The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 2

Third-episode verdict: Game of Silence (US: NBC)

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, NBC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Does a show have to be miserable to be good? Some people, usually quite pretentious/depressed/Buddhist ones, will argue that all life is suffering and therefore to depict life correctly, you must depict suffering. Always.

Whether that’s true or not, if a TV show is good but miserable, will you still want to watch it?

Game of Silence, NBC’s remake of Turkey’s Suskunlar, is prime misery, with a bunch of childhood friends finding their past catching up with them decades later, when one of their number bumps into one of the men who abused him in prison and kills him. The gang the dead man was with – largely composed of people who were also in prison – end up killing him and before you know it, there’s a mounting war as the remaining friends try to find evidence that will put the baddies in prison, and the baddies try to stop them.

Just like ABC’s American CrimeGame of Silence is surprisingly grown-up and well made for network TV. While it’s nowhere near as realistic as that show and is often downright unbelievable, it’s surprisingly nuanced. Rather than simply go in all guns blazing, our heroes try to put together a legal case, collecting evidence along the way. And rather than paint the abusers as nothing but monsters, the show is at pains to show that it’s the penal system that caused the problems – both the heroes and the abusers did terrible things because of the nature of prison life, becoming hardened and inhuman. There are frequent flashbacks not just to the heroes’ childhood and what happened to them, but also to the abusers’, and there are side plots that illuminate this central thesis and argue that prison should be the last possible punishment for crimes, as it makes people more likely to become worse versions of themselves, not better.

The show is also, while unwilling to actually show anything happening, more than happy to describe and imply paedophile parties, repeated raped, physical abuse and more, as well as depict all the traumatic effects that can have on the psyche.

The trouble is that none of this is fun to watch. It’s not helped by the lack of humour, any real human warmth, or decent acting. To be fair, the show does try hard to depict some real camaraderie between the friends, but everyone’s so traumatised and/or soon-to-be-dead, that it doesn’t work. The fact, as the title suggests, that no one’s talking about this with anyone except each other, means that everyone else in the show is an outsider to this group of not especially joyful people.

Game of Silence is a good show, not a great one, and it would really have benefited from better casting and a bit of humour from time to time. I’ll probably stick with it for a couple more episodes, but I’m not expecting to be enjoying myself as I do.

Barrometer rating: 2
Would it be better with female leads? Yes, although might be a bit exploitative
TMINE’s prediction: With bad ratings, this is unlikely to last more than a season, if that.

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The Wednesday Play/Kneale Before Nigel: Murrain (1975)

Any TV buff worth their salt can name at least one or two of the most famous play series: The Wednesday Play, The Play For Today, Armchair Theatre – these were all justifiably famous thanks to the quantity of classics they produced.

However, the annals of TV history are littered with failed TV play series that almost no one can remember, usually because they never yielded a single great piece of work, even when they had great authors writing for them. Indeed, whenever I’m combing YouTube and the Internet for plays for this strand of the blog, I’m usually coming across one or two new ones each time that I’ve never heard of before.

ATV’s 1975 series Against The Crowd – an annoyingly self-consciously titled show if ever there was one – is one such unmemorable series. Heard of Against The Crowd? Neither had I and neither has the Internet, it turns out. It’s not been released by Network, the home of obscure TV that only seven people will buy on DVD. It doesn’t have a Wikipedia page. Its IMDB page is sketchy at best and even lists it under “partially lost”, since two of its seven episodes, Tell It To The Chancellor and Blind Man’s Buff, are both missing from the archives, probably having been wiped by ATV/ITV. Even the BFI offers nothing beyond “anthology drama” in its database of TV shows. 

I did discover that:

  1. It may have aired in the afternoons
  2. Dennis Potter resented the name of the series, since that imposed a house style, and he didn’t like that.

So why mention it at all? Well, it did have some very famous names writing for it, including Fay Weldon (Poor Baby); Howard Schuman (Carbon Copy); and Kingsley Amis (We Are All Guilty). But no one, it seems, is interested in carrying a torch for their lost works, though. No. You have to have a specific kind of nerdy motivation to dredge up old TV from 40 years ago, and that usually means a love of sci-fi, fantasy or horror.

Don’t be surprised then that the only episode of Against The Crowd that anyone is interested in is Murrain, written by a certain Nigel Kneale, after he fell out with the BBC after they abandoned Quatermass. That’s the one everyone cares about and that’s the only one that’s been released on DVD, bundled with Beasts, Kneale’s subsequent ITV anthology series that he wrote for Against The Crowd writer/producer Roger Marshall. It’s also the only one the BFI has shown in the past decade or perhaps ever, as far as I know.

Murrain, named after an antiquated term for various infectious diseases affecting cattle and sheep, is a standard piece of Kneale fare in which superstition (in the form of a pig farmer who thinks a local woman is really a witch) meets science (a vet who wants to protect the little old lady from him and the other nasty bumpkins who believe). Who’s right, who’s wrong or are they both right? Everything’s an option with Kneale…

Shot on location on the then in-vogue cheap-as-chips video, it lacks the atmosphere of Kneale’s BBC plays and proves that DoPs in the 70s shouldn’t have got ambitions above their stations so many years before the invention of the Steadicam. All the same, a decent cast, including Bernard Lee (M from the early Bond movies) and Una Brandon-Jones (Withnail & I), and Kneale’s dialogue and gift for ideas means it’s not a total loss. 

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