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Well, I think there's no doubt who won in the Returning Heavyweights face-off - Cracker absolutely trounced by Prime Suspect. The hollowness, the laziness of Cracker's conceit (Fitz out of the way, lecturing in Australia for x years) was summed up by that asinine line McGovern gave Fitz - "Australia: land of skin cancer and Skippy!" - which was just unworthy of everyone involved, including us, the audience, but most of all the character.* There were SO many holes in it all - in the time-stood-still quality of things - which Prime Suspect, I just realised, solved in a really cunning way.

The opening 5 minutes of Prime Suspect (which I already praised below) is so gripping that you almost don’t notice the smart double flip the makers have pulled: Tennyson as (self) drugged/poisoned Sleeping Beauty/Snow White. It's there in the mortifying suddenness of her morning-after awakening on the couch - and then that 'Where am I? Where did the time go? What did I do in it?' feel which works both for terminal alcoholism, and for a character who's been off our screens for X years. (Her living room, her home, are void of any conventional 'character' prompts, any signifying touches, even the barest Ikea nod. This 'set' - the set of a Memory without any memories - could be a Beckett phantom, come to howl out the comedown longeurs after a decade of TV full of Chick Lit-shaped perky singles and stroppy but coping single mums and wisecracking divorcees.** This isn't a living room - it's a space in which someone barely survives. Prime Suspect, Final Act: Survival of the Un-Fittest ...)

You get more of it soon, when Tennyson starts to notice what almost feels like a Zombie Army of teenagers through her car window; the implied feel is - 'Where on EARTH did they, did this all come from?'
What societal 'repressed' is this our Return on?

Cracker had NO such sub textual currents - or, if it ever did, McGovern wouldn’t let them lie (I said: wouldn’t let them lie!) and promoted them to big old banners he hit us all over the head with: SLICK AMERICANS THEY BAD; GROUCHY SCOT HE GOOD. Although at the end of it, you might be excused for feeling that it was not really any clearer what McGovern was getting at, or why he had dragged 9/11 in. Something about it felt faked - worse than faked, as if WAR was the thematic Viagra McGovern needed to get it up, in order to write the expected scene-to-scene Cracker stuff. (Compare Prime Suspect's awesomely, devastatingly pin-drop opening minutes with the hopelessly naff MTV scrunch n cut of Cracker's, which was a cacophony of Newsreel quotation, signifying nothing.)

There was only one Cracker scene that nearly worked - a domestic late night scene between Fitz and his wife, discussing impotence, declaring (or fudging) their love. And even that felt wrong, ultimately, if you thought about it - i.e., not only did it feel like a vital conversation they would have had years before; but they were lolling around half dressed, as if comfortably at home, which they weren't. I know this sounds like I'm picking at small beer stuff - but it's a matter of establishing and maintaining a believable tone. And McGovern seemed more interested in bawling out Blair/Bush, than in making the human drama turn over and spark.

There were loads more scenes in Cracker that didn’t work, or felt off, for similar reason(s): McGovern seemingly hadn’t taken any account of PASSING TIME.
A scene in the back of a police car where Fitz gets all ASBO excited about chasing a common or gearden junkie: 'Wooo! This is more like it! This is real life! Bollocks to Australia,' etc. But you looked at Coltrane's much, much older face - and much heavier frame - and the words felt wrong. You got no sense whatsoever of what had been going through his head, or on in his life (inner or outer) for the past 7 [?] years. (Midlife years which are crucial in male terms.) McGovern wasn’t interested. He wanted to get to the propaganda stuff about Evil Yanks ... as if his audience hadn’t digested any world events, since the last time Saint Jimmy had lectured us on same. (Seriously, that is how it felt.)

+ + + +

The other thing that has struck me since, thinking about Prime Suspect - is fathers. You could say the whole thing played to the key of MISSING FATHERS. Missing, in all sorts of senses. (Missing, as in lacking, e.g.; but in many other ways.) Played, or prayed ... or preyed. Fathers here are dying, or wounded, or missing in action. Befuddled, excluded, un-needed, perplexed. They are all suspect, as well as suspects. All failing, or putting on a brave face.

The most touching details - and this is good writing, J McGovern - are also always the smallest, the most prosaic; like the victim's father, needing to go off and just sit in his car, alone, with a can of beer. (If this is true, which we don’t actually know yet. But it *felt* true.)

The repressed that this is a return on - some of it, of course, is that forever fudged-around matter of Absent Fathers. (Where do they all GO?) At the heart of the story - altho not overstressed by the makers - is the local Community centre, full of unparented kids... who are both too 'old' for their age, and nakedly unprotected. They can operate the new technology of communication, but are impossible to read. (They are constantly texting each other, but display little psycho-logical sub-text. Or, none that makes much sense to the shell-shocked adults, at any rate.)

+ + + +

PRIME SUSPECT was born in the era when Mrs Thatcher was headmistress - and there was a woman who NEVER wanted to be anyone's Mummy***. It ends in an era where Blair wants to be everybody's Good Dad (or good Catholic Father.****), and tell us all - strictly for our own good, you know - what to do, what not to do, how our children should behave, how they should be raised, what they should eat, what time they should be in at night...

One big happy family.

This latest, and last, eschatological Prime Suspect affixes the insomniac, the 'missing', the necessary QUESTION MARK to that phrase. It haunts the empty coridors and rainy heaths and out of the way estates of its 'plot', like night-terror sweat, like hangover shakes.

You'll have to wake up - soon.


_____________

* Never mind that Australia is a fascinating country, full of many of the same problems as the UK (the tension between second generation Émigré conservatism, and sudden, clamorous Global Change, e.g.), what, don't they HAVE crime over there? (Likewise, have the Manchester police not found a replacement for Fitz in all this time? Is he the only profiler in Britain?) And you would have thought, frankly, that the 'fuck it - let's have another drink' culture of Oz would have held many attractions for Fitz. (I know it did me, on my brief visit in 2000.) Or maybe, like his creator, Fitz needs a shot of rainy, grainy psychosis to get his speculative blood circulating...? As if a bustling, well-lit place couldn't ever, in McGovern's scheme of things, be half as "authentic" somehow...


** {a.k.a The Curse of Caroline Quentin.


*** {Except, fatally, Mark's; but that's another post.
See: THATCHER'S FORTUNES {The Life and Times of Mark Thatcher} by Mark Hollingsworth & Paul Halloran [Mainstream Pbk].


**** {You'd think this might be far more fertile ground for McGovern, maybe: a Catholic priest, say, who is torn in two with doubt because of all he sees being done in the name of Religion - by Bush (fundamentalist Christian), by Blair (Catholic), by Islam. But that might be more ambiguous, and there would be fewer guns. Under his Holier/Prolier than thou act, McGovern is beset by a whole load of ethical shdows, you ask me ...

posted by Ian 10/18/2006 10:13:00 AM

Comments:
McGovern's silly remark at Edinburgh Fest, about tv programmers, something about middle class cappucino drinking ...sounded sooo eighties - and then we see his stuff - I wouldn't have been surprised to have seen Thatcher on the tv screens in the background, or a subplot about the miners.

Is Prime Suspect repeated? Missed it
 
Part One is repeated Saturday night on ITV 2 or 3... (with Part Two following ITV 1 Sunday night)
 
cheers
 
McGovern's view of class is as sentimental and outdated as Dickens. Considering he makes six-figure sums from his tedious, carcass-nibbling dramas, it's pretty rich that he's still wagging his fist as some working - class hero.
Two main reasons British Tv drama is setting itself ever lower standards:
The bizarre idea that McGovern and Russel T. Davies are as good as it gets!
 
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