14 May, 2010

Funk to Funky!

I'm writing this half an hour before the penultimate episode of Ashes to Ashes hits our screens. They've been weaving this particularly media-literate modern fairy-tale for the last five years, the first two of which as Life On Mars. Is the gruff thuggish Gene Hunt the retro hero he was hailed by those kind of tedious Sun readers who believe the phrase 'political correctness gone mad' is an actual point to make? Or is he the villain, waiting to be exposed? Was Sam Tyler mad, in a coma or a time traveller? And if he was one of those things, is it the same for his successor, Alex Drake? Are any of those supporting characters directly involved, or just hapless victims?

I genuinely don't know. After series one of Life On Mars, I thought I had it all worked out - and I was right, kind of. The characters were all living on Mars in the future, and BOTH realities were an illusion. Except... this didn't happen in the version shown on British TV, but was the resolution of the US version. Some thought it was weak, but I loved that ending because it dared to be different from everything else on TV.

For those who've stuck with it, Lost is also approaching its finale. Like Life On Mars and Ashes to Ashes, Lost has relied upon withholding information to build its mystery. And similarly, it's this perverse restriction of information that has made these extended conclusions such essential viewing. Unlike other long-running dramas that come to a natural end, we still don't actually know what these shows are about, and whatever they reveal in the final seconds will probably be the first thing mentioned in every review from now on. The Prisoner wasn't as baffling as many lazy critics would have you believe - it's really only that final episode that refuses to give us the neat conclusion we'd all hoped for (I say 'we', but no-one I know watched it on first transmission, because it's not the kind of thing my parents watch and none of my mates were old enough).

The Prisoner is dead easy to understand though - if we only take it at face value. If we just watch the series knowing that the central character IS Patrick McGoohan, it all falls into place. A frustrated actor creates a situation that will eradicate his feeling of typecasting, only to replace it with a completely different feeling of typecasting that he can never escape.

The new version of The Prisoner, currently showing on ITV1, is harder to explain. How could they get a concept with such potential and make it so relentlessly dull as to make it lose the channel about five million viewers every Saturday night? Such a waste.

Lost, meanwhile, has never interested me. I was bored rigid by the very first episode, so I'm pretty sure that even once it's finished and friends tell me what happened, it'll mean nothing to me.

But for those of us who've followed Gene Hunt's story, I think it's safe to say we're all hoping for something utterly barking. Unlike those original viewers of The Prisoner, we WANT this to be completely baffling. We WANT to feel slightly cheated. We want it to be nothing like anything else we've ever seen - because if it's even remotely guess-able, we really will feel let down.

So, with five minutes to go before part one of the Ashes to Ashes finale begins, here are my two guesses.

1. They're in purgatory, limbo or some other pre-Heaven place. The solution will be that they discover they're all dead and had to atone for past sins. The thing is, we might welcome a quasi-religious ending in an American film, but would secular TV Britain be happy to accept an ending where they say God exists?

2. It's 'Six Characters in Search of an Author'. They discover to their horror that they're fictional characters. Some of them struggle to cope with the news, but the others band together and tell them - Sod it! We feel real, so we're real. They sack their author (Jim) and tell him to get out. A Twilight Zone ending would be great, and on the verge of nihilism they could make something rather rebellious and uplifting.

Right - it's on. Let's see if they're going to string this out right up to the wire, or if they'll give us any clear confirmation at all.

Be seeing you!

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