Sunday, 21 April 2019

Thriller: Lady Killer

Yesterday I went to Leamington Spa, which is not far from here but is always an expensive journey because there is someone there with the same taste in TV as me, who keeps selling his or her DVDs to the entertainment exchange, and I keep buying them. Yesterday I bought series 1 of a series I have never heard of before, Rogue's Rock, but which I find I like because it is definitely out of the same stable as Freewheelers, even down to some of the same music. In non-TV I bought the horror film spoof Young Frankenstein, and bought the boxed set of Thriller. I have seen the show before but not for some time and have somehow never blogged about it here.
Thriller is one of those series which is described as legendary by some, and since it is an anthology series, you can often find it described as mixed. Lady Killer is the first episode, and it's excellent, despite embodying virtually everything I dislike in television of this era! For a start the three main characters are played by very familiar faces indeed, and it is a little strange to see Robert Powell with Tara King and Agent 99! What saves the situation here is that both women play roles which are quite different from the roles in which I am familiar with them. Feldon in particular plays a character who very successfully turns the tables on her nasty piece of work husband, played by Powell. He gets the lack of emotion required by his character exactly right, and the calculating way in which he plots is really quite chilling. Thorson's role requires a certain naivety, so of the three my opinion is that her character is least successful because she reminds me personally too much of Tara King's hero worship of Steed. This is of course entirely personal and other people may not see the role like this.
There are other things which tend to put me off usually. Of course there have always been people from all sorts of places in Britain, and that isn't a problem at all, but it normally annoys me when I know that some of the cast are American because that was perceived to make the show more attractive to US audiences. Is that actually the case? My perception from the TV blogosphere is that people from the US love UK TV without the assistance of their compatriots. Apparently there are also people called Anglophiles who love everything British even our tea! It is of course the fact that commercial considerations decided the casting which normally irritates me. It doesn't here though. Also normally I would be very critical of the claustrophobic feel of the obviously set-bound recording, but in this case the claustrophobic feel is exactly right to increase the feeling of danger.
Just one or two criticisms. The first is a plot weakness, because while the episode manages to be gripping to the end, from before the middle it is very obvious that Tanner is going to come a cropper, the only question is how it is going to happen. There are also some weaknesses in his characterisation: a man who marries his second wife without telling her about the first is asking for trouble. I have a criticism of the technical production of the Network DVD boxed set, which is that at the end of each episode it begins playing another episode. Somebody wasn't concentrating when the episodes were remastered and then they weren't checked properly before being released.
In other news it has been a glorious weekend here and I have been bare chested for the first time this year.
Image source

Sunday, 14 April 2019

The Tomorrow People: A Much-Needed Holiday

I am currently starting a much-needed holiday, which is what turned my mind to this episode, and I realise I have been putting off blogging about The Tomorrow People. The reason is the obvious one - it is a hugely ambitious show, which also manages to be ridiculously confusing and, er, bound permanently to the 1970s, with all that that implies.
It is also rather difficult to write intelligent criticism of this show because it has all already been said. My own long-standing criticism is that I find it confusing - even to the extent of not being able to disentangle episodes, adventures, series, who is who, and so on - and this is not helped by a changing cast of Tomorrow People.
There is also the matter of this being a children's show, and I have been trying to think myself into how a child would view this episode, and I suspect the emotions would be a mixture of envy for the Tomorrow People and horror at how the enslaved boys are treated. Isn't that the point of much writing for children that we are supposed to be on the side of the goodies? The drawback is that the goodies here are the next step in evolution so we can't have their powers.
Trying to think differently about this has made me reflect on what I was first thinking about it: I was thinking that the point that the diamonds are mined in dangerous, slave conditions and the way the Tomorrow People don't want diamonds mined in those conditions leads to a very grown up and uncomfortable conclusion. Actually that's how jewels and precious metals are always mined - mines are dangerous places at the best of times and the people who own mines tend to want to maximize profits. This uncomfortable fact is glossed over for the kids, but it does show that this is a show which can be watched on several different levels, always the sign of quality television.
This episode therefore encapsulates the show's best and worst features. My attempt to watch this through my own eyes as a child has distracted me from how unfortunate the episode is through adult eyes in terms of slavery and costumes which look like fetish gear. You would really have to be very innocent not to get the kinky undertones and the show is made more ambivalent by the fact that Mike Holoway was actually a heart throb of the time. Granted this is with the benefit of hindsight but it is even more unfortunate that he does a Jimmy Savile impression. I actually wrote to Savile myself but fortunately he didn't fix it for me.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Trevor Preston's Out: It Must be the Suit

My posts here have veered rather towards the gritty school of cult TV, and this show is no exception. I am also rather unusually in awe of this show, and regular readers will know that my pantheon of shows which are supreme quality is vanishingly small, but Out entered it as soon as I watched the first episode and simply had to order the whole series.
Trevor Preston was given two series of his own to write - this one in 1978 and Fox in 1980 - after writing episodes of The Sweeney, which tells us exactly what stable this show comes from. Out, however, is not a cop show by any manner of means - the story goes that a criminal called Frank Ross got grassed up and ended up in prison. At the start of the series he is released from prison, baying for revenge. It's a sort of inversion of the principle of Man in a Suitcase, because the hero is done badly to by another criminal rather than the Secret Service. Man in a Suitcase is of course a classic, and it will give you some idea of the high esteem I have for Out, that I think it superior to Man in a Suitcase. I have recently been giving the latter show another go and maintain that McGill is not bitter or angry enough. In Out, Ross is exactly as screwed up as you would be, he is angry enough and his issues of trust are portrayed exactly right for the situation.
The show had a very unusual promotion campaign:
'...Around the time of the series, a lot of graffiti saying, "Frank Ross is innocent" appeared around London,[5] an apparent parody of the "George Davis is innocent" campaign slogans still visible on walls at the time. When a rail strike disrupted many people's plans to make it home in time for the final episode, "who grassed Frank Ross?" could be seen scrawled across blackboards at Euston station.[6]Source
I have commented before that what I like best about these 1970s shows is the memorable depiction of the Britain of the time: cars, clothes, decoration, attitudes, and so on. The suit of the title is completely of the time. I particularly love the way this episode shows the contrast between 1970s looking back and the aspiring brave new world of the time.
Visually this is superb. There literally isn't a scene which isn't visually effective, and it leaves you with the impression of being in the hands of an expert director. This is quality television in every way. One of the things I find most visually appealing is the wall paper in Ross's family home. The building is pre-world war one, but there is a dazzling selection of more or less contemporary papers, which really are one of the visual stars. This is cleverly contrasted with the seedy pub, and the neutral decoration of his friend's contemporary flat.
This episode sets the scene for what comes next and is as much to establish the effect of being in prison on Frank as well as the effect of being betrayed on every other relationship. As I said I think they have got the amount of bitterness and twistedness exactly right for the situation. The effect of his release on the rest of the underworld is also explored.
I really don't have anything negative to say about this, I don't even mind that the taxi driver is the chef from Fawlty Towers. I did feel like the cut throat razor in the final scene was an anachronism even for forty years ago. Apparently if you speak American English you can find Preston's work hard to understand in places because of the amount of slang he uses and here some Cockney Rhyming Slang, which really does date it because nobody in London speaks Cockney any more.
Incidentally the thing about it being the suit is that it is that suit which gives away that he has been inside.