being "sexually assaulted", as reviews primly put it. The events in the series are based on records from a real mill, so this, like, really happened. Well, yes, I'm sure it did. I wouldn't be surprised if similar things have happened at my workplace during its long history, but not, I believe, at the same time and as an everyday occurrence. I strongly suspect the series creators of foul-cherry-picking, milking their source material for grim details which they can serve up to their viewers, so that everyone can have a good boo and hiss over the nasty industrialists. This is the second costume drama in a short time which I have no desire whatsoever to watch even five minutes of. And this time - to be fair to the BBC again - they are not the culprits. The Mill was perpetrated by Channel Four - a commercial channel. What's worse, 2.8 million saw the first episode, which is more than the channel's usual audience at this time. It's still only half of the audience for the new Upstairs Downstairs - which was deemed a failure viewer-wise - but still there is talk of a trend of "new grit", away from cosy dramas.

Let's face it, no-one does costume drama quite as well as the Brits, which makes it so upsetting when they're side-tracked like this. They could spare a thought for their international viewers. Do they honestly think we're going to go wild about some smug, mill-owner-bashing, mud-drenched misery fest? Will we watch it in millions? Will we visit the sites, buy the calendar, like pictures of the cast - all the cast - on Facebook, and swooningly comment on what great personalities they are and how marvellously they are acted? Not bloody likely. We don't want the "new grit", thank you very much. We want the new Downton.

Three is a magic number: A far cry from ambitious Shakespeare-watching, I spent my two last-but-one vacation days glued in front of the airiest and least demanding TV viewing possible: Lace and Lace II. Then again, it might look simple to come up with light and frothy entertainment, but I bet it isn't. As I've mentioned before, formulas must be handled in the right way, or the soufflé sinks. For instance, Shirley Conran settled for exactly the right number of girls for her schoolgirl pact in Lace. Two would have been too few. Four, and the story would have lost focus. Three friends with different characters and backgrounds (though all with families able to afford a pricy finishing school in Switzerland): that works beautifully. Other sure touches include an underplaying of the abandoned daughter's revenge plans in favour of more light-hearted aspects of the plot, such as the heroines' school-girl antics. All this, and a creepy chauffeur too - no wonder I started work in a relatively good mood.