Film and Television Features

Slack-Jawed and Square-Eyed #3

People who, whenever the subject of TV programmes comes up, feel the need to proudly declare “I don't even own a television” are the worst kind of people (and they've managed to make The Guardian's comments section largely unreadable). But, with each new 'structured reality' show that makes its way onto our screens, the more I start to think that they may have a point.

The latest in this most irritating of televisual sub-genres is Desperate Scousewives (Monday, E4) and somehow, the least infuriating thing about is that the producers clearly thought of the title before the rest of the show, and then didn't even bother to make the programme fit it (other than the cast being Scouse, and they were quite possibly desperate for agreeing to appear in the show in the first place I suppose).

Things were off to a loser from the start with the opening narration by plucky, yet spectacularly dim Jodie (on being introduced to a couple of male hairdressers who were camp even by gay male hairdresser standards, she felt the need to ask them “Are you brothers?”), desperately trying to convince us just how stylish everything and everyone in Liverpool is. And just in case you didn't get the message, throughout the episode the characters went on and on about “The Style Awards”, which the producers assured us was in fact 'a real thing that people care about' by filming Ricky Tomlinson from The Royle Family sitting at a table for a couple of seconds.

To be honest, calling the cast of Desperate Scousewives 'characters' seems like giving the programme more credit than its due, as it would imply that they had actually been instilled with any sense of personality (the appeal of 'structured reality' for programme-makers seems pretty clear – there's no need to put the effort into creating believable characters as you would in a drama, nor do you have to worry about the documentarian's concerns of catching the right moment, or of the ethics of what you're filming, as you can just manipulate and fake your way through the whole thing). Instead of that, we were presented with the likes of on-off couple Joe and Layla and 'only famous in Liverpool' Amanda, who, much like the cast of Hot Like Us, felt compelled to tell us how hard her life as a model is, what with all the work she's had to do for free (you should try being an aspiring pop-culture writer in this day and age luv). Even worse was her nemesis, self-proclaimed 'Britain's bitchiest blogger' Jaiden, whose outpourings I unfortunately stumbled across when trying to find evidence that these were in fact real people (I'm still not wholly convinced – but then, judging how lazy the show itself was, I doubt the programme makers would have bothered to create online personas for its 'stars'); his 'blog' just being reams of fawning, poorly written, mind-numbingly tedious content that read like postings on the Digital Spy user forums (see Jaiden, that's how you do bitchy blogging). Other than 'journalist' Elissa, who was the only one capable of pulling off a recognisable emotion, the cast were uniformly terrible. So terrible were they that they in fact made Tyrone and Salina from last week's Hot Like Us look like witty, debonair conversationalists, or the cast of Made in Chelsea look talented, or The Only Way is Essex bunch look like interesting people you'd want to spend time with. Most damningly Desperate Scousewives suggested that the cast of Jersey Shore might deserve their ill-gotten fortunes, as, despite being awful, useless human beings, they do at least understand how to perform for the cameras.

It's hard to pinpoint just what the lowest point of the whole hour was, I'm tempted to suggest it was any of the low-rent Casanova Joe's interactions with women, or the salon owners going on about anal bleaching (why is that still a thing?), but perhaps the most outrightly offensive moment (at least from a technical perspective – as its contrivance was fairly bald-faced) was the attempt to stir up some sort of drama from what Jaiden had been saying about Amanda on Twitter; while Twitter may be a wonderful thing, it really doesn't work as a dramatic device, and in fact anybody who goes on about it as much as those two did is a bit of a twat (so I'd best stop going on about it now myself). Fingers crossed this doesn't catch on in the way that the marginally superior TOWIE or Made in Chelsea did (you know a show's bad when even E4 gives up hope on it by the first advert break - recommending its viewers went and did something online instead), as then I'd probably be forced to get rid of my TV out of disgust.

And if I did that then I wouldn't be able to keep up with The Killing (Saturday, BBC4), the Danish import so beloved of journalists and bloggers (at least ones who can string two sentences together) that there's practically nothing left to write about it. But I'm going to try anyway.

I must admit that I was slightly agnostic about the first season of the show. I sat through all twenty hours of it, and very much enjoyed doing so, but at the same time I found myself getting more and more annoyed with it. Where its obvious forebears The Wire and Twin Peaks made a virtue of their extended running times, with the former using each episode to uncover some new layer of corruption and become even more driven by righteous anger and despair, and the latter (at least up until the point where the network forced a hurried conclusion to the 'who killed Laura Palmer' storyline) took its time to flesh out the community at its heart, The Killing seemed happy to just settle for introducing a new red herring every week, as if it wasn't interested in answering a need in the audience but creating one instead. And, not wanting to give away who actually killed Nanna Birk Larsen for those who haven't seen it yet (despite my misgivings, it is very good, honest), but, really, they could have come to that conclusion in just a few episodes, rather than twenty.

So, it's a good thing that season two is only half the length then, and that the case is a bit of a humdinger (I'm not normally one to describe murder plots in such a way, but this one is, for want of a better word, very juicy), tying in the political ramifications of Denmark's involvement in the War on Terror (or at least in theory it is, I'm fully expecting that to be a red herring). It could be argued that the army barracks setting is less emotionally charged than the family at the core of season one, although I'm not saying that's an entirely bad thing; I was a bit uncomfortable with the situations they put the very young actors who played Nanna's brothers in. I could also point out that the first episode does make its debt to The Wire more obvious, as that show also started its second season with a wintery dockyard setting, and its driven protagonist shunted off to the middle of nowhere in disgrace, and that there's been no sign of The Jumper (as yet), but it's still an absolute joy, mostly, of course because of Sarah Lund; you wouldn't really want her as a mother, nor a lover, but she'd be a perfect reliably-unreliable-yet-always-interesting-company-when-you-could-pin-her-down friend.

After being burned a bit by the first story, I'm skeptical as to if they'll manage to tie together Lund's investigation with the trials facing the new defence minister in a satisfying way, but I'm excited to find out. Really, the only problem with the show is that I can say barely anything about the plot for fear of spoiling something for anybody – I know more than a few people who stockpile the series in order to watch it all in one go (in fact I tried doing that with the tail-end of season one – watching ten episodes in one day was a mistake as it left me exhausted, slightly mad and convinced that I could speak Danish), so it's probably for the best that I just leave it there.

Next time, I have no idea what I'll be writing about, although I'm fairly confident that it'll be better than Desperate Scousewives.