Saturday, November 29, 2008

Survivors BBC New Drama

So, I’m thinking that maybe some BBC think-tank studying successful US television shows (like LOST with its diverse cast of strangers thrown together in a survival situation) came up with the thought, “Hey, if we copy that kind of format but with shit production values we might achieve similar success but with shit production values.” Except rather than come up with an original take on the ‘group of strangers thrown together’ scenario they just borrowed an old idea (one they conveniently already owned) and justified the lack of imagination on the grounds that we’re all a bit worried about flu these days.

I know influenza in its various forms is a real concern, but a person dying of flu doesn’t really make great television. “Oh no, she sneezed again!” “Shit, we’ve run out of tissues!” “Oh look, another person has died in their bed!” And that’s it. That’s as exciting as it gets. Most people dying from flu really would expire in their beds. The only real concern being if their mattresses were capable of soaking up the gallons of Lemsip released by their bladders post mortem.

For this reason, and plenty of others, having a feature length first episode (like that!) was a waste of time as the narrative could, and should, have started 40 minutes later. Instead we get uninspiring stock characters telling us (rarely are we shown) about the global spread of lots of people dying in their beds, with very little drama occurring before the real story starts when Julie Graham wakes up in bed. It took Danny Boyle about five minutes to arrive at the same point in 28 Days Later with a tense prologue that fired us straight into the story. A post-apocalyptic drama can be many things, but boring? Now that’s a first.

Poor storytelling. Poor casting. Poor acting. Even poor music. All represented on our screens by many of the same tired worn out TV actors who must all be part of some secret actors collective blackmailing the BBC board for constant work. In their defence, they didn't have much to work with. The characters were so badly drawn they felt like they'd been written by a Parkinson’s sufferer perched on a washing machine on spin dry. All the characters, bar none, seem remarkably okay about the fact that EVERYONE THEY KNOW IS DEAD yet just three days previously EVERYONE THEY KNEW WAS ALIVE. Surely people wouldn't behave like that if this really did happen? I don’t believe they would. And that’s the problem. I just didn’t believe the characters. I didn't believe in their actions or lack of reaction. They didn’t feel like real people, they felt like they were created by someone who lives, not in the real world, but in a world that exists in front of a television set. These characters weren’t born out of life experience and imagination, they were born of a hundred other dramas before them. They’re reflections of reflections.

The pace and timing felt like it was written under the instruction to be absolutely clear about absolutely everything just in case not absolutely everyone understands absolutely everything. It's the drama of sheep on Valium, and in complete contrast to those US shows that probably inspired this remake. Plot-wise there were just so many stupid and annoying moments, from the ridiculous mosque scene to the utterly pointless dog trapped in a car scene.

Why make a point of showing us this lonely little boy hearing a dog barking and then cutting to show us that barking dog trapped inside a car, but then NOT SAVING THE DOG YOU BASTARDS! They even went so far as to zoom in close on the boy’s ear just as we heard the dog barking >>okay okay we get it! The boy has heard the dog barking!<<  Everything about that scene suggested a set up for the boy to discover the dog. But he didn’t, and the dog didn’t feature again. That’s just plain bad filmmaking (and also not very nice for the poor widdle doggie) plus it was such a great opportunity to inject some much needed sentiment and have the boy rescue the dog and them team up together for the rest of the series. The dog would have been a much better companion for the boy than his stupid football, and their growing relationship could have contributed to future storylines, plus the dog could have been used as a device to discover other survivors rather than relying on coincidence: there was a little too much bumping into each other on deserted motorways for my liking.

Oh, and to top it off, it’s got no zombies. Not one zombie. Rubbish. I blame 28 Days Later. And 28 Weeks Later. And now Dead Set. In fact, I blame me for watching those films. Because I sat through Survivors constantly waiting for the zombies to appear, for no other reason than they are supposed to appear in a drama that looks like this. Empty streets, empty shops, abandoned cars, no electricity, no running water, no television… because we all know who lives in the land of the empty streets and no electricity, right? Right! ZOMBIES! Running really fast, foaming blood at the mouth with bulging white eyes. “Arrgghh! Run! It’s the zombies!” But even though I knew it wasn’t a zombie film, I still couldn’t stop thinking about bloody zombies.

It’s like when you alight at a tube station and step onto the elevator that’s undergoing maintenance and isn’t working and your feet and head have a mild communication problem. Your brain’s thinking, “Cool. This is where we get to float to the top.” But your feet are shouting, “Walk! Walk! Walk! It’s not working!” Well that’s how I felt throughout much of Survivors, with my zombie motor neurons kicking in whenever someone entered a deserted building, “RUN! There’s gonna be zombies in there!” Or when someone went into a deserted shop, “RUN! There’s gonna be zombies in there!” Or when anyone approached a body on the floor, “RUN! It’s a zombie you idiot!” But nothing would happen. Nothing frightening. Nothing scary. In fact nothing even mildly interesting, which might be scary from a commissioning point of view but certainly not from where I was sitting.

Mind you, a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by the same actors on UK television playing stereotypical characters that say stupid things and don’t care about the fact that everyone is dead is extremely scary. Maybe that’s where the horror lies and I'm just coming at it from the wrong angle?

No comments: