Saturday, May 22, 2010

Consumed by the Goblin

This is a companion piece to the Lost post.

I have to admit, I've never really liked Ashes to Ashes, it's been interesting TV. I had a problem with Life on Mars, to be honest and was very unsatisfied with that outcome; but I felt it recreated the 1970s very well. Ashes to Ashes was very un-1980s and felt like the producers were unhappy with the lack of 1980s locations. The glaring thing about Ashes to Ashes was the lack of people on the streets in London. But that could, of course, be explained away by the series denouement.

The thing is, despite my ambiguity towards both series, there was, it became clear, an internal logic, that didn't need a huge leap of faith (if you'll pardon the pun) to comprehend. In LOM, Sam Tyler was so close to death, he could exist in Gene Hunt's world. He existed in the early 70s because that was a traumatic period of Sam's life that he needed resolution with. Plus, he wanted to be a real policeman, rather than a modern day pen pushing bureaucrat. When he recovered, turned the corner and got better, normal reality was different, he no longer belonged. I think (after re-watching the final episode) that Sam knew the truth, which was why he took his own leap of faith.

So therefore, the ending of Ashes to Ashes actually begins to make sense. The line through the entire series, has an internal LOM logic - Alex returned to the 80s - her most traumatic period. Her concerns over her own daughter's life without her, was manifest in her illusions of her own daughter and the bizarre parallel with her own life she was witnessing in her 'fictional' 1980s.

The problem with AtA is that it sold out for an extra series to milk the popularity of Gene Hunt and subsequently padded out a story that would have held together better if has been the same length and format as LOM. There was too many episodes that seemed bolted on, that had no significance other than to attempt to give the characters more depth; but surely one of the pleasures of LOM was the fact that outside of the police and the pub, these people around Sam Tyler had ambiguous and possibly non-existent lives. The thing about LOM was that Sam's supporting characters didn't appear to exist outside of his consciousness. They had no lives and what possible lives were hinted at, was just that, hints. Gene Hunt had a wife, but no one saw her.

In AtA, Gene Hunt became the cypher, while all the others seemed to have lives built around them - you had a love story between Chris and Shaz, a look at Ray's family, the complicated life of the desk sergeant and lives. Some of the episodes were clever - the one where Shaz confronts the youths in the tube could be construed as her still struggling to face up to the fact that she died in the line of duty. A great indicator of what was to come, but lost because of the need to feed BBC coffers with extra revenue.

All the combined series had fatal flaws in the casting; the actors (with the exception of John Simm and at times Philip Glennister) were all incredibly bad. Annie from LOM was dreadful; Ray and Chris seemed at times like they were aware they were being filmed and whatserface, Montserrat Lombard, she not only couldn't act, but she had a face like a bucket of horse arses.
I'm really not sorry to see it go. I'm amazed I stuck with it for the duration. But, when it comes down to scrutinising it, it does work - however unsatisfactory it was - and I put that feeling down to the fact that I think there were enough clues given to have worked it out and because I actually felt disappointed that Alex Drake was actually dead. However, that doesn't explain her reappearance back in the real world for a number of weeks, when it was stated in the finale that she actually died at 9.06 in hospital after being shot.

Maybe she dreamed that? Maybe the writers didn't think? Or probably they had an idea but didn't execute it well enough. That has to be the reason, otherwise you only feel that all the earlier stuff about internal logic become a big fortunate coincidence.

A footnote to this. I never was LOM (US). I downloaded the pilot and the revised 1st episode, but heard such bad things about it, I never bothered. My mate Phil, in an attempt to help me appreciate the ending of AtA better, directed my attention to the last ten minutes of the US version. I believe I might be in a minority of 1 here, but I actually thought the US ending was clever, interesting and almost amusing and in a strange way, original. I expect brickbats at dawn!

***

I'm still a mixed bag of feelings about Lost. I blubbed at least 3 times during the finale and while I'm not in the slightest bit embarrassed about admitting that, I feel the tears were conned out of me and it appears that the producer sort of agrees. Damian Lindlehof (or whatever his name is) literally admitted that there were parts of the story that couldn't be explained so they went for the heart strings option. It was quite brilliant television, yet the more I think about the ending, the more I think it was just vacuous and lazy writing, which ultimately spoiled a phenomenon.

It's left me with an intriguing dilemma. I'd like to watch the entire series again - all of it - in the same way I've watched series that the wife has no interest in - in one go. But, two things prevent me, the first is I know how it ends and all the dissecting in the world isn't going to change that and secondly, I'd like to see if it works as a 121 episode narrative. I have a feeling it might not.

I recently downloaded 8½ series of Smallville, mainly because I felt, as a long time Superman fan, that I should find out why this series has outlasted all previous attempts, including the great for its time Lois & Clark. Watching it last summer, while recuperating from my operation, it cannot under any circumstances be called a high point in my crappy summer; if it wasn't for the fact I had nothing better to do, I would have given up and just read the Wikipedia episode synopses. It definitely works better as a weekly view rather than in a DVD-fest.

And suddenly TV dies for the World Cup. There are now huge holes in the schedules that are unlikely to be filled even when the trophy is lifted in July. We do have Eureka to look forward to and I've finally started to watch The Sopranos (and I'm already understanding its appeal).

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