Islandexpat's Blog

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The British TV Recap

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I’ve been at home in Hawaii for almost 2 weeks now, and it’s been absolutely fantastic. One thing I do miss, though, is the BBC iplayer, which allows me to catch up on the TV I’ve missed. I use Youtube, which seems to work fine, but iplayer’s a lot more convenient. For those in the UK, those with a Worldwide filter on Youtube, or those with a lot of bandwidth, the shows are:

*Merlin (BBC 1): a fairly family-friendly revamp of the legend of King Arthur, wherein Uther’s still alive, Arthur grows from a bratty prince to the mature future king, Merlin is his servant, Morgana is Uther’s ward, and Guinevere is her lady-in-waiting. Magic is officially outlawed, so Merlin and Morgana (who have magical powers) have to hide their abilities, but it’s getting more and more difficult.

The strength of Merlin lies in its hidden maturity. Like T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, the series grows up with its characters. I admit that I tried watching Season 1 of Merlin from the beginning and was highly uninterested – the costumes made it obvious that Camelot = Medieval B.S. Land, and the dialogue sounded like preteen banter.

OK, Camelot still is Medieval B.S. Land (e.g., despite the fact that Guinevere is probably part black, the only other black people are magical assassins or druids or whatever), but the show turned out to be great. I think the problem was that the characters were younger and were therefore dealing with lighter matters. Now they’ve moved on to identity crises, doomed love, religious-ish persecution (in one episode, a witch hunter comes to ferret out magic users) and civil war in Camelot.

For instance, as Morgana’s powers become stronger and more difficult to hide, she finds herself increasingly torn between loyalty to the family that raised her and loyalty to other people like her (but who unfortunately want to destroy Camelot). Arthur faces the uncomfortable truth that his father, whom he’s always looked up to as a paragon of honesty and integrity, has old fears, hatreds and lies hidden so deep within himself that even he doesn’t know their full power.

This sounds like an episode summary, and I suppose in some ways it is. The trouble with describing Merlin is that it’s somehow much greater than the sum of its parts: the Medieval B.S. Land costumes, the characterisation, the Arthur-Merlin banter, Arthur growing up into someone who’s not a jerk, and so on. All I can say is, watch it. Start from Season 2 if you’re not sure, and be prepared to think “Oh come ON” several times within the first 5-10 minutes. But stay with it. You won’t regret it, I promise.

*The Thick of It (BBC 2): political satire/comedy set in the Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship at Westminster, with LOTS of swearing. Although no political parties are named and all characters are fictional, there are obvious parallels – for instance, the main characters are clearly Labour and the supporting cast, who works for the opposition party, are obviously Tory.

The current season revolves around the sudden introduction of Nicola Murray, the new Secretary of State, and the unstoppable downward spiral of the main characters’ party (a parallel for Labour’s real-life decline).

On top of the screw-ups and embarrassments, you’ll find Malcolm Tucker, Director of Communications – modelled on Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair’s notorious spin doctor during the days of New Labour – an angry, aggressive, wonderfully foul-mouthed, amoral, full-speed-ahead bastard, who’s become the show’s most beloved character.

The Thick of It’s power lies in its unwillingness to take the fast satirical route. It would be easy to suggest that everyone in government is fundamentally dishonest and power-hungry, but the show’s characters are, for the most part, good people who are simply overwhelmed by a fickle public/mysterious party demands/sensationalist press/etc. Even Malcolm does what he does (threats, allegations bordering on smear campaigns) for the good of the party, not for his own personal ends.

The show is shot with handheld cameras, with no laugh track or soundtrack, and a fair portion (20% or so) of the final dialogue is improvised. If that doesn’t convince you, think about this: the script is edited by a “swearing consultant”, who adds the colorful profanity for which the show has become famous.

And because I have a horribly massive crush on Malcolm Tucker, here are some quotes (all his) to show how awesome this show is:

“‘Climbing the mountain of conflict’? You sounded like a Nazi Julie Andrews!”

“Please could you take this note, ram it up his hairy inbox and pin it to his fucking prostate.”

“He’s about as much use as a marzipan dildo.”

“I’ve never seen anybody look so fucking ugly with just one head! …And who was it that did your media training? Myra Hindley? I mean, it’s terrible… All this, hands are all over the place… You were like a sweaty octopus trying to unhook a bra!”

“I went golfing with Stephen Hawking. The little shit didn’t tell me about his handicap.”

“I’m really sorry, you won’t hear any more swearing from us, YOU MASSIVE GAY SHITE!”


Individual episodes:

*Never Mind the Buzzcocks, hosted this past Wednesday by Frankie Boyle. NMTB is often a mixed bag, and depends greatly on the strength of its host. Frankie Boyle is both disdainful enough of the celebrity clique culture to avoid sucking up and sociable enough that he can get along with the guests. I’m not doing it justice here, but that was the best episode of NMTB I’ve seen in a long time.

*Tonight or tomorrow: Have I Got News For You – Dominic West (Jimmy McNulty) is hosting and using his real voice!


Written by Kelly Kanayama

December 12, 2009 at 7:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. In the Loop easily made my “top ten” list this year. I would probably say it was my favorite if not for my sudden and intense love for Bad Lieutenant and the way Watchmen has stuck with me. Call it a close 3rd.


    December 28, 2009 at 8:52 am

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