Thursday, June 25, 2009

Iraq In Fragments

Early last week, sat on a bus stuck in traffic and without a crossword at hand to while away the time, I got to thinking, if I’m not watching imported drama on BBC1 simply because there isn’t any, what the hell do I regularly watch on BBC1? Unfortunately, however slowly we crawled along, it soon became apparent that the journey wasn’t going to be long enough to glean a proper answer.

Obviously the channel played a significant role in my television viewing as a youngster, back when I was watching kiddie shows like Blue Peter and Doctor Who, but what now? With far more channels available to flip through, vainly looking for something of interest, BBC1 rarely gets a look in at all. In fact I doubt I’d had have an answer if they’d stuck booster rockets onto the side of the 113, fired it off the Barnet Bypass, and kept everyone on board until the driver smacked into the surface of Ganymede.

Obviously there were programmes I’d occasionally catch because they looked interesting or got a good write up but I rarely had the patience to sit through them from beginning to end let alone throughout their whole series run. In recent months I caught the odd episode of The Apprentice until realising the contestants were a bunch of useless arse clowns I wouldn’t trust to sit the right way on a lavatory. Before that there was Strictly Come Dancing but the grating buffoonery of old Forsythe, who should have been taken to the glue factory years ago, became too grating to stomach.

Granted they’ll help while away the odd hour but if you tolerate them for too long your brain cells will be next. So if light entertainment’s a wipeout there’s always the BBC’s trusted news and current affairs to fall back on. Except Breakfast seems to be out of kilter with a forced bonhomie I simply don’t want at that time of the morning and only drop in for the headlines on the hour or punch up News 24 for a mid-morning break. There’s always Question Time, allowing MPs to reveal what malignant turds they are. Although it was always disappointing that when Caroline Flint appeared the audience didn’t storm the stage and kick that repugnant cunt to death.

Maybe that could be the pitch for a new comedy, because the channel sure as shit needs one. It would certainly bring a smile to everyone’s face, which is more than mush like My Family and Last of the Summer Wine does. I liked Not Going Out because it actually had jokes and was funny. It even had an audience that went beyond special needs and didn’t require daily supervision. I suppose that’s why it got cancelled. That leaves just Have I Got News For You and QI, recently moved over to the channel, for laughs. Except I tend to watch their extended repeats on BBC2, so that’s comedy down the drain as well.

So, inevitably, that leaves drama. For a while, years ago, I used to watch EastEnders and Casualty. Actually, it was more a case of had to watch, simply because they were various girlfriends' favourites. In one instance, when I was seeing a fashion degree graduate, she liked not only Casualty, in which some mope usually tripped over a pork pie and jabbed a fork in their head, but The House of Eliott as well. Boy, that was a real double whammy to grin and bear. But then I figured, grit my teeth and get through the bad stuff because later on the good stuff with the handcuffs and exotic oils would balance it out. Except it turned out she was rubbish in bed.

Luckily now I don’t have to watch soap operas or “continuing drama” or whatever designation is being used for taking dull stories and stretching them unbearably thin. So what does that leave? The easy answer would be to flag up the tried and trusted Waking the Dead and Spooks. While both appear on a pretty regular basis, their annual runs usually only last a couple of months apiece leaving a lot of space for tumbleweed to blow by. There are always new drama series popping up most of them are like a new Nick Hornby book. For the first couple of chapters you’re excited about it but then after a while you just set it aside and try to forget all about it.

In the end all that’s left are the serials and single dramas, the last refuge for writers who actually want to tell a story rather than pick up a regular pay cheque and an audience that wants to dine out on filet mignon rather than the regular turd-topping pizza. Unfortunately they can be few and far between. It has been two years since Stephen Poliakoff’s Joe’s Palace and Capturing Mary, and with the dramatist busy working on 1939, his first feature film for ten years, it may be a while before his next television play comes around.

Meanwhile exceptional political conspiracy thrillers seem to be on a three-year cycle. After 2003’s State of Play and 2006’s The State Within, I guess we’re due, although it doesn’t look like there’s one on the immediate horizon. Then again, if you rush these things the result is last year’s Burn Up and The Last Enemy, both of which went straight down the crapper because they were far more interested in ramming their big message down the audience’s throat rather than weaving it into a decent narrative. Still, to make up for it we had the marvellous adaptation of Little Dorrit and then Kenneth Branagh coming apart at the seams on screen in Wallander.

In the end there’s usually just enough good drama to stop each year being a total bust. Yet, sat on the top deck watching the rain hammer against the windows and odd bursts of lightning splitting the sky, I was trying to figure out what there had been that was half decent this year. With 2009 almost half over I couldn’t think of one damn thing, which was rather disappointing. Then the next night Occupation, Peter Bowker’s three-part Iraq war drama, pitched up on the television screen.

It wasn’t exactly perfect, especially coming on the heels of HBO’s Generation Kill, which had already shown us that “peace sucks a hairy arsehole” without ever having to resort to the standard television drama conventions that Occupation ticked off, especially when it came to James Nesbitt’s squadie falling for an Iraqi doctor. That in itself initially threatened to slide into soap opera territory. But as the story moved forward from the coalition forces invading Iraq in 2003 through to 2007 it became clear that the story was about how the post-war power vacuum made the country an even more dangerous place.

As the story jumped forward there was a nagging sense that this was perhaps originally meant to be a longer drama cut down to three hours. That said, the fragmented nature ultimately helped portray the confusion of a country riddled with corruption. With no easy answers, it all came down to the final scene to illustrate how the lives of the three soldiers had been irrevocably altered by their experiences. When Nesbitt’s character asks his estranged comrade, “What happened to you?” and he simply replies, “I went to Iraq.”

If a better drama appears on BBC1 in the last half of the year I’d be happy and very surprised. So far everything has been just too safe or stupid. Still, there’s always BBC2 and BBC4, which has become home to some really excellent arts and culture documentaries. As for BBC3, quite frankly I’d prefer to have someone shit in my mouth and sew it shut rather than watch any of it’s original programming. In the end, two out of four ain’t bad.


Post a Comment

<< Home