Sunday, October 15, 2006

Recalibrating My Taste Buds

Last week, in The Sunday Times’ Style section, the restaurant critic A.A. Gill wrote:

Rome is one of the places I go to recalibrate the critical scale. If you make judgments on one thing for a long time, slowly your taste and opinions slip, usually into equivocation and benefit-of-the-doubt compromise. Five disappointing dinners in a row can make the sixth seem not so bad. It’s difficult to notice, because the change is incremental. So, every six months or so, I need to go and eat to remind myself what’s really, eternally great.

Which is exactly how I get watching television. Not one who feels the need to be constantly glued to the box, and for the most part choosy about what I watch, usually there is more than enough to sate my viewing appetite. But inevitably the time comes when the run of programmes reach their conclusion, or break between seasons, and quietly slip from the schedules.

Left with want remains on offer, as the weeks pass I unavoidably become infuriated with myself when I realise how quickly I’ve become inured to the pungent stench wafting out of the television and allowed my standards to fall into decline in a vain attempt to eke out a modicum of viewing pleasure.

There are interim programmes I’ll dig out just to keep me going. The two first season episodes of The West Wing that introduce Roger Rees’ Lord John Marbury, for instance, provide a temporary quick-fix that allows me to carry on that little bit further. But when I need to dig myself out of the hole and remind myself of what great television can produce, there is one show I turn to time and again.

Possibly the finest drama ever made, Edge of Darkness starts on a personal level, with a policeman unofficially investigating the cold-blooded murder of his daughter, before flowering into a full-blown, labyrinthine conspiracy thriller than intertwines the nuclear industry with environmental politics.

Written by Troy Kennedy Martin, who in the introduction to the published screenplay stated: “Edge of Darkness is the product of the years 1982 to 1985. These were the days before détente, when born-again Christians and cold-war warriors seemed to be running the United States,” the six-part serial began life as Magnox, which focused on the potential dangers that could arise from union problems in the nuclear industry.

Encouraged to develop the series by the then Head of BBC Drama, Kennedy Martin found himself reacting to both the growing political pessimism and positive responses that emerged from the heated Cold War rhetoric. A further influence appeared in the form ex-NASA scientist James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis’ Gaia hypothesis, which postulated that the planet was a single living system and self-regulating mechanism built to maintain the optimum conditions for life of which humanity was only a small part.

Having evolved into a battle of wills between Man’s destructive technology and the ancient power of Nature, Edge of Darkness was first shown on BBC2 in November 1985. Almost universally applauded by both critics and audience alike, Edge of Darkness justifiably became the fastest repeated series, appearing on BBC1 as three double-length editions only ten days after the final episode was first broadcast.

At the 1986 BAFTA award ceremony, Bob Peck deservedly won Best Actor, Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen were rewarded with the award for Best Music, while Andrew Dunn won for Best Photography, Ardan Fisher and Dan Rae shared the award for Best Editor and Dickie Bird took Best Sound. Rounding off the night, Edge of Darkness took the BAFTA award for Best Series.

Nearly twenty-one years old, Edge of Darkness still does it for me when I start to lose faith in the medium.

What shows do you turn to when it looks like the flame of creativity is dimming?


At 8:30 pm, Blogger wcdixon said...

I've found I turn to movies as opposed to tv when my faith starts to wane - and admittedly, that hasn't been often in the last few years. There's always seemed to be enough good tv series on somewhere to keep the faith - even with the reality glut of the past while.

That said, I've enjoyed going back to Buffy and X Files (the early years), Cheers and Seinfeld still do the trick...but something from waaay back? Sad but true, but I've been prone to borrow eps of The Avengers or New Avengers from the local library on more than one occasion. Or rent classic porn - but that goes without saying... right?

..did I say that outloud? I meant to say pass the salt...

Okay back to work.

At 8:55 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Although there's a whole bunch of American shows to sate my appetite, going back to Hill Street Blues and thirtysomething, then on to the likes of NYPD Blue, er, Seinfeld and The Larry Sanders Show, plus many more current shows, Edge of Darkness reminds me that here in the UK, the channels once made intelligent quality drama.

There's always the likes of Dennis Potter's Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective to watch, along with the first Prime Suspect in the early 1990s and, much more recently, Paul Abbott's State of Play, but over here startingly original new drama really is, sadly, in a minority.

At 9:27 pm, Blogger wcdixon said...

Okay you're right - 'thirty something', 'so called life', 'Larry Sanders' - i like catching those... and I own the early Crackers and Prime Suspects..all good stuff

At 10:23 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Singing Detective for me, by a country mile. It's the televisual equivalent of The Tempest, and Guernica. And, if watched with Edge of Darkness, half of a great Joanne Whalley double bill.

At 11:14 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Man, Edge of Darkness in 1985, The Singing Detective in 1986, damn those were good years.

At 7:54 pm, Blogger David Bishop said...

Celestial Navigation from The West Wing Season One. And the pilot, come to that.

The Singing Detective, natch.

The pilot of Hill Street Blues.

Shooting the Past.

Inspector Morse: Masonic Mysteries.

Season One of The Sopranos.

At 1:34 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

We may have lost Dennis Potter and Troy Kennedy Martin is AWOL, but yeah, there's still Stephen Poliakoff.

While I liked the recent Friends & Crocodiles and Gideon's Daughter, I thought Shooting the Past, Perfect Strangers and The Lost Prince were absolutely superb.

At 9:26 am, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

Whether or not one is particularly a Bleasdale fan, I'm still impressed by the writing and performances in GBH.


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