Silent Witness

I’ve long been a fan of Silent Witness, probably as long as the series itself has been running (about 25 years), and I was trying to explain to OH why I like it. I think one attraction is that the characters are like a family, but it’s also unpredictable and quirky. But the main thing I like about it is that all the loose ends are tied up. There may be pain and violence but everything is resolved by the time the credits roll. It doesn’t matter how awful the story is, at the end of it we know who dunnit, how they dunnit and why they dunnit – and most importantly, all the main characters are still standing.

It’s amusing too, at times; as with Casualty we look out for cliches. Last night’s story featured a black cast including The Greengrocer of Wisdom, dispensing deep insights along with watermelons, and The University Acceptance Letter of Death. This is a variation on the Cough of Death in Casualty.

Sadly we are now running out of episodes. But never fear – the Handmaid’s Tale comes to the rescue. I think the jury’s out on this fourth series; the first half was excellent but second dragged a little.

So that’s us up to date.

Kirk out

The Sound of Silent Witnesses

I don’t know about you but I’ve got a real soft spot for Silent Witness, the forensics procedural that is now entering its 23rd series. It’s rare for a crime drama to straddle that middle ground between hard-hitting and gritty on the one hand and flabby and unconvincing on the other but SW seems to manage it. It’s quite corny in parts and there’s a lot of telling-people-things-they-ought-to-know-already (for example, last night a HEMS officer asked what diazepam is) but I just blow past it because I enjoy the programme: in fact OH and I have been following it for years.

So what is it about this series that is so appealing? Well, first off is the subject matter. There are a lot of crime and police procedurals but very few forensic ones, and the concept of probing the secrets of the dead is very appealing. Of course as it’s not a gritty drama the corpses aren’t depicted with anything approaching realism but again, we just blow past that because it’s so enjoyable. Like police procedurals the pleasure is in trying to work out the denouement before the characters get there, and the series allows the attentive viewer to twig the outcome just before Nikki and her team.

And that’s the third attraction of this show; the characters. These people are family; there are mother and father-figures (Nikki and Thomas) and squabbling siblings Jack and Clarissa. There’s no hint of sexual attraction between them – any relationships take place outside the team – and while there are tiffs and disagreements, nothing major threatens the coherence of the group.

So much for silent witnesses; less entertaining is what I call the phenomenon of the silent ‘g’. Every time I turn on Steve Wright ‘in the afternoon’ – that’ll be on his gravestone – he seems to be doing a feature called ‘serious jockin’ (no g’). I simply cannot understand the point of this. People text or email saying what they’re up to and add ‘serious’ whatever with no ‘g’ at the end. A typical one might go like this: ‘and here’s Jordan in Scarborough: Dear Steve, we’re heading up to the Lake District this weekend for some sailing. Serious boatin’ – no g.’ Why is this funny? Why do they make such a big deal out of it? OH cannot understand it and neither can I.

It also puts me in mind of the National Theatre of Brent, whose comedy seems to consist in droppin’ the g’s at the end of words.


Happy Friday

Kirk out

Is Everything Soapy?

It has been widely commented that the long-running radio drama, The Archers, has recently become like a sound-version of Eastenders.  And no wonder, since the current producer is late of that depressing TV series:

Many of us long-time listeners have stopped tuning in; in fact my early evenings are quite different now.  Whereas they used to begin at six with the news, continue at 6.30 with the comedy slot (and don’t get me started on that) and centre on the Archers before continuing with Front Row; now we usually turn it off and watch something instead.

But the soapy phenomenon is not confined to radio.  Some of my favourite crime series, such as ‘Silent Witness’ and ‘WPC 56’ seem to be going the same way:

So what is the difference between a drama and a soap?

I think it’s primarily the predominance of the personal in the plot.  Whereas a crime series focusses on solving crimes, and ‘an everyday story of country folk’ centres on farming, a soap centres on its characters and their relationships.  Of course dramas have characters and those characters have relationships, but their private lives are secondary and create a tension because they have the ability to disrupt work.  In a soap, the emphasis is on the personal and work takes a back seat.  This results in a lack of urgency; a sense that work can wait while people sort out their love-lives.  Casualty, though in many ways the most soap-ish of dramas, does at least retain an atmosphere of crisis; even though in its preposterous plot-lines staff regularly desert a shift to sort out the lives of their patients, there is still a sense that work is urgent; work comes first, and that staff never have enough time for their own lives.

And this is as it should be.  I don’t mean that in a moral sense; I mean in a dramatic sense.  Crime and medical – and probably farming – dramas run on the staple that personal life is always on the back-burner.  It will flare up and disrupt daily life, but that’s part of the ongoing drama.  There’s a pleasurable sense of anxiety as you worry about x’s marriage or y’s child while the character is in a car-chase or helping a cow give birth.  When I used to listen to the Archers I would always worry primarily about how they ever managed to get enough sleep.  But now?  Without that tension it’s just a soap where more and ever-more sensational problems are needed to maintain the interest.

Or lose it.  I’ve said quite enough in previous posts about why I no longer listen to the Archers, so enough of that.  I still quite like Silent Witness, though there’s less and less about forensics.  WPC 56, however, seems to have more or less dispensed with the central tension which fuelled it – that of a woman struggling in a man’s role – and now the officers’ personal relationships loom as large as the crimes they are meant to be solving.  There’s a balance issue here.  It doesn’t.

Is everything a soap now?  I think we should be told.

Kirk out