While I recognize that the This is England… series may not be everyone’s favorite show, especially if you hate the 80s, I think the whole idea is great.
First, the structure is so unique. How many other shows are there that have gone from a movie to a TV series at all? Then, take the fact that the movie and each series of the show follows the same group during different years. By the end of the 3rd series, the works will have followed the same characters over seven years of their lives. Shaun will go from the child he was in the film to a young adult – these works are following characters during the most important years of their lives. You get attached to them. They’re like old friends you check in with every couple of years, watching them grow and change and deal with struggle as society shifts around them.
It’s so amazing the way the translation from film to television ended up. The characters from the movie seem to have changed organically, nothing about them seems forced. They seem to have evolved like real people. It almost feels as if there was no gap in time at all. For the most part, they seem to be right where you’d expect them to be after three years. (Side note: If you haven’t seen the movie, you need to. It is amazing. It was one of those things that Maija told me I wouldn’t regret not doing work to go watch, and she was right. I hate to call it “feel good,” but it was really well done.)
I think it’s so great that each work skips a couple of years because you don’t get bogged down. I think taking glimpses of the characters’ lives instead of intently following them enables the audience to see the bigger picture, to see England for what the show presents it as. And that’s one of the bigger ideas of the show, isn’t it? I think it fits in perfectly with the social realism that British dramas are praised for, taking more of a look at society as a whole and the way it changes over the course of a decade and the way it changes people.
After a cursory search of the Internet, it seems like the British people really appreciate what the show does. According to Wikipedia, it pulled almost 40% more of an audience than Channel 4 normally did in its timeslot. The things we’ve seen from Channel 4 and the brand of the channel tends to be unique (like Black Mirror) or sensational (like Gypsy Weddings) intended for a 16-34 audience.
I think that This is England… targets its audience well (it’s about young people and we love identifying with characters because we’re all narcissists), but it is also more socially relevant than some of Channel 4’s other shows. It’s the perfect show for this period of time when youth in England are angry and rebellious like they were in the show (are the youth ever really content, though?). TIE… is perfect because it aligns so well with the feelings of Channel 4’s audience while at the same time presenting a “slice of life,” big picture portrayal of normal people living their lives, dealing with real struggles, and figuring themselves out.
This brings to the inevitable question of whether something like this would work in the US. Obviously we’re less likely to like something that isn’t about our country, but what if there was a show about rebellious youth during Vietnam? There are a decent number of parallels between today’s youth and the youth of the Vietnam era. Civil Rights could also play in a great deal I’m sure, which would also serve to communicate the racial tones that are present in the movie and I’m sure to a certain extent the show as well. Like I said, people always seem to think the youth are angry, but TIE… has the Falklands War as a backdrop, so an American translation would need something comparable. What about the format? Could American audiences deal with not knowing what happens in the years between seasons? We could barely deal with the months-long gaps in Battlestar Galactica. Of course by “we” I mean the extremely dedicated, but small BSG fan contingent, so that might skew my opinion. Would the “slice of life,” big picture perspective be preserved if it had to be stretched across an American television season? Or are these kinds of realistic dramas something reserved for an analysis of British history because that’s what British television dramas do best?