I think I actually liked “Blackpool”

I should caveat my title by saying, though, that I don’t think I could watch more than a few episodes of it. Maybe the one-season, short run nature of it is actually perfect. Because all that singing would get old, real fast.

But I enjoyed it for what it was. As I said in class, I think that the quirkiness of the show and its characters made the idea of them bursting into song palatable. From the beginning, Blackpool set itself up as something surreal, in a way, and so the narrative universe it created seemed to mesh well with an Elvis-wannabe singing “Viva Las Vegas.”

In the first episode, though, I found myself being carried along more by the novelty of the show’s premise and less by the narrative. I wonder, then, how many episodes I could stomach before it turned into something much more like Viva Laughlin. Blackpool was fun, but I’m not sure I actually feel so because of the show’s plot of characters.

However, I should add that I do want to know who killed the blonde guy, and I think I’ll end up giving the rest of the series a try – six episodes isn’t that big of a commitment.

I’m fairly certain Blackpool would never work in America (did it really even work in England?), even amongst a spate of other musical series that we have today. Blackpool is fun, but it isn’t joyous, and the musical numbers make even less sense than when people start singing outside of the Marilyn musical on Smash. What I don’t get, though, is why the folks at CBS thought the changes they were making for Viva Laughlin would make it better for an American audience.

Yeah, Blackpool might not work in America, but Viva Laughlin takes all the fun out of the show and leaves, what? A show where even Hugh Jackman looks awkward singing. Blackpool is fun because it knows what it is and doesn’t take itself too seriously, but still tries to do something interesting with its storytelling tools. Viva Laughlin, for the few minutes we watched, was just painful. And the lead actor wasn’t even compelling. At least David Morrissey wins you over a little, as does David Tennant.

Blackpool is weird, but it is quirky and unique and, I thought, enjoyable. And its bizarre premise seemed like it served a certain storytelling purpose – the songs were fitting and actually contributed something to the narrative. But that doesn’t seem like a format that should be just adapted on a whim. The singing should serve a purpose, and it seems like in Viva Laughlin, it was just trying to make something out of a cool concept, not the other way around.

About Christine

Christine Becker is an Associate Professor in the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre at the University of Notre Dame.
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3 Responses to I think I actually liked “Blackpool”

  1. Michael says:

    Although I absolutely hated the show, I do agree with you on a few points. First, like you, I believe that the show creators should be commended for sticking to their insanely quirky/weird concept and not toning it back for more mainstream appeal. The weird “karaoke” thing definetely did not work for me, but I can see that some people would like it and I am sure the show’s dedication to the concept would keep these viewers hooked. Thats why I think the show did not work in America because “Viva Laughlin” defintely did not stick to its guns (and, on a side note, Hugh Jackman is a phenomenal singer and they made him look like a BOZO instead). Also, I do believe that the show’s narrative is fairly mundane and definitely an afterthought to the singing and dancing.

  2. Pat Toland says:

    I agree with you Maija in that I still can’t quite sort out my feeling about Blackpool, but I’m pretty sure I liked it. At the very least, I tolerated it. However, I think a large part of that was knowing it was only six episodes. You’re right, a short run is perfect for a show like this. Any more than that and the weirdness of the singing would win out over any interest I had in the murder mystery and various other plots going on. That’s why it baffles me that CBS thought an American remake was a good idea. I cannot fathom a show like this going on for a 22 episode season, let alone multiple seasons. For a channel that isn’t exactly known for taking risks with its programming, it’s just strange that they thought this would translate well.

  3. mholihen@nd.edu says:

    I like how you mention giving the show 6 episodes wouldn’t be too much of an investment. I think that’s such a major difference between British and American viewers’ mindsets. In America, we figure if a show is really worth watching and investing in, it will get picked up for a full 22-episode season (and likely a second season, as well). We aren’t really willing to invest in a program for the first few episodes if it will be canceled after 13 (or 2 in the case of Viva Laughlin). With the ease of access of programming on DVD, iTunes, or other Internet streaming, there’s almost no point in watching the first season of a series on television. Waiting to see how a show pans out among critics and in the ratings before you give it your time has become quite common. In the UK, giving a show 6 episodes of your attention and knowing you’ll get the payoff of a complete season-structure story arc doesn’t seem very taxing. Keeping up with a program for 22 weeks throughout the year takes some effort, but casually tuning in for a short season allows one to sample a wider variety of content and allows shows like Blackpool to get off the ground.

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