Set in 2040, Outcasts (just finished on BBC 1) was a show that posited, or deposited, a remnant of humankind on a planet called Carpathia. This remnant was to pioneer a new civilisation after an apocalypse on a dystopic earth. The title may have referred to these pioneers, isolated from earth to forge a new world, or perhaps to the clones known as the ACs made outcast after the first settlement on Carpathia. Episodes were long (90 minutes) yes there was a lot of talking, yes it took a while to get know what was going on and who was who, but do we have to have an explanation of everything up front in order for a show to get an audience?. Like the first US pioneers the outcasts were a combination of settlers, military, religious and commercial who struggle to survive in a hostile wilderness. There is a governor, or president, who brokers peace with the indigenous peoples or the outcast ACs and there is a military wing, hawkish and troublesome to its leaders. All this combined to leave the audience needing to persevere a bit with narrative, character and concept but I was more than willing to give it a go, but the show has been cancelled and to add insult to injury there was a monumental cliff hanger at the end of the season. Thus Outcasts joins the ranks of Jericho, Firefly and Invasion for leaving its audience hanging, although Jericho made a brief come back for the fans and Firefly headed for the big screen. The purpose of the cliff hanger is to invite the audience to watch the next season, but now, all that wasted talent, all that wasted time and all those hours I spent on the sofa expecting to be entertained are gone to naught with my licence fee. Only recently I was bewailing the fact that there was nothing to watch on TV. Sky Atlantic has attracted a little attention from me, but the Boardwalk is not the tremendous break into telly for Martin Scorcese that Twin Peaks was for David Lynch, Treme is not The Wire, so only Mad Men will keep my subscription. I agree with some critics of Outcasts that it was a bit of shock to lose Jamie Bamber in the first episode, yes there were shades of Battlestar Galactica (not just Bamber), sometimes, just sometimes there were moments when it didn’t seem to gel. However, I read the first scripts of Only Fools and Horses for coverage in the Radio Times and I didn’t think that would take off, and the first series did not herald the success it would later be (she states defensively) but the BBC stuck with it and the rest is history – no such loyalty now. It also took up the apparently failed series Men Behaving Badly – no such risk taking now. I have some beef with the casting of Hermione Norris, I think the producers went for a known face because they didn’t have confidence in the scripts but with Ashley Walters, Eric Mabius and Liam Cunningham plus talented newcomers – why not risk a new woman in the role? No doubt Kudos owes Norris for Spooks, but she dominates perhaps not in a good way. Her presence overshadowed the series, not enough to put me off, and others may differ, she is a convincing authoritative woman and I cannot fault her performance. In addition, given time, characters can take a back seat whilst others come to the fore or are introduced …given time.
It’s been a bad year for me and telly so far, The Daily Show has been pulled, reality and fashion dominates the schedules, Stargate Universe is winding down, where the hell is Dexter? Mad Men has gone to Sky and now the BBC’s best effort at a serious sci fi (no offence Dr Who) has fallen to cowardice. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this is that there is no come back to the powers that be, nowadays everything from the price of petrol, the job I do, the tax I pay to the things I teach in the classroom, are proscribed by someone else and when a TV series I like, gets unceremoniously dumped by nameless accountants, that sense of powerlessness is accentuated, melodramatic I know put it down to a long winter and a bad news week.
There may be a longer blog on audience dependence, not a passive audience as such, inclined to absorb and imitate, but an audience dependent on commissioning editors for their entertainment, manipulated for the benefit of the mass audience, a mass audience that leaves the moderately intelligent drama uneconomic and unsuccessful. Over the years something similar happened to publishing, publishers in search of the huge success have paid massive advances and the subsequent distribution and marketing costs, to sell the likes of Dan Brown and good for him, but where are the Paul Scotts and Daphne Du Mauriers of modern books, and where are the Alan Platers and Troy Kennedy Martins (look ’em up) of modern television? At the very least if TV series are so risky must we have the cliff hanger? Why not make a season a complete piece in itself. Mad Dogs the recent high concept four parter for Sky started and finished in one season, four consummate actors, playing out a dark comedy in the sun, a beginning, a middle and an end – what’s wrong with that?
Cast pix: Top: Langley Kirkwood. Centre right: Ashley Walters, Danny Mays and Amy Manson. Bottom: Ensemble