Generation Kill, FX
A Short Stay In Switzerland, BBC1
Gossip Girl, ITV2
Beverly Hills 90210, E4
The writers of 'The Wire' have put a bomb under the war genre with this gripping, intelligent series
Sunday 01 February 2009
Do we really need another decadent western drama about the invasion of Iraq?
Another desert mirage exploited for its queasy cinematographic beauty, another milk-fed graduate of one of the better drama schools shaving his head, practising press-ups for a week and using his finest voice-projection technique to scream military obscenities? With the final point being, you know, something about the brutalising effects of war? After Jarhead and Black Watch and The Mark of Cain and Three Kings, it seemed unlikely even the masterly creators of The Wire, David Simon and Ed Burns, could introduce something new. Just because you adored Vanity Fair, it doesn't mean you have to give all your loving to Pendennis too, right?
Wrong, because on the strength of the first episode Generation Kill is going to be superlative, less grandiloquent than Jarhead (there are no mystical horses capering beside burning oil wells), as acute as Black Watch but more sustained; more resigned and realistic in its military analysis than the hysterical, finger-pointing The Mark Of Cain. The great strengths of the Simon-Burns collaboration are all here: demotic speech is given dramatic, almost theatrical depth, without ever feeling stagey; it's intensely realistic in tone yet never becomes banal; and a dozen characters – more – are deftly kept simmering without boiling over.
Director Susanna White is better used to Dickens and Brontë which perhaps accounts for the fact that there's more jaw jaw than war war, an emphasis on character rather the mindless glory of explosions. Another reason it's not too Boys' Own is the character of the embedded reporter, our key into the story, our fellow civilian inside the tight-knit squad of marines. Appropriately enough, he's the image of erstwhile embed, hard man Ross Kemp – scared and baffled and trying hard as hell to hide it. As with The Wire, it has (according to Simon) been expressly written not for the average uninformed schmuck but for the people it portrays – every scene mentally tested on a jeering audience of marines. And as with The Wire, there's a "plant": one of the actors actually is the thing he seems to play. Can you guess which? I sure ain't telling.
Now to A Short Stay In Switzerland, a dramatisation of the true story of Dr Anne Turner who ended her life with brave and urgent action before she became incapacitated by degenerative brain disease. Screenwriter Frank McGuinness played it straight, letting the story's natural drama speak for itself. Alas, the drama stayed silent. Only Julie Walters' god-given gifts saved it from mawkish tedium, and even she could not bring to life the epic farewell scene in which she stroked goodbye to her cat.
When she arrived in Switzerland for her final appointment I thought both the drama and character might be reaching their natural conclusion (we were promised brevity in the title, after all). But then Walters looked at her moping children and delivered with huge chutzpah the line "Right, let's see Zurich!", a phrase guaranteed to cause dismay at the best of times, let alone during the final throes of a noble but misguided euthanasia drama. It was also unfortunate that, at the very moment she assured the Swiss clinician that she knew what the poison would do to her, Julie Walters flashed a look – sideways, dubious – that was pure Mrs Overall.
A pandemic of glossy teen dramas presently afflicts us, emanating from the United States in a sulphurous cloud. Gossip Girl depicts what cynical, cheap-rate scriptwriters imagine are the lives of privileged Manhattan teenagers. It is essentially a clothes catalogue come to life and given a voiceover of such relentless, childish inanity ("Would she see her again? Who knows. Sometimes our best friends are actually our worst enemies ...") that it makes Carrie's SATC musings sound like Confucius. The characters' balsa-wood emotional lives are so boring you start to look at it as you would a page in Vogue, with a sort of detached self-interest: could I wear those thigh-high socks? The vapid content seems designed to throw into focus the material items, from the set dressing to the actors' limbs. Inanimate things star in this deathly parable of consumerism. Needless to say, it is a huge success.
Beverly Hills 90210, the latest copycat, is a franchise resuscitated after 10 years off-screen. Like Gossip Girl, it will also make you green round the gills and bilious. There's a slightly higher kitsch value here, though, and Jessica Walter (Arrested Development) brings some fun, but it's still basically glassy-eyed social pornography, obsessed with looks, things, and money. Skins (E4) has a touch of the pestilence but generally, thank goodness, it's so scatty, bombastic, witty and hyperactive that you're too busy worrying about where the script is going to notice the clothes.
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Florida man sentenced to two-and-a-half years for having sex on the beach in front of a child
- 2 Autistic teenager beaten up by bullies makes them watch 20-minute video about autism
- 3 Nick Kyrgios calls former Olympian Dawn Fraser a 'blatant racist' after she tells Wimbledon star to 'go back where their parents came from'
- 4 World learns of app that shows you who unfriended you on Facebook, app promptly crashes
- 5 Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
Game of Thrones season 6: Daenerys actress Emilia Clarke says '50/50 chance' Jon Snow is alive
Chronixx interview: Reggae sensation on taking the opening spot at Glastonbury and calling Barack Obama a 'waste man'
Game of Thrones season 6: Director Jack Bender says showrunners 'communicate closely' with George RR Martin
Top Gear: Jeremy Clarkson 'can't front ITV motoring show' due to BBC contract clause
Amy Winehouse film: Mark Ronson praises 'respectful' movie as it scores highest ever UK opening for British documentary
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
Sickness and disability benefits could be reduced by £30 a week as part of £12bn welfare cuts