Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Three Down

I’m forever trying to work out what makes a great TV drama, poring over the evidence of both award-winning glories and abject failures to see why one held together while another came apart at the seems. Just when I think I’m close to an answer along comes something new and completely different that shifts the goal posts and takes everything back to square one.

Based on everything I’ve seen over the years, whether good or bad, the best I can come up with is that great television keeps you in your seat, eyes glued to the screen. Obviously this may not sound like much, and may in fact seem blindingly obvious, but with so much stimuli around to distract us television has a lot more to compete with nowadays.

On one occasion halfway through watching a drama, I flipped channels and fired up the games console without thinking about it, only wondering why the show had stopped at such an odd point after I was done with all the killing. Normally the litmus test for me is whether I reach across for the newspaper part way through the show and carry on with the crossword if it’s still unfinished at that point.

It happened last night as I drifted away from the third episode of Survivors to struggle over the last few cryptic clues that had been gnawing at me. It was only when the sole surviving member of the government put a bullet in someone’s head for whatever reason that I looked up at the television remembering that it was actually still on.

Halfway through its six episode run, Survivors is looking more and more like an idea that hasn’t been properly thought through. Given who came up with the idea, I suspect the original series suffered the same. The characters are turning into the kind of insufferable people you find in front of you in a Post office queue. Within a couple of minutes you just wish they were gone and forgotten about.

The fact is any post-apocalyptic event, in this case a global pandemic, needs to be the jumping off point for something more dramatic. From what I remember of yesterday’s episode, I would have preferred the spotlight to be on the chickens and the real scrapes they were getting into because the actual survivors would be better off dead. This why something like zombies trying to take a bite out of them is always good for upping the ante.

I suppose deadly plants coming after them could be an alternative but from the look of it that’s already being covered by the brains at BBC Wales deciding to piss away more good money by remaking John Wyndham’s The Day of The Triffids. After all, the BBC has only made three television versions already, as well as four radio adaptations.

I mean, come on! Scary plants shuffling after me, how will I get away from them in this day and age? Well, I use a car or a bike or a skateboard. Or, if everything else fails, I suppose I could run. Or walk really fast. But if for some reason I couldn’t get away, what about keeping myself safe from the plants’ deadly whip-like stingers? If only there was some kind of helmet with a visor that was readily available, like the sort of thing motorcyclists or welders use, and a weapon like a sword or chainsaw to lop the stingers off...

What worked as drama back in 1951 doesn’t always work today unless you make radical changes to the story, and then you’ve got a very different story on your hands. So why not spend the money on something original rather than lazily raid the archives for old shows. I suppose that could be done, but then it would require the executive weasels to actually put in some effort. God forbid that should happen. If this is going to be the new policy, what the hell are they going to remake next?


At 12:14 pm, Blogger qrter said...

Well, what made Day of the Triffids interesting was the combination of almost the entire world being blinded and then the shambling plant things going all wonky. It's harder to run and avoid stingers when you're blind, I'm guessing.

Much more interesting was the question of morality - if you're one of the few who can still see, do you stick around the blind and try to help them or decide to leave them to it, grab the wine and the DVDs and have yourself a "cosy catastrophe" (is what Brian Aldiss called Triffids, if I remember correctly).

The thing with all this post-apocalyptic stuff is that if you really want to do it well, it'll inevitably be very bleak (which is something Triffids essentially fails at too). Survivors doesn't even have the cast for something bleak (well, not intentionally bleak, anyway).

I thought Children of Men did a pretty good job of making the sense of despair palpable - I never really thought about how intrinsically depressing a world without children would be, the film did that quite well. The ending was a bit too ambigious and tried to be forcefully hopefull.

At 2:18 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Good old Aldiss! I love the idea of a “cosy catastrophe.” Even with the people blinded by the meteor shower, there’s still ways to get around the vegetation infestation.

I was trying to remember other TV shows that played up the post-apocalyptic malarkey. There was some weird thing years back about a bunch of numpties that got accidentally cryogenically frozen in a train tunnel to escape some catastrophe or other. It was all a whole lot of silly.

I didn’t see Children of Men under ideal circumstances so wasn’t that taken with it. Maybe I should give it another shot sometime.


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