Wednesday, 17 October 2007

A Very British Twenty-Four

It's October, which means it must be about time for BrokenTV's biannual stab at liking Spooks. We generally give this a go every other year, suspecting our natural aversion to anything being endlessly promoted by the BBC is blinding us to its charms. After all, Life On Mars was 'done' by the people who brought us Spooks, and it's endlessly portraying itself as a turbocharged amalgam of James Bond, 24 and The State Within (which was good, no matter what anyone else says).

Every year, we settle down in our special Watching Telly Chair, and every year we sit through at least two whole episodes. Every year, we walk away cursing ourselves for not remembering that the show is always too busy juggling so-called-'believable' plotlines (except they're not really), tedious exposition and characters trying to act achingly cool (in a very manufactured BBC One Drama Programme in 2007 kind of not really very cool kind of way, like in Hustle).

So, this year's findings? With the same sense of inevitability, it's still as much as a tedium-fest as ever, although this time it seems to be trying harder than ever to 'be' 24.

It's got slidey split screen inter-scene segments showing what the central characters are up to at any given time. It's got conspicuously inconspicuous agents in railway stations talking to their 'control room' via hidden microphones. It's got a bit where the viewers are expected to go "oh noes! A government insider is in on the whole thing! Erm, just like last time." It's got a large room full of people tapping at expensive computer keyboards and saying things like "Can you clean up those five pixels on that grainy mobile phone video footage into something more useful, like a gas bill with the full name and address of the terrorists on it?". All led by Unconventional Boss Woman Who Doesn't Dress Like Anyone Else, Because She's Unconventional Boss Woman, Of Course. And, in a very BBC One Drama Programme in 2007 kind of way, when something slightly surprising happens, the camera zooms in annoyingly on someone's astonished face, just to hammer that point home to everyone at home, in case they'd got confused.

The problem is, the last series of 24 had Jack killing his own brother as a result of an interrogation, a former president being killed by his screaming estranged wife, the current president being blown up and put into a coma (for a bit), and A NUCLEAR BOMB GOING OFF IN THE MIDDLE OF LA, and it was still the least impressive series of 24 so far. Spooks cops out of spending any money on the pivotal huge explosion scene by portraying it purely via the medium of several close ups, a window smashing, and a lo-res satellite imaging feed of the explosion.

We could have knocked that up in Deluxe Paint III.

Although it did have a terrorist who looked like he was going to blow up everyone, but it turned out he was cuddly after all, which is quite like the last series of 24. But then, at least 24 had the foresight to cast the part to an actor who looks like an arabic Wayne Coyne. Oh, and the exact same 'virulent massively toxic chemicals released in a huge city' plot as 24: Day 3. "We have two hours!" Really? Maybe you should have a ticking clock on-screen every few minutes, so we know how we're doing for time. Well, in place of that, we've got a running tally of "UK Infections", updated every time something happens. Not quite as good.

In place of CTU running around large crowded cities trying to stop nuclear explosions going off, we've got running around in forests. Well, have you seen the rates extras are expecting these days? Mind you, what Spooks lacks in proper explosions and Jack Bauery excellence, it makes up for in traditional British Gurning.

Top to bottom:
"I am concerned, this is my concerned face."
"I am concerned, this is my concerned face."
"I am shocked, this is my shocked face."

The close-ups on a computer screen every time someone needs to point at something on one is also worthy of comment. Instead of what in reality would be a gray and blue Windows screen with any picture or video on display contained purely within a plain oblong, with nothing more fancy than a faux-embossed three pixel border, every TFT monitor in Spooksland has to contain eighteen impossibly small perma-scrolling text frames, moving transparent green bars over the top of any pictures and transition effects whenever anything at all updates. Well, if you can't afford to make it look like James Bond in any other sense, why not crowbar in a garish desktop PC interface that might look quite good in the trailers, eh?

And what happens when someone transfers money over an internet bank account? Does it say "Click submit to confirm your transaction" then "done"? Oh-ho-ho-no! A red progress bar moves slowly accross the screen, as if it were downloading a file, of course.

Remind us never to move our account to Harcross Banking. They can't even spell
"transferring" correctly. Anyway, all ransom money should be sent to terrorists via Paypal.

It's the Torchwood van fisco all over again. Except at least Torchwood was supposed to be a bit of daft escapist fun for Doctor Who fans who like swearing, not the challenging and thrilling BBC One drama meant to ROCK the MINDSETS of the viewing millions that Spooks thinks it is.


24p, more like.

3 .:

Dan F said...

Very good, very clever, very detailed, though you seem to miss one important thing.

It's also a lot of harmless fun.

Spooks isn't meant to make you think, it's meant to entertain. It's meant to make you think, "I'm glad that the people protecting our country aren't really like that, but are steady, purposeful people who don't mind a bit of boring detective work."

Most of the people I know - who do give Spooks a chance as harmless fun - do enjoy it. It's fun to guess who is going to get killed off at the end of each series.

This series - if you've bothered to keep watching - has done something interesting (for the first time), and continued a story arc all the way through. With that, we don't want to dip in and out, but keep on watching. What that will do to the sales of DVDs I'm not sure, but it's been a good move.

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