Sunday, 12 April 2009

We waited ten years for this; we'd have happily waited a couple more months while you finished it.

This weekend, Dave showed three new episodes of Red Dwarf (for which this post obviously contains spoilers). I say 'new'; it actually felt a bit like a pastiche of Red Dwarf. I know the show has always had running gags and returning monsters and so forth, but the plot was just Better Than Life and Queeg pasted into Back To Reality, and even several of the characters' lines were almost completely recycled. I spotted lines paraphrased only slightly from Psirens and Out Of Time and jokes (excluding running gags) lifted wholesale from Marooned, Rimmerworld, Back To Reality, Future Echoes and Demons and Angels. It was almost like watching the US pilot of The Office, or a piece of fan-fiction. (Before you ask, yes, I did think Polymorph II: Emohawk was a bit naff.) It's pandering to fans, which is always a mistake.

I have no idea what to think about this. The first episode I didn't think was very good at all, but the second I actually rather liked (despite plot misgivings) and the third was pretty good also. My biggest criticism is that, because of the way the plot was constructed and because I went in with (I think sensibly) low expectations, by the time I realised I was watching something that was actually quite good, it was practically over. Had this special been done maybe after series six then I'd have gone in with high expectations and been thinking 'how are they going to explain this?' rather than 'oh, God, what?' (although then I'd have been slightly disappointed). The tension is diminished when I don't really expect it to resolve sensibly.

Overall, I thought it was a basically pretty good show. Not really 'Red Dwarf' as I understand it, but it can't be that without Rob Grant. That said, there are a number of things in the script that grated with me, including continuity errors, nonsense, plot holes, and worst of all, one major break with character. On top of that, the whole thing just wasn't as funny as Red Dwarf should be, and some sequences were utterly dreadful. It would have really benefited from a couple more drafts, preferably including a fresh pair of eyes to rein in some of Naylor's worst excesses, and it would have been far better off presented as one long feature — not least because I'm told ratings plunged from more than 2m to less than 1m literally overnight after part one. For the sake of a couple of writers for a couple of months, this show was crippled and came across as unfinished. Artistically, that's tragic, and I'm not sure it was even wise commercially: the ratings drop after part one must have hurt Dave, and I'm sure they'd have saved money in excised SFX follies anyway.

Hopefully if this is the lead-in to a new series then these mistakes will be learned from. If not, then it's a better swansong than Only The Good.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

I don't like The Wire

There. I said it. I know everyone loves it. I know I have friends who evangelise it constantly. I know people who I respect and admire love it. But no, I don't like it at all. And not only that, but loads of people told me it was great and I should watch it, and when I did, it turned out to be a soap! What's wrong with people? How do they not get that I don't like soaps? If they'd just said 'it's a soap about police and drug dealers' then I wouldn't have had to spend about eight hours figuring it out for myself.

That's not to say it's bad. Far from it — clearly the production values are very high and I have reason to believe it's terribly realistic and generally a better portrayal of drugs gangs than viewers are used to. I get all that. But there is a reason why documentaries don't last sixty hours, and that reason is that it's mind-numbingly tedious. And I get that one of the show's aims is to display the volume of bureaucracy that the police face if they want to actually get anything done, but bureaucracy isn't quite as entertaining as The Wire seems to think it is. That's why Catch-22 is not simply a detailed account of all the various rules and regulations relating to combat pilots. That book exists, presumably: I expect it's given to combat pilots for reference purposes. It's so far failed to capture the public's imagination like Catch-22, and I put it to you that's the same reason that The Wire was never big news.

The bottom line, to me, is that The Wire is not entertaining. It's terribly worthy and gritty and all of that stuff, but it's also very, very dull. Nothing at all ever happens in it. I watched the entire first series, 13 hours of television, and I think I could safely summarise every major plot development inside one minute. Compare that to Dexter, 24, The West Wing or Murder One — loads of stuff happens in those shows and they're shorter. After 45 minutes of Dexter I find myself itching to see the next episode. After 45 minutes of The Wire I find myself struggling to pay attention to the last 15.

And part of me feels that I ought to watch it anyway. Sure, it's not entertaining, but maybe I'd like to think I'm the kind of person who can appreciate its other qualities rather than just looking for instant gratification from sitcoms. But actually, no. I'm not that guy and if being that guy means watching The Wire then I'm glad I'm not, because he's a pretentious snob. Okay, so I could watch the remaining four seasons of The Wire, or, I could watch 47 hours of documentaries and learn more things on more subjects and be entertained. There's no reasonable goal I can think of that can be best achieved by watching The Wire.

The Wire belongs in some kind of a gallery where I can feel happy that it exists while otherwise entirely ignoring it. It doesn't belong on TV. It's too boring for TV. Too relentlessly, utterly boring.