Monday, January 03, 2011

No, No, No! That Is Not How You Do Sci-fi!

+++ APOLOGIES +++ MINORITY INTEREST NERD POST +++

PrimevalOne of the drawbacks of having a pre-teen boy around the house is the sighing acceptance of having to watch crap sci-fi on TV. Because when you are young and a boy, absolutely any sci-fi is good even when the quality control guys were plainly out of their minds on rohipnol and the ultimate product is complete and utter shite. I know this for a fact because I was once both a boy and young and thought that Hawk The Slayer was well scripted.

As you get older the scales fall from your eyes and you realize that sci-fi is the altar upon which many make offerings and most of them end up burnt. And not in a good way either.

Take Primeval. It should in theory work. It's like Einstein's theory of complete relativity. It's all there. Kind of. Dinosaurs. Big guns. Time travel. Sexy blonde chick. Dopy-but-good-looking nice guy. But somehow it just doesn't work on the quantum level. There's something missing. The atoms don't play ball with each other. The only black hole that has been created is the script writer's arse that the plot continually falls into.

I'm not quite sure what ITV are playing at with Primeval. It got ditched after the last series. Someone plainly thought it needed to be put out of our misery and they put a gun to its prehistoric head and pulled the trigger. Respect. But then some other buffoon decided to resurrect it and Haven holidays decided to sponsor it and suddenly its back on ITV. The show that refuses to die. The show that staggers around a shopping mall crying, "Brains! Brains!" in the pathetic hope that somebody will actually donate one.

It ain't gonna happen.

I have this theory that ITV just don't do good sci-fi. They don't get it. Or rather they get the veneer of it. The patina. Yes, we need monsters. Yes, we need chases. Yes, we need guns and A-Team style violence.

But where the hell is the science? Where is the consistency in the plot? Where is the emotional heart?

Primeval has none of these.

First series, the space-time continuum anomalies that enable random acts of time travel (try saying that without sounding like an absolute cock) merely brought dinosaurs forward to our time. But after that, realizing (I guess) that there are only so many dinosaurs you can pick from the Top Trumps Dinosaurs set before you have to do some, like, real boring proper research in a library and shit, the show's writers decided, oh sod it, let's have our space-time continuum anomalies also open up portals on parallel universes so we can just make any kind of monster appear.

Hence we now have dragons appearing alongside the occasional T-Rex.

Bullshit! Bollocks! Balderdash!

That is just lazy. Damned lazy. Lazy and inconsistent.

And this laziness infects the whole show. The plots are scanty at the best of times but they are now reduced to threads of American-corporate media-speak strung out between a relentless barrage of car chases and dinosaur chases.

Scene 1: the team shout and argue with their boss in the big science base. Scene 2: a dinosaur appears right outside and the team chase it in their cars. Scene 3: the boss shouts at his team via a radio. Scene 4: the team in their cars are chased by the dinosaur. Scene 5: dopy guy messes things up but in a good way and saves the day. Sexy blonde girl pouts but somehow doesn't look sexy. Scene 6: team return to base where the boss shouts at them but in a good way. Scene 7: repeat this entire process until the end credits roll.

Gaaah! (This is the sound a velociraptor makes when it realizes all those years treading the boards at the Sylvia Young Stage School learning Hamlet have been a complete and utter waste of time.)

The characters are flat and have no emotional life outside the "dinosaur world" that has been hastily erected around them. The dinosaurs are just CGI'd lumps of meat that run around bumping into industrial size storage containers. And the science behind the show is as convincing as Barney the Purple Dinosaur trying to convince a judge he isn't a serial kiddie fiddler.

Lord knows that Doctor Who doesn't always hit the mark but at least there is always an emotional arc and a plot arc. It's not all about the monsters and the chases. It's about emotionally real characters being placed in moments of crisis and jeopardy that dare us to dream and wonder about future worlds.

And that, ITV, is how science fiction is supposed to work. Please take note.



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44 comments:

Dan said...

Primeval has quite a big following in the US among geeks - which is how it survives I suspect.

I don't get it myself either.

Steve said...

Dan: suddenly all becomes clear...

Heather said...

You tell em! I think I watched primevil once. Some snakey things in a fog on an office floor. Lots of standing on desks and clutching each other until someone killed them. that's all I can remember. Can't say I was very impressed with it and that was before they stole the props from alien - i'm assuming that's what that thing is on the back of the dinosaur...

Trish @ Mum's Gone to... said...

I think your theory works. My son used to love Primeval but now, at nearly 15, isn't interested at all. Must be growing up!

Steve said...

Heather: I think the Alien would drink it's own acid blood before it ever deigned to appear on Primeval - "don't you know who I am? I've worked with John Hurt and Ian Holm!"

Steve said...

Trish: before you know it he'll be watching Lark Rise To Candleford and loving it...!

Tenon_Saw said...

I cannot stand the programme and you have summed it up well. Even the lovely Hannah Spearritt is not as lovely as she was in the first series which I did watch. [I have to remind myself she is only 2 years older than my daughter!!!]

Gorilla Bananas said...

Maybe it might work better if the sexy blonde chick were given more prominence. Make one of the dinosaurs fall in love with her and give her see-saw rides on his tail. Apply the King Kong formula to the Jurassic period.

Steve said...

Tenon_Saw: yes, Hannah Spearritt's 12 months in the Cretaceous period seems to have left her looking a mite dishevelled and crusty... don't dig the blonde dreadlocks either.

Gorilla Bananas: "Make one of the dinosaurs fall in love with her and give her see-saw rides on his tail" - are you being euphemistic?

Nana Go-Go said...

Can I put my tuppence worth in about `Zen` which left me feeling the same disappointment as your `Primeval` one?

Steve said...

Nana Go-Go: really?! The wife and I watched it last night and really liked it - right down to the retro 70's theme music and brown colour palette. Mind you, we quite like Rufus Sewell as an actor anyway so that was always going to be a plus.

Rol said...

Hawk The Slayer was ace.

25 years ago.

Steve said...

Rol: Manimal was ace 25 years ago. And Knight Rider. It's not a sustainable argument.

Nana Go-Go said...

Sorry Steve but I`m more from the School of In Yer Face Dicks like Gene Hunt or McNulty (The Wire, have you seen it? It`s the best series ever - some of the scriptwriting is positively Shakespearian in parts, honest!). The mean and moody type just don`t cut it with me. I thought Bergerac was a berk and Lewis a woose and don`t get me started on the wally that was Wallander!

Steve said...

Nana Go-Go: I quite liked Sewell's subtlety but, having said that, I was a big Gene Hunt fan. Lewis was only OK when teamed up with Morse - never watched any of his flying solo stuff.

David said...

Have to agree it's a poor offering so far with Primeval....but I have been watching the new 'Walking Dead' series which are lifted almost to the letter from the comics and have been really good.Perhaps ITV should go down the comic storylines to TV if they aren't going to even pay for decent scriptwriters.

Steve said...

David: have completely missed the Walking Dead series; in fact your mention is the first I've heard of it. It's weird; my family watched nothing but ITV when I was a kid and now I'm an adult I'm almost exclusively a BBC person. The bits I see of ITV don't convince me to return to the old ways.

Very Bored in Catalunya said...

I've never watched it and don't intend to start anytime soon given your damning reference.

Is there anyway that we can skip over the boys and sci-fi thing, does that work at all or am I just kidding myself I won't have to hid in the kitchen every Saturday and Sunday afternoon for the next 10 years?

Steve said...

Very Bored in Catalunya: If I were you I'd buy in extra cocoa powder and hundreds & thousands. You can make a helluva lot of cakes in 10 years (and I prefer chocolate).

Wanderlust said...

I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about, but it doesn't matter. I still love reading your writing.

Steve said...

Wanderlust: thank you. Tune in next time for my treatise on esoteric mantras and my in-depth report on a language that I have invented myself...

Löst Jimmy said...

I've endured Primeval which at times flattered to deceive, it does appear to have a large following abroad hence its continued survival. I've not indulged in the latest series myself, and I'm not inclined to watch it now that the bossy bird with the big knockers (excuse my blantant gutteral chatter) is no longer in it?
Or is she??

Steve said...

Löst Jimmy: alas, there was a distinct lack of both bossy birds and big knockers but there was a classy, brainiac brunette bird with a short skirt who I'd be happy to let half-Nelson my Brontosaurus whenever she gets out of fake dinosaur land for a tea-break.

Wylye Girl said...

Primedrivel, Steve. BTW my beloved husband built the original Alien spacecraft in his very dim and distant past. It was made from bits of decommissioned Royal Navy ships. Today's bit of useless information!

Steve said...

Wylye Girl: your husband sounds like my kind of man - I've just built an Imperial Shuttle craft out of Lego...!

Löst Jimmy said...

Yes the brainy brunette that's the lady. I take it she's no longer in the series?

Steve said...

Löst Jimmy: I fear she has been replaced with a younger, more pert model...

Organic Motherhood with Cool Whip said...

Being in a house full of testosterone, furry man pelts and mansweat, I am know fully familiar with all things male. I used to only watch indie films with subtitles or tortured souls. Now I watch car chases and monster movies constantly. But when reading this post (PS I have no idea what show you are talking about being the ignorant American I am) I realized something.

I actually do like some of these sci-fi, action or other man-movies. But I like them when they do what you described perfectly in your last paragraph: "It's not all about the monsters and the chases. It's about emotionally real characters being placed in moments of crisis and jeapardy that dare us to dream and wonder about future worlds." So beautifully written. And so so true.

Steve said...

Organic Motherhood with Cool Whip: firstly, congratulations on the testosterone, furry man pelts and mansweat - you are truly in the temple of the gods - secondly, thank you. I have my moments. Not many. But I do have them.

JallieDaddy said...

I've been astonished that Primeval (& shouldn't it be "Primaeval"?) didn't quietly slip away after 1 series. I saw some of it & was appalled at how utterly shit it was. Just for the token blond alone: truly awful, hammy acting.

Luckily, at the moment, my boy is only 9 1/2 months & the only time we've fought over the remote is when he wants it as a toy & doesn't want to give it to me. Although he has changed channels once or twice.

I guess I've got this to look forward to!

Steve said...

JallieDaddy: to be honest, I think Primeval (and you're right it should be Primaeval) will have collapsed under the weight of it's own ridiculousness way before your little one is of age to get into sci-fi. Hopefully by then you can migrate him across to the BBC and the superior offerings of Merlin and Doctor Who which will no doubt be onto their 18th series' by then!

Keith said...

Don't get me started on this. You are watching something and your brain is tapping you on the shoulder and saying but... but... Where are all the people ? Why do things only happen a shrieking car drive away from their base, does nothing ever escape in, say, Plymouth or Inverness ???

But beware Larkrise my son, for there the true evil lies.

Steve said...

Keith: I won't hear a bad word said against Emma Timms or Dorcas Lane - they're both perfect.

Nota Bene said...

Am yet to sample the delights of this programme...thought it had been cancelled in the ITV cutbacks last year? Perhaps they found a strand of Primeval DNA and have re-grown it...

Steve said...

Nota Bene: it was indeed cancelled or foreclosed or starved of funding... but some money man's DNA was modified and manipulated and now it's back on our screens as big and as a bad as ever...

Mark said...

You were right - minority interest post. But I did read it, which shows dedication I think

Clippy Mat said...

Hey, I watched Lark Rise to Whatsit once, possibly twice, but then I got bored.
I don't watch sci-fi but I read your post anyway. No need to thank me.
:-)

Steve said...

Mark: Roy Castle would salute you were he alive.

Clippy Mat: I am having a medal cast in bronze for you.

Owen said...

Even enjoyable for non-nerds (who may admit under torture to having watched some sci-fi in days of yore...)

Steve said...

Owen: hope you're talking about my post and not the show in question...!

Selina Kingston said...

You see, I think...and I know I might come across as quite snobby here (!) .... that ITV just doesn't know how to make decent programmes. I watched the very first Primeval and turned over by the second ad break. I can't think of the last thing I watched and enjoyed on ITV, apart from Coronation Street and even that is more out of loyalty, these days !!!

Steve said...

Selina: I think you're right - which is a real shame because ITV used to have a flotilla of wonderful programmes: Morse, Robin Of Sherwood, The Bill (early years), Wire In The Blood, Cracker... but now... well. I just hardly ever watch ITV at all.

Val said...

Yes, please do take Primeval. What a useless pile of crap that programme is...

Steve said...

Val: well said that woman!