Sunday, May 07, 2006

TV: a cruel, but occasionally delightful, mistress

I don't really watch many shows on actual television - with the hours I work, that would mean a continuous diet of chatshows and home makeover programmes, and I can't bear the feeling of quiet unstoppable hopelessness both engender in me. There was a great golden age when UKTV Gold showed an episode of Top Gear every day at noon, but I've come to the horrible conclusion that I have now seen every episode of this ever made. Twice.

Sometimes the gods of TV are kind, and throw me Scrubs or ER (I haven't got the commitment to watch Columbo in the morning, and the loss of Diagnosis:Murder from our screens is still deeply felt), but more often they don't. So what do I do - go out, enjoy myself, go on long walks and visit museums and appreciate the diversity of experience on offer in this great city? Do I balls. I tuck into something from the saved programmes channel on my cable, C1.

The joy and danger of this method is that I have no need to stick to scheduled times and ration myself to one episode of a particular programme every week. Oh no. I can gulp down entire series in a day.

And that is exactly what I have been doing. The first delicious televisual morsel down my gullet was Blackpool, a BBC mini-series set in, er, Blackpool and following the fortunes of bluff self-aggrandising arcade owner Ripley Holden, played by David Morrissey. (Yes, David Morrissey of Basic Instinct 2 fame. Did anyone else get horribly confused by sentences in the press such as "Morrissey gives a blisteringly sexual performance in the film..", or was that just me?)

The plot, according to the delightfully succinct IMDb entry, is: "Soon after local entrepreneur Ripley Holden (Morrissey) opens his arcade in his beloved home town of Blackpool, a murder investigation makes tears at the fabric of his personal and professional lives. "

Of course, Morrissey wasn't why I chose to watch this, rather than, say, Touching Evil. That accolade goes to The Sexiest Man on Television, David Tennant, who plays DI Peter Carlisle, instructed to solve the murder of a young man found dead in Ripley's arcade.

Now, I'm not going to bore you with explaining the allure of TSMOT, because I can't. Last time I tried, I ended up burbling something about his ability to wear a pinstripe suit and trainers, and not look like a twat. You may scoff, but relationships have been built on less. He also has amazing hair (so glossy and lustrous) and the most beautiful brown eyes. But I'm going to stop there, as I still have just enough self-awareness to realise that I sound like a mental.

Of course, apart from the fact he's Ever So Dreamy (tm), Tennant's a damn fine actor. But it's David Morrissey who really dominates Blackpool, drawing you into caring about his ego-ridden, violent character, and making you realise that there's more to Ripley Holden than an unreconstructed chauvinist pig. It's not an easy task: in one scene, Ripley visits one of the prostitutes who works in the flats he owns. After questioning her about the murder, he begins methodically undressing. "What are you doing that for?" she asks. "Thought I'd collect the rent while I'm here," he counters.

I wasn't that enamoured of Blackpool at first, finding the first episode a bit slow, and the musical interludes - where the characters sing along to pop songs, whilst otherwise going about their daily business - jarred initially. A great deal has been made of the influence of Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective, but as I've unaccountably missed this seminal piece of television, it all just felt a bit odd.

But by episode two I was hooked - the time taken to introduce the characters paid off, because these are real characters, with pasts and motives and hidden depths, rather than the parade of stock types that so often passes for psychological insight. So there's Ripley's daughter, Shyanne, who falls in love with a man her father's age; son Danny, brimful of sexual confusion and the desire to protect his dad; and his wife Natalie, oblivious to all the fact her husband has slept with "every woman over 40 in Blackpool" and racked with guilt over her burgeoning relationship with Carlisle.

Ripley and Carlisle make a great dramatic pairing, too - at first, you're sure who's the good guy and who's the villain (particularly as Tennant looks like a chirpy, clean-cut Scot, while Morrissey sports a shocking greased semi-mullet and an upsetting assortment of skull-shaped tie clips). But the roles become more ambiguous as Carlisle becomes more deeply involved with Natalie, and seems intent on removing the greatest obstacle in his path to her - her husband.

And suddenly, Ripley became more sympathetic. He was still a greasy showman, but the threat of losing everything he loved - his family, his arcade, his dream of building a Vegas-style 'casino hotel' - gave him a dignity that reminded me of Richard II, had Shakespeare's king expressed his resigned sadness through the medium of the power ballad.

As I said, bloody good writing - as was the scene when Carlisle tries to convince Natalie to leave her husband, and his world, and run away with him. He follows her along the seafront, declaiming: "Here are some of the things we'll never have - we'll never be together so long we forget how it started. We'll never go to bed in the afternoon on the strength of a smile across a room. We'll never go dancing and embarrass everybody but ourselves. We'll never argue. We'll never make up. We'll never have enough memories of our own to make it through the bad times. We'll never share a fish supper."

You can tell I was emotionally involved with the characters by this point, because this actually managed to penetrate the crusty carapace of sneering cynicism with which I usually treat love affairs on the tellybox. (Me watching Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet: "What's he doing looking at her through a fucking fish tank? How is that romantic?" Me watching When Harry Met Sally: "Oh will you just HURRY UP!") I may even have snuffled a little bit. I haven't been this emotional since Dr Green went to the big emergency room in the sky to the accompaniment of Somewhere Over The Rainbow.

As for the singing - hmm, it is a problem. I have to admit I didn't really like it until the very end of episode five, when a bloody but unbowed Ripley launches into Queen's Don't Stop Me Now. What a corker of a song, and how well-chosen. Even the supporting cast were excellent. There's Cold Feet's John Thomson as Ripley's best mate, one of the League of Gentleman as his slimy accountant, and David Bradley (aka The Caretaker in Harry Potter) as a Biblebashing gambling protestor.

Anyway, considering how much I whinge about British TV being stale and formulaic, I thought it only fair to tell you that it's not all doom and gloom. And it's very odd that two of the best (and oddest) things I've seen on TV recently – this and BBC Three's noirish Funland – have been set in Blackpool. So, TV execs, here's my recipe for ratings and critical success: more genre-busting David Tennant-starring TV dramas set in Northern seaside resorts, please.

Needless yet appealing photo of David Tennant.


Anonymous Laura said...

David Tenant would never make a DI. Still, it's not as absurd as Amanda Redman playing a Detective-friggin-Superintendent in 'New Tricks'. Oh As If.

Never work with the police. It ruins the enjoyment of all crime-related films, books and tv forevermore.

Can't say you've intrigued me into watching this one Gal...Would plump for ER re-runs any day.

5/07/2006 8:12 pm  
Anonymous galatea said...

So, in your opinion, which fictional detectives would make it in today's police force - Frost? Tennison? Taggart?

Just don't tell me that psychologists aren't really like Fitz!

5/07/2006 9:05 pm  
Anonymous paul haine said...

So does this also mean you're a Doctor Who fan?

5/07/2006 9:19 pm  
Anonymous galatea said...

Er, yes. But in a very girly way, I only like the new, ironic ones with fit actors in (I am aware this is like watching football because you fancy David Beckham).

Like I said, there's something strangely erotic about a man in a three-piece suit and Converse trainers. Although TSMOT's cockney accent is sometimes a touch ropey....

5/07/2006 9:52 pm  
Anonymous The Protestant said...

Thank you! If only more people realised what a MONUMENTALLY SHIT film Baz Luhrman's Romeo and Juliet is.

5/08/2006 12:22 am  
Anonymous pia said...

Hmmm I have found a challenger to TSMOT throne. After watching 10 episodes of Scrubs (series 5) back-to-back I'm staying single until someone matches up to Keith from Scrubs...,%20Travis
Where on earth has all this girlyness come from? It must be stopped.

5/08/2006 11:08 am  
Blogger galatea said...

Pia: no, no, no. He's just not that fit. He's not even as fit as Zach Braff.

5/08/2006 11:48 am  
Anonymous Laura said...

What do you mean not *even* as fit as Zach Braff. ZB is fit fit fit.

Oh god. It appears I have caught the girlie bug too. What is happening to us?

5/08/2006 5:14 pm  
Anonymous laura said...

Frost would definitely make DI. Taggart is perhaps over-reaching with him being a D Chief Inspector but I'll let him off as he became one a really long time ago when the police were just permanently pissed and let anyone be in charge.

Who the hell is Tennison?

The only psychologist (used to be a DCI) is exactly like a female Fitz. With a blonde wig.

5/08/2006 5:17 pm  
Anonymous pia said...

Zach Braff is squidgey (yes this is a technical term). I'm all about the chiselled look now...

5/08/2006 5:35 pm  
Anonymous galatea said...

Women! Calm yourselves. Otherwise this is in danger of lapsing into some kind of e-sleepover.

Tennison is Helen Mirren's character in Prime Suspect - I'm only on Series 3 but she's well on course to become a Superintendent.

5/08/2006 9:07 pm  
Anonymous laura said...

e-sleepover? does this mean we need to get into our virtual pants and pillow fight with each other?

5/08/2006 9:47 pm  
Anonymous flawedgalatea said...

Yes, but first we have to braid everyone's hair and practice kissing on each other.

I think we had better stop this before people get the wrong idea about this blog... Honestly, I spent literally minutes writing deeply insightful articles about modern cultural phenomena, and it degenerates into vague pseudo-lesbianism. Pah.

5/08/2006 10:09 pm  
Blogger marrow-from-harrow said...

I am fit.

5/11/2006 12:30 pm  
Anonymous Ali P said...

How could 'blisteringly sexual' ever be a compliment?

5/11/2006 2:21 pm  
Anonymous galatea said...

Even more worringly, I can't remember where I saw that phrase. I begin to worry that I might have made it up, which concerns me.

Perhaps my subconscious knows something I don't?

And from the reviews, I think the presence of pop's most famous miserabilist would have improved Basic Instinct 2 immensely.

5/11/2006 3:14 pm  
Blogger Aidan said...

I did in fact watch this one because of David Morrissey, who, pre-Basic Instinct 2 anyway, has always struck as a reliable guide to a drama's quality... And he was as compelling as ever, but found the musical interludes - and David Tennant - rapidly palled and became just irritating...
Nice idea, though.
The show, that is... Not necessarily David Tennant.
Sarah Parish looked lovely, though...

5/21/2006 10:48 pm  

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