Tag Archives: British

Ch-Ch-Changes: Thoughts on January’s British TV Invasion

Ch-Ch-Changes: January’s British TV Invasion

January 19th, 2011

While television in general has become inundated with adaptations of British series, or shows about adaptations of British series, or shows which have been imported from Britain, the past few days have been particularly overwhelming for me. Having put off watching Showtime’s Shameless (a British series being adapted for American television) and Episodes (a show about a British series being adapted for American television) the week before, and then pairing them with a marathon of PBS’ Downton Abbey and Monday’s premieres of MTV’s Skins and SyFy’s Being Human, I gave myself what has to constitute an overdose of transatlantic television.

And, unsurprisingly, I ended up with quite a few things to say about it. The process of adaptation is hardly a consistent one, and its function in these various texts is wide-ranging: It is the subject of satire for Episodes, a topic of debate for Shameless, Skins and Being Human, and a complete non-starter (albeit not without a controversy of sorts, as I’ll get to in a moment) for Downton Abbey.

The response to these various shows has been diverse, but beyond the legitimate concern that the industry has become creatively bankrupt there lies a shifting understanding of change and how we respond to it. Do we want adaptations to be “true” to the original, or do we want them to change in order to find a distinct identity? What, precisely, makes a good adaptation, and does the degree to which a series changes from the original alter our critical focus beyond how we would consider original pilots? And, if it does, should it?

The following is my attempt at answering these questions.

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Filed under Being Human, Downton Abbey, Episodes, Shameless, Skins

Series Premiere: Merlin – “The Dragon’s Call”

MerlinTitle

“The Dragon’s Call”

June 21st, 2009

[Two episodes of the BBC/NBC co-production Merlin air tonight on NBC at 8pm EDT (“The Dragon’s Call” and “Valiant”), but the below review sticks to the pilot – really, I just didn’t have much interest in seeing another episode when the show’s formula had pretty much been set up already.]

I once wrote a paper on what I called the near unadaptability (not a word, but I’m okay with that) of the Arthurian Legend on film, at least based on the work of Sir Thomas Malory in writing Le Morte Darthur, considered the definitive version of the myth. Now, yes, Excalibur is considered to be a worthwhile film in and of itself, but as an adaptation it fails to capture those elements of Malory’s text which make it so distinctive: a unique code of honour, for example, that finds its conflict not between individuals or based on love triangles but in a code of ethics that remains foreign to those who haven’t studied the text intricately. By turning the conflict into one between individuals and not between their actions and this code, films tend to lose track of the fact that Malory is writing about the fall of an entire kingdom more than the fall of one man – despite containing heroism and capturing a spirit of adventure, the text is ultimately a tragic story of the powerlessness of a king to save his own people, a narrative that may never be properly put to film.

However, at the time, I hadn’t really considered the notion of a television adaptation of the material, which is strange considering my role as a critic. Generally, I treat any adaptation of the Arthurian Legend with great skepticism, knowing it has expectations too high to properly capture what drew me to write my thesis based on the material, and the BBC/NBC co-production Merlin is no exception to this role. In fact, presented as it was as a hip reimagining of the legend, finding Arthur and Merlin as teenagers in the origin of their complicated relationship, I had every reason to avoid the show like some sort of plague, writing it off as an attempt to treat this epic medieval romance as a superhero origin story.

But, as both a student of the Arthurian Legend and as a critic of television, it seems like I should offer my thoughts in order to fill in some gaps and try to explain how, in all honesty, this isn’t actually a terrible idea. Yes, it’s poorly executed and loses track of its purpose about fifteen times in the span of its pilot, but the relationship between Arthur and Merlin is actually a fairly interesting one, and if I were to ever suggest a way to take the epic scale of this story and turn it into a television show this would be a pretty strong pitch.

The resulting show, of course, is a hodgepodge of Lord of the Rings and Smallville, entirely missing the real potential in this particular period of their lives. However, the show does demonstrate the ways in which a television format may actually be the right way to tackle this material, just not quite with as many wacky hijinks as we see here.

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Series Premiere: Skins – “Tony” and “Cassie”

“Tony” and “Cassie”

Season One, Episodes 1 & 2

It’s not abnormal for British series to be imported to the states these days: in fact, Showtime’s recently wrapped Secret Diary of a Call Girl was one example, having aired its entire first season in Britain before it started airing in North America. This presents the problem that the series is readily accessible to those who want to find it when it starts airing on a weekly basis here, and thus plenty of people who know how things turn out.

With Skins, two seasons are done before the series has stated airing, but BBC America intends on airing them back to back leading into this fall. I decided to give the show a shot since I figured there is always a place in my television rotation for a show about teenagers doing teenage things. I’m extremely excited that we’re only a week away from the return of ABC Family’s Greek, and this promised to be an edgier alternative.

And it certainly is edgy, putting Gossip Girl to shame in its frank depiction of this particular age segment. More importantly, though, it does something that neither Greek nor Gossip Girl has accomplished, viewing these characters through a lens that is actually unique and focused on character as opposed to sheer exploitation or, in Greek’s case, slightly sugar-coated ensemble plotting. The first two episodes of Skins’ first season feel almost entirely different because they are: they’re stories about two very different people, about two very different types of life which exist in this world.

So while the show is certainly not perfect, there is a definite sense that there is something to be offered here, and that this diverse group of young students exists not to offer a picture of diversity but rather to guarantee an actual diversity in narrative perspectives in the episodes to come.

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