torsdag 19 december 2013

2013 in retrospect: little new, but more of the same

When looking back at the wish list I made at about this time last year, I must confess that few of the wishes have come true, at least not completely. Still, I'm not that disappointed. 2013 proved to be the year when there weren't many brand new delights forthcoming within my sphere of interest: there were few new costume dramas; no new TV adaptations of Dickens, though there was one film (I'm afraid I haven't watched it yet - what, Great Expectations again!?); and not a whisker of a new villain. However, the old favourites kept delivering.

Who needs new costume dramas - or for that matter a new villain - as long as I have Downton, which triumphantly survived Dan Stevens's defection and will be back (hooray!) with a fifth series in 2014? I'll Downton-obsess more next year (ideally, I'll be able to hold off until the US has had a chance to view series four) with a follow-up of my predictions for the series and some new speculations. Suffice to say, for now, that the demise of the heir did not, as I had feared, lead to any loss of focus for the series or turn it into a spin-off of itself. In fact, the estate's future was more in the forefront than ever, and I for my part thought that Miss O'Brien's disappearance left more of a void in the story than Matthew's death. But then I would.

Downton hasn't started a trend for similar costume dramas as I hoped - Mr Selfridge was the drama that came closest to using the same winning formula - but it does illustrate how costume dramas are taking a leaf out of the book of other series. Instead of mini-series adaptations of classic works, we get long-running affairs, where the story is based on an original script and is made up as the series goes along (yes, The Paradise and Call The Midwife are nominally based on books, but I suspect not that strictly, or surely they would have run out of material by now). I suppose this is partly what people mean when they talk about the TV series as "the new novel" and draw parallels to the serial publication of the old Victorian three-deckers. As long as a TV series is running, there is hope that the plot will turn out the way we wish, and that the script-writer/s will hear our pleas for our favourite characters. After all, Dickens was sometimes influenced by the reactions of his readers. Whereas if there was finally a new TV adaptation of Dombey and Son, no amount of Facebook likes would save Carker from the chop, and there would never be a series two were he returns to wreak havoc once again on the lives of Mr. Dombey and Co.

On the other hand, gripping new stories which can be spun out for a number of seasons aren't as easy to come up with as all that. The big advantage with an adaptation of a classic is you've already got a winning story. When it's over, it's over, but while it's running it will deliver. I wasn't too impressed by The Paradise, and am well able to wait until Swedish Television chooses to air the next series. As for The Village, I will keep avoiding it as long as possible. I'm not even sure how long Mr Selfridge will last - it all depends on series two. It's time for the characters to stop being enigmatic and start engaging out attention and sympathy in earnest. Now Dombey, if it were ever made, would only last for one series, but for that one, if handled with Davies-like efficiency, it could become a real hit. And Carker - good-looking in his feline way - fits into the current conventionally-handsome-villain trend (did you see Morse's envious rival in Endeavour? Phwoar!) admirably.

Ah well, let's leave the depressing subject of The Costume Drama Adaptation That Never Was. When it comes to the year's novels, I really was disappointed. Nothing new from Jasper Fforde - not even a Dragonslayer book, let alone a new Thursday Next - nor from Jude Morgan. Joanne Harris let me down with her take on the weren't-the-Victorians-awful genre, and even Wilkie Collins's Hide and Seek failed to thrill. I had to go out and hunt for new authors who could deliver yarns, and sometimes I got lucky. Sadie Jones's The Uninvited Guests, Sarah Waters's Fingersmith and Jane Harris's The Observations, all of which I discovered this year (though only The Uninvited Guests is reasonably new - the others are fairly recently reissued reader favourites), were great reads. But there were many misses to: Park Lane and The Chatelaine, for instance, both of which looked so promising and Downton-y, were novels I failed to warm to. I hope 2014 has better things in store.