Prompted by the release of the first season of The Professionals on Blu-ray a few years ago, Taylor Parkes reminds those of us who grew up in 1970s Britain of [just how strange mainstream UK TV got] as the nation turned to Mrs. Thatcher to save it from the foreigners and lefties who were responsible for our losing the Empire (or something)1:
These early episodes are Clemens in excelsis. Not one line of the dialogue bears the slightest resemblance to anything anyone would ever actually say; logic and reason are abandoned; a strange kind of excitement is the only thing that matters. In ‘Close Quarters’, Bodie has a fortnight off because he’s been shot in the hand, so he takes Nick Drake’s sister out on the river at Marlow – only to chance upon the very boathouse in which the leaders of the Baader-Meinhof gang are staying whilst on a jolly to Britain. Despite only being able to use one hand, and having to wet-nurse a terrified woman who looks like Nick Drake, Bodie captures Andreas Baader (the gang have all been given false names – perhaps the producers were worried they’d write in and complain? – but it’s not hard to work out who’s meant to be who). He flees to a nearby vicarage, pursued by three angry RAFers all toting machine guns which they must have found lying around somewhere. In a subtly symbolic moment, the vicar tries to make peace with the terrorists and is shot to smithereens – although, as ever when people die in The Professionals, nobody gives a shit. Anyway, a thrilling siege ensues, and Bodie sees off the whole Baader-Meinhof gang, quite literally single-handedly – although of course, the task of dispatching the lady terrorist falls to Ms Drake, because we couldn’t possibly see Bodie do that. A nice day out for her, then. Unsurprisingly, we don’t see her again. Still, she learnt a valuable lesson: hot lead is the only language Marxists understand.
I have a horrible feeling that the only thing saving us from a post-Brexit remake of The Professionals is that they can’t possibly pay Martin Shaw enough money to turn up in this version to play the new George Cowley.
[Via [MetaFilter](http://www.metafilter.com/174451/the-very-epitome-of-the-good-bad-TV-show “”The very epitome of the good-bad TV show | MetaFilter)]
I’m currently playing catch-up with Sense8 in anticipation of Netflix wrapping the show up later this month.
Having watched the first episode early last year when I found myself exploring my shiny new Netflix account to see what was on offer, it took me ages to get round to picking up the show again: the show’s introductory episode was necessarily a bit disjointed, what with eight characters living in very different circumstances and societies and (initially) with nothing in common to tie their plot threads together. But, prompted in part by my awareness that Netflix were about to fund one final episode and by my sneaking regard for most of what the Wachowskis have done over the years1 I decided to give Sense8 another go. Somehow, over the first few episodes of the story the characters’ different storylines and their occasional crossovers have sucked me in to the point that I’m now officially hooked. The show isn’t perfect, but it’s a delightful rejection of gritty realism in favour of sometimes having something very unexpected and totally off and yet weirdly appropriate happen. Sometimes that’s a moment of breathtaking beauty (e.g. a 4th of July fireworks sequence in episode 10 that drew all the sensates together, or that same episode’s scene combining the moments of the sensates’ birth with their mutual experience of a classical music performance,) and sometimes it’s an extremely silly moment (e.g. Wolfgang ending a gunfight by pulling out an RPG and blowing up the car of his retreating enemy, or Lito engaging in a fistfight and finding himself throwing potted flowers at his opponent.) The thing is, somehow these scenes just work for me, and leave me wanting more.
What’s weird is that despite his name showing up in the writing credits each week it took a few episodes for me to register the fact that J Michael Straczynski was involved in this. Given that he’s sharing writing credits with the Wachowski it’s hard to say for sure, but it looks as if he’s operating more in Rising Stars mode here than he is Babylon 5 mode. Whatever: it’s good to see someone whose first big show was a huge favourite of mine still involved in delivering quality work to this day.
Or, as one AV Club commenter put it, responding to episode 10:
Oh heck no, this gets an A and all of the pluses I can dig up from under the couch. I’ve never seen television like this – that last ten minutes, I was stomping my feet and hollering like I was at a damned concert or something. This far exceeded anything I hoped for when they announced a Wachowski series; you expect over-the-top, you expect some attempts at pushing envelopes, but you never, not in anything they’ve ever done, get something like this. This was sublime in a way that very few things are ever sublime. And it’s not just the audacity of the setup itself, but a show so confident that it can end with that long an extended sequence without dialogue or plot development, just allowing its conceit to unfold patiently and fully. Goddamn.
In a world where we’ve just spent a decade or so of quality television mostly defining itself by how gritty our antiheros are, it’s good to have something like Sense8 come along and offer us a fundamentally positive picture of what could lie ahead. This show is every bit as good at occasionally switching genres and elevating the story to another level as Buffy The Vampire Slayer. (For the avoidance of doubt, in my book that’s very high praise indeed.)
Apologies if posting falls away over the next few days. I find myself playing catch-up with a couple of TV programmes that are both due to return to our screens later this year and consequently my time for web browsing is a bit limited between, say, now and the weekend.
The first show, courtesy of the BBC putting it up on the iPlayer, is The Bridge. I’ve watched this show completely out of order, having only caught on when the BBC showed season 3 then later back-filling with season 1. (That moment at the climax of season 1 when Saga found herself desperately wanting to lie to her partner about the fate of his son but realising that she just didn’t have a clue how to sell a convincing lie was horrifying!) Right now I’m well into season 2 and the standard is still as high as ever. I know nothing about season 4, but I’m totally up for it when it eventually shows up on BBC2.
The second show that I’d promised myself that I’d catch up with is HBO’s reboot of Westworld. Given how much I’ve enjoyed all I’ve seen of Jonathan Nolan’s previous show, Person of Interest, I shouldn’t be surprised at how much I’m enjoying his newest piece of classy genre TV. I know precisely nothing about the impending second season of Westworld but having seen season 1 up to and including Trompe L’oeil (the episode where Bernard gets fired, among other things) I trust that we’re in safe hands.
So, all in all I have a few hours of top-notch TV to catch up on before I get to turn my attention back to the web.
Steven Bochco, whose active years came just a bit too early for him to pick up the accolades he deserved for setting the stage for modern TV drama, has passed away. It’s easy to forget now just how different Hill Street Blues was when it first showed up on our screens:
By conveying the sheer jostle and bustle of a modern police department, with multiple officers wrestling with typewriters, shouting down phones or at each other, trying to conduct police business under-resourced and time-skint in the face of a tide of criminality, Bochco challenged the viewer to accept a new form of dramatic overload as well as a more realistic depiction of crime fighting and the human beings who wore the badge. Hill Street Blues “starred” Daniel J Travanti as Frank Furillo, a recovering alcoholic ably maintaining a stable keel in a difficult Chicago precinct. But Hill Street Blues was studded with strong and vivid characters, all of them major regardless of rank, from growling undercover detective Mick Belker to idealistic lieutenant Henry Goldblume. From its strongly multicultural cast, to the hip and witty swagger of its dialogue, there was a funkiness, a rhythm about Hill Street Blues that spoke about modern urban America like no other show at the time.
Very possibly the best ensemble cast ever.
Like all long-running shows, Hill Street Blues stayed on the air for too long, but those first few seasons changed TV drama forever by showing everyone else how it could be done. Then Bochco did it again with LA Law, then yet again with NYPD Blue and once more with Murder One. We will not speak of Doogie Howser, M.D. or Cop Rock. 1
I’ve no doubt that there are modern TV dramas that are better than an of Bochco’s work. (Just to name one that isn’t as famous as it should be Homicide: Life On The Street. Many articles about Bochco’s passing mention The Wire, but I can’t get past the show that gave the world Andre Braugher’s performance as Frank Pembleton.) The thing is, there might not have been any appetite for those shows without Bochco’s work paving the way.