This Week in British TV: Go back to Battleship Galactifrak, Man, You're Embarrassing Yourself
Dear readers, wasn't that a sad ending to "Being Human" this week, eh? Well, not if you considered Aiden Turner's oily-haired vampire a boring enigma-by-numbers and a witless rent-a-menace who had it coming -- in which case, it was a real treat. Anyway, on to the programmes that we all actually want to talk about! These are them:
Waking The Dead
"Waking The Dead" returned this week for its tenth (TENTH!) and final series, and still seems to be on fairly decent form, although you can also see why the BBC is going to be giving it the chop after this run. By now, the mechanics of the show are so well-worn, you can hear it grinding and clunking as it travels through the motions: eerie, fog-filled set-up introducing a mysterious death or disappearance; arguments between the wise psychologist (Sue Johnston), the grounded forensics expert (Tara FitzGerald) and the maverick cop (Trevor Eve); strained interviews with the relatives of the murderee in which something doesn't quite add up, and more piling-on of mystery and eerieness before a completely lunatic and inconceivable resolution to the case.
In the instance of this week's offering, the berserk resolution was: she gave her own daughter cancer! She's got Munchausen-by-Proxy! Someone stop this murdering lunatic! But the journey to get there was still quite enjoyable, with Trevor Eve growling and snarling his way through the whole thing, in a performance that got a little bit less enjoyable for me after a friend's revelation last year (Insider Scoop!) that he actually is a complete bastard in real life. Still, he's quite good at it, and the scriptwriters always give him fresh ways of demonstrating his disregard for ethics, this week insanely threatening a child that his mother would die of cancer if he didn't tell the truth. It didn't make a scintilla of sense but you still thought, "woah! That Boyd, eh?!"
I also quite like the fancy direction on "Waking The" -- they really over-egg possible supernatural shenanigans when investigating the murder, imbuing every shot with vertiginous angles and atmospheric settings. Then, when everything turns out to have been perfectly explicable (but still bonkers and nonsensical), the show becomes really chilling as it gains somewhat in realism. I also like the rather superior acting on the show: the actors are clearly encouraged to intersect their dialogue to give it more realism, even when they're doing that thing that all crime procedurals do, where the protagonists tell each other stuff they all already know: "So Dr Black was actually carrying a dagger that evening!" "Exactly. The DNA corroborates it. And we know he was heading towards the library because..." "Because Professor Plum testified to hearing footsteps that night."
Anyway, I'm quite happy to have the whole batty thing back on the screens, and it'll be a little bit sad to see it go its batty, silly way when it departs. Farewell, "Waking The" - you were deeply ridiculous and wholly enjoyable.
Law & Order: UK
A crime thingy in another vein, "Law & Order: Not The USA" returned a couple of weeks ago and has had a couple of episodes now in which the cops and the lawyers get to argue over grimy crime cases and walk through corridors.
In the first episode, Brooks and Devlin (played, respectively, by someone or other and the Bam-Bam-Bamster himself, Jamie Bamber), were called on to investigate the death of a footballer who had died in difficult circumstances on a dark road while changing a tyre, and...no. No. Nope, I can't do this. Sorry. I didn't watch it, OK? I can't pretend! I stopped watching after about fifteen minutes, because I couldn't bear it. I'm sorry! I just found it so relentlessly dreary and poorly acted; so cheap-looking and badly written; so Jesussing formulaic, in a word, that I had to switch off. I didn't give episode two a chance. What did it for me was the moment in ep 1 when, Devlin having asked a witness in to describe a suspect, the following exchange occurred:
Devlin: So what did he look like?
Witness (stammering): I... I... I don't know!
Devlin (quipping, with a hard man voice): Oh great, I'll put out a search for Mr Invisible then, shall I?
At which point, if I had been the witness, I'd have recovered some of my confidence, laughed to myself, and said something to the effect of, "You... you what? What was your shitty quip just then? Mr Invisible? Er - good one, dude! Yeah, you go with that Mr Invisible line. Mm-hmm. Really, I'm quaking here. No, I mean it - I'll tell you everything! Ha! Mr Invisible! Got any more primary school -calibre vitriol where that came from? Seriously, go back to Battleship Galactifrak, man, you're embarrassing yourself."
Why is it that British actors who've had a measure of success in good shows over in the USA always feel the urge to come back when the show is finished, and slum it over here in some low-level production while coasting on their US-gained reputation? Bamber is at fault here, but I'm also looking at you, Anthony Stewart Head, and at you, Dominic West. If I ever catch Hugh Laurie or Archie Panjabi returning to these shores once "House" and "The Good Wife" are over with, I'll push them in the sea. Stay over there, guys! Do indie films with young directors! Don't come back here! We've got Hugh Bonneville for all our telly needs!
And speaking of Hugh Bonneville - who really is in every programme, no word of a lie -- he popped up on BBC4's new satire, "Twenty Twelve", which aims to do for the London Olympics what "The Thick of it" did for the Labour party. Except that what "The Thick of It" did to the Labour party -- and to British politics in general -- was to murder it over and over and over again, with a very sharp knife made of swearwords and bile, whereas what "Twenty Twelve" does to the London Olympics is tickle its armpits very lightly with a feather made of fondness.
Which isn't to say that it's totally useless. Indeed, the cast -- made up of a who's who of British awesomeness, spearheaded by the wonderful, brilliant, peerless Jessica Hynes -- are largely excellent, and the whole thing is fairly well put together, with a decent approximation of a documentary style and a pretty good script that pokes fun at PR psychobabble. It's just that there's no knock-out moment, no guffaw-eliciting master scene: everything ambles along quite amiably, with everyone scrambling to make sure that the Olympics stays on track, and delivering the earnest-yet-dumb pieces to camera about their puffed up role in the process that you might expect from a post-"The Office" mockumentary.
The first episode centred on getting the traffic from West to East London controlled, and commissioning a large artistic clock to count backwards (or forwards, no-one could work out which) to the Olympics. This gave the wonderful, brilliant, peerless Jessica Hynes the opportunity to steal the show as idiotic PR-in-charge Siobhan, ceaselessly spewing forth an abhorrent stream of marketing garbage about 'green issues' and 'capturing the mood of the nation'. She nailed a scene when she was commissioning the clock from an uptight artist (giving lovers of "Spaced" a pleasing flashback to her scenes with the conceptual artist 'Hoover'), and eked as much comedy as possible out of a clunkily written 'brainstorming' scene in which her character mixes up the poet Carol Ann Duffy and the singer Duffy (SLEDGEHAMMER!), but it was a losing battle. In the end, the traffic screwed up of course, and the clock turned out to be rubbish (which was hilariously mirrored for real on Wednesday when the actual Olympic clock broke down), but nothing much was made of these opportunities.
It seems, from previews of next week's epi, that things aren't going to get much more biting: arch- Olympics honcho Sebastian Coe is set for a guest appearance, meaning that the comedy will once more be as safe as houses. Such a shame.
Caspar Salmon's top 6 lines from "Spaced" that get used in everyday conversation are: "the cutting edge!" (Daisy), "what a prick" (Tim), "delicious" (Vulva); "hello Brian" (Marsha), "oh yeah I hadn't thought of that" (Dexter)" and "go on then, I'll have a half" (Daisy).