The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Little Wonder

Watched ‘Ashes to Ashes’ last night. Well, I watched the first ten minutes.

This blog isn’t intended for negativity, but in a spirit of constructive frankness, what was my problem?

Well, for me, ‘Ashes to Ashes’ has always been a not-quite show. I think it’s that the character of Gene Hunt made a kind of sense in the 1970’s where his outdated attitudes were always being questioned, but he makes no sense at all in the 1980’s where he’s simply become a cartoon, an anachronism spouting overwrought but oh-so-quotable crowd-pleasing pop-culture-referencing wisecracks.

The show’s format doesn’t hang together. ‘Life On Mars’ was compelling right up until the point where the clever explanation the writers had been building towards turned out to be neither clever nor an explanation. (Spoiler) As was once pointed out to me, it’s bizarre that given the choice between ‘Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time?’ they went for the least interesting option - the one the series had been saying it was all along! ‘Ashes to Ashes’ first series had a similarly nonsensical ‘twist’ explanation.

This episode started with a fun recreation of ‘Grange Hill’ which unfortunately looked nothing like ‘Grange Hill’. Then, in a later scene, Alex is walking through Soho and says to herself, apropos of FA, ‘It’s all restaurants now’. Exposition solely for the viewer’s benefit – telling us something we a) don’t need to know and b) already knew.

A few minutes later, it happened again. ‘I know it’s been hard for you, the city awash with new money and new crime and we’re asked to police it with one hand tied behind our backs’. That’s not dialogue, that’s a line from the pitch document. I felt embarrassed for the struggling actors... and decided to leave them to it.


  1. I've never watched A2A, despite the whole thing sitting on a hard disk winking suggestively at me. It's just so, SO hard to forgive LoM, and I'm not sure I ever will. And if even my unhealthy interest in Keeley Hawes won't get me to watch something, perhaps I should reclaim the disk space.

  2. I remember my primary school teacher, when I was about six, told me not to end stories with 'and he woke up and it was all a dream'. I'm guessing the writers of 'LoM' had a different primary school teacher. 'And he woke up and it was all a dream... and then he went back to sleep!' In terms of glib cop-out resolutions, that's second only to killing off your lead character...

    Apparently, while the UK 'LoM' took its 'twist' ending from the Twilight Zone episode 'A Stop At Willoughby', the US 'LoM' decided to steal from the episode 'Where Is Everybody'.

    In 'A2A' Keeley was unable to make any sort of sense of her character's motivations, which the reviewers (very unfairly, IMHO) blamed on her.

  3. The other thing that bugs me is when people say they enjoyed the show because they heard a song being played in the background *which they already own on CD*! If that's what you like, why not cut out the middle-man and just stick on 'Now That's What I Call Music: 1982'?

  4. Fair opinions, but my answer is:

    1. Gene Hunt wasn't questioned at all in the 1970s. His behaviour was the norm then. It looked odd only to Sam. Hunt makes more sense in the 1980s when times have moved on and the characters of the time question him.

    2. Compelling to the end is good enough for me every time. Perhaps we should dismiss Citizen Kane for its silly ending.

    3. Clever endings come in many forms. Surely anything that dares to present suicide as a happy ending deserves some credit for thinking outside the box laid down for formula shows.

    4. Of the three options in LOM - mad, coma, time-travel. It couldn't be mad as Sam Tyler was the most sane character there. It couldn't be time-travel (unless you watched only a few minutes of the show) as every single episode contained things that told you it most definitely wasn't time-travel - talking tvs, test card girl, lights going out and nobody noticing. As for the coma, Sam got messages from the waking world. So it was the only option. Anything else would have been an illogical and non-foreshadowed writers' trick.

    5. I have no idea what state Soho is in now. Not all viewers live in London (believe it or not) and know these sort of things.

    6. Not sure why that final piece of explanatory dialogue is so unutterly bad. Yeah, it's not great, but to my mind it sets the scene quickly in a show that is a piece of popular entertainment, where let's face it big chunks of all dialogue is about moving the plot on quickly.

  5. 1. In LoM you have a brilliant, dramatic clash between ear21st century attitudes and 1970's attitudes. A2A is a show about attitudes from the 21st century clashing with 70's attitudes which are clashing with 80's attitudes anyway.

    2. You must be a fan of Hustle!

    3. So we agree that a clever ending should add to what has gone before, not diminish it?

    4. Madness is dramatic. Timetravel is dramatic. Lying in a coma is not. Any rationale behind a situation can be made to work if it is thought-through sufficiently - look at ghost stories, which persuade us to take them seriously because of the rationalisations they provide for irrational events. I was hoping for a hitherto-unmentioned clever fourth option (of which many were speculated about at the time).

    5. Was the fact that Soho now has lots of restuarants instead of sex shops directly relevant to the story being told?

    6. Did I say it was 'unutterly' bad? No. I didn't even use the word 'clunky'! I think it was unnecessary, though, and underestimated the viewer's intelligence - after all, what sort of person doesn't know that the 80's was a time of 'yuppies'? One who has spent the last 40 years in a coma, presumably. Would the episode have been 'unutterly' confusing to viewers if that line had been cut? It's a character telling other characters *something they already know* purely for the viewers' benefit - which is forgivable if it's giving essential information which can't be got across any other way. But in this case the information wasn't essential... it was already implicit.

  6. BTW Thanks for reading my blog! Good discussion!

  7. Thanks for answering, Jonny. I accept I ploughed a lone furrow with my dread of a clever 4th option in LOM. I wanted something that had been foreshadowed, clever or not. Proof, to my mind anyhow, of what happens when the writers pull something clever out of the bag in the last five minutes is the American ending to LOM. Virtual reality, astronauts, martians... on the other hand some loved that ending. That's the way it goes.