Tuesday, March 18, 2008

In A Fix

I wasted another hour of my life last night giving The Fixer a second shot so as not to make any snap judgements. The first episode alone made me want to go off and smoke a cigarette. The second made me want to spark up and then go and punch somebody in the face.

Moreover, the big impression it left me with was that most regular ITV viewers are completely fucking thick. And if they aren’t – although they probably are – the perception is they’re completely fucking thick.

It could have been a really clever and interesting drama but from the get go it seemed to constantly struggle not to dumb itself down. The reference to Schrödinger's Cat certainly wins points. Later they’re taken away when, out on a stakeout, Calum notices Mercer is reading a book entitled Genome to while away the time and observes, “Neighbours used to have loads of them in the garden, with their fishing rods. Little ones, sitting on mushrooms. Mum said it lowered the tone.”

Of course, that alone is pretty good. It’s funny and would have been perfect if Mercer looked up from the book and gave him a look of utter distain. Unfortunately once Mercer looks up from the book and gives him a look of utter distain, Calum says, “Gnomes,” unnecessarily driving the joke home with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer blow.

That seemed to be my problem with The Fixer. What should have been a great premise was just riddled with compromise, presumably to make it palatable for the ITV audience. After all, a drama that starts out with an ex-soldier shooting a suburban couple before calmly announcing what he’s done to the emergency service switchboard is certainly different from the usual fare. Then it all started to fall apart.

The two minutes of material that followed, post-title, would have made a perfect recap for future episodes, explaining how Mercer, the ex-soldier, was released from prison five years into his life sentence to become “a hit man for the state”. Given it was the opening episode, surely his recruitment should have actually been played out between the characters, at least up until the first ad break, rather than simply reduce it to artful poses and voiceover.

Alternatively, it would have worked if the rest of the episode carried on at a fair clip like, say, an early episode of Alias. Instead the remaining forty-odd minutes juddered forward with the pace of a soporific snail, burying any action sequences beneath an avalanche of blather. Still, it did remind me that it has been a long while since I’ve watched Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita.

In the wake of Dexter, having a sanctioned killer as the lead in a drama shouldn’t be that big a deal. Making him an ex-con, who killed for the right reason, reintegrating himself into the community should have made The Fixer something quite special. Instead it feels like somebody, somewhere, bottled it.

Just in case people found the premise unacceptable or distasteful, a large dollop of fluffiness has been shovelled in. So rather than act alone, Mercer is part of a team. And wouldn’t you know it, they’re all mismatched! Actually, forget La Femme Nikita, this is more like ITC’s The Persuaders!, with Peter Mullan’s character as an updated version of Laurence Naismith’s Judge Felton, blackmailing the English playboy aristocrat, Lord Brett Sinclair, and American self-made millionaire, Danny Wilde, into catching criminals who have escaped the judicial system.

Which meant that we got Shameless’ Jody Latham as Calum McKenzie, an utterly annoying oik who seems to exist solely to be annoying, and Tamzin Outhwaite as an ex-cop and honey-trap specialist who, when she’s not between the sheets, does whatever Tamzin Outhwaite. In fact, in the first episode, it seemed that her character, Rose Chamberlain, was introduced far earlier than she should have been. Then again, this was the episode that had had Mercer ask Lenny Douglas who he is not long after Mercer’s voiceover has introduced the audience to Douglas and his operation.

When Mercer was put to work the effects were a bit on the rubbish side. The law might not have been able to touch the shady businessman but everyone else could, and quite easily. He went for a piss and while he stood at a urinal Mercer stood in a toilet stall. Once his bladder was empty he got shot. That was it. As a professional, shouldn’t Mercer have taken the shell casing with him? It may have been an ‘artsy’ shot, but leaving a bloody big bloody footprint behind made it amateur hour, quite literally.

While stuff happened in the second episode, I pretty much stopped paying attention from the moment a radio news item provided the set-up by spewing out far, far too much information for the typical broadcast. Somebody died, quite bloodily, although the killer didn’t kill anyone. Instead he seemed to be taking the first steps to embracing his touchy-feely side.

That kind of missed the point of the drama as far as I was concerned and it looks like I wasn’t alone. After an audience of 6.2m in the first week, yesterday’s episode began with 5.5m viewers, tailing off to 4.4m. Given that the drama is made by Kudos, I expected better. Although, with Moving Wallpaper/Echo Beach on their resumé, it’s beginning to look like while the material they produce for the BBC is interesting and exciting, what gets churned out for ITV is about as entertaining as watching disabled old aged pensioners fuck.


At 1:22 am, Blogger Jaded and Cynical said...

The conversation about garden gnomes was painful to watch, being all the more unforgivable because it had no bearing on the story.

It's interesting that, even if somewhere in the system there's an assumption that ITV viewers are idiots, a third of them were still smart enough to turn off before the end of the second episode.

The benchmark for this sort of action-driven drama has to be 24.

Just started watching the most recent series on DVD. The pacing, the density of the story, the quality of every aspect of the production, from camerawork to special effects, is far beyond anything that's being done in the UK. And when Jack Bauer calls the president, it's never to discuss quantum theory or garden furniture.

At 11:58 am, Blogger Lee said...

Call me stupid, but I was one of the 4.4 million who stayed for the end of episode two and was happy I did.

I like The Fixer. It has its faults. Chief among them, as you point out, is underestimating its audience's smarts. On the other hand, the shell casing/footprint incident bucked that slightly by being a deliberate plan to frame someone else for the assassination - you might have missed Callum explain it when he gave John the trainers, but it was there.

Ben Richards wrote some cracking episodes of Spooks so I have hope for this. I also like the callbacks to the classic ITC shows - it's in ITV's tradition, and shows that they really do want to break out of the 9pm rut they've got themselves into.

Whether they ultimately have the balls for it remains to be seen.

At 6:22 pm, Blogger Lucy said...

I'm with Lee, I'm sticking with it. Whilst it's all very well saying "America does it better than us" (and they probably do, certainly at the moment and THE FIXER is hardly hitting all my buttons), if we don't give this type of show a real go, then we will get stuck with gritty realist dramas or period stuff FOREVER and I for one am not willing to take that chance.

At 9:17 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

The assumption that the post is all about how America does it better comes from....?

La Femme Nikita is French, the last time I looked. While Alias is American, dear old Robert S. Baker's The Persuaders! is very British.

The problem is the feckin' channel it's on. It's like building a motorbike that speeds along on the BBC.

Take it to Channel 4 and they'd say give the engine a throaty roar to annoy the neighbours.

Take it to ITV and they'd want stabilizers fixed to the back wheel.

At 9:40 pm, Blogger Lee said...

"The assumption that the post is all about how America does it better comes from....?"

jaded and cynical's call for 24's use as a benchmark, I would think. Not your opinion, I know, GD, but a fair response to J&C's comment.

ITV have a well deserved bad reputation, and some of the thinking that got them there is still evident in The Fixer, but it can succeed in spite of that, I reckon.

But lordy, I wouldn't take anything to Channel Four these days. Look at their recent track record: City of Vice, Cape Wrath (a co-pro), Goldplated, Ghost Squad...a roll call of dreck, quite frankly.

At 11:09 pm, Blogger Jaded and Cynical said...

To be fair, it isn't the worst thing on TV. The first episode was undercooked, but giving The Fixer a second chance doesn't make anyone an idiot.

I stand by the assertion, though, that the best American shows are a class apart.

However, people are obviously entitled to their own opinions. For example, Lee, I liked The Ghost Squad and was disappointed when it didn't get a second series. It may not have been the best drama on TV, but it never missed a chance to show Elaine Cassidy in her underwear.

At 1:27 am, Blogger Good Dog said...

Channel 4 seriously has lost their way. The last drama they screened that I watched was Tony Marchant's The Mark of Cain.

City of Vice was absolute twaddle, and whichever reviewer likened it to "Inspector Morse meets Deadwood should be given a sound thrashing. Cape Wrath was a complete joke.

But... I have to say, I enjoyed The Ghost Squad as well.


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