Thursday, March 16, 2006

 

Sunday Night & Tuesday Night Tellyblogging On A Thursday

Sunday brought us a new detective drama on BBC1. Wait, wait, don't leave yet, I know what you're thinking, but maybe, just maybe, there's more to it than meets the eye. You're thinking;

'Oh My God, Steve, did the nation really need yet another smart talking TV detective-with-a-surprisingly-sassy-and-attractive-sidekick drama? For fucks' sake mate, I've already been asking my boss to call me and give me a bollocking just so I don't have to watch any more!'

At first glance, 'Mayo' was entirely typical. I was somewhat puzzled by the name - given the entirety of all the surnames in the English language, they chose a rather unusual one that is also the name of one of the BBC's most famous DJ's. Maybe Simon had a hand in the matter. Anyway, the BBC Drama department have found a template for more or less all of their programming, and like a dog with a particularly tasty bone, they just will not let go. The template goes somewhat like this: you have two principle characters, who have a backstory together. One will be male, one female. At first, they don't want to work together, but you know that deep down, they really do, because there's just so much sexual tension in the air. Sexual tension is expressed by snappy dialogue.

I'm cooling on snappy dialogue. I know it's great, and we all love to get behind characters with sass, but every time I hear it now, I can't resist thinking;

'Alright, yes, I get it, you could write 'snappy' in your sleep. I've read Oscar Wilde too. Now, could we have a TV character who we might be able to relate to?'

This shift away from realistic speech, characteristic of much of TV of the nineties, into the mdoern day equivalent of Wildean witticisms, is distinstly interesting in light of Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell's recent pronouncement that the BBC should 'take fun seriously.' Both Dave Weeden and Mark Holland have picked up on this. Personally, the cynic in me can't help but feel that the government would far rather we were watching TV detective dramas on the BBC than documentaries about how much the government are fucking up everything on Channel 4. Just a thought. In this light, 'Mayo' is a template of its own for the TV to come - intelligent, fast-paced, fun and completely vacuous.

Still, don't get the impression I was angry. It may be a far cry from the sort of improving television I was watching George Clooney and David Strathairn eulogise about in 'Good Night, and Good Luck' this week, but it has its advantages. New TV detective dramas have, essentially, two models they can follow. One is the brutal nihilistic realism of 'Taggart', where the characters communicate in borderline incomprehensible dialect (one for my Glaswegian readers there!) and where depictions of violence are usually reasonably violent. At the other end of the scale is the pantomime, throwaway nonsense of 'Midsomer Murders', which is so far removed from reality it sometimes looks like an AmDram production. Nonetheless, I rather like 'Midsomer Murders', mostly because it affords people in every other part of Britain a chance to watch southerners get bumped off in bizarre ways (yes, I intend to offend every one of my readers before the end of this post). Plus, this week, viewers had the chance to see John Nettles go paddling in an ice-grey ocean, and it was a genuinely funny sight.

'Mayo' is clearly intended for the 'Midsomer' end of the market, though its far away from that shows level of silliness. Still, we did have a plot based around incest, and also a race on golf carts, so we're definitely talking the same scale. The other noticeable thing about 'Mayo' is that it follows many of the conventions of some of BBC Drama's other efforts, particularly 'Hustle' and 'Hotel Babylon', as seen in its re-use of a colour palette that always starts with 'deep scarlet' and moves out from there. I wrote a bit about this here. The final noteable point about it is that Alistair McGowan is playing the eponymous detective. At first it struck me as odd that an impressionist should be given the role, but actually he was more than passable. 'Mayo' is worth giving a try to this Sunday.

What most people will be tuning into the TV for on a Sunday night, however, is 'Planet Earth', the latest BBC Wildlife venture. Whether you agree with the licence fee or not, most people seem to agree that the money spent on natural history programming is well worth it. Generally, I'm of the same opinion. It is always well-filmed, well-researched and let's face it, we all love David Attenborough, because he's like the nation's favourite grandad.

Nonetheless, I didn't think too much of 'Planet Earth' in its first week. There was a lack of focus on any geographical region or terrain, most of the animals presented had been covered extensively on previous programmes (does anyone not know everything there is to know about penguins these days?) and I objected to the fact that there was quite a lot of anthropomorphisation in Attenborough's commentary, frequently depicting chases between predator and prey as being between 'good' and 'bad', as if nature were anything like that simple. In one aprticularly egregious example, we were told that some big cat or other was 'not above' eating a rotting carcass, as if an animals need for food is likely to be subject to either human morals or tastes.

This week, however, was a considerable improvement, with a specific focus on the fauna of mountains, and some genuinely intruiging footage, including some of the extremely rare snow leopard. This was detailed in the end-of-the-show segment 'Planet Earth Diaries', which follows the now routine idea of showing the viewer how the action is captured. When they first started doing this, I was wholly against, viewing it as unbearably self-aggrandising, but I've been won over now - I'm now of the opinion that it's nice to see one's licence fee being spent productively.

Tuesday has been, for the past few weeks, the required time of watching for the E4 programme 'Beauty And The Geek', which, for those who didn't see it, did exactly what it said on the tin. Boffins were paired up with models and had to complete tasks - some brainy, for the models, and some based on style etc, for the geeks. Every week a couple was voted off. Tuesday was the final, but I sat it out in protest of 'Tory Boy' Will and 'Boxing Ring Beauty' Alex being voted off the previous week, since that couple made up about 15% of the contestants, and at least 75% of the entertainment. Not to mention the fact that Alex looked the best in a bikini. Let's hope that they find themselves on some other branch of trash television in the near future.


A giant panda. In case you didn't know what one looked like.

Comments:
Midsomer Murders is great: surely though if Midsomer was a real village there would be no population left!! This is the south of England not New Jersey!! I suppose your not supposed to think about it that deeply!

It's like Murder She Wrote: i mean who would go near Jessica Fletcher? She encounters murder at every pass! Talk about a bad omen! And surely who would be a dumb bastard enough to do the dirty deed while she's around?!! I dunno these fictional TV characters- they don't know how to do a job properly! he he!

(N.B. I am well aware that this has nothing to do with the original post... but that never stopped me before did it?!!)
 
Occasionally we get the UK detective dramas over here.
I've found them to be occasionally entertaining, but I don't care for the mystery genre in any case.
 
Happy - The part that always bothers me is the exposition. In this week's episode of 'Mayo' - I should point out, before I go any further, that I only saw the last five minutes because I had been watching 'Everybody Hates Chris' on five - he summed everything up in a three minute soliloquy. He wasn't even in a police station when he did it. Do real murder detectives explain the crime to the perpetrators when they've caught them?

SafeT - We produce some good ones, but a lot of dross as well. Hopefully, it's not the dross ones that you get.
 
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