Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Corridor People - My First Impressions

My usual custom is to blog about tv shows episode-by-episode. I've blogged about every episode of two shows - The Prisoner & Spyder's Web - but this wasn't ever really my aim, it just happened that I wanted to run through The Prisoner thinking about it from a particular point of view, & Spyder's Web also has relatively few episodes so that I suddenly found myself writing about all of them. Actually I don't doubt that I shall return to both of these series. In the case of The Corridor People, there were only ever four episodes, all of which survive, so writing coherently about all of them shouldn't be that difficult.
I say *shouldn't* because I find I'm having to write a separate post before I start on the episodes because I'm trying & failing to come to an overview of the series. I have now watched all four episodes - not back to back - & am struggling to decide their effect on me. This post will therefore probably be rather disjointed. As so often I see what people on the internet are saying so that I can disagree with it violently, but am surprised to see there isn't really that much & what there is is wildly contradictory (the customer reviews on Amazon alone are very divided, some say this show is genius television & the others say not to waste your money. Here, in the words of Double 0 Section is why:
'I didn�t glean too much from Network�s publicity for their DVD release of the series, which resorted to describing the characters rather than the show�s premise. I thought that was odd, but now I can see why they did that. The premise, if there really is one, would be very difficult to describe; the eccentric characters much easier. I also thought it odd that I couldn�t tell from their copy who was the hero or heroes of the show, and I�m not much clearer on that after watching every episode. (All four of them!) There is one character who more or less emerges as the closest thing the series has to a hero, but that definitely isn�t clear in the first two episodes. So what else did Network offer? A comparison to The Avengers (that certainly intrigued me) and an unattributed quote calling The Corridor People �akin to a lost Harold Pinter play with an added dash of Monthy Python.� The Avengers comparison didn�t prove very apt, and the quote smacked of hyperbole to me, but in retrospect, I have to concede that it�s actually the best description of the show I can think of, too�although the pendulum swings much closer to Pinter than Python.' (http://doubleosection.blogspot.com/2010/07/dvd-review-corridor-people-complete.html?m=1)
Tanner goes on to compare the show to various other sixties ones, crossed with each other, & I'm gratified to know they're all ones I've heard of & have at least seen some episodes of. However I don't feel that's the way to approach this show. I'll grant you, I'm finding it so difficult to describe that it's made even me speechless.  So perhaps that's actually the first thing to say about it, that it is something unique that is difficult to describe.
Nor does the oft-repeated comparison to The Avengers work. Having now seen it all the way through once, I have no desire to compare this show to The Avengers, this is some seriously heavy-duty televisual art that is Marat Sade (in stature that is) to the pantomime that is The Avengers. It has the intrigue of Dangerman without the clarity of who is who. It has the dead people of Randall & Hopkirk without the rigidity about who is dead or alive. It has the paranoia of The Prisoner with no clear delineation of who is the boss. It is as if the two Men from UNCLE kept changing sides & the sides kept changing names. It is as if the department of Callan went rogue. To me there isn't really much point trying to compare The Corridor People to anything else - it is on its own.
The main interest for Avengers fans must be casting Elizabeth Shepherd, who was the first Emma Peel, in a key role. The question is of course what Mrs Peel would have been like - well you'll have to watch this yourself & make up your own mind. Shepherd in this role lacks the poise combined with ease & sexiness that Diana Rigg has as Mrs Peel, & is much more weighted towards poise. She isn't quite the ice queen, but I do like one point where she says, 'You must keep your hatred pure...no little self-indulgent concessions.'
There is, though, one show The Corridor People reminds me of, & that is The Young Ones of the 1980s - Corridor People actually uses many of the same techniques that Young Ones used, it gives the same impression of talking to someone slightly more intelligent than oneself. Perhaps that is why Corridor People only ran to four episodes - it was ahead of its time & the great British public wasn't ready for it - in fact I feel most of them probably aren't ready now.
I am at some point going to attempt to write about the episodes individually, but my impressions at this point leave The Corridor People in the category of Great Television. If you try to get the point, you miss it: 'there are no patterns' van Epp says towards the end. This is the sort of television that requires repeated viewings to get even many of the impressions. I have no doubt it gives up layers of meaning as you rewatch it. Again this is no doubt a reason it failed in the sixties - there is no doubt a single viewing would not be enough.
Visually I can only describe it as superb. I literally cannot describe how effective the scenes are. They are also quality scenes.
The quality of the action & dialogue also make you forget that it is mainly studio-based. It feels theatrical, but not in the old-fashioned way some earlier sixties series do. The characters leap out of the screen fully-formed, easily distinguishable. And quotable, oh how quotable. In the flow of narrative & quality of dialogue I would have to compare it to Joe Orton's plays. In fact more than The Young Ones I think Orton is the best comparison. Have I said that this some serious quality television?
In fact I don't even have the vocabulary to describe the 'plot': you end the four episodes with no clear impression of a premise or even an idea of 'sides': this is truly surrealist television, well beyond anything The Avengers ever did.
I just have two criticisms. The first is the theme tune is all wrong - this may be a deliberate part of the surrealism, but the tune is better suited to a situation comedy, & leaves the viewer unprepared for what is coming. No, I wouldn't like to suggest different music! The other is my ongoing dislike of recurring 1960s actors - John Sharp in this case. He is superb in his role, doesn't really distract with his personality, but nonetheless *looks* like a recurring character in other shows, so you find yourself thinking, 'Oh, that's...'
I'm starting my second viewing as I write this & am already rather nervous at trying to do justice to the episodes of this series...

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