Final Reflections

I know this is basically a repeat of what has already been posted, but oh well. I actually wasn’t enrolled in this class until the night before the first class. I had absolutely no desire to watch/learn about/talk about British television, something that I considered to be a waste of my time.  In the typical American attitude, if it wasn’t made in the good old U-S-of-A then it wasn’t worth my time.  Now, however, I am extremely glad my schedule needed to change so I could take this class.

As I mentioned before in the class, I didn’t have much of a knowledge of British television, with the exception of a few episodes of Keeping Up Appearances.  After learning about the five terrestrials and their digital channels as well as watching all the different shows throughout the semester, I can now say that I enjoy British television just as much, if not more in certain situations, than American television.

My favorite shows are still American productions (Mad Men, The Office, Modern Family, Community, etc.), but creeping up the list are The Inbetweeners, Doctor Who, Sherlock, and, yes, even The Mighty Boosh.  To me, the most appealing aspect of these shows and the others that we watched is that they are familiar, but still different.  While that may not make sense, what I’m trying to convey is the fact that American television is EXTREMELY formulaic.  There is very little that separates one comedy from another, one drama from another, one procedural from another.  While people who have watched more British television than I have could argue that the same is true in Britain, because of our lack of familiarity with it, I don’t notice it.

Basically, in a long-winded way, the British television shows are just different enough from American versions of the same genre to get me interested in viewing them.  This new avenue would have never been opened to me if I didn’t take this class.

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Final Post

I am so happy this class exists. I don’t care if I sound cheesy or whatever in saying it.

Before, I had only seen The Office and some Monty Python. I had friends obsessed with Downton Abbey and Doctor Who, but I never really started watching them until this semester when, as horribly great as it was, I got a taste, then sucked in. Since January, I have seen all of Him & Her, all of Downton Abbey, all of Sherlock, some Shameless, and I just started the fourth series of Doctor Who (plus the first series of Torchwood…which I now regret. Apparently only the second sereis is worth anything). Countless hours of possible productivity lost to feed this new British curiosity, but I regret nothing.

Now, I find my “Television to Start When Time Allows” master list contains some British shows that have caught my interest. Unfortunately, who knows when any time will ever exist to actually fulfill it.

I’ve always enjoyed television, discovering new programs and the workings behind them, and the strategy and programing differences between the US and UK fascinated me. The writer’s power, the relaxed or more acceptable viewing options, the distinct channel identities, the trends, and so on all played a bigger part than I anticipated. Most notably, as we have discussed often, the scheduling works drastically different than our own with popular shows airing over the weekend, lack of commercials on some channels, and irregularly planned series’ broadcasts. The added flexibility when using language, violence, or sex results in a level of dynamism for the shows, unafraid of advertiser backlash. My limited knowledge of the international industry lead to assumptions about television, especially in comparison to my American upbringing and understanding. Knowing how much more exists outside our seemingly endless list of programs baffles a bit, but really fuels curiosity and study.

I will undoubtedly pursue British programs in the future and loved having my horizons broadened…broad enough to cross the Atlantic.

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BBC Programming News

A My Family star says the BBC told her they cancelled the sitcom because they had too many middle-class sitcoms (like Outnumbered and Miranda) and needed more working-class ones. And the BBC has announced some new drama commissions; In the Flesh is very intriguing.

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Final Homework Assignment

Coming into this class, I knew almost nothing about British TV. Now, in response to this final blog post assignment, an initial thought immediately came to mind in terms of programming: British TV is so much more real and more honest than American TV. This is the most surprising/admirable thing I have learned that has allowed me to appreciate British television.

A number of shows come to mind that embody this realism. Him and Her on BBC Three, for example, exemplifies real-life love in its everyday glory. The inactivity is so intriguing and different than anything I have ever seen before, as it displays exactly how real couples actually interact with one another.

Being Human, a supernatural sci-fi show, places emphasis on the relationships between the three supernatural beings. The show investigates their real life struggles and friendship amidst the turmoil that surrounds their lives. There is no Edward/Bella-esque love infatuation or typical, supernatural plot lines. There are three characters, three friends, whose dynamic makes the show.

Even Skins, is my opinion, is much more honest in the British version as opposed to the American version. The U.S. version is apt to portray violence over sex and portrays teens literally going crazy! The British version focuses more on individual struggles that modern teens are realistically going through, and is not as sensationalistic.

In terms of comedy, there is Miranda. The self-conscious style is entirely real. Miranda is not a skinny, gorgeous, 20-something model/actress. She is intentionally clumsy and awkward. There is a greater sense of failure with UK protagonists, and they also feature less attractive people, which is admirable.

British TV examines realist, social issues without shame. Even One Day, which we have watched recently, is slower-paced and tackles societal challenges involving class and violence. Whether viewers take to it or not, British television is not afraid to be real, thought-provoking, offensive, messy, honest, etc. It breaks barriers that U.S. television is often too afraid to cross.

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UK Student Response

Faye Woods asked a student to talk to some peers about their reactions to British comedy, and here is his response:

“I asked around and this seems to be the general consensus as to the British response to Brit comedy:

-That it seems that our humour relies on pain, and people suffering awkward situations and we enjoy stewing in that cringe-worthy state perhaps more than Americans. It’s enjoying the awkwardness rather than suffering through it.
–  That Miranda might have gone down well because it’s a bit more ‘obvious’ with physical comedy and punchlines.
– Maybe the surreal nature of the Mighty Boosh appeals to a sort of quirky British sensibility more so than to Americans.

But, yeah, it seemed like the main point was that we laugh at awkward situations rather than share that awkwardness in an uncomfortable way.”

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Final Homework

Coming into this class, I obviously brought with me a love of a number of British shows, but a lack of context. Other than shows that air on BBC that also air on BBC America, I didn’t really know where many of the shows I watch air because I watch them online, on Netflix, or on a friend’s computer. It was really interesting to me to learn about the brands of each channel, even within the same family of channels. It makes much more sense to me now that Torchwood premiered on BBC3 and I can even make some sense of Gypsy Weddings when it airs on TLC.

British TV oddly enough seems to have less of an identity crisis than the American networks. British channels and US networks both show a mix of programming, but the British method seems oddly cohesive (generally). Being able to look at a show and have an idea of what channel it airs on is new endlessly fascinating. It would also be a fun party game (for Maija and me anyway…).

Seeing the ways that the BBC in particular tries to serve the public interest across its family of channels has been a lesson in almost Malcolm Tucker-esque spin. I think it’s really admirable that after 50+ years, the BBC is still dedicated to public service broadcasting, going beyond strict Reithian ideals and adapting the idea of “public service” for a 21st century audience. I feel really defensive of the BBC whenever I read about Rupert Murdoch potentially messing things up for everyone over there (it reminds me of that line from Mean Girls: “She’s a life ruiner. A ruiner of lives.”).

It’s really remarkable how different British and US television really is. What works, how things work, and the branding and ideals behind programming, and almost everything else is different. Language might be one of the only thing US and UK produced television have in common, and it was fun to parse out the similarities and differences this semester.

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UK Comedy vs. US

I’m not sure who Jack Cooper is (i.e. if he works in the industry or is a critic), but he has a blog post lamenting that US sitcoms are better than UK sitcoms today, and he thinks importing the writers’ room concept could help.

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Shamelessly Eccentric and Dirty, But Isn’t That Why We Love British TV?

Here it is, kids.  Shameless Season 1 Episode 2 in its entirety on youtube for your enjoyment.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iE73fUj8aGs

And isn’t it wonderful that you can just type it into the search bar, and it’s there?  You wouldn’t find that with most, if not all, US shows, but UK television seems to be a little more inclusive to its audience.  UK shows want to be watched, want to include us, want to draw us in to their weird worlds and say, “Hey, this is weird and slightly depraved, but we like it.”

And isn’t that the idea of Shameless? This “lower-class” family whose house is always a mess, they fight, they argue, they have sex on the kitchen floor.  But in the end, the kids all band together as a loving family that takes care of each other.  The ending scene of the first episode is of all of them around the table eating together, and it’s lovely.

The kids in Shameless deal with things with wit and humor, much like many of Britain’s television shows.  They take a terrible situation and make jokes in the wonderful, self-deprecating way that British comedy is able to make fun of itself and the problems of its country.  Shameless should be a depressing drama, what with the children’s abandonment and the massive issues of the father.  But it isn’t – it’s light and fun and dirty.  And in episode 2 when Frank disappears after a huge drunken fight with the family, they don’t write him off – they go searching for him.  Because no matter what he’s done, he’s still part of the family.  They welcome him home with flags and cheers, (much to his dismay and embarrassment).

There’s a scene in Episode 2 in which Fiona and Steve think that the police are fishing Frank’s dead body out of the river, but it turns out to be a police PR stunt.  Fiona’s emotion at thinking her abusive father is dead is heartbreaking, but the show throws it aside and makes a joke.  And that, I think, is what British TV does best – gives us genuine emotion for a split second, and then cuts in with a witty, slightly inappropriate joke.  And that makes for simply great TV.

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This Week’s Comprehensive Review! From My Perspective…

Since everyone else has posted a little something about each of the shows we watched this week, I wanted to provide some of my own thoughts, both in agreement and differing from those comments already made.

First, the episode of One Day that we watched was just too slow for me. I’m hoping that the proceeding episodes that we are going to watch on Monday change my opinion of this and help me to appreciate the overall structure better, but personally I thought it often moved too slowly. The little boy with the gun at the beginning seems to appear sporadically, seemingly making the audience think he somehow is involved with the killing of Ted, but ultimately he doesn’t (at least on the surface) seem to have anything to do with the actual shooting. Perhaps I’m not grasping the full concept of the show just yet, but I thought the simplicity and “mundane-ness” almost took away from the potential for a really engaging plot structure. I’m very curious to see our screenings on Monday, since I hope I’m proven wrong and have my opinion changed. I see where the structure of the show can be very mentally engaging (potentially), but right now I was just feeling bored and disengaged when seemingly ordinary activities kept going on in the house – and then Ted would really over-react sometimes. Overall, I didn’t feel engaged, but I’m hoping that changes on Monday, I’m still open to the show’s premise.

Shameless was an enjoyable program to watch, but I didn’t find anything in particular that made me think, this is ‘high-quality television.’ The characters are relatable and I felt intrigued by the happenings of the plot, but not once did I think        it matched up to a Sherlock or Downton Abbey. Perhaps it’s just because each of those aforementioned shows have a “film-like” feel to them, but nominating Shameless for a BAFTA award in drama seems surprising to me. Again, like One Day, I’m judging the entire series off of one episode, which isn’t fair. Nevertheless, when we watched one episode each of Sherlock and Downton Abbey, I left thinking, ‘This is some high quality television!’ I didn’t have that same feeling after watching Shameless and I’m struggling to figure out why. I’m thinking that maybe because the program was so relatable, that I felt too familiar with it so it wasn’t as “unique” as the other shows. Additionally, the narrative was pretty simple, as opposed to Sherlock’s, but I’m judging too harshly since they’re completely different shows. With all of that said, I didn’t hate it, and I would watch it again – could turn out like The Mighty Boosh where I like it more with each additional viewing. (Interesting that I feel like a lot of British TV we’ve watched has been like this, where I enjoy it more when I watch more of it).

I really want to see the movie of This Is England because I think the premise of moving a show from film to television is very interesting. Then to have the series narrative spaced out over years like it is makes the idea even more engaging and interesting to watch. Brenna brought up a lot of terrific points about the show, but I think the time element of the show’s narrative is by far its most fascinating dimension. I actually enjoyed the episode the least of the three that we watched this week, however, I found the idea most fascinating. If the movie is as good as Brenna (and Maija) says it is, then perhaps I would have enjoyed the episode more. We’re jumping right in media res, so I may have just been feeling lost with this particular episode. However, the show’s structure is really interesting from a narrative time perspective. I’m struggling to think of any American shows that also follow a similar structure. It’s almost most comparable to some movies in the US (which would make sense, given that it started as a movie). For instance, Star Wars jumps around over multiple years, as do many other movie series, contemporary and classic. Still, I wonder if the idea would even work in the US, since Americans seem comfortable with the consistent flow of most American programs.

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News Corp Troubles

I don’t know if you guys have been following the News Corp. hacking scandal (I don’t recall bringing it up much in class), but the potential implications for British TV have just gotten huge. Short version of the hacking part: one of News Corp’s tabloids, News of the World, was caught hacking into the voicemail of a missing teen (who was later found murdered). The paper was shut down, some folks got fired, but News Corp. brass has claimed they didn’t know about it. It has since come out that the hacking went beyond just that one incident and newspaper, and while Rupert Murdoch and the other top execs are still claiming ignorance, the water has gotten even hotter for them, because this has led to even bigger charges of illegal influence. Again in short: it’s come out that News Corp. might have had illicit dealings with the government in trying to curry favor to get permission to buy up all of BSkyB, which runs Sky satellite service, last year (once the hacking came to light, the plan was shut down, so News Corp still has just 39% ownership). And going way further back than that, there are charges that Margaret Thatcher granted News Corp. all kinds of special dispensation to get Sky going and help it take on (or even down) the BBC. And finally, there are even some rumblings that some in the government may have pushed to freeze the BBC license fee in order to favor Sky. (As Twenty Twelve‘s Siobhan Sharp would say, “holy shet, guys”). Here’s a post from my blog that catches you up on some of this. And then here’s an evisceration of News Corp. from the Guardian (should be noted: known as a liberal-leaning outlet) that raises some of the past and future implications for the BBC. And there’s talk this could ultimately force News Corp. entirely out of BSkyB (another source alert: from BBC News). This could be a lot of noise producing nothing, as frankly the hacking scandal itself has kind of been, but it could also change the face of British TV. We’ll see!

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One Day: What a Great Idea

Well, I can’t wait for Monday’s viewings.

I was thoroughly impressed with One Day for an abundance of reasons, but I think the reason I found it so enjoyable was because I was trying to figure out how it was all connected. I like a show that makes me think, and One Day, whether it was trying to or not, certainly made me do that. I wonder when the show was being released if everyone knew the premise behind the show and how each episode would eventually be connected?

I think that the day-to-day-ness of the episode we watched is what made it so appealing. While I found myself annoying with Ted the character, I also found myself able to relate to him. I felt his reactions were realistic to the kids from the estates getting under his skin, I also felt like the show created a show that really feels like we’re jumping into the characters lives. I can imagine the normal lives of Ted and his wife and how they dealt with their neighbors on a daily basis. I also feel like the normalcy of their lives adds to the tension within the episode. It seemed like whenever something mundane was going on, in the back of my mind I knew that something was eventually going to happen.

I think that this kind of miniseries is something we need more of. The story is simple, as least from where we stand now, seems well done, and the overall concept creates buzz. I haven’t heard of this being done on television before. The only time I’ve heard of a concept which tells the same story from multiple different people was a few years ago when there was talk of JJ Abrams shooting a Cloverfield sequel. The rumored concept of the film sequel was to have the exact same event shot from a different characters point of view. The project seemed to be nothing more than rumor, but having seen the execution in a television format instead of a film format, I think that it works best as a short television series.

I would like to see a return of the miniseries on American television, because I think it offers up the opportunity for a different kind of story telling than a full 20+ episode season. I also think that it offers something different than a shorter, British series of 6 episodes because when you have a 4 episode series like One Day, that is shown on consecutive nights, it creates its own spectacle and, as I said before, it’s own buzz around that would keep people interested for the necessary short period of time. I’d love to see an American broadcast network take a chance and schedule a miniseries for a Monday-Thursday run like One Day. Even if it failed, the attempt would hopefully spark a return to this format of shows which seem to be immensely entertaining.

 

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One Day is All We Need

The only planned miniseries I have ever watched (oh, Firefly) was Harper’s Island, a show that barely blipped on most people’s radar. We’ve discussed in class the complete lack of such things on network television, some really only occurring on premium cable channels if promoting “a once in a lifetime, spectacular event” such as Kate Winslet in Mildred Pierce. I think we can all admit we check our email or get a snack during those categories at the Emmys. But after watching the first episode of One Day, I can honestly say that I wish we had more of them. More quality, compact storytelling that expands beyond a movie length but fulfills any narrative need in a shorter television lifespan.

Ensemble movies or shows can get complicated, interweaving numerous people to satisfy any plot threads left hanging. Multiple perspective stories require a certain bit of viewer detective work, picking up clues and connections between everyone, making the most sense out of the focused incident. The fun of this short serial plays with one afternoon from four perspectives, the butterfly effect connecting them. I sat and tried to make note of interlinking factors: the morning encounter, the start of the rain, the end of the kid’s party, and the brick through the window. Not necessarily just big narrative moments, but including the absence of some…the unexplained shifts or side glances. Connective narrative tissue will weave within each episode, building off of the guaranteed curiosity of what may unfold, why, and by whom.

In Ted’s story, we know the obvious connections between him, Alfie, and Rochelle, even teasing her bit at the end. We only met Carol for a few minutes, nothing about her presence explained, none of her involvement hinted at beside her quick cutaway in the beginning with the others. The short serial allows us to delve into each story fully, not cut corners or rely on assumptions, but truly experience the diegesis in the best form, the most practical form, it has to offer. A movie would need to condense, a full series would need to elongate. This compact story tells what it needs to in the time frame it desires, and I’m excited to see it play out.

Besides, in a class where we constantly want to continue with shows with a backlog, who wouldn’t mind a quickly introduced and resolved screening subject?

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Violence Complaints

The BBC has received complaints about the depiction of violence in one of its procedural series, and just based on the print description, it sounds like nothing more than what you’d ordinarily see on US TV.

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ITV’s Comedy Efforts

Broadcast reports that ITV is making a big push into scripted comedy, especially of the mass, pre-watershed sort. ITV’s director of entertainment and comedy says: “We dropped out of the comedy game and it feels like there has been incompleteness in the schedule. It’s now the genre we want to make a big splash in.”

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Shameless Comparison

After being impressed with the UK’s output of Shameless, I felt the need to watch the US remake in order to compare and contrast the two. Thankfully, our version is made to be aired on Showtime. Racy subject matter such as this could only be properly showcased on a premium cable channel. The pilot episode follows the same structure and formula of the original British product. A few changes are made here and there in order to transfer the story from Manchester to Chicago.

I was surprised to find that both families are able to come across as lovable. You can’t help but root for the children as they struggle to support themselves without the help of their drunk father. Although their actions are mostly immoral, mischievious, and vulgar I found myself wanting them to succeed in all they do. They smoke, drink, and commit crimes but both shows succeed in displaying them as unlikely heroes. The positives of both outputs lie in their fast-paced aesthetics and ensemble casts. If you don’t like one character, there are several others to keep you coming back for more. I noticed the US version tried to make their characters more likeable. For example, in one scene the youngest daughter comes downstairs to put a pillow under her passed out father’s head. One critique I have of the American version is its casting of Steve, who is played extremely well by James McAvoy in the British version. The US Steve is fairly flat in the first episode and seems to be forcing chemistry, which gives him room to grow as the season progresses.

My favorite scenes in both shows are when the adults are all drinking, smoking, and dancing in the living room together and the final breakfast scene. They manage to illustrate how the families are able to have fun regardless of their unfortunate circumstances, which is what this show does best. So which production is better? I preferred the grittiness and originality of the British version, however, I will continue to watch the US remake. We have come to realize that British TV is not afraid to confuse or disgust the viewer in order to get across their story. American TV prefers to put a glossy finish on everything, and make the story as accessible and easy to understand as possible. Showtime’s version of Shameless does just that, and as a result I choose to watch the American version for its more polished presentation (which is not necessarily better).

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