Mini reviews of Television seasons old and new. No fuss. No spoilers. Occasional bunnies.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Dennis Potter’s Cold Lazarus (1996)

The second part of Potter's final work requires you to have seen all four episodes of the first part, Karaoke (HERE). I won't drop ruinous spoilers about CL's plot, but I'll need to refer to Karaoke, so please think carefully before reading anything beyond this point if you've any interest in watching Karaoke and have yet to do so.

As we saw previously, armed with the knowledge of his failing heath, Daniel Feeld prepared for the future of the people he felt close to. In contrast, the author was unprepared for what awaited him in his own future, 374 years after his death.

The introduction of cryogenics into Karaoke's plot may have seemed odd in isolation, but it makes sense when you consider CL. Scientists unearth the frozen remains of Daniel and plug him into a machine that translates activity in his brain into visual images that can be recorded and analysed by a people who've lost sight of what it means to be human. Their society is in chaos and, for reasons that aren't fully explained, their historical records are inadequate. They believe that memories of the past may help them better understand their present.

The fact that memory, being the subjective construct that it is, is an inherently unreliable source of information is addressed a little but not enough to build a foundation for the entire process to stand solidly on. Similar criticisms can be applied to various parts of CL's plot. At times its reach overextends the length of its component parts, and the whole suffers. When it isn't doing that, when it sticks to more relatable concerns, it explores the nature of free will and deepens our understanding of why Daniel was the person he was in Karaoke.

The scientists are an odd bunch, only a few of whom are any good at acting, but luckily it's those few that get the most screen time. They're at the mercy of a hedonistic evil bitch named Martina Masdon, played with zeal by Diane Ladd. Martina is one of the most memorable characters, and yet many of her scenes are largely superfluous. I'm unsure if that was a kind of commentary in itself, but I'm convinced that some of the subtext is purposefully imbalanced.

On the flip side, some views are so blatant that they're like a punch in the face. I can imagine the author having one final laugh as he contemplated the BBC's reaction to a story about a corporate attempt to control a dying writer's mind.

4 episodes, approx 50 minutes each.

3½ button pushers out of 5

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Dennis Potter’s Karaoke (1996)

The first part of Potter's final work was broadcast two years after his death. He wrote it with the full knowledge that he was dying, which makes viewing it a deeply poignant experience. You might expect the situation to have pushed him towards tapping into the bleaker side of his talent, but there's a huge amount of darkly wry humour in the script. There's also a feeling that inevitability can't be conquered, so it should be thoroughly mocked instead, as best we can.

The main protagonist is a screenwriter named Daniel Feeld. Daniel, played with intensity by Albert Finney, is diagnosed with the same painful medical condition that killed Potter in real life, so it's fair to assume that it's at least partly autobiographical in nature. His most recent work is causing grief for both himself and the director of the TV adaptation (Richard E. Grant). It's fiction but, as is already established, fiction often has a modicum of reality in it.

When Daniel, in his real life, encounters people who resemble his written characters he begins to feel somehow responsible for what happens to them.

The director, the one filming Daniel's burgeoning fiction, is tethered to a single scene that repeats over and over for both him and us. As he struggles to make sense of it, the wider story and the parts each person plays within it, like we do in our actual lives everyday, begins to resonate more and more, driven forward by Daniel's need to prevent his words becoming someone else's reality.

The journey toward completion sends tendrils of consequence into the fates of everyone involved. The people at the centre of the drama obviously get it the worst, but even the ones on the periphery are affected.

I mentioned at the beginning that Karaoke is the first part of Potter's final work. The second part is Cold Lazarus (see HERE), which came out the same year.

4 episodes, approx 50 minutes each.

4 artistic temperaments out of 5