Monday, 5 March 2012

You can't say feckin on Coronation Street

Every couple of months it gets too much and I have to stop watching Corrie. This last Corriecation has been triggered by the appalling rape story line that has dragged like cat sick on the floor  that  even Phil Collinson speaking at the St Mary's Sexual Assault Referral Centre's annual conference, could not clean up. Standing behind the story  despite admitting procedural errors in the trail and the post trial depiction that allowed the victim and the acquitted rapist to be alone with each other. Initially rape reports increased when it appeared that something was going to be done. What happened was exactly less than nothing. Frank the rapist was found not guilty and the Chinese whispers leading up to the trial were enough to cause a crash in rape reports. The further use of the current relationship between Carla Connors and Peter Barlow as an excuse to dismiss evidence was further proof that Collinson was more interested in ott drama than realism or thinking of the repercussions of the story. If a woman is raped, it doesn't matter who she is sleeping with today, even if and I stress this strongly, if she is having an affair. The only question that should have been discussed was if a rape occurred, if it did, GUILTY.  It's hard enough for sex abuse victims to come forward, but to have arguably the most popular show on telly scare off genuine victims of actual real rapes, is a crime. So what if the actress involved publicly let producers off the hook, so what if the Sexual assault centre let the show off the hook, the end result was butt clenchingly uncomfortable maddening telly that told people only one thing. If you're going to rape, make sure you rape a woman who is troubled, having an affair, and what ever you do, don't have any witnesses, that way it's your word against hers. I'm all for justice, I'm all for fairness, but this story line wasn't about a man unfairly accused, it wasn't about some slag throwing herself at some man and regretting it later, it was about a violent attack that a rapist got away with.

If you're watching this week, the aforementioned dastardly Frank is at it again, he gasp, threatens Carla again, very likely also the gormless Sally Webster and is, we're promised, going to be found in a pool of his own blood. If it gets rid of him, fine and good, but I'm thoroughly sick and tired of the over the top drama. A few months ago when Phil ( I used to do Doctor Who) Collinson did the great Tram Crash, I asked myself if it would get back to a more normal Corrie, would they have the more realistic stories that are just as compelling as well as returning the humour to the street. The short answer is no. Corrie has only gotten sillier, opting for the far vistas of American soap where small children are witches, couples on the rocks prefer to torture each other in increasingly bizarre displays of  ratings grab theatrics and the last time anybody did anything remotely nice to another person, they were punished for it. Corrie hasn't just missed it big style on rape, but teen pregnancy as well. In a story ripped straight out of the hysterical Daily Scum Mail, Corrie are banging on about the epidemic of teen births and hopelessly unfit young mothers with no help. The only problem with the plot is that the teen birth rate is at it's lowest in years, and the young girls who have been unwise enough to sprog at such a young age do have and know about a wide range of services they can access. The Daily Mail OMG look at that freshly imagined horror agenda is only part of the problem. There is a Tory tone in the air since at least the last two years. On a street in a town devastated by Her Meanness Margaret ( phtoo) Thatcher, characters old enough to remember what it was like are heard to say things that hint at how the country was better when her nastiness ran the place. My wife having read the omnibus book of Corrie from the start to about 2000 assures me that Audrey Roberts, during the worst of the Thatcher years, had not a kind word about her. If this was properly written , she'd be heard wondering where the death party was going to happen. Sadly, Corrie has taken the opposite view of great writers and is allowing crazy ratings grabbing stories to guide character development. For every realistic story such as Roy's mother being a nasty stick in the mud and all that means for Croppers, we are accosted by fires, murders, rapes, utterly unrealistic Steve and the even more reprehensible Tracy Barlow (herself out of jail on some invented special deal) finding new ways to make us want the segment to end faster than an Adele song.

So why do I watch?  Why does anybody watch?  Well the truth is, if you take the the viewing numbers of BBC 4's Road to Coronation Street, and subtract the proportion of casual curiosity, you are still left with a whopping 15 to 20 million viewers who have abandoned the show.  Phil Collinson admits "We are not broadcasting to people who are very educated and knowledgeable about this subject. We are broadcasting to young people, and it's very important that we draw attention to these things." So it's young people who aren't that bright and otherwise watching X factor? I am part of the vast army of those who have dropped Coronation Street from TV time. When there is so much better out there, why should I and others bother watching. I'd love to get back into it, but the trend is going the wrong way, too many stupid stories, repellent characters and Tory arse licking.

I am however still madly in love with my alternative Manchester based soap, Shameless. Yes they swear. Yes you see ugly naked people doing things we might not want to see all the time, but they are, unlike the folk over in Weatherfield, real. The violence is real, the relationships are real, the jeopardy people are placed in is real. And yet the humour that courses through the entire narrative is so strong that there is not a single plot in the last few years I would have used to sort my pants or clean the cat litter. Frank Gallagher while no longer the centre of attention, still is the one fixed point on the Chatswoth estate that brings plot twists even as late as two week ago. Shameless does in spades, what Coronation Street used to do till about 8 years ago. Paul Abbot's vision continues to fuel top quality telly at C4 while Phil Collinson is driving the original Northern drama into insignificance. While Corrie takes liberties in the name of drama, Shameless looks at unvarnished life in the Estate and translates it into entertaining television without cheapening the experience or soft selling the issues people involved are embroiled in. I won't lie, it hurts to see Corrie go down the shitter like, but I won't miss it if dies from this. Intelligent continuing drama need not jump the shark to stay relevant, they need only to stick to basics, likeable characters, stories that don't make an episode of Doctor Who seem realistic, and most importantly, remember your cast and characters know where they've been. If you take a life long sport hater into a sudden football fanatic for the purpose of a haphazard story, or you make somebody irrationally turn gay or perhaps make a man stab his best mate in the back so the show can have a controversial affair that wrecks a long standing street family, they will let you know. Actors are not programmable drones that will say and do anything that pops into your head. Fans are not going to stick around if you pretend they don't exist, worse yet, established fans won't be happy when you tell them they aren't important. If you ask ans actress who's been playing a role for years to do something her character would never do, you're not just insulting the viewers, but the actress as well. On Shameless when a character runs it's course, he or she leaves, they sometimes come back if the chance exists to get a few eps out of them, but as a rule, the useful life of an actor or actress are measured by the persona dramatis' to sustain themselves in the role. When the stories ran out for the Gallagher children, even if we liked them, they were sent away. Neighbours have come and gone, power brokers and circumstances have changed the estate but never once has anybody been forced to be anything other than what they are. The other way to look at Shameless is to look at it as art. In one scene the Lilian the madame and Kelly the prostitute have a perfectly rational near mother daughter talk about business, all the while this Feliniesque circus of freaks and oddly dressed people parade past busily doing what could only be described as performance art. In another scene, Frank descends into his own mind and channels Pinter or Shakespeare while he jousts with himself.

So while you can't say feckin on Corrie and Jamie Maguire will never suddenly become police inspector, I know which show is the one that's an insult to my intelligence and values. I also know which show will accurately reflect, warts and all the Condemn Nation and the effects of it on poorest of the poor.

Staying on the subject of drama and jumping the shark, Upstairs Downstairs is back and save a bit of lezzing up that was so tame last night I could honestly admit to have done more to my cat,  has stayed the course with well written sub plots that play well into the main theme of the phony war and the decline of the big houses. I must admit to having bizarre fantasies regarding Alex Kingston. I fully expect her to draw a gun or pick up her blue Tardis shaped diary. Tho only one hour long once a week  for only a few weeks, the quality of the cast, the sets and the scripts means I will glued to seat for the foreseeable couple of Sunday nights.Upstairs Downstairs does one thing well that Downton Abbey fails to do, it respects costumes, morals, ideology, facts, chronology, and still manages to be entertaining. Hair and clothing, especially for the women, is based on the fashions of the time and actresses that will not wear the full kit soon learn they can't do costume drama at the BBC unless they are prepared to wear the clothes too. Chronology is also pretty basic and obvious, but clearly not a important enough for Downtown to pay it any heed. Lastly, to give you an idea of how the two shows rate, when my father who lived in those houses down to the silverware in the 1930's, watched both, he muttered constantly about how the Downtown help and family would never have behaved like that, even reaching crescendos of indignation for wasting his time,  but during Upstairs, he quietly does a running commentary confirming the best and the worst of all the behaviour and taste on display be it the family or the servants. It's just a play you say, but when doing these things, especially in the literary classics, you have to be reminded that these films will be going into schools. People will be learning from them. Why, if you can, do you not then make the effort to be as precise as is possible? It's not like it's a stripped down Hamlet with one light, one chair, one skull and a hand puppet. These dramas cost vast sums of money and getting it right is as important as having a fun script.

Another treat you cannot afford miss is the brilliant Inspector Montalbano on BBC4. This adult drama in Italian, is rich in humour and reflects an albeit stylised representation of life in Silvio Berlusconi's Italy.  Salvo Montalbano is a 40 something man married to his work but trying hard to satisfy his  matrimonially itchy girlfriend of 8 years. The relationship plays out in the background as the team led by Salvo tries to get to core of matters all the while not upsetting too many apple carts. Comic relief is provided by the inept desk officer who has a hard time remembering important messages and cannot pronounce names to save his life. As detective fiction, it works best if the viewer understands that by 60 minutes, you likely know all you need to solve the crime of the evening.  If you missed any, BBC iPlayer will be holding onto the films for two months after broadcast AND there will be 10 in total with more to come we hope. Fingers crossed, the axe poised to drop on the jewel that is BBC 4 will not stop the buying of wonderful foreign language productions like Montalbano, The Killing, Spirale or Borgen. Watch it while you can, you know before the powers that be dumb it all down to about the level of BBC 3 or ITV 2.  

If you have a moment, please send a strongly worded message to the BBC that they should leave BBC 4 alone. I mean, if a bunch of people who didn't listen to a load of pretentious twadle on radio 6 saved it, why not the actual lorry loads of actual people who watch the actually well rated science, history and drama on BBC 4.

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