THE CREPES OF WRATH
HOW I'LL MOURN THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF
Adieu soggy bottoms. Adieu.
HOW I'LL MOURN THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF
Adieu soggy bottoms. Adieu.
Allow me to put on the apron of incredulity and don the oven gloves of despair while I scream into the deep, dark abyss: FIRST BREXIT, NOW BAKE OFF???? YOU’RE KILLING ME HERE, BRITAIN!! YOU’RE KILLING ME.
Yes, dear reader, it’s been a rough few days.
First of all, for the heathens among you who aren’t familiar with The Great British Bake Off, you have my pity. Here’s the skinny:
Since August 2010, GBBO has pitted against each other some of the most promising amateur bakers in the UK, knocking off the initial 12 one by one in a series of signature, technical and showstopper challenges. Each week sees the contestants compete via bread, pastries, biscuits and the last person standing is crowned the year’s best baker.
If you haven’t watched a single episode, I suggest you get on it and do it soon, for there isn’t much time left... This leads us to our second point.
We find ourselves in something of a shitshow. This stellar televised institution is not only moving from the BBC to Channel 4 next year, implying a needless makeover, but has lost its two hosts and now its most iconic judge. Indeed, the banterific presenting duo Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins were the first to announce that they would not be continuing the adventure and, as the cherry on this kack sundae, judge extraordinaire Mary Berry has followed suit, stating she will also leave “out of loyalty to the BBC”.
Mary, if you’re reading, sorry for using the words ‘shitshow’ and ‘kack’.
Celebrity baker and fellow judge Paul Hollywood will stay with the new show. But let’s not talk about Yoko. Let’s talk instead about why I’m currently in the midst of this frangipanic.
I’m aggressively grieving because the point of GBBO was never just about electing the best amateur baker in all the land. The competitive element works wonders but is just the red herring tossed in to keep the gentle narrative of human drama afloat. The real point of the show is to warm the cockles as you watch the interactions between the contestants and the presenters: Queen Mary keeps Paul and his piercing blue peepers in check, grins at Sue’s latest double-entendre, while Mel reassures the contestants that if they were in the tent from the get-go, none of them could possibly be losers.
Moreover, GBBO exists to remind you that no matter how bad things get, everything will be alright in the end.
This is a show that goes beyond the “it’s just TV” brushoff: it makes you feel that despite the fact that the world is crumbling around us like a giant overcooked gingernut biscuit, the escalating numbers of deaths related to terrorism and the distinct possibility that Donald Trump could be headed to the White House, thereby inheriting the nuclear codes and hanging a shit-yourself-scary Damocles sword over the globe, one which threatens to fall if anyone so much as question the size of his tiny digits, maybe, just maybe there’s a shred of hope, embodied by the sight of Mary Berry - the nation’s grandmother - taking a slice of perfectly baked bread or piece of Victoria sponge to her tiny lips and giving a seal of approval with her beaming smile.
Too much? Maybe. In the five stages of grief, I’ve passed denial, am currently on anger and will no doubt reach the bargaining step next week.
Admittedly, GBBO is aggressively middle-class porn, a protective bubble in the shape of a magical tent filled with bunting, light comedy and faffing about puff pastry. But make no mistake: any show that can, against all odds, get you genuinely excited about dough - mostly through some brilliant post-production editing - is nothing short of miraculous.
More importantly, the Great British Bake Off is - until 26 October - a safe haven that embraces its quintessentially British nature without becoming as nauseating as Penelope Keith’s Hidden Villages. Yes, it’s sickeningly sweet but knowingly so, playfully pandering to British stereotypes and pushing them forwards towards pastures more tolerant, more diverse, and mocking any form of prejudice along the way. It’s basically the anti-Brexit, specifically this season, which doubles up as the ideal remedy for recent ills, fighting to win back some goodwill after the sentient plums then in power made Britain the laughing stock of Europe this summer.
On a more selfish level, GBBO allowed me to get in touch with the sports fan inside me.
Let me explain. I’m not the laddiest of lads and while I enjoy many sports, I’ve never been one to jump to his feet and yell at the screen when his team isn’t winning. However, through GBBO, I got to live out that rush by tensely commenting as the baking was happening, predicting outcomes and frequently shouting at the television phrases like: “You call that a macaron? Do me a favour!!”, “Where’s the raspberry coulis, you wanker??!!”, “You’re having a ‘mare, Jane!”, “Oh shut up, Val!!!” and “THAT’S NOT A GANACHE, PISSFLAPS!!! WHAT THE WANG ARE YOU PLAYING AT???”
I pre-emptively shed a tear for the long-suffering woman who will one day share her life with mine.
Unless this season’s Candice answers my calls...
Oh, Candice. Let’s be done with this charade and marry me already.
It is with joy and a heavy heart that I’ll tune in to the remaining episodes in this 7th and last season of The Great British Bake Off. A part of me is curious to see what Channel 4 does with what they heartlessly consider to be a “brand” and I can’t wait to see what the BBC will come up with as a rival show (probably starring Mary Berry). Regardless, this is the end of an era.
Still, stiff upper lip and all that. We’ll always have the constant innuendoes, Mel and Sue’s sisterly banter, Mary’s twinkling eyes as she champions a meringue, the memory of Howard’s custard in Series 4, the baked Alaska meltdown the following year, Nadiya’s emotional win and the indignation at the fact Paul denied the other Paul that week’s star baker for his bread lion in series 6.
That last one still stings.
A travesty, I tell thee.
Plus, at the time of writing, we don’t know who’s won season 7... That’s something to look forward to.
Thank you to the BBC and all those who made The Great British Bake Off exactly that: great. No other show has done or will do what you’ve achieved. It’s taken my mind off the scary world drama currently unfolding, has rivalled this year’s Stranger Things in terms of tension, suspense and addictiveness, and will continue to feel like a fire-smouldering hug each week until the end of October.
Then and only then shall you be missed.
- D - 24/09/16
A SUCCESSFUL X-HUMATION ?
The X Files revival has raised a few eyebrows, not least my own...
13 years after its cancellation and 7 years after its big screen revival with 2008’s The X Files: I Want To Believe, this 6-episode continuation was greeted with suspicion. Could this “event series” be just about capitalizing on the subscription-hungry streaming providers who encourage House of Cards-shaped binge-watching instead of adding genuine narrative drive, like I suggested on this very website?
My scepticism was reinforced by the shoddily scripted opening episode, which lead me to quickly believe that the show was doomed from the get-go. It’s-spread-to-the-liver doomed. I kept on trusting no one with the decent-but-underwhelming second episode of the resurrected show. All hope seemed lost.
However, it is my absolute pleasure to announce that episode 3 of Season 10 has proven me wrong and smashed my pessimistic doubts into a million tiny pieces. It’s even redeemed Episode 1, ‘My Struggle’.
Yes, ‘Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster’ is that good.
It’s a monster-of-the-week episode that not only single-handedly justifies the return of our alien-chasing duo but could feasibly earn the title of “instant classic” in The X Files canon.
This comic episode was a bit of a gamble: with only 6 episodes in this tenth season, why waste precious time on a cheeky standalone that had no real ties to the overall season arc? Why were they doing this instead of furthering the all-important mythology?
Because reopening The X Files means remaining true to the spirit of the previous nine seasons, in which comedic outings were peppered around the place when Mulder and Scully weren’t trying to expose the nefarious plans of the Morley-smoking bastard. In fact, some of the show’s strongest episodes were lighter in mood, as ‘Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose’ and ‘Jose Chung’s From Outer Space’ can attest.
Those two examples weren’t chosen at random, as the man behind both of these episodes is also responsible for ‘Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster’. That man is Emmy award-winning scriptwriter Darin Morgan and he’s delivered an episode that is original, witty and at times profound, all served up with a healthy side helping of 90s nostalgia.
The deliberately silly episode kicks off with a stoner couple snorting some paint in the forest. Things take a turn for the paranormal when an ethereal cross between the Creature From The Black Lagoon and a gecko ruins the evening, leaving behind it a wounded park ranger and a dead bystander...
Catatonia was right and cut to a disenchanted Mulder throwing pencils at the infamous ‘I Want To Believe’ poster. He proceeds to explain to Scully that since they’ve been away, “much of the unexplained has been explained”. Despite his crisis of faith, the two FBI agents sally forth to seek the scaly green monster and stumble across Guy Mann (wink wink), played by Flight of the Concords’ Rhys Darby. He is a lizard creature who, as it turns out, was bitten by a rampaging human and is now cursed. He turns into a human, becomes self-aware and is forced to fit in: he has the urge to get a job, a mortgage and compulsively indulges in the pleasures of cable TV porn. It’s not all bad though, as he notes: “I gained the one Darwinian advantage humans have on other animals: the ability to BS my way through anything.”
As is often the case when the mirror is held up to nature, there’s plenty to say about humankind, the architects of frivolity, mundaneness and needless strife. Who are the real monsters and who is the person with “a whole speech prepared” who slashed the victim’s throat in the pre-credits sequence?
No more shall be spoilt at this point, but what bears celebrating is that this episode is, from start to bum end, wonderful. It is knowing without being patronizing, existentially unsettling in all the right ways and above all, tones of fun. This is due to the stellar script, which blends tragedy with slapstick, addresses wavering faith and twists the age-old monster formula by offering the habitual antagonist’s view on what it means to be a human being. (Maybe sticking with being a “monster” is preferable...)
The cast are also to be applauded, as everyone seems to be having the time of the lives. David Duchovny gets to play deadpan and shows Mulder to be struggling with a camera phone, while Gillian Anderson proves how wonderful she can be when given a chance to stretch her comedic chops. (Be still my beating heart... Incidentally, my rampant tachycardia was not dampened by Scully sexing it up during one particular sequence...). The MVP however is the always-sterling guest star Rhys Darby, who knocks it out of the park with this perfect comic timing and some Sellers-esque physical comedy. His performance during the graveyard sequence with Mulder will doubtlessly rank among 2016’s best TV moments.
As if all of that weren’t enough, there’s a nostalgic nod to Scully’s departed mutt Queequeg and a touching tribute to Kim Manners, one of the show’s longtime producers and directors who died from lung cancer in 2009. His name is on one of the graves Mulder gets drunk on, once Guy Mann has explained his situation, and Manners’ favourite phrase “Let’s kick it in the ass” is engraved on the tombstone. (See above)
When it’s not providing laugh-out-loud beats and excellent one-liners, the episode is subverting horror tropes, circumventing purposeful parody and offering a narrative brimming with food for thought. In short, it reinvigorates the show’s revival and makes it a successful X-humation.
Not bad for 44 minutes, I think you’ll agree.
My message to you, dear reader, is thus: power through the first few episodes and enjoy what is probably going to be the summit of this short season. That’s not too scabrous a criticism, as ‘Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster’ is also one of the most enjoyable episodes to grace the small screen in a long while. Again, thank you Darin Morgan.
“I forgot how fun these cases could be”, observes Scully during an autopsy.
You said it, Dana.
- D - 04/02/16
AMERICAN HORROR PARODY
IS IT TIME TO GIVE UP ON
AMERICAN HORROR STORY ?
Contains mild spoilers for the first 4 seasons and episodes 1-3 of American Horror Story: Hotel
There was every reason to get excited when American Horror Story (or: AHS, as it shall henceforth be referred to) first arrived on our screens in 2011.
Creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk (the minds behind the series Nip/Tuck and Glee) wanted an anthology series with a recurring troupe of actors. Each season would be self-contained, have its main period setting and would approach a traditional horror convention in a knowing and modern way via a location: Murder House tackled the haunted house routine; Asylum had the titular medical setting so dear to many horror films; Coven dealt with genre tropes linked to witchcraft and voodoo; Freak Show also had a massive clue in its title.
The relatively unique format and the aura-building around each season was tantalizing, with great care given to the publicity material, especially when it came to the chilling teasers and the unsettling opening sequences:
IT STARTED OFF SO WELL...
Murder House was cineliterate affair that showed to what extent the co-creators wanted to submerge the viewers in an uncomfortable and palpably eerie atmosphere. The production values were superb, the material was impressively daring and the cast, lead by Jessica Lange, were spot-on. The plot was, compared to the following seasons, relatively simple: there’s a house that traps the souls of anyone who died under its roof.
The show was a hit and impressed critics with its lush visuals and subversive tone, tackling issues of racism, disability, school shootings, sexuality, gender and the supernatural. It was impressive how much they could get away with.
Dizzy on its nightmare-inducing success, Asylum saw AHS double down and overegg the horror pudding, displaying what would become the show’s main problem: trying to cram in far too much material in its 13-episode runs. This second season had Nazi doctors, serial killers, possessed nuns and even alien abductions. And yet, bizarrely, it worked: the returning cast brought their A-games, the pace was frenetic and the attention to every gory detail was just as impressive as it had been with its predecessor. It was an insane but memorable mess.
Things started to go tits up with Coven. The themes were mercifully fewer and the plot more streamlined; however, the meandering narrative strands repeated themselves and every episode revealed glaring continuity errors and inconsistent character developments. It squandered its Crucible-like premise and meant a lot was riding on the twisted shoulders of Freak Show.
Though the show’s fourth iteration started off strong and despite some excellent moments (chief amongst which one of TV and cinema’s most frightening clowns), it crumbled under the weight of expectations and revealed something that many had feared all along: AHS had become a predictable show full of moments. It had degenerated into a disjointed and precious affair that seemed to be only interested in stunt casting, violating taboos for the hell of it, spurting out a few zingers and sacrificing plot and coherency for the sake of style. When it worked, it worked beautifully, but these moments were all too rare. The show had yet again squandered the potential of its initial idea and become a parody of itself.
By the end of Season 4, even the show’s A-lister and troupe-ringleader Jessica Lange seemed utterly bored with playing yet another aging diva with a shady past who yearns for her lost youth and reacts poorly when blooming versions of her younger self undermine her authority. She announced she was retiring from the show after four years of good and loyal service.
Now we come to Season 5: Hotel.
Three episodes in, here’s what we know:
Hotel Cortez is situated in downtown LA and seems to be haunted with murdered folk, ghouls and junkies. The desk clerk (Kathy Bates) and transvestite bartender who goes by the name Liz Taylor (Denis O’Hare) are the main staff; a Nancy Spungen-esque junkie (Sarah Paulson) roams the corridors and the spectre of the hotel’s first owner James March (Evan Peters) frequently pops up to indulge in some murderous shenanigans.
As for this year’s stunt casting, meet Lady Gaga. She plays the Countess, the dominating Jessica Lange figure who reigns over the hotel. She is never referred to as a vampire but she has a “virus”, one which makes her drink blood, stop aging and allows her to grant immortality.
She's a vampire.
And then there’s Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley), who is investigating a series of murders linked to the 10 Commandments and who, through a clunky plot device, ends up checking into the hotel’s mysterious room 64. He is haunted by his past (obviously) and starts - can you guess it yet? - having disturbing visions of his kidnapped son while inside the hotel...
While all this Murder House-reminiscent mayhem goes on, we’ve also had a fashion catwalk featuring Naomi Campbell, outdoor screenings of Nosferatu, kinky foursomes, anaemic looking children haunting the hallways, zombies emerging from mattresses and the now-infamous rape scene in Episode 1 that sees a heroin addict get violently murdered by a wax demon with a sharp, strap-on drill-like dildo. A drildo.
BOYS AND THEIR TOYS
When thinking of AHS, it has become easy to picture a petulant and overactive child that wants everything all at once and won’t settle for anything that doesn’t indulge its random whims.
With this image in mind, it’s quite simple to foretell what will happen with Hotel. By the end of the opening trio of episodes, we know that the span of the story reaches over a century and that there are going to be a lot of character arcs to convincingly develop by the end of episode 13. Like in previous seasons, specifically Coven and Freak Show, the dizzying amount of plot threads will never end up in a neat, well-thought out bow. Instead, the show will once again ditch superfluous characters and narrative beats that were introduced on a whim and pray to the TV gods that the surplus of messy ideas and neat camera effects thrown at the audience's faces will sustain interest for another season.
AHS now lacks discipline and every tonally muddled plot beat is structured not on a coherent and multi-layered narrative but around the exhausting tantrums of two pouting creators:
“Let’s put Lady Gaga in a sparkly thong!”; “Let’s have Naomi Campbell in lingerie!”; “How about getting Matt Bomer and Cheyenne Jackson to kiss because they're sooooo hot?”; “Wouldn’t it be cool to have the blond kids we nicked from The Village of the Damned be bloodsuckers too?”; “Let’s have a Se7en-esque crime scene which is both gory and moralistic!”; “Why not give one character a blaxploitation B-movie backstory for no reason other than to give Quentin Tarantino wet dreams?”; “We're going to play some She Wants Revenge and Jesus and the Mary Chain in the background just because they’re soooo back in style!”
These are obviously not real exerts from boardroom discussions... but could be.
Both Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk self-indulgently bask in their fantasies and yearn to be transgressive. They suceeded before but now, their misguided quest has lead them to create contrived scenes which serve no purpose other than to trump past Grand Guignol antics. The show simply pushes boundaries now for shock’s sake rather than utilise harrowing imagery and traumatizing beats to enrich a core story. Worst of all, the desensitised audience can identify how the unoriginal gimmicks repeatedly play out.
Quite the rub when you’re selling horror.
There’s also the influence issue: when does an homage turn into downright plagiarism?
The sheer amount of influences is impressive but Hotel’s celebration of genre quirks is such that one might legitimately accuse AHS of shamelessly ripping off past glories. Kubrick’s The Shining is a major source of inspiration, as well as (in no particular order) Suspira, Don’t Look Now, Village of the Damned, Night of the Living Dead, 1408 and everything Edgar Allan Poe ever wrote.
As for the whole Ten Commandments killer, the drildo killing and Wes Bentley's entire subplot, it is basically a bewildering copy / paste of Fincher’s Se7en.
Reappropriation is always to be expected and is fine if it serves a new approach. However, this is not the case with Hotel, where imitation becomes wanton borrowing and where subtle winks actually become repetitive bobblehead nods.
Quite the rub when your killer adheres to 10 rules which include “Thou Shalt Not Steal”...
JUST BLEED IT
Aside from the fact AHS once again ticks too many boxes and lifts its ideas from superior material, the core issue with the show is that Murphy and Falchuk have turned it into a marketing concept. It is now a franchise and anchors itself within a system that values brand identity ahead of everything else, especially ahead of narrative coherence and even originality.
The casting of Lady Gaga reaffirms this, as she has openly said that she is a brand of sorts.
Whereas it once had cornered the market with its daring design and envelope pushing material, other shows have come along and equalled - in some cases trumped - the now-exhausted AHS brand. The recently cancelled (*shakes fist*) Hannibal springs to mind as a show that subtly managed to marry style and substance without at any point overindulging in genre tropes or forgetting that what is truly horrific is the unseen as opposed to the paraded. This was a show that did not mistake inconsistency for mythos-building, shock for horror and style for substance.
Any chance of trading the pseudo self-aware AHS in for Bryan Fuller’s pitfall-circumnavigating show?
You are missed, sir. You are missed.
CHECKING OUT ?
As much as AHS has become a show only interested in attracting audiences who only want camp WTF thrills and nothing more, I won’t be checking out of Hotel.
The show has retained its uber-stylish look over the years and the arresting cinematography remains a joy to behold. If only it served a larger purpose than to only look pretty... Also, as per AHS’ now-identifiable trademark, there are moments that continue to make it watchable, namely the acting (specifically from the wonderful Kathy Bates and the ever-reliable Denis O’Hare), the sex and the 10 Commandments crime scenes.
What I will do however is answer the question posed in this article’s sub-heading: yes, it is time to give up on AHS. I’ll be throwing in the towel after the already-grating Hotel ends and won’t be tuning in for Season 6, which has reportedly already been greenlit.
I invite you, dear reader, to discover or re-watch the first two seasons and direct your attention to other, less poseur shows that have managed to usher in a golden age of horror on TV. The Walking Dead, Penny Dreadful, The Strain and, of course, Hannibal are good places to start.
Thank me later.
- D - 24/10/15
NEVER MIND THE BUZZCOCKS
1996 - 2014
After 18 years and 28 series, the BBC have confirmed the worst... Music-themed comedy quiz show Never Mind the Buzzcocks has been cancelled.
Indeed, the BBC have pulled the plug due to dropping ratings and in order to “create space for new entertainment formats in the future”.
The long-running panel series was launched on BBC Two on 12 November 1996 and counts a whopping 269 episodes, the last of which aired on 22 December 2014.
Mark Lamarr hosted the show for the first 17 series, Simon Amstell fronted it for 4 seasons (series 19-22) and Rhod Gilbert hosted the final series, after a series of guest hosts (Alice Cooper, Frankie Boyle, Martin Freeman, David Tennant, Terry Wogan, Jack Whitehall...) from 2009-2013.
Sean Hughes was a team captain for the first 10 seasons, Bill Bailey replaced him from series 11 to 21 and Noel Fielding took the reins until the end. The wonderful Phill Jupitus served as a team captain for all 28 seasons and was the show’s greatest asset.
While many think of this as a mercy kill, I for one consider Never Mind the Buzzcocks as one of the best panel shows around. It was the last bastion of pop culture and music on TV. I grew up with it, discovered music and comedy through it and its irreverence was a joy.
Granted, Rhod Gilbert’s recent appointment as host lacked the showmanship (and improv skills) of past hosts. The show was, however, even in its darkest hours, head and shoulders above some of the competition. It was great seeing the guests play in what is essentially now a fascinating cultural time capsule, showcasing one hit wonders, 90s throwbacks but also rising stars and bone-fide legends.
After all, where else could you witness a shitfaced Amy Winehouse trying to keep it together, a cackling Adele dissing Mark Ronson’s sister’s girlfriend, Tim Minchin having a go at Kylie Minogue, Stephen Fry accepting his status as a “national fucking treasure”, Motorhead’s Lemmy walking out, Ed Sheeran oversharing on his drinking/sex habits, Lorraine Kelly spanking Noel Fielding, Huey Morgan smashing a mug or Preston from The Ordinary Boys’ having a hissy fit?
Here are a few of my favourite episodes – I invite you to YouTube some more, as this stellar show will be missed.
- D - 27/05/15
THE RETURN OF THE X FILES
THE GUARANTEED CASE OF SUCCESSFUL
13 years after its cancellation, 7 years after its big screen revival with 2008’s The X Files: I Want To Believe and after much speculation, Fox have officially ordered a 6-episode continuation of The X Files.
The “event series” will see the return of original stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as the paranormal investigating FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.
The series creator Chris Carter is also back and has stated that the small screen hiatus was “a 13-year commercial break”. He added that “the world has only gotten that much stranger”, making it “a perfect time to tell these six stories”.
To say this is a big televisual deal is an understatement.
The show, which earned 16 Emmy Awards and 5 Golden Globes during its original run, rapidly became a worldwide phenomenon and a pop-culture sensation, one which would shape the face TV even years after its demise.
Think about it this way: no X Files, no Millennium, Warehouse 13, Supernatural, Lost, The 4400, Bones, Fringe and no Downton Abbey theme tune.
Don’t believe me? Check this out:
The 6 new episodes will shoot this summer and an official air date remains TBD.
Also TBD are any details regarding what kind of X Files we’re going to get. The continuation and resolution of the alien conspiracy mythology that hopefully bypasses the events of I Want To Believe? 6 standalone ‘monster-of-the-week’ episodes, sidestepping the 2012 colonisation date integral to the conspiracy? A short run that will see the seasoned agents teamed up with fresh-faced recruits, thereby leading to the passing of the torch once the final episode ends?
At this point, it’s anyone’s guess… Here’s hoping it’s not as gratingly predictable as that last option.
Big deal though the revival is, this is not the first time a channel looks through its back catalogue in search of a ratings hit.
Recent examples include Fox reviving one of its former marquee franchises with another limited order of 24. 24: Live Another Day proved that a limited run could rake in the pennies. Also, just a few months ago, it was announced that Showtime was reviving Twin Peaks, 25 years after its decommissioning.
Since it’s so commonplace nowadays to hark back to former glories, why bother writing about it?
Because while The X Files revival, like the upcoming third season of Twin Peaks, should have me rolling about on the floor with giddy joy, the seasoned cynic in me stands conflicted. Regardless of the fact the original cast members and showrunners are back in both cases, I can’t help but fear that the legacy of the quintessentially 90s shows could be tainted.
Twin Peaks is a surreally cryptic gem and the lack of answers provided at the end of its run was an intricate part of the appeal. It achieved cult status because of its open-ended and rather brilliant cliffhanger. As for The X Files, while the new 6-episode run may bring a welcome sense of closure and redeem the lacklustre 2008 film, maybe it’s best to make your peace and let sleeping dogs lie. After all, The X Files has become a cautionary example of how milking a series for too long could cast a shadow over a show’s accomplishments. By the mid-point of Season 6, the quality went down and the series lost its spooky mojo. Even if Season 8 did liven things up, the final season undid the good work achieved by the new-ish direction and culminated in an anticlimactic finale.
Beyond the show itself, there’s another reason to raise a sceptical eyebrow, à la Special Agent Scully. (Gillian, call me.)
The revival trend demonstrates that the nostalgia is out there (wink wink) and that our culture has a particular fondness for looking back on past successes. There’s no denying when looking at the small and big screen that we are smack-bang in the middle of the remake/sequel era. This era highlights our culture’s lack of restraint when it comes to rebooting a show or film that was successful at some point.
For better and certainly for worse, we just can’t let a good thing go or know when to leave on a high.
Just think about Nip / Tuck, Prison Break, Dexter, Homeland, How I Met Your Mother, Glee or the aforementioned Downton Abbey… They all outstayed their welcome and should’ve called it quits before their reputation was irreversibly tarnished.
However, deeper than this powerful sense of nostalgia are the financial considerations in play. This is the main reason that pushes yours truly to pen this protracted piece.
The monetary dealings in play are responsible for executives milking countless creative cows dry. It is this state of affairs that leads me to suspect that Mulder and Scully’s televisual re-emergence is less about finally tying things up for the sake of the fans and more about securing viewing rights.
You see, reviving a defunct series is a ballsy undertaking but one which allows networks to further capitalize on past successes. They rely more and more on old properties because they represent a solid ratings bet: cancelled goods have built-in fan bases which guarantee a ratings hit from the get-go.
Beyond the pre-established viewership is also a relatively new phenomenon, one which ensured that the aforementioned 24: Live Another Day was a hit. I’m talking about Netflix, Amazon and all other streaming services.
The dirty little secret is that ratings for the new 24 miniseries weren’t great. However, Fox had exclusively sold the streaming rights to all the previous seasons to Amazon. This lucrative deal meant that once the public were told 24 was back with vengeance, many rushed to rewatch or discover the show. Many wanted to make sure they were up to scratch in time for the brand spanking new premiere.
What was once dead in the water had become the must-see flavour of the week and no one wanted to miss out.
It seems that nowadays, networks don’t wait until the market re-emerges for a specific show; they take matters into their own hands by playing on sentiments of nostalgia, fuelling the binge-watching model streaming services provide and by galvanizing the zeitgeist.
What happened with 24 will repeat itself with The X Files. There are 9 full seasons and 2 films to catch up on and the revival means that the 202 episodes will once again be a hot commodity. Fox knows this and will undoubtedly strike up a fantastic exclusive deal with a streaming giant, who will be all too pleased to pay big bucks for the high demand generated. A hike in subscriptions for the lucky (or should that be wealthy?) on-demand streaming provider will follow, thereby making the deal hugely profitable for both parties. The network execs will have covered their bases and removed a sizeable chunk of stress: a short series entails that not a huge amount will be spent in the making of the show (compared to a full run) and the 6 episodes don’t even need to be a critical hit. They’ll have made their money back (and then some) on the streaming rights alone.
The current model implies that success is a guarantee for those able to pander to subscribers (old and new) who wish to catch-up on something they previously missed out on, for those able to capitalize on the appeal of binge-watching or, looping the loop, those able to attract viewers who want to nostalgically reminisce.
Fans can naively hope that the reason behind these 6 new episodes is to satisfyingly wrap things up and restore the golden image the show’s salad days. This could still be the case but it’s no use kidding oneself: this revival is not about tying up loose ends but primarily about upping bids for those willing to pay for exclusive streaming rights.
The return of The X Files remains a big deal because it reveals the dark inner workings of networks and their streaming compadres. It also sheds some light on the binge-watching habits of our nostalgia-laden culture.
The revival of old shows quenches any nostalgia thirst and represents a highly lucrative investment for networks and distribution platforms who giddily sidestep taking a gamble on new or original content.
To be fair, resurrecting the deceased and making it relevant once more is quite a talent, and no one is happier than I am that new generations will get their Twin Peaks or X Files fixes. Additionally, original content is now being commissioned by Netflix and Amazon, showing that these extremely popular subscription services are now in the financial position to take some risks.
This was never about fist shaking; just about exposing an alien-lacking truth.
Will I watch the new X Files episodes? Krychek would have to kidnap every one of my family members for me not to.
Do I think reviving the show is a good idea? No, I can’t say I do.
Do I think that narrative content will ultimately be a side-thought and that it’s all about subscription-hungry streaming providers who encourage House of Cards-shaped binge-watching? Without a doubt.
But by my Morley’s cigarettes do I want my scepticism to be proven wrong. The dollar clogs shall turn but with any luck my eye-rolling apprehension about cash-grabbing antics will be put to rest. Maybe the new episodes will actually add something to the X Files cannon, thereby rounding off its legacy with bang and not a fizzle.
So, trust no one… even if I want to believe...
- D - 01/04/15