Friday, 22 December 2017

The good, the bad, and the ugly

Around this time of year I usually have a moan about something I've seen on TV, usually Sherlock, but as thankfully that's unlikely to ever annoy me again I thought that this year I'd bang on about the best, the worst and the most entertainingly daft things I've seen this year.

First, the good: Twin Peaks, Season 3, Episode 8, Gotta Light. When I first heard that Twin Peaks was being revived I wasn't too enthused despite the fact that the original makers were behind the endeavour. I loved the show during its original run, but then again, thinking back, I struggled to work out why.

I enjoyed the weird backward-talking dancing dwarf side of it and I liked the murder mystery element. The optimistic Coop and the folksy Truman are probably my favourite cop double-act, ably backed up by mystical Hawk, goofy Andy and even goofier Lucy. Other characters such as Leland, Ben, Norma, Denise and the Log Lady were superb, Bob will always be the scariest character ever to appear on screen, and things like the Invitation to Love soap in a soap and Josie getting turned into a doorknob are still memorable. Then there's the other stuff.

There's the endless teen angst. There's the filler material like little Nicky, James's noir exploit, and Nadine becoming superhuman. There's the theme tune blurting out ten times an episode. There's James singing, Audrey dancing, Bobby being cool. . . The list of annoying scenes and sub-plots and characters is longer than anything else I like, so whether a return would work depended on the balance between the soap-opera, the murder mystery, and the surreal. To my surprise the return got that balance right. It even included James singing, Audrey dancing and Bobby being cool and made them all work.

Someone once said that revivals of once-popular shows should give viewers what they need rather than what they want. Most shows try to do the latter and they usually fail because no two fans of anything can ever agree about what they want. Twin Peaks gave me what I needed, which was something that had little to do with Twin Peaks and more to do with a retrospective look back at the highlights of David Lynch's film career.

Episode 8, Gotta Light, was the thing I needed the most. I hadn't considered it before seeing that episode, but a sequel to Eraserhead was something that was missing from my life. It was an hour of mainly silent, black and white surreal imagery of scruffy blokes shuffling around in search of a light interspersed with the first atom bomb, the giant floating in a music hall and the convenience store mentioned in passing by the one-armed man twenty-eight years ago. Nothing else I've seen this year, or perhaps any year, was as inspired or as perfect.

In essence it was a Bob origin story, but unlike every other origin story I've ever watched in which explaining the motivations and forces that create a memorable character only go to diminish the character, this origin tale worked. Although that could be because I missed seeing Bob's face in the pile of goo, so I ended up watching it three times before I even realized it was a Bob origin story. This was pure story-telling that worked on an emotional level without any consideration given to character, plot or any of the usual techniques. But before I get too pretentious in trying to explain why I liked it I'll just say: this is the water and this is the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes and the dark within.


If quoting those lines didn't send you to sleep, I'll move on to the bad: Safe House, season 2, episode 4. IMDB's rating for this episode is 3.6. This is very low. It's also too high.

Safe House has an odd history. Season 1 starred Christopher Eccleston as a maverick cop who left the police under a cloud after an undisclosed incident and who now battles the demons of the past while trying to single-handedly solve an old crime and run a safe house with his wife. It was entertaining and ended on a cliffhanger that was interesting enough to make me watch season 2.

It was then that the bad news broke. After a falling-out behind the scenes the cast, production crew and location were replaced, so series 2 ignored the cliffhanger and started a new story. This one concerned another maverick cop who left the police under a cloud after an undisclosed incident and who now battles the demons of the past while trying to single-handedly solve an old crime and run a safe house with his wife.

The first three episodes were formulaic, but watchable. The cop is the only one who believes that the serial killer known as the Crow, who is behind bars, had a partner in crime and when the killings restart he sets out to find him. He's blocked by his ex-boss who doesn't want the truth to come out, while he tries to find the kidnapped victim before she's killed and at the same time keep other potential targets safe. Everything was set for a final episode that revealed all. That didn't happen, and although I'd normally applaud any show that confounds expectations, the ending was just as bizarre as Gotta Light, but not in a good way.

First the episode took the novel approach of ignoring everyone and all their plot strands from the first three episodes. The kidnap victim, the incestuous daughter, the dodgy bloke from the village, all the suspects, the controlling ex-boss, the prisoner were all absent. In addition to their sub-plots being left unresolved, we didn't find out why the Crow's son was recreating the crime scenes in his bedroom, or why the Crow set up tents in his victim's living-rooms, or even why he was called the Crow. Instead the episode concentrated on the big reveal that the actor Jason Watkins was the real Crow, which every viewer would have figured out before the titles rolled in episode 1 as Jason Watkins is always the killer.

The revelation itself was strange. Jason is in the safe house as the cop fears he'll be the Crow's next victim and nobody suspects that he is, in fact, the Crow. Jason makes a fatal error in packing the Crow's trademark balaclava in his overnight bag. His son gets drunk and spills wine on his jumper and Jason suggests he gets a clean jumper out of the overnight bag. The son opens up the bag and discovers the balaclava. He's seen the scene in Line of Duty where Jason Watkins pulls a balaclava out of an overnight bag and astounds the viewers with the shock revelation that he's Balaclava Man, so he wanders off into the night and isn’t seen again. Jason realizes he's been rumbled, so he restages the balaclava scene from Line of Duty and attacks the cop.

Jason is fat, short and middle-aged. The cop is a macho hardcase who in the previous episode chased after a bus for ten miles and arrived before it without getting out of breath. Jason easily overcomes the cop and ties him to a chair. He reveals that his original killing spree was to get revenge against the men who had affairs with his wife and he returned to serial-killing because he was annoyed that his son had to work in Manchester. Then he kidnaps the wife and despite having got away with the perfect crime, he leaves the cop alive to ponder what's so terrible about Manchester.

The cop can't figure it out, but thirty seconds later he escapes. Unfortunately he's too slow to stop Jason driving off with her. He chases around a bit and can't find him, but obligingly Jason returns and parks on the beach. The wife isn't with him, so the cop demands to know where she is. Jason laughs, so the cop tries to drown him. Then the police arrive and save him. They ignore the cop's serious assault on a suspect and arrest Jason, leaving the cop to fall to his knees in the surf and curse the sky. Roll credits.

I can only assume something went wrong during filming as none of this made sense. Perhaps it was paying homage to the ending to Seven, but then again we don't know what happened to the wife, or the son, or how the Crow persuaded someone to join him on his killing spree, or, basically, why anyone did any of the things they did. In Gotta Light I didn't need to know if the girl at the end was Sarah Palmer or what Laura Palmer's face in the orb implied about the nature of time and destiny, but here I needed answers, although as nobody behaved in a way that any human being has ever behaved it was hard to care. Which brings me to my next choice, the ugly. . . .


The Loch, season 1, episode 4. This series is set in the Scottish town of Fort Augustus at one end of Loch Ness where a serial killer is on the loose. Its two leads were in Breaking Bad and Happy Valley, so it was reasonable to assume this would be a quality production, and yet it managed to have a dafter solution to the mystery than Safe House's killing spree due to a son's relocation to Manchester. Here a doting mother fears her eldest son will go bad like her husband did, so she drugs the younger son and keeps him comatose in bed for years while passing her twenty-something son off as the teenage good son. This cunning plan fails when the good son wakes up and roams around and the bad son kills lots of people. Unlike Safe House this was so daft it was a lot of fun.

The series would make a good drinking game, but only for alcoholics as there are so many things to count. There's the number of times the cop finds clues. This is amusing because everyone reckons she's incompetent as her previous greatest achievement was finding a missing blow-up Nessie, but despite that somehow she blunders across every single vital clue, all of which gathers her no recognition. Then there's the times her daughter is so annoying you want the killer to get her next, or the times when the supposedly brilliant psychologist is kicked off the case for incorrectly identifying someone as the killer, but carries on investigating only to get it wrong again. Best of all, there's the times that people behave in ways that nobody would ever behave.

I can only assume that the makers of the show had never encountered a member of the human race before as nobody in a small Scottish town that has never had any serious crime before is concerned about a killer being on the loose. Children are allowed out at night to roam around in the dark. Teenagers are nearly killed and don't tell anyone. At one stage there's a mass killing by a school kid who tries to gun down everyone in his class during a day trip. Nobody notices the kid wandering around with a massive rifle strapped to his back and afterwards all the dead bodies generates absolutely no reaction by anyone. It ought to be headline news around the world, but it gets dismissed in a few lines of dialogue in which one person asks another whether they'd heard about the shootings and the other says 'Aye'.

Then there's all the random weird stuff. There's a creepy teacher with his mysterious locked room that interests nobody until the final episode. There's the woman whose child gets impregnated by the even creepier homophobic bible-thumping doctor, so she locks the kid in her bedroom and spends the next six months with a cushion up her jumper pretending she's pregnant so she can pass the baby off as her own. She even goes for phantom check-ups with the creepy doctor. There's the only gay in the village who gets his brains dragged out through his nostrils for no reason that's ever explained. There's the Nessie tour guide who can't bring himself to tell his wife his dark secret, which is that he doesn't believe in Nessie. . .

I started finding all this nonsense amusing in episode 4. There's a scene where two actors have an altercation by the canal and I recognized the location. I've been to Fort Augustus a few times and last year I'd taken the dog for a walk by that canal. He'd started to fall back, so I tugged him only to find he'd taken a walking dump leaving a trail of pellets over the last twenty feet, and all in front of a row of foreign tourists eating their lunch. So I couldn't take the dramatic scene seriously knowing that the actors were standing on the very spot where my dog did a particularly sticky poo.

From then on I found it hard to stop smiling, and episode 4 turned out to be a classic filler episode in which a new character arrives in town and then departs for no good reason beyond the need to pad the show out to six episodes. This new character is watching the TV when he sees his old serial-killing partner being interviewed by a news reporter about the mayhem in town. He deduces that the partner has got a new identity and has now returned to serial-killing, so he tries to join him on his latest exploit. The partner explains that he's a red herring, but the bloke's not convinced and he spends the episode trying to prove he's still got what it takes to be a mass murderer by gibbering inanely and comically hiding in the shadows trying to find someone to kill.

It ends with a great scene where he decides to kill the cop's husband, who has gone walking in the hills. The bloke follows him across several miles of the kind of Scottish bog that sucks your boots off, all without being noticed. Then, when he's sneaked up on his victim, he coughs to alert him before he stabs him. An altercation ensues and things look bad for the husband, but the cop then arrives on the scene. Curiously in every other scene in the show she's wearing impractical pixie boots, but luckily she's suddenly wearing wellies. She ignores her husband, who is bleeding to death in a puddle, while she and the bloke discuss the plot at length. Then she reads him his rights, marches him over several miles of bog, gets him into a police car, stands around until it's getting dark, and then reacts in horror when seemingly for the first time she sees her half-dead husband being stretchered into an ambulance. The husband gasps that he doesn't reckon he'll die, so she shrugs and wanders off, presumably so she can get changed back into her pixie boots for the next scene.

As I said, never once does anyone behave like a real person does, and this show is all the better for it. Roll on season 2, I hope, and roll on season 4 of Twin Peaks, but, please, no more Safe House.

No comments: