Ashes to Ashes bashing

dirty pair 

I thought it might be fun to try and get the first review of the new BBC series Ashes to Ashes out there, or at any rate the first review by a member of the public without access to a preview disc of the show.

This means I’ll be, to some extent, writing this as I watch it. So it won’t be considered, but it WILL be fresh. Obviously this isn’t ideal, so if you don’t agree with me, you can put it down to the fact that I’m not watching properly.

This is the follow-up series to the very popular Life On Mars, in which a rodent-faced 21st century policeman (man, that 21st century thing STILL sounds futuristic to me, I’m oooold) finds himself stuck in a ’70s cop show. LOM had vigour and production values and a great array of pop tunes and most of all Philip Glenister as the scowling copper, modelled clearly on John Thaw’s magnificently shouty turn in The Sweeney (cockney rhyming slang lesson 1: Sweeney Todd = Flying Squad, which for some reason was the name of a particular brigade of rapid-response coppers, although they did not actually fly).

LOM, however, suffered from an over-extended one-joke concept and a gaggle of writers who evidently couldn’t think of a way to finish it. Series one mostly coasted along on vulgar energy, series two choked on several Scooby Doo one-suspect storylines and a final episode which, while snazzily shot and cut, left most fans disappointed and confused.

So what of the follow-up, which takes a modern female cop to the ’80s? The idea is kind of trashy, a straight reprise of the original. The execution is very stylish indeed. London looks glamorous and exotic, which is a novelty. The direction is even more pumped-up and masculine than ever. Largesse has been flung at the thing. 

Keeley Hawes (met her once, she’s very nice) has some rather unplayable and crappy comedy to fight through, with a lot of monologuing and pseudo-modern jargon (for some reason, the writers prefer overplaying the modern dialect rather than going for convincing ’80s slang). Maybe it’s just impossible to say “The mind fashions conduits to the real world,” while styled as Kelly LeBroq in WEIRD SCIENCE and really emerge with dignity wholly intact.

K. Hawes, a former model, keeps losing consciousness, maybe because the interstitial hallucinations are more fun that the bog-standard cop antics. Keeley is almost too beautiful to convince as a cop, since we’re meant to care about authenticity in this country. It’s kind of nice to not have to.

Hoorah! Zippy and George from vintage kids’ show Rainbow just turned up in a psychedelic dream sequence, along with a David Bowie Pierrot from the original “Ashes to Ashes” song video. The show, like its predecessor, is very good at disarming criticism by throwing in lots of things my generation, and younger, like to see. In this case, glove puppets and scary clowns.

scary manster

Help, am in danger of losing track of the actual crime plot! This is why this whole simultaneous-reviewing thing is probably a bad idea. There isn’t MUCH plot, mind you, this being the pilot that sets up the whole time-travel concept and tries to tie it in with the previous series’ loose ends.

A good moment in which a message on a blackboard is partially occluded, reversing its meaning — Fiona points out that this is borrowed from NIGHT OF THE EAGLE, in which Peter Wyngarde’s body turns “I do not believe” into “I believe”.

I wish other TV shows were this energetically and inventively directed. I wish this one was better written. In defiance of sense, our protagonist runs around in stay-up stockings and walks into the bad guy’s lair without backup.

“La Wally” on the soundtrack, that takes me back to DIVA. A bit of routine Unresolved Sexual Tension is lowered, creaking, into the fray by block and tackle.

The plot seems to have stopped. No, wait, it’s back. La Keeley wants to wrap up the case so she can get back to her own time. It’s pretty clear that ain’t going to work.

Fight scene with lesser-known Duran Duran track as accompaniment. W.P.C. is kidnapped.

“Right — let’s fire up the Quattro,” says Glenister.

“I Fought the Law” by The Clash makes an inevitable appearance on the soundtrack, although I think that’s more a ’70s track. Now it’s the shooty-gun bit. “No More Heroes” and a superbly cheeky shot of the macho cops in front of Tower Bridge.

The addiction to celebrating police brutality, wrapped up in genre conventions, is as worrisome as ever. The plot for the rest of the series is set up now, with a mystery about Hawes’ parents to be solved, and a fairly strong suggestion that this character will actually effect a successful return to the modern age, unlike her LOM predecessor.

Fade out to Roxy Music and green ’80s computer-screen credits. Fiona very excited by the lettering.

If I were watching fresh, I’d be quite prepared to overlook the shoddy dialogue and discomfort about politics, because the sense of momentum and style overkill are so winning. And the plot strands left dangling offer some intrigue. But I’ve lost all faith in this writing team to actually pull together a satisfactory outcome, so my anticipation is seriously muted.

But I shall return. It’s not half as smart as it thinks it is, but Ashes to Ashes is diverting and lively. I just hope they’ve got an ending lined up this time.

8 Responses to “Ashes to Ashes bashing”

  1. I found the first ten minutes or so pretty dire, no real tension when I knew exactly what was going to happen. Still, they needed a set-up.

    The rest of it was just too similar to LoM, which I suppose I knew was inevitable, but at the same time just feels a little pointless now. I can’t help but thinking there’s no real reason for the series, apart from giving Gene Hunt some more screentime and give the wardrobe department some interesting work.

    I wish I was more excited by the prospect of a full series, but so far I’m not too fussed.

  2. “Ebben? Ne andrò lontana,
    come va l’echo della pia campana…
    là, fra la neve bianca,
    là, fra le nubi d’ôr…
    laddove la speranza,
    la speranza
    è rimpianto,
    è rimpianto,
    è dolor!

    O della madre mia casa gioconda
    la Wally ne anrdà da te,
    da te,
    lontana assai,
    e forse a te,
    e forse a te,
    non farà mai più ritorno, ne più la rivedra.
    Mai più,
    mai più.

    Ne andrò solae lontana,
    come l’eco della pia campana…
    là, fra la neve bianca.
    Ne andrò,
    ne andrò,
    solae lontana…

    E fra le nubi d’ôr”

    And it’s The Avengers and Prime Suspect for me!

  3. So it’s the old ‘lets warm up the old plot and replace the dorky leading man with a hot chick’ angle.

    Why does America seem to have so many good screenwriters when they have such a bolloxed up education system?

  4. I think it’s called THE GENIUS OF THE SYSTEM.

    Jon, I think you basically nailed it.

    Now to take DE’s lyrics over to Babelfish…

  5. I like Callas’s rendition best. Arturo Toscanini loved that opera so much he named his daughter Wally.

  6. Ooh, Wally Toscanini? That’s worse than Elvis Polanski!

  7. Darryl McCarthy Says:

    I lasted about 20 minutes with episode one. Keely Hawes was struggling with an awful script and little sense of what kind of character she needed to project from one scene to the next. The general feel of the piece was a “100 greatest lame excuses to fill TV airtime cheaply” clip-fest interwoven with a comic book narrative. Even then it was better than Torchwood. Compare and contrast Ashes to Ashes and Torchwood with the vampire drama Ultraviolet from a few years back and their shortcomings become even more painfully obvious.

  8. Oh, don’t even get me started on Torchwood. It might be fun to write about it but to do so I would have to watch a whole one. At least Ashes has some tactile pleasures from the fashions and locations and photography and music and all. Torchwood just looks ugly and cheap at all times. It can’t ALL be Cardiff’s fault, can it? Anyplace can look exciting or interesting onscreen with the right approach. I think maybe it somes from attempting an aesthetic that doesn’t mesh with the location.

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