Last night's viewing - Blackout, BBC1; Jamie's Summer Food Rave Up, Channel 4
Arifa Akbar is literary editor of The Independent and i newspapers. She has worked at The Independent since 2001 as a news reporter and arts correspondent before joining the books desk in 2009. She was a judge for the Orwell Prize for books 2013, and the Fiction Uncovered Prize 2014.
Tuesday 03 July 2012
You might have thought that little could go wrong in a drama series starring the wonderfully intense Chistopher Eccleston and the equally wonderful Dervla Kirwan – he as a craggy-faced councillor with a drink habit and she as has his fulminating wife. But things went skew-whiff pretty quickly in the first episode of Blackout. Some of the skewing was intentional.
The opening scene had Eccleston standing on top of a tall building in a city that looked more like a graphic comic creation of a postmodern city than the Northern town it was supposed to be. The camera then lurched to the next scene and the next, splicing disparate, dreamy moments together and framing the action from odd angles – his daughter performing ballet on a school stage, Eccleston glugging liquor out of the bottle, close-up shots of his craggy face, more glugging...
The camera direction clearly had high artistic ambitions but ended up looking like a cheap pastiche of Blade Runner, its hyper-stylisation clanging against the social realism of the subject matter: the story revolved around a councillor's back-alley crime followed up by alcoholic blackout, and the ensuing drama when a moment of drunken heroism later on led him to become city mayor.
But the drama's far bigger failures lay in its flimsy script and cardboard characterisation. The graphic comic effect bled into both these elements with short, cartoon-style scenes that told rather than showed, clichéd exchanges and clichéd characters (beautiful prostitute who witnesses the crime; Eccleston's corridor sex with beautiful prostitute; beautiful prostitute's policeman ex-husband). As these broad-brush characters popped up, you began to guess the next step, and to see the characters as little more than plot devices talking in slogan statements.
Eccleston's character was a case in point. As a drunk, he was shown knocking it back with a vengeance: before and after the ballet, on the school run, at a seedy nightclub. Just in case the visuals didn't ram it home, Kirwan told him he was a drunk, then he told a nurse "I'm a drunk", then he repeated it to the media pack, after he became a local hero "I'm a drunk." All his decisions had clichéd bases – he ran towards a bullet meant for someone else because he hated himself and not because he's heroic; he stood for major to atone for his crime. You can see how Blackout's creators have put flecks of Macbeth, and even The Killing in the mix, with its blend of political drama, morality play and crime thriller, but none of it works.
Eccleston and Dirwan tried to raise the game but there was little they could do other than flaring their nostrils for added intensity, and even that began to looked hammed up. As a pyjama-clad Eccleston gurned and told a hospital nurse, "I'm a drunk", he began to look tragically like Wallace (of Gromit fame). This is more for comic-book fans than those seeking a substitute for The Hour.
It never rains in Jamie Oliver's world. The sun certainly shone in Jamie's Summer Food Rave Up, an al fresco cookery show (it's backdrop was a music festival so shots of Guillemots and Soul II Soul on stage), and with appearances by Jazzy B (recounting his favourite outdoor cooking moment – in Antigua cooking freshly caught fish on the beach) and Levi Roots (who showcased his jerk chicken recipe). However much you resent Oliver for his irritating Jamie-isms ("this is proper!" he kept exclaiming as he ate) and the subliminal "lovely lifestyle" messages his shows can convey (the cooking was combined with shots of beautiful people dancing and eating ) the show was – and I say this grudgingly – very watchable. Of course, it's a great idea, to reel in that "lost" group to cooking: twentysomething festival-going hipsters. It works, and he rustles up some mean dishes, from a fish on a stick to jalapeño flatbread made in five minutes.
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