Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make into drama characters.
I know a number of people who stopped listening to The Archers when the EastEnders guy started producing it: me among them. In all the years I’d been listening, even though there had been sensational plot lines, they always seemed somehow to emerge from the soil of the programme and the seed of the characters, not just flung in willy-nilly for the sake of the ratings. But I didn’t intend to tune out forever, and when the offending producer blew back to the city streets whence he came, I started listening again.
It’s better – but it’s still not back to how it was; and after the wholly gratuitous return and downfall of Matt Crawford, the latest in a series of OTT plot lines is the sudden and unexpected death of Nic Grundy. Just to turn the knife in the wound of brotherly hatred, the sepsis which killed her came from a rusty nail which she encountered in the course of helping her sister-in-law – which presumably means that next week Will is going to hunt Emma and Ed down and kill them. There was also a possible death-bed confession which people are speculating means that it was Nic who ran over Matt and put him in hospital.
But compared to Episodes, Ambridge is paradise and everyone in it a saint. This deceptively blandly-titled sitcom cleverly bridges the Atlantic. A couple of writers (married couple Sean and Beverley Lincoln, played by Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig – an Archers connection there) take a successful British sitcom over to LA. They are excited by the possibilities, especially as they are told the network head, the improbably-named Merc Lapidus (but then improbable names are a trope here as his boss turns out to be called Eliot Salad) ‘loves, loves, loves’ their show. But from the moment their planes wheels hit tarmac, it’s downhill all the way.
Of course the network doesn’t want to do the show as it is; and in a series of increasingly humiliating negotiations the pair are forced to see it morph from a witty, urbane school drama to a run-of-the-mill series about a hockey team featuring an unpleasant coach (Matt leBlanc) and a sexy librarian, played by someone called Morning who is about a hundred and five and basically made of plastic and filler. In the course of all this the writers learn a devastating truth:
‘There’s a chance Merc hasn’t actually seen your show.’
‘Has he seen it?’
The comedy of Episodes comes from the clash between the relative sincerity and integrity of the British pair and the utterly self-serving fakeness of Hollywood. No-one is happy; no-one is for real (either physically or in any other way) people sleep around with abandon, cheat on partners, get divorced, steal one another’s stuff and generally act as if nothing and no-one matters. It’s a completely ego-driven society and in the midst of it all the Lincolns (some irony in the name? Are they being shot in the theatre?) are a sort of wobbly moral centre who come through it all with their marriage just about intact.
But nothing else is intact. As flies to wanton boys are these characters to the writers: it’s not just that no good deed goes unpunished; no deed goes unpunished. The characters are punished just for existing; for having talent and for wanting success. Series 5 ends with the worst possible scenario; their new series (of which they had such high hopes) being hijacked by Sean’s old writing partner who claims ‘came up with the idea.’ Nobody wins here except the a**holes; but even they don’t win because the life they live is not worth living.
As comedy it’s horrible, gruesome, even degrading. Thank god for Ambridge…