Wednesday 22 November 2017

Love, sex & secrets

this week saw dickensian dickens and agent danes: damaged and dangerous

The Mystery of Edwin Drood Tuesday, Wednesday, BBC2 Lost Girl Thursday, Syfy Homeland Friday, RTE2 Hostile Environment Monday, RTE 1 The Voice of Ireland Sunday, RTE 1

Dickens' last, unfinished work, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, hasn't been adapted to the point where we can sing along to classic lines ("Please sir, can I have some more?"). So, unlike his more over-adapted stories, the producers aren't under pressure to put their own quirky, unDickensy stamp on proceedings. In fact, because they had to make up their own ending, they were probably encouraged to make it as Dickensian as possible.

Not too difficult, that. John Jasper, an opium-addicted chorister, is in love with his nephew Edwin Drood's fiancée. Mysterious foreigners come to town, a man is murdered, secret family connections are revealed, tombs are opened and the dead return.

There are colourful secondary characters: a cheeky ragamuffin, an eccentric who speaks in the third person, and a genial old codger who means well (sounds like a typical Vincent Browne panel, really).


They all watch in horror as Jasper, the apparent villain, becomes more malevolently over-the-top. He throttles urchins, has hallucinatory opium dreams and succumbs to the Victorian villain's fatal flaw -- proudly recounting the details of his crime.

All in all, the scriptwriters do a great job filling the gaps Dickens left behind. Okay, the car-chase was a bit of a stretch and I'm still not sure about the way Jasper's gyrocopter accident was used to reveal his robot arm, but for the most part, it was satisfyingly Dickensian, refreshingly unfamiliar and very, very good.

There is now a very unDickensian subgenre of female-led dramas in which super-spies (Alias), assassins (Nikita), vampire-slayers (Buffy) and genetically engineered super-soldiers (Dark Angel) battle evil in impractical heels and tank-tops. Lost Girl moves this genre on by making its protagonist, Bo, a succubus, who literally derives her powers from sex (Ooh matron!).

So there are lots of wince-inducing "sexy" moments but, thankfully, it's not all about Bo. The secondary characters have powers, too. Bo's beau, for example, is a bestubbled, often topless hunk called Dyson, who spends a lot of the show moodily inhaling through his nose.

Ah, he's part vacuum cleaner, I assume. Well, no. Apparently, Dyson is a "wolf-shifter" and is not named after the vacuum cleaner entrepreneur, and is simply sniffing the air for the scent of baddies. Ironically, he is also guilty of smell-the-fart acting, a technique pioneered by Joey Tribbiani on Friends to allow wooden actors appear like they're experiencing deep thoughts.

There's not much of that technique in the excellent US drama, Homeland, a programme rooted in post-9/11 paranoia, which has more complex notions of morality.

CIA agent Claire Mathison (Claire Danes) believes that returning war-hero Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) is working for the Afghani insurgents who tortured him, and disobeys orders to illegally investigate him.


What makes this such an intense viewing experience is that both characters are psychologically damaged, secretive and unreliable. It's impossible to know who to believe. I have no idea how long this dynamic of doubt can sustain itself, but right now it's unmissable.

In the first part of Hostile Environment Liam Cunningham accompanies Irish private-security contractor Paul Butler as he visits diamond mines in Liberia. Butler's macho posturing is a bit forced (his well-fed frame, to be fair, could be used as a human shield) but the sordid reality of his protection of neo-colonial profiteering soon becomes clear.

"People like Paul protect interests, they don't protect rights," says Cunningham, but for the most part he doesn't editorialise. When Butler insists that ragged shanty-town dwellers are secretly squirreling away fortunes, the angry, disbelieving look Cunningham gives him says enough.

My telly-watching week began with The Voice of Ireland which is, despite the tweaks, just another singing competition. I suspect it's part of a bigger-picture ECB plan to get us literally singing for our supper. Personally, I prefer a Dickensian: "Please sir, can I have some more?"

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