Archive for December 18th, 2008

Survivors (and the need to be beautiful)

December 18, 2008

Well, we’re now several weeks into BBC1’s remake of cheesy 70s Sci-Fi show Survivors, and something’s really started to niggle me. No, it’s not the lack of zombies, or the lack of action or, indeed, the lack of anything happening at all – it’s the lack of growth.

By this I mean face fungus, head-hair, grass, plants, fingernails etc. Nothing’s growing down at Survivor Central … and that defies the laws of nature.

The seven main characters all sport the same coiffured hairstyles they had at the start of the series. The Arab playboy Al looks like he’s just stepped out of the barber’s (even after the Apocalypse, there will be hair wax), the young lad Najid still sports his pageboy crop and the three ladies – Anya, Abby and Sarah – have kept those layers in place remarkably well, all things considered. And best of all, the two grunting alpha males (Greg and the psychotically obvious Tom) have held on to those number two buzz-cuts despite there being no electricity to power the clippers they’d need to keep those hairstyles looking razor-sharp.

That’s not right, surely?

Where’s the beginnings of Greg’s funky ‘fro? How come the ladies haven’t started sporting that alluring ‘just-got-out-of-bed’ look? Where’s Al’s tufts? Did the killer virus that wiped out 99.9% of the earth’s population also put the survivors of said virus in some sort of beauty stasis?

And for that matter, did it do for everything else as well?

Take the house in which the survivors live. They’ve been there for quite a while now, yet the lawns are perfectly manicured. Eh? Grass doesn’t work like that. Am I supposed to believe they’re mowing it?

Alright, fair enough, they’re mowing it … but what about elsewhere? What about the large country house Abby found herself at that was overrun with a pack of Lord of the Flies-style boys? You’re not telling me they’re mowing the lawns, are you? Without their parents to order them to? Come off it!

This sort of nonsense throws a show off balance, and it’s happening more and more these days. There used to be a time when we weren’t so obsessed with looking pretty, and television was all the better for it. Anyone who watched EastEnders in the 1980s will remember the strange – but realistic – sight of the show’s actresses appearing on screen in the morning without their makeup. Spin on twenty years, however, and the show’s women look like they’ve just finished a session at a top-class beauty salon when they arise to face a new day. This has put yet another strain on the viewer’s decreasing sense of the programme’s grounding in the real world.

Another shining example of beauty over authenticity is seen in the BBC’s two treading-water-whilst-Doctor-Who’s-not-on shows, Merlin and Robin Hood. Yes, they’re both shit on so many levels anyway, but I’d wager you’d forgive both programmes at least a little bit if the worlds created for both characters were as authentically grimy as the times they are set in demand.

Sadly, Merlin’s Dark Ages is remarkably free from human excrement being thrown from bedroom windows, rotting donkeys in the streets, open cesspits, plague-infested inhabitants, random acts of bone-crunching violence, stray dogs, rats, cats, fleas, flies, shit, blood, death and misery. Instead, it manages to make the mind-bogglingly idiotic Dark Ages world created for the uber-clean Richard Gere / Sean Connery vehicle First Knight look positively gritty.

And then there’s Robin Hood. I’m sorry, but I’ve seen enough footage of bypass protesters on the news to know that living in a wood is a dirty business in the 21st Century, let alone the 11th. Even a rudimentary knowledge of history will tell you that the olden days were a dirty place to be. Cleanliness didn’t become the norm in Britain until the 19th Century – that’s why I’m writing these words now. If you’d been reading this nine hundred years ago, well, you just wouldn’t be reading them because I’d already be dead. I’d have been picked off by one of the many exciting diseases available to olden days man thanks to his habitat, his food, his water supply and his own body being caked in shit. This, however, didn’t occur to the set and costume designers on Robin Hood, and that’s why the 11th Century created for a 21st Century audience looks suspiciously neat and tidy.

What annoys me about all this is that it’s unnecessary. Audiences, I believe, can accept a bit of reality when it comes to what they’re watching. We wouldn’t, I’m sure, throw our toys out of the pram and turn the TV off in disgust should the cast of Survivors start to look a bit frayed round the edges as the series progresses. We wouldn’t mind if Ronnie looked a bit ropey when she was getting the Queen Vic ready for another day’s trading. We wouldn’t put our foot through the television if Robin Hood or Merlin had to jump over the occasional turd (we’d put that foot through the TV when we started listening to the dialogue instead … and send the BBC the bill!).

By being frightened of the ugly, producers are denying their shows an extra layer that, especially in the cases of Robin Hood and the brutally awful Merlin, they could certainly do with. By ignoring reality in favour of sparkling hairstyles, disinfected surfaces and ultra-bright whites, shows such as Survivors and Merlin miss a trick to inject just that little bit more more believability.

It’s a trick the Pythons didn’t miss in their 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail – they covered their world in shit, and it’s all the more believable for it. An impressive achievement when you consider all that coconut business, eh?