Monday 6 October 2008

US vs UK Telly

For a while now I have been pondering the state of English television.  It sounds dramatic but it's not really.  Not nearly as dramatic as I would like it to be.  When I was growing up, I was taught that English television was made of awesome and all things good whereas US television was shallow, one-dimensional and unintelligent.  This was before Australian television became a force to be reckoned with and having only lived in South Africa and England, I'm afraid I can't really comment on the programming of other countries.

Fast forward to current day and I honestly think the tables have turned. US television is surprising and inventive on so many levels across so many genres. I can rattle a couple of superb programs off the top of my head: Damages, Mad Men, Dexter, the CSI and Law & Order franchises, Desperate Housewives, House, Lost and my favourites Supernatural, Prison Break, Heroes, NCIS and Ghost Whisperer. US television has upped the ante and if programs don't perform then they are booted out. The complexity of storylines, the ingenuity of concepts and the intelligent dialogues have been the cornerstone of my personal conversion from movie buff to television addict. This is television that can make you laugh and cry and cheer and rage. I'm not trying to say that US television is all good. Far from it. But you just need to take a look at the reaction to's new UK version to see that I'm not the only who thinks that UK Telly is a bunch of shallow crap alternating with reality programming and endless soaps.

I imagine this is the point where someone reminds me that I am far too addicted to Doctor Who to be healthy and that I spend every last minute of my days obsessing about Harry Lloyd and his performances in Robin Hood and Doctor Who.  (I'm really sorry about this but) gratuitous picture of Harry Lloyd (to brighten up the post):


But let's take a look at some of those staple favourites of mine. Robin Hood (and now Merlin) are formulaic to the extreme. Each week you have a new source of evil, it is beaten and destroyed and then you carry on next week as if nothing happened. There is no character development and storylines are absolutely one-dimensional.  How about Spooks: Code 9? Apart from the dubious English tendency to try make government employees look way too cool for their own good, where is the depth? One of your characters is possibly dying from radiation poisoning - does that not call for some sort of (god forgive me) plot?

The inner fangirl in me won't let me touch any of the Doctor Who franchise, I'm afraid, so no complaints there (other than to say that I am not in the least bit impressed that Yasmin Paige is leaving the cast of SJA).

Bonekickers was so bad that I could not bring myself to watch more than one episode of it and I promise it had nothing to do with the fact that Harry Lloyd's girlfriend Gugulethu Mbatha-Raw stars in it.  An Indiana Jones-type show where mysteries of the world are uncovered by a team of archeologists should have had me hooked. The fact that it starred Julie Graham from William and Mary should have been enough to make me stay. But it wasn't. It was, unfortunately, a complete load of crap.  It was everything English television is becoming: historically inaccurate, formulaic and completely shallow; complete with a bitter and jaded protagonist, a kindly and elderly support character and flat, younger characters who simply go through the motions to deliver this week's popular take on the political world. 

In fact, English television studios would definitely do well to take their noses out of the social-political arena and just do what they are best at: entertaining people.  Many people have commented on how thinly disguised the references to the Iraqi war were in Robin Hood.

Like I mentioned previously, I am absolutely aware that US television is not this amazing beacon of brilliance and entertainment.  It's just that English television used to be better - a lot better.  And while I sit glued to programs coming over from the States, I often find myself making tea or updating my blog during English programming (except for X Factor which has me transfixed).  Now what does that say about the state of English television?


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