Sunday, January 13, 2008

Storming The Beach

After three weeks off the gaspers, now that the cough and cold have abated, I was surprised to discover my sense of smell had suddenly returned. This would be a gift if I was living on the coast or rolling countryside. Here, in London - not so good.

We’re still many months away from a potential stifling hot summer, where everything gets a little gamey and ripe, and so far I haven’t come across a dead guy covered in urine, but with the bursts of torrential rain, a journey on crowded public transport is suddenly like being smothered by an old dog that rolled in something on the way back from a long walk in the driving rain.

Bad as that is, nothing could compare to the noxious odours coming from the first offerings of the new television season. I haven’t been watching much of anything, certainly nothing on ITV, so I don’t know if the channel had been hyping the shit out of the double shot of Moving Wallpaper and Echo Beach.

It may have looked inviting on paper – Moving Wallpaper a half-hour sitcom about the making of Echo Beach, the half-hour soap opera that follows immediately after it in the schedules. Like a lot of things, between the idea and the execution it went arse over tit. In practise, the two shows were the typical steaming pile of dog toffee from a screwed pooch.

Moving Wallpaper was supposed to be a sitcom, except it was spectacularly unfunny. Echo Beach played like a horrendously poor drama. I don’t watch soap operas, but it doesn’t mean I’m not aware of them. Foreign shows in this category may be different so perhaps there were a whole lot of references I was missing, but I don’t remember soaps having extended helicopter shots and indie music blasting on the soundtrack.

Of course, that may not be the point. Is Echo Beach supposed to be a pastiche of a soap? It certainly wasn’t a parody in the vein of Victoria Wood's Acorn Antiques, with its flubbed lines and dodgy sets. Watching the first episode, rather than grin at the references laid down by the episode of Moving Wallpaper before it, I wondered what a viewer flicking channels and unaware of the postmodern, nudge-nudge, wink-wink dual-show connection would make of it.

The biggest offender though was Moving Wallpaper, which was just fucking dreadful. Jennifer Saunder’s sitcom The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle, set behind-the-scenes of a daytime talk show, was so spectacularly atrocious that I didn’t think the depths could be plumbed any further. Moving Wallpaper may have been filled with in-joke references, but they weren’t jokes.

The out-going producer pathetically head-butting a framed photo of Michael Grade? Nope. The in-coming producer spending the design budget having a wet room installed in his office? Nope. Writing stories aimed at categories of the British Soap Awards. Nope. Susie Amy, appearing as “herself”, offering the megalomaniacal producer a blowjob to get herself a line of dialogue on the show only for him to mishear it as “snowjob”? Fucking hell no! Twenty-two minutes without one goddamn laugh has to be some kind of record for a sitcom.

It would be hopelessly unfair to compare Moving Wallpaper to the likes of 30 Rock or The Larry Sanders Show, although the storyline in episode two about the useless PA circulating copies of the show’s budget and staff salaries amongst the staff was played up better in a 1996, fifth season episode of The Larry Sanders Show. Even Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was a whole lot funnier and that was ostensibly a drama. Put it up against the BBC's Extras and Moving Wallpaper appears so woefully thin it’s virtually transparent. In fact, as shows about putting on shows go, even The Muppet Show towers head and shoulders above it.

If writers are supposed to write about they know, the opening episodes could only have been scripted by people completely new to the medium and hopelessly out of their depth.


At 2:13 am, Blogger Ian said...

Errm.. Isn't the whole thing scripted by some bloke who worked on EastEnders for 20-odd years?

I'm afraid I have to disagree with you on this one. I find most British sitcoms spectacularly unfunny ("To The Manor Born" on Christmas Day struck a new low in showing how far we are behind the Americans when it comes to this stuff) but there were at least a couple of chuckles in "Moving Wallpaper".

Surely you found the "Casualty" rant (in the second episode shown on Friday) funny, and even though the payoff on that particular rant was predictable, it was very well executed.

The soap itself is not better nor worse than any of the other cheap and nasty offerings of the genre. Not my cup of tea at all, but then neither are "East Enders" or "Coronation Street" but they both seem to pull in the ratings.

At 4:34 pm, Blogger Clair said...

I wanted to like Moving Wallpaper, as I think Ben Miller is great, but British TV about British TV is so dire - and do the audience want it, anyway? If you work in the media, a lot of people do view you as some kind of show-off anyway, so telly about us snotty types must be a turn-off for a lot of viewers.

At 10:41 am, Blogger Good Dog said...


While I was lucky enough to miss Doctor Who on Christmas Day, the old folks wanted to watch To The Manor Born. Christ, what a fucking dud!

Watched the first two episodes of Moving Wallpaper twice and didn’t crack a smile once. The whole Casualty riff was too predictable, even down to the guy coming back in and ignoring the producer in pain while he blathered on.

Only watched the first episode of Echo Beach. Thinking about it, I’m wondering if maybe Moving Wallpaper is the drama and Echo Beach the comedy. They still wouldn’t work but it would probably make more sense.

The whole bit about Miller’s character telling the wee kid her folks were dead (in MW) to get her to cry in the soap scene (in EB). Oh, tee-fucking-hee, very clever. But I’m watching it thinking the first scene was in the studio, the soap scene was on location. Huh? When you’re that removed from the material, there’s no flipping point carrying on.

That said, the BBC didn’t exactly distinguish themselves Thursday night either with some piece-of-shit sitcom called Never Better starring Stephen Mangan. After watching straight-faced for about fifteen minutes, I watched some Seinfeld on shiny disc.


Miller was great in The Work Week... series where he’s playing some put-upon character. (Actually, didn’t that have Raquel Cassidy in it?)

The US can do shows about the industry because there’s that glamorous appeal. Over here it’s simply overcast and the sandwiches on the craft service table are curling at the edges.

As well as “show-offs”, I think a lot of industry types can come across as self-important arseholes. I can think of numerous situations to stick in a “behind-the-scenes” programme: agency producers who are cute, blonde and completely clueless (bless them); clients who turn up at the edits late, go straight for the menu, and then are only concerned how large the packshot appears on screen; independent documentary makers who think they are top tier because they used to work at BBC Pebble Mill.

The list can go on and on. Those kind of references would have folk in the know nod along but leave general viewers scratching their heads, wondering what the hell is going on. It’s far too easy for these kinds of shows to disappear up their own fundament. Moving Wallpaper seems to be no exception.

Both shows got 5 million viewers on the first night. Haven’t managed to find out what the figure was for Friday.

At 5:49 pm, Blogger Jaded and Cynical said...

I haven't seen either show.

The trailers made no appeal, and who wants to watch Jason Donovan and Martine McCutcheon in anything other than a vat of acid?

What strikes me most about the whole idea is the extarordinary level of overreach.

ITV hasn't launched a successful soap or sitcom in a generation, yet now it's trying to do both things at the same time, in back to back programmes. The person who thought that was likely to succeed should go back to rigging phone-in competitions for Ant and Judy.

You'd think trying to create a watchable British sitcom would be challenge enough.

At 4:13 pm, Blogger Lucy said...

I love Jason Donovan.



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