In the UK: Thursdays, 9pm, ITV1 (next episodes are tonight though)
In the US: Not yet acquired
Well, to quote the Absolutely crew, when it comes to radical television, you can't get more radical than this. Ex-EastEnders supremo Tony Jordan wanted to write a comedy/drama about life behind the scenes of a soap opera. No one liked the idea until he had the brainwave of creating a new soap opera to go with it.
So now we have Moving Wallpaper, a half-hour comedy show about the making of a soap opera called Echo Beach. After Moving Wallpaper finishes, on comes Echo Beach for real. It's all so post-modern and clever, isn't it?
Plot (taken from an alternative version of ITV1's web site played by actors)
Moving Wallpaper is set in the production office of new ITV soap Echo Beach. This is the place where life-changing decisions are made about the characters in the show. Will they live? Will they die? Who will be sleeping with who? Producer Jonathan Pope leads his team of writers to create characters and storylines that will make Echo Beach a hit.
Eagle-eyed viewers will see jokes, characters and stories crossing from one show to the other. When Jonathan Pope decides that the show is too dull, he encourages the writers to "blow something up", but you'll have to tune in to Echo Beach to watch the explosion and see the consequences.
Is it any good?
This is where it gets tricky. You can't watch the two shows in isolation and expect to get the whole experience.
Moving Wallpaper is acceptably funny. A little over the top, a little unsubtle, not desperately realistic or accurate, but with a good cast, some good lines, and plenty of in-jokes for the media savvy (including hate photos of Michael Grade). But if you watched it without watching Echo Beach, it might get a bit tiresome. Knowing that the writers and production team are essentially sending themselves up - there really is a Jonathan Pope, although he doesn't look or act like Ben Miller's interpretation of him, I suspect - gives it an extra layer, but there would come a point where it would get too self-obsessed and appeal only to a few TV producers, I suspect.
Echo Beach, an everyday tale of Cornish surfers, their yokel neighbours and their turbulent love lives, sucks. It's painful. It's nicely shot and far more like a drama than a soap in both style and appearance, right down to the incidental music. It's got a load of pretty teens à la Hollyoaks, not one of them afflicted by an 'unsexy' Cornish accent, as well as soap heavyweights Jason Donovan and Martine McCutcheon. But there's dialogue, plots and acting in it that should get locked up for GBH against the viewer.
But although it's a soap and to a certain extent that's to be expected, there's almost a subliminal wink superimposed on the TV screen at all times that says "Yes, we know it's rubbish. That's the point. Hell, you saw 'us' making the creative compromises half an hour ago. Why are you so surprised?" Looking out for the actress who gave Jonathan Pope a blow job a few minutes earlier to get a part on the soap certainly gives Echo Beach something more to sustain your interest than Martine McCutcheon or Jason Donovan (when did his accent go so RSC, BTW?) "modelling through the pain"* of the script - and it's like a delayed punchline for some of the jokes in Moving Wallpaper, right down to the credits where you see the names of all the people you saw on Moving Wallpaper. Was it real or wasn't it? Of course it wasn't. But it makes you think and the knowing wink does make you wonder if they're sending up soaps rather than just making them.
So although it looks like two shows, it's really an hour-long show with two distinct halves that still needs to be watched to gain full enjoyment.
As I said, it's "radical television".
The trouble is that the producers are pinning their hopes on a fluid set of Venn diagrams. Imagine set A is the group of UK comedy lovers and set B is the group of UK soap opera lovers: the audience for the combined show is the overlap (A∩B). I fall into set A but I'm not sure if I could sit through Echo Beach every week, even though I enjoyed Moving Wallpaper; I'm sure that the opposite must be true of denizens of set B, who probably don't give a monkeys about the fake antics behind the scenes, even if Jason and co are going to turn up in Moving Wallpaper as Larry Sanders-esque versions of themselves.
Will people outside of A∩B subject themselves to half an hour of something they don't like each week just for an extra payoff, or will they avoid watching both shows? I'm pretty sure that the long-term A∩B isn't going to be that great, even if overnight ratings suggest that it might be as large as 5 million or so.
All the same, it's nice to see ITV being brave, different and producing something that isn't so bad you actually want to travel to Lourdes to have God cleanse it from your body. I'd actually be quite happy to be proven wrong in my predictions for slumping ratings in future episodes, in fact, and Moving Wallpaper does have promise, even if it's not spectacular yet. One to keep an eye on, I think.
Here's a sort of GMTV trailer for the show with Jason and Martine.
* To quote Tyra BanksCasts
Jason Donovan (Daniel Marrack)
Martine McCutcheon (Susan Penwarden)
Hugo Speer (Mark Penwarden)
Johnny Briggs (Fin Morgan)
Gwyneth Powell (Ivy Trehearne)
Susie Amy (Angela Cole)
Christian Cooke (Brae Marrack)
Hannah Lederer-Alton (Abi Marrack)
Ed Speleers (Jimmy Penwarden)
Marcus Patrick (Ian Brenton)
Naomi Ryan (Jackie Hughes)
Jonathan Readwin (Charlie Morgan)
Chandeep Uppal (Narinder Gurai)
Laura Greenwood (Grace Penwarden)
Ben Miller (Jonathan Pope)
James Lance (Tom Warren)
Dave Lamb (Carl Morris)
Sinead Keenan (Kelly Hawkins)
Rachel Cassidy (Nancy Weeks)
Sarah Hadland (Gillian McGovern)
Elizabeth Berrington (Mel Debrou)
Lucy Liemann (Sam Phillips)