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Television Serials

One of the minor consequences of a period of enforced inactivity (the result of recent medical problems, mine and M’s, both now resolved) is getting hooked on television serials.

Yes, I know, I could have, and should have, settled down with a few good books of the ‘improving’ kind, but there are only so many hours a day one can spend on works of literature, even of the lighter variety. 

And so, in the evenings the goggle-box beckoned, beguilingly and insistently, with Poldark, Indian Summers, Fortitude (all British) and The Good Wife and The Newsroom (both American).  M, recovering from hip surgery, is, additionally, and I have to say inexplicably, hooked on something called Mr. Selfridge, ostensibly the story of the American entrepreneur who founded the famous London department story.

Do any of these programmes offer quality viewing?  I’m not sure.  But once one is hooked on the first episode of these interminably long-running series, the urge to see them through to the end becomes compulsive. 

Poldark, a re-working of a hit series from the 1970s, concerns the life and times of a well-born Cornish gentleman, a soldier back from the American colonial war, trying to revive his father’s dilapidated estate.  The hero is played by one Aidan Taylor, who the tabloids describe as a ‘hunk’ and Britain’s latest ‘heart-throb’.  Actually, the actor is Irish.  Much of the running time involves our hero riding along the cliff-tops, inviting those of us who don’t lust for the man or admire his equestrian skills, to revel in the picture-postcard Cornish scenery. Naturally, there are women in his life: a former flame despairingly married in his absence to a feckless cousin; and an adopted serving maid, Demelza, who has since – horrifying the pedigreed local land-owners – become his wife.  In most episodes the plot requires Poldark to take off his shirt and display a rippling, well-muscled torso.  For the record, the two ladies have so far kept their kit on, though frankly neither comes across as especially alluring.  What’s the point of an old-fashioned bodice-ripper if the bodices are to stay firmly in place?    

Indian Summers also harks back to an earlier series, The Jewel in the Crown, regurgitating the theme of the decadent and class-obsessed British being beastly to India but sportingly attempting to devolve some form of home rule, under the prodding of an unseen Mr Ghandi. 

To be fair, the Indians themselves are no slouches when it comes to class warfare, as Hindus scorn Muslims, and vice versa, and both ostracise the Untouchables.  The Brits supposedly encourage these divisions on the theory that to divide is to rule, although what the Brits seem to be up to most of the time is not dividing or ruling but having sex – depicted as steamy but not graphically so – and not only among themselves but also with the natives.  Jolly democratic, I say.

Fortitude, the name of a Norwegian island in the Arctic Circle, is an altogether different kettle of fish, although what kind of fish, or fowl, it’s hard to say.  After eight episodes – it seems more like eighty – all we know is that residents of Fortitude are meeting grisly ends at the hands of an unknown assailant that might be a he or she, or possibly even an ‘it’.  Someone had earlier uncovered on a melting glacier the remains of a woolly mammoth, and the suggestion is that some evil and primeval force may have been unleashed.  Or perhaps the perpetrator is nothing more than a marauding polar bear.  If it is, I’m with the bear, most of the human inhabitants of Fortitude being already deranged or at least in urgent need of psychiatric evaluation.

The American shows are more digestible, at any rate slicker.

We’re more galvanised by The Newsroom – a creation of Aaron Sorkin, who devised The West Wing of fond distant memory – I suppose because we both worked in newsrooms in earlier stages of our lives, M at the now defunct United Press International, me at Reuters (still going, now under the name Thomson Reuters after its acquisition by the Canadian Thomson Group).  The Newsroom, like its West Wing predecessor, is unashamedly liberal in its approach to ‘the burning issues of the day’ but is none the worse for that, although the formulaic speeches with which the television anchor at the heart of the series explains his mission, are clearly calculated to rile viewers sympathetic to the Tea Party and other manifestations of what Sorkin sees as socially anachronistic attitudes.

The characters in The Good Wife, partners in a Chicago law firm, have hearts that bleed less than their counterparts in The Newsroom, but it’s no worse for that either.  And if the plots are more calculatedly outrageous, some no doubt find the show all the more engaging for it.  The lawyers sail close to the ethical winds as a matter of principle, and there’s even a lesbian sub-plot, presumably part of the effort to ensure that all bases are covered in the drive for social realism.  I usually hate American lawyer shows but this one has me strangely addicted. 

I know, I know, I should kick the habit, and get out more. 

I will, I promise, now that my guts have (I hope) given up perforating, or choking, or attacking each other, or whatever it was they were doing down there where I can’t keep an eye on them.

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