Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cast Away

After all that malarkey last Friday week I figured it was best to put my feet up and have a relaxing couple of days, then just keep my head down and carry on with the minimum of distractions once Monday rolled around. Midweek I even made time to pick up some over–the–counter Diphemhydramine Hydrochloride to help counter the continued bout of insomnia that has taken root and made things interesting.

According to a label on the box I was made aware the sleeping tablets “may cause drowsiness”. Unfortunately, this turned out to be the result rather than a warning, leading to a pretty wretched night where I was still unable to sleep but too dozy to get anything productive done. Still, that didn’t stop me leaving the computer on, opening iPlayer and watching the next two episodes of Outcasts, which I had happily ignored during their initial transmission. This wasn’t because I felt I had been too harsh in my initial assessment and decided the drama deserved another chance, but simply that I was desperate to find something that would help me fall asleep.

I still didn’t find any of the characters engaging, which wasn’t much of a surprise, and couldn’t really give a damn about anyone or any thing. But it was worth watching such appalling nonsense, when there was nothing better to do, in light of reading Stephen Gallagher’s insightful evaluation of where the BBC’s attitude to recent science fiction drama has gone hopelessly wrong. Obviously a bit more thought in the preparation of Outcasts wouldn’t have gone amiss to bolster the inadequate scripts, but story aside, the inherent problem with each episode appears to be the lack of a decent budget, limiting the sets, locations and speaking parts, and too short a filming schedule.

I was having a chat with a pal last weekend, and the conversation eventually wound around to the sheer ludicrousness of Outcasts – and this was before it was revealed that one of the more idiotic characters had brought his music to the planet on vinyl of all things, and was acting as some sort of resident DJ. Regarding the lack of characters – or at least speaking roles – I mentioned to him that in the first episode, where the dull President and less than competent Head of Security seemed to be doing everything, it was akin to putting out yet another hospital drama but this time having the hospital administrator and a resident porter perform the surgeries.

On top of that was the general lack of cutaways or different set-ups in a particular scene to either include additional visual information to clue the audience in on the situation. Even though it wouldn’t solve the inherent problems, surely the insertion of a single shot of an armed member of the expeditionary force standing on a gantry atop the main gate, watching Jamie Bamber’s character enter the settlement, help to say a lot more about the living conditions of the colonists than the inconsistent blather than followed. At the very least, a few more set–ups would have helped create the requisite sense of urgency, rather than stick with the practice of plonking the camera down in one spot, have the actors say what they have to say, and end up with the all too familiar quite slow and occasionally tedious footage that blights far to many British dramas.

Even if a lack of both time and money helped account for Outcasts’ piss–poor presentation, rather than just laying the blame at bad writing, it’s too late now. I’ve seen far more than enough and as the ratings declined with each successive episode – starting out with 4.4 million viewers and ending this week’s fourth episode down to 2.2 million, where it was comprehensively trounced by both the final episode of Big Fat Gypsy Weddings on Channel Four and The 2011 Brit Awards, televised on ITV1 – apparently so has everyone else. So I suppose it came as no surprise that on Wednesday The Guardian reported that after next Monday’s fifth episode, Outcasts is being shunted to a late–night slot on Sunday evenings for the remainder of the eight–part run.

While it looks like Danny Cohen, BBC1’s new controller, don’t want the show stinking up the schedule on his watch, it’s typical that drama controller, Ben Stephenson, shrugs off making a bad call by declaring:

“BBC1 and BBC drama support creative risk. Sometimes this means that talented people make shows that don’t engage enough of the audience. I have so much respect for any writer who has the nerve and confidence to create their own original world and serve it up to an audience.”

Those are fine words indeed, but wouldn’t a well thought out, “original world” be far preferable to one slapped together by a bunch of jerry–builders? I suspect the simple–minded “loyal, core audience” little Ben goes on to talk about shouldn’t hold out for a second series, although it appears that Elisabeth Murdoch’s Shine Limited, which bought Kudos back in late 2006, is trying to interest daddy Rupert’s News Corp on staging a possible buyout. Smeared onto a Sky channel like some homemade dirty protest to the HBO back catalogue bulking out Sky Atlantic’s schedule, surely Outcasts would only prove that in terms of quality drama there are times when the US and UK really are oceans apart.


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