Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


-- television -- viva las ... blackpool?

Based, to be sure, on only one episode so far, I will take a chance and say that BBC America's Viva Blackpool is the most oddly undemented thing I've ever seen. Think "The Sopranos" as channelled through the original "Pennies from Heaven", and you'd have something of the sense of it, except that the musical numbers are much more grounded in reality, if that's quite the right word, than anything from Dennis Potter's Pennies from Heaven or The Singing Detective. series. There's absolutely no sense that anyone's hallucinating, and their hallucinations just happen to take the form of musical numbers. It's like they figured out how to do what Cop Rock got wrong, and make a musical kind of fit within the structure of a mystery/thriller/family drama thing. Buffy the Vampire Slayer's "Once More With Feeling" -- where the characters had no choice but to sing, due to magical goings-on -- comes closest to catching the feeling of Viva Blackpool, but with a great deal less music than the Buffy episode -- and with no original music whatsoever.

Maybe it's that we're somewhat more used to demented television, musicals or otherwise, by now, so anything less than that doesn't quite strike us as strange any more. It helps that the music isn't original -- the songs are all retreads of well known songs, if somewhat unexpectedly staged. There's an interesting structural trick; we can clearly hear the original version -- Elvis singing "Viva Las Vegas", for example, but we also sometimes hear the characters singing along with the song (and having been pelted to death with "Viva Las Vegas" in the ads, plus getting it twice in the first episode, I would dearly love never to hear it again). The other interesting thing is that the songs actually work in context almost as well as they would if composed for the situation. In general, the purpose of songs in a musical is to come out of moments where emotions are so strongly felt that all the characters can do is sing. Having the characters sing along with the known recording, as though they were listening to a radio or some such, somewhat subverts that premise. The characters still feel, but it's more that they're hearing a song that expresses what they're going through at the moment and singing (and dancing) along, rather than having the music bubble up originally from inside them, so to speak. (That said ... David Tennant, as police inspector Peter Carlisle, and David Morrissey's Ripley Holden having a singing duel with Nancy Sinatra's "These boots were made for walking" is utterly, absolutely, priceless and pretty much worth the price of subscription all by itself. And next week, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' "I second that emotion" occurs in what appear to be somewhat interesting circumstances.)

It'll be interesting to see how they make the viewer care about Ripley Holden (David Morrissey) and his family. Ripley Holden is a truly, sincerly not-very-nice person ... but he also clearly cares very much about his family.

The feel of Viva Blackpool is more like Atlantic City -- a story taking place in a seedy, somewhat run-down gambling resort town.

One thing to note: between the really impressively salty language, and the distinctly adult situations (we get to watch Ripley fantasizing about another woman -- or three -- while making love to his wife, and singing along to Elvis' "She's Not You" ... and his wife also demonstrates her impressive limberness for no apparent reason), and, oh yes, the murder in the first episode (and we get to see some lovely pictures of the extremely dead victim over and over), this isn't necessarily what you'd call "family-friendly fare." One can imagine some parents out there thinking, "Oh, look, a musical! With Elvis songs! Perfect for the kinder!" Um ... no. Really, not something for children to watch.

Posted by iain at 01:14 AM in category television