Saturday 10 May 2014

The Return of the Penny Dreadful?

I resist melodrama and impossible coincidence.
I love British drama and British literature. They keep me in Britain. I’ll be retiring in a couple of years and I often think about where I’m going to live. Live theatre here and easy access to good television and literature that is neither too popular nor too literary make the UK an obvious choice.
But is there something more sinister creeping in at the moment?


I gave up on that a while ago. There was a time when it first came out and it was broadcast at 8.00 p.m. on a Thursday when I’d settle down with a glass of wine and a plate of oven chips and just enjoy it. The kids were in bed. It was almost the weekend. The plot lines were good. It was wholesome.
Now, though, I avoid it altogether. It’s just all too miserable. Even real life isn’t that bad. Or, maybe that’s the point? And even though I don’t like it, I know the misery is well crafted.


Goings on in Ambridge

An everyday tale of farming folk? An information programme for farmers? It’s all very well burning a major character in a house fire the day commercial television starts. The fall from the roof was dramatic and sad. Ruth’s almost affair was to be expected. John’s death was tragic. The gay kiss in the polytunnel was reassuring.
But an Archer jilting his bride at the altar, almost having a breakdown and his father turning particularly nasty? That’s more Eastenders than Archers, surely? 
And what’s happened to continuity? The Darryl plotline was never fully resolved. Ruth became pregnant and had a miscarriage in a flash and that line seems to have been dumped as well. And there’s something going on with Dan that doesn’t quite compute.
Come on BBC, you can do better than that.

The Shooting

British middle brow drama is the best, I’ve always considered, followed closely by Australian, American and lately French.
But, oh no, even Ramsey Street has to do an imitation of Albert Square and they mark episodes of  Neighbours as PG. There really was no need to go and shoot Kate. There are other ways of writing out actors.     

Mourning the best comedy

This is not my complaint but rather that of one of my students, a young man in his late twenties. “Nothing’s funny anymore,” he complains. “What matches Fool and Horses, My Family or Goodnight Sweetheart?”
He may have a point. There is still humour and comedy but it’s changed. It’s more brutal but possibly more honest.

Penny Dreadful?

Are we returning to those cheap melodramatic quick reads, a thrill a minute? Do we need to make our own lives look better by seeing misery and gore in all of our fiction?

Just a blip

Thankfully, we may have reason to believe that that is all it is. We still have good drama and good fiction. The regional, fringe and London theatres have much to offer. The small press is booming. There is still some good TV drama- Broadchurch, Black Mirror, Dr Who and of course the two hospital soaps, Casualty and Holby City. These are what they are and they do what they do very well. There are many others as well. And at the time of writing, there is actually more good material around than normal at this time of year.
Comedy makes a comeback in a gentler form: Trollied and The Café, for example.
I have much hope too because I am currently mentoring some very good writers. I have every faith in them. The Penny Dreadful will soon disappear again. One of my students has even started writing a sitcom set in a funeral parlour ….  

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