azdak: Face of Klimt's Music II (Default)
posted by [personal profile] azdak at 03:16pm on 30/12/2009 under
We got a lot of DVDs with our Christmas loot this year - and blessings be upon the Amazon Customer Support people who, on discovering on December 22nd that the parcel had gone astray, packed up a replacement lot and got it out to us by the 24th, thereby doubling the number of presenets under the tree - and the children have accordingly been glued to the telly screen for hours at a time. They asked for vast numbers of episodes of Gossip Girl and Skins, neither of whch I'd heard of, and both of which I've only seen out of the corner of my eye on my way through the sitting room. I can say with some confidence, however, that you'd be unlikely to find two series about teenagers that summed up more acutely the difference between US and UK TV. Gossip Girl is set in some fantasy version of hi society (it's not meant to be a fantasy, but it clearly bears as much relationship to real high society as a Ferrero Rocher chocolate ad bears to the job of being an ambassador). Everyone is phenonemenally rich and ridiculously beautiful, in a plastic surgery sort of way, and their lives and interactions are structured by the conventions of the genre American High School. It is so glossy it makes the whole room gleam. Skins, by contrast, is shot in the kind of British Grot-O-Vision used to such effect on The Professionals, and is about spots and drugs and desperately awkwards sex, and being a loser and getting off your head and throwing up at parties. It uses non-realistic devices to tell the story - someone bursts into song in the gents' toilet, with two strangers pissing into the urinals in the background - and I think you have to actually be a teenager to understand what is going on half the time.

The adults got Spooks and Ashes to Ashes (yes, we are faithful Kudos consumers). I've only seen half an episode of Spooks, but Ashes to Ashes is great, and I have conceived a dark anger in my heart against the Life on Mars slashers, who slagged it off so badly when it first aired that I didn't bother to order it last year. It was only when friends from England - who are not fannish - happened to mention that it was better than LoM that I decided to risk buying it. And you know what? It is better. It's more gripping and it's more interesting and the main characters are more developed. I liked LoM, but I got a bit fed up by the end at the way the most intriguing part of the story - what the hell has actually happened to Sam? - just went over the same old ground, over and over again. I disliked the way loose ends, like his girlfriend, weren't tied up, and the Crime of the Week plots were desperately thin. I've also found myself unable to rewatch it - though I have tried on occasion - because once the central mystery had been cleared up, the actual episodes were just boring. Ashes to Ashes solves all that. Because Alex knows that this is all a fantasy, they don't waste time on half-cocked what's-really-happening stuff; there's a real urgency about her need to get back to the present; the mystery of what happened to her parents is far more interesting than Sam's Daddy issues, and it's tied in much more effectively to her attempts to wake herself up.

But the slashers hated it, because instead of hot Sam-'n'-Gene sexual tension there was a WOMAN in the main role. I'd read so much criticism of Keeley Hawes' dreadful performance that it came as surprise to discover that actually she's really good. So much for slash as a subversive feminist activity, when what it means in economic terms is that they won't watch actresses in lead roles because they're not men.

It's very much not Life on Mars rebooted, and the changes are all for the better. One of the best things is that since it's accepted right from the start that it's Alex's sub-conscious that it responsible for everything, you can read plot weaknesses as insight into her character. We've just watched one where - spoilers ahoy - a prostitute drops rape charges, so Ray plants concaine in the boot of the rapist's car. Normally, that would annoy me, because (1)having ploughed my way through Stieg Larson, I'm getting really fed up with stories in which sexual violence against women is treated as a special kind of crime that the legal system just can't deal with, and (b) merely planting the cocaine wouldn't be nearly enough for a conviction. But given that Alex has already mentioned that only 5% of rapes result in conviction, I can buy that her subconscious would imagine the man getting off; and the planting of the cocaine works as a revenge fantasy - like Sam, she's discovering that police corruption can be satisfying at times, but unlike with Sam, it's clear to the audience that this isn't a gradual conversion to the joys of beating up perps in back rooms, it's a momentary indulgence in fantasy.

I also really like the way her other recurring fantasy is getting drunk and having sex with Thatcherite businessmen. I find it hilarious the way she fancies the pants off them while suffering ideological guilt, and I approve of the fact that she gets to get laid without having to suffer Consequences (I can't tell you how much I appreciated the fact that in the prostitute story, she didn't end up going undercover as a sex worker and nearly getting raped).

She's also much better than Sam at actually using modern police methods. And having a woman in the central role gets round that unpleasant LoM trick of using a white male to tell other white males in 1973 how sexist and racist they were. Alex has to deal with sexism directly - and manages it very well most of the time, largely because she doesn't believe any of these people are real and therefore genuinely doesn't care what they think of her. How the writers will deal with race remains to be seen. So far they seem to have decided to include a (token) black police officer and otherwise introduce black characters without comment, which is an improvement on the paternalistic approach of LoM.

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