TELEVISION / Virtually real in some roundabout way

THE WORLD of Wild Palms (BBC 2) is the World of Interiors. The script for this dystopian fantasy - it is set in the LA of 2007 - is self-consciously high-toned (every now and then you get an allusion to Dante or Yeats), but these cultural objects sit in the series like a pricy bit of architectural salvage in a very expensive living room. They are no more indicative of intellect or spirituality than a quattrocento pew-carving or a Cambodian temple mask would be in the commissioned tastefulness of a porn star's bedroom.

The result is certainly stylish, rich even, in its display of wealth, but it isn't rich in the way a television drama should be, in fruitful connections and narrative depth. The story, such as it is, concerns a patent lawyer, Harry Wyckoff (James Belushi), whose bad dreams start to spill out into waking life. Weirdness abounds: there are scenes of stylised violence in the streets ('Like a Robert Longo painting,' the script notes, popping down another cultural knick-knack on the mantelpiece) and everywhere he goes Harry encounters evidence of the secretive Wild Palms group, a blend of synthetic religion (Symbiotics) and conspiratorial capitalism (they have plans to corner the market in broadcast virtual reality). Rival groups called the Fathers and the Friends appear to have been abducting children for some unrevealed purpose.

If you like this sort of thing (and lots of people do, as the cult following for Twin Peaks and The Prisoner demonstrate), then this is top-dollar stuff, beautifully shot by Oliver Stone and sparing no expense in its pursuit of the surreal image (Harry's repeated dream is of a rhino, a baleful beast which actually lumbers through his ranch-style home at one point). There are signs, too, when the script isn't straining to pose elegantly, that Bruce Wagner is capable of something really sharp and funny - the scenes between Harry and his wife have a vitality which is backed up by Belushi's relaxed, captivating performance. When he's on screen you can almost believe that this stuff might really matter in some way, might have emotional consequences. For most of the time, though, the fear and dread is the Formica version. Wild Palms suffers from the problem of all fantasy fiction - you keep thinking that there's no big deal in doing card-tricks with a rigged deck.

Barry Levinson's Homicide (C 4), another foray into television by a Hollywood director, was playing with a proper pack, dog-eared and greasy perhaps, but the real thing. In its way it's even more grandly self-conscious than Wild Palms, filming the stories of a group of Baltimore Homicide Police with hand-held cameras and a roaming, over-the-shoulder style which makes you think you're in the hands of an unusually privileged news cameraman (in one strangely exhilarating scene you actually jostle past the television crews to go into the murder scene, unchallenged by the uniformed officers holding everyone else back). The final result isn't even documentary - it's a rough-cut for a low-budget documentary, with jump-edits, unbalanced sound and inconsequential leaps from scene to scene.

At first this is hard work but the terrific script helps a lot. It keeps step with the visual style, moving from rambling off-duty conversations (bar-room arguments about movies and Lincoln's assassination) to cynical one-liners ('Nobody stays fat down there,' says a black gravedigger explaining why an exhumed body doesn't look the same as a detective's snapshot). It's literary, too, at times - 'Frankly I liked the Jamaican story better,' says a dyspeptic detective called Munch to a suspect who has just changed his alibi. 'It had a kind of Elmore Leonard quality to it.' This was a little wink to the audience because Levinson's style - overlapping investigations, and a mixture of failure, luck and skill in the way they're pursued - owed more than a little to Leonard's style of police procedural. Wild Palms based its story on the allure of virtual reality; Levinson shows you how close you can get without complicated equipment.

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'