"Misfits," "The Peep Show," and "The Accused"
By Caspar Salmon | TV | December 9, 2010 |
I hate to get so enthusiastic about things, as I seem to keep doing, and I promise to scout out some terrible shows that I can shit all over as soon as possible, but at the moment pretty much everything is good in the Caspar-Salmon-British-television-column-for-Pajiba world. "The Trip" and "Getting On" have just come to the end of blisteringly triumphant runs that have brought me pure elation every week, and I have good reason to hope and expect they'll be back at some point. Cross your fingers and every other crossable limb in your body, everyone (I'm looking at you, Jeremy Feist). Meanwhile, "Accused" goes from strength to strength,"Misfits" is still on our screens, and we've got another four episodes of "Peep Show" to get through. "Peep Show" is on completely world-beating form right now. These are just five of my favourite lines from last episode, and they're really only the ones that I remembered to write down, from amongst all the fried gold.
"Great, so I've got to fire myself! I wonder how I'll take it? VERY BADLY!"
"The ultimate aphrodisiac! My son's a massive oyster!"
"We're like the Chilli Peppers, or... I can't think of any other bands of all dudes, but there are loads."
"...and then we went back to her place. Sweet. (Inner voice: "And then I just talked to her about my mother's suspected infidelities until I started to cry")"
"A threesome? Probably. God, it's like being offered a dead kitten and a tiramisu on the same plate."
What's wonderful about "Peep Show" is the breadth of its styles and allusions. It doesn't have quite the variety of tone of "Arrested Development," which was much more comfortable with slapstick and wordplay, for instance, but it does veer in the same brilliant way between genres, from obscenity to silliness to social commentary, and always with an arsenal of glorious references. This last episode, for example, hinged on Mark entering into an agreement with his hapless stooge Gerard, whereby they would support each other in their efforts to get off with their mutual crush, Dobby -- but the episode had already set up the Yalta Treaty as a theme (!), and Mark duly betrayed Gerard in the end, making him the Stalin of the partnership. It was beautifully executed. In the interim, there was a good joke about breast milk; Jeremy telling a baby that its perfectly alive mother had gone to heaven; the phrase "shit-hot bongista"; a tart reference to the X-Factor; and the most unromantic declaration of love ever, which yielded this equally unromantic rejoinder: "If I say yes, will you stop saying things that make my stomach turn?"
"Peep Show" really is in a class of its own at the moment -- like when you see a great tennis player suddenly start to hit their A-game, producing shots and winners of stunning force and finesse and at angles that you didn't think possible. How can it be so good, still, after all this time? This is unheard of in British TV, I think.
"Misfits" is also on pretty ace form right now, This is a boring point to make about a show that is so original, resourceful, funny, moving and ambitious, but what I really love about the show at the moment is the intricacy and assuredness of its plotting. You can tell the writers have taken great care with the plot, which really showed at the end of episode 4, which is when, because I can't reveal anything that happened, I am able to tell you that SOMEONE DIED AND IT WAS IMPORTANT. Happy for that tidbit? You should be. It's practically all I can reveal of episode 4's storyline, and for the rest of this write-up I may have to stick to saying things like, "Ooh, that Robert Sheehan is very funny" and "the way they've re-conceived this bleak cityscape as a breathtaking backdrop for paranormal shenanigans is truly awe-inspiring". Let's hope it doesn't come to that, eh? That would be awful.
But back to the plotting: everything that happens, happens for a reason in this very delicately worked-out show. You think there are things happening that just belong to a stand-alone episode, and you enjoy all the hubbub and banter while it's happening, but the beauty of the programme is that it ties everything in together with such aplomb. So in this last episode, a character who is hilariously brought in for about three minutes, ends up contributing a whole storyline to the show and making sense of some of its mysteries; as the programme solves enigmas, it also goes about opening up new strands and plots, which you follow breathlessly. It's quite an achievement -- I suppose something on a par would be "Veronica Mars," but that was a detective show, whereas "Misfits" has a broader canvas, drawing on many other genres.
The last episode also made me laugh a lot: there was a break-up scene during a thrilling chase, which was pretty funny; there was the shameless silliness of its plot, in which our protagonists are being hunted down by a man who imagines himself and them to be characters in a Grand Theft Auto -style game, which allowed all the cast to camp things up very merrily. There are some real zingers and a very refreshing laconic strain throughout, which cuts through the paranormal shiz, but the writing makes itself felt most in its looseness, its freewheeling quality, which gives the actors room to breathe and inject tone and quirk into their lines.
My only quibble is with the acting of Iwan Rheon, whose performance (for reasons I cannot disclose) has recently been required to vary a lot from one scene to the next -- a challenge which I don't think he pulls off. He is very pretty though, so I won't complain too much.
I want to say a little more about "Accused," which is still the best single-episode drama on TV at the moment. It suffers from the odd baggy moment when, because of its unrelenting realism of tone, the dramatic action fails to convince within its context; but this is a mere fleck of dust on an otherwise gleaming Rolls-Royce of a show. [I actually don't know anything about cars. Is a Rolls-Royce still considered good? Should I have picked something a bit more sexy, like a, er, oh god, I give up. Bugatti? Christ, I'm embarrassing even myself now. Sorry, everyone. I won't make this mistake again.]
This latest episode focused on Liam, played by a magnificent Andy Serkis, who is a gambling-addicted cab-driver who is broke and whose wife has a muscular disability. One day after Liam has driven a woman to the airport for a trip, he goes back to her house and burgles her, stealing a necklace and a USB key of photos and letters. He uses what he knows of her from the letters to gradually worm his way into her life, with [NOT A SPOILER ALERT!] disastrous consequences. This is the first episode where the flashback structure of the show, where we know from the start that the main character has committed a crime and then go back in time to see it unfold, really pays off. It inflicts so much unbearable tension and sadness on an already tragic and nerve-wracking story, that it is at times nearly unwatchable. As Liam stupidly and maliciously - cleverly, he thinks - ingratiates himself into Emma's life, you long for him to stop, and to think, and to go back in time and do things differently. But Liam is irredeemably deluded, and believes himself to be a brain-box who is in control of things, so he keeps blundering on.
This is the first time I'd seen Serkis act a real person, so I was unprepared for how involving he is as a performer, but he just inhabits his role completely; it's a mesmerising portrait, ugly and unflinching. This episode's brilliance -- and it was the best so far, by some distance -- came down to its occupying a thematic place that a lot of British drama goes to: namely, the need for escape. British drama feeds on our wills to get out of here, out of our small country and our puny lives, and to make something of ourselves. In this episode, Liam's pathetic ideas for escape from his oppressive existence -- falling for a woman whom he sadly exalts as a demi-goddess when she is just a nice, normal girl - really ring true, and the crime that occurs as a result feels natural and convincing in this context.
I'd like to give a shout-out to Tom Ellis, who takes a much welcome break from his role as an amiable hunk in the ghastly "Miranda", which I've attacked in these pages before, to play a nicely convincing part here as a charming cad. Keep doing this sort of thing, Ellis! Keep away from the awful reindeer woman!
Caspar lives in London and bravely considers himself to be in his late twenties. He enjoys many things, the listing of which would make him sound like an unbearably pretentious douche.
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