Monday 9th January 2012
My girlfriend and I were watching the predictable Liam Neeson thriller "Unknown" tonight. I don't want to ruin it for you, but the people who made it have beaten me to it and though I found the plot intriguing to begin with - a man has a car crash, loses some of his memory and then none of the people in his life seem to know who is he and he's been replaced by another man claiming to be him. And if the film was 15 minutes long you might not have time to work out the obvious reason for this. Let's just say if you've seen Total Recall nineteen times like I have, then this one shouldn't tax you too much. No, let's say some more (SPOILER ALERT) it's obvious Neeson is actually an assassin who has come to believe his own cover story due to a head injury, but surely when he gets his memory back, which he does when (and I have to grudgingly admire the audacity of the film makers) he gets hit on the head a second time, surely he will revert to being the person he actually is. Presumably not a very nice person who is happy to murder for money and who wouldn't give a fuck about sorting out the crime he has set in progress. Or has amnesia mixed with love changed him? He escapes with his new girlfriend and I can't help thinking that within a few days when he really recalls all of who is really is that she's going to found in a bag in the woods.
And I don't buy that January Jones is dumb enough to go back to try and defuse the bomb they've planted - certainly by knocking a hole in the wall and trying to do it by touch rather than sight. She says she doesn't want to leave evidence for a crime that no longer has any victim, but she won't be able to get the massive bomb out of the wall and she's smashed loads of holes in a bathroom wall so I think the authorities might spot it. I feel a bit sorry for January. She always gets cast as these beautiful, but emotionally cold and broken characters. And she's really good at it. If I was going out with her I'd be a bit worried she was a sleeper agent assassin. But then again,if I was going out with her I think I'd get over that and not worry about it too much.
But Jesus Christ, I don't want to get too pedantic, because look at what happens if you do. The police cars were the wrong colour and also the whole premise of the film was fucking ridiculous!
We watched the first few minutes, but then my girlfriend had to do something else so we paused the DVD and I watched some telly. I chanced across "The Royal Bodyguard", with David Jason, a show that was so breathtakingly badly put together that I wondered if it was a sophisticated satire of television or the BBC commissioning process. To say that it seemed like something that had been put together for CBBC would be an insult to the fantastic children's comedy department whose "Horrible Histories" and "Sorry, I've Got No Head" are two of the best sketch shows of the century (including adult ones). I know there's a taste for retro-70s style broad comedy and slapstick at the moment, but surely no one can still enjoy the man thinking he's escaping and walking into the broom cupboard or climbing into air vents to get out of imprisonment and ending up coming out a vent that's in the same room. Or if you're going to do this stuff it has to be a lot more knowing. It was like an episode of Extras where they didn't bother showing any of the behind the scenes stuff and just made the sitcom, without any explanation that they were taking the piss. Though my problem with the second series of Extras (apart from the fact that it was no longer about extras) was that a guy got a script commissioned by the BBC, but it got completely changed and ruined but which he was still allowed to star in. This is not what would have happened. They should have taken his script and then insisted on a big star name playing the main role, who was totally unsuited to this part, but who they imagined would get people watching anyway. That's what seems to have happened here. There's a Woody Allen style weirdness to seeing Jason trying to play this leading man and despite being great at falling through a bar, he is no Clouseau or even a Mr Bean and it all feels laboured and odd. I am a big fan of his work, but I am surprised that this is the show that he wanted to make his comeback in and it feels a bit cruel to have cast him in this role. Give him a meaty part with some drama where he's allowed to be an old man.
Professionally I found it quite fascinating to watch. I certainly wouldn't like to be in the position to choose which shows went on TV and which didn't because so many factors come into play when you film a script. But miscasting of star names or attempts to emulate another successful show (I think this programme suffered both from trying to follow the success of Miranda and of thinking having David Jason would be enough) is a policy that always seems destined to failure. The big hit shows are usually (not always I admit) doing something different and original and are often performed by people you've never heard of before. Or certainly people who've been cast because they'll be good in it rather than cast because they will help get the green light for the project. The difficult job is being able to spot the future hits. If you read the script for the Office you'd be hard-pressed to see it as the sitcom of the decade. It could easily look like a bloke doing a lot of embarrassing jokes. But the performances (which of course were intended by the writers) made it something special.
I still await news on my own TV project and probably mildly slagging off the BBC is not going to help me too much. It's hard to know sometimes if rejection is a positive or a negative thing when you see some of the projects that make it to air. Are my own ideas worse than these or are the people making the decisions not tuned in?
I posted comments on Twitter and some people were cross with me, thinking I was jealous or bitter. Most of the time I am neither. I am fascinated and bamboozled sometimes and I hope that through persistence I will get lucky and have another shot at having one of my scripts on telly (I just want to be on telly). But it's really hard to make a good show and you never know what is going to capture the public imagination. As a writer it's important to study other shows and try and work out where they go right and wrong. It's difficult not to try and copy the things that went right, but that's actually not the way forward.
The next show Mrs Brown's Boys has divided opinion and from what I saw tonight it's not my cup of tea, but at least in that case I could start to see what people were going for and suspected that if you watched a few of them you'd just throw yourself into the world and try to enjoy it. Though it just seemed like the sitcom Bread turned into a cartoon to me. But that's just an opinion and I am not someone who thinks that all comedy or TV should only suit my own tastes, even if I am occasionally exasperated by what other people find funny (aren't we all). Some people have compared "Time Gentlemen Please" to Mrs Brown's Boys and there is some similarity in style and performance and we did write that as a deliberate nose thumb to the comedy of reality which we were already bored of by then. I think TGP was a bit more subtle and had more writing behind it, but as always with me, ten years or so ahead or behind of its time. I don't know which.
Mrs Brown's Boys would have to be considered a success whatever my personal opinions of it and I think it does succeed on its own parameters. The Royal Bodyguard though doesn't really work in the same way. Yet if you were presented with the two ideas and had to choose which one to make, I bet you'd have bet on Jason too.
Those executives sure do have a hard job and are under-appreciated and the true heroes of television (please commission my script - there's a part for Jason).
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