As Sally Sparrow once said, "Sad is happy for deep people." And indeed, there have been a whole load of miserable plays, TV programmes, films et al designed for smart people: I love Se7en (as a quote in the introduction to the BFI book on the movie says – or was it one of the special edition DVD commentaries? – "Of course I love Se7en – I'm an intellectual"), for example, and Callan and The Sandbaggers are so brilliant because they're so bleak. Think of Turn Left and Midnight in the latest series of Doctor Who, as well as the fate of Donna in Journey's End: better for bleak, no?
Over the last year, though, there's been an increase in sad TV programmes on the Beeb: Wallander, The Day of the Triffids, Survivors, Paradox, Criminal Justice et al have all been deeply miserable. As Paradox shows, being miserable doesn't mean being good, but does it help – the bleaker moments of Paradox were its best bits.
So today's question (in parts) is:
Does being depressed, sad or miserable increase the chances of a show being good? Is sad happy for deep people? Are TV shows getting more depressing of late (thanks to the recession maybe?) And do you like watching sad shows?
As always, leave a comment with your answer or a link to your answer on your own blog.
Good drama - good anything - is hard to find on ITV1 these days (even harder in Scotland, where STV is failing to carry almost any of ITV1's programmes). Yet there are a few standouts, usually in the crime genre. The Fixer is one such standout. It features Andrew Buchan as a former SAS soldier, recruited by a shadowy branch of the police to do its very, very dirty work, usually involving murder but also resorting to other unpleasantries that are in no way legal. With a chav idiot sidekick and a hard as nails, unmovable boss, The Fixer is basically Callan for the 21st century.
Series one of The Fixer was properly classed as very good, rather than excellent. It came perilously close to excellent at times, but despite being an action show, it had very little action, it exhibited quite phenomenal amounts of misogyny at times, it veered towards the cliché and the occasionally silly, and Tamzin Outhwaite was pretty much there as a name to draw in an audience, rather than because she had anything to do.
Series two, which opened with a two-part story, seems to have spotted these problems and done its level best to fix them, because despite a slightly flat and occasionally bizarre opening episode, the second episode managed to pile on the suspense and action in bucketloads.
Here's a promo - and yes, that is Mr Darcy from Lost in Austen as an evil member of the security services - followed by the first 10 minutes of the first episode of series one, just so you have an idea of what's going on if you missed it: you can watch the rest on YouTube or DVD if you want.
In the discussions that some people have about which is the best ever spy TV series – and sometimes even best ever TV series – the competition among the cognoscenti and connoisseurs usually takes in two shows: The Sandbaggers and Callan.
The two have much in common and it's often just a question of taste as to which comes out top. Both deal with the world of British intelligence. Both are very gritty, featuring some of the unpleasant harshness faced by spies on the front line of the cold war. Both feature ruthless bosses and more compassionate agents.
While The Sandbaggers was more interested in the politics and the intrigues surrounding spy work, however, Callan was more interested in its effects on people and the the kind of people who become involved in spy work. It featured future Equalizer Edward Woodward as 'David Callan' (not his real name), an ex-soldier and quiet, ordinary working class man who would have been quite happy to have been a clerk and play war games with toy soldiers at the weekend.
However, he – and British intelligence's dirty tricks department 'The Section' – finds himself to be singularly qualified for one thing: being a killer for the state. Although he has to indulge in other unpleasantness, such as blackmail, breaking and entering, torture, theft and more, Callan's true skills lie in inflicting pain and shooting people, something he's reluctant to do but knows that if he ever quit his job, he'd find himself in one of The Section's 'red files', just like all his victims.
Although the plots are usually nail-biting, most of the intrigue is in the character relationships and what they tell us about spies and intelligence work in general. We see the difference between Callan and his two colleagues – posh psychopath Meres (Anthony Valentine) and dandy-esque hard man Cross (Patrick Mower), who are both far happier to do as they're told, no matter what it involves. We also see how he deals with his ever-changing series of bosses, all of whom are given the soubriquet 'Hunter'. The relationship, however, is always of the upper class boss, remote from the effects of the decisions that the defiant working class Callan has to implement. There's also Callan's best friend, Lonely, a petty thief, whom Callan uses and abuses in his work.
The show is also well known for its famous, iconic title sequence (hence today's blog entry), with its sad, down-at-heel theme tune. Queue the swinging light bulb:
I've also included this little gem of a scene from the first episode of the third series, Where Else Could I Go? (the first one in colour), in which Callan, just returning to duty after having been shot by Meres at the end of the second series for shooting the previous 'Hunter', finds the new Hunter unsure whether Callan is up to the job any more or whether he's lost his killer instinct and become a 'gutless wonder'. The entire episode revolves around Hunter's manipulation of Callan and the people around him to see if he can be pushed into regaining his aggressive tendencies. Notably, it's only when best pal Lonely starts pushing Callan around as well that Callan finally snaps and becomes his old self:
You can still get the third and fourth series on DVD (the third has just been released in the US), but the superb first two black and white series are incomplete and unavailable (unless you know where to look). Double O Section has a review of the third series DVD that should give you an even fuller analysis of the wonders of Callan
About the blog
A UK media blog focusing on the best scripted TV from around the world, with daily news, views, exclusive reviews and good conversation. There's a bit of a bias towards the latest and greatest US TV, but we also cover Scandinavian, Canadian, European and Antipodean TV, as well as UK TV ranging from new Doctor Who to old Z Cars, and BBC4 to S4C.
Add in film, theatre, art, books, events, competitions and even weekly reviews of Wonder Woman comics, and you've (hopefully) got officially the fourth best blog on the web for media lovers. Oh yes, and there's The Barrometer, the ultimate guide to quality TV.
Praise for the blog Cision: fourth most important UK TV blog Blogging Edge: Blogger running Britain 2013
"For most of us watching the telly of an evening is a way to wind down and relax, but for Rob Buckley it’s his blogging bread and butter. With reviews of cult classics and up and coming US and Brit television shows, The Medium is Not Enough is fast becoming essential reading for TV buffs, with over 50,000 hits a month."
"The Medium Is Not Enough is a light-hearted look at TV, often from the US, but also from the UK. With varied, well-written content, the blog features healthy engagement and features well in search engines."
"Billing itself as 'officially the fourth most popular UK TV blog', there are several whimsical regulars here that could help it climb as high as number three…"
I'm Rob Buckley, a freelance journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of, although you might have heard me on Radio 5 Live's Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I've edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for trade magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider and the equally short-lived Death Ray and Filmstar magazines; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it "web site for urban hedonists" The Tribe. I'm freelance now and have contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network and TV Scoop.