Wednesday 18 October 2017

Television: Best ending not always one we want

Amber (RTE1), Play Next Door (RTE1), Winterwatch (BBC2)

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

The argument in favour of ending Amber the way it did, is that the lack of obvious closure is a reflection of the truth. Which may not be what we want in a TV drama, but which has more merit in a broader sense than the more conventional type of ending.

And I would agree with that argument. In fact, I would loudly applaud the makers of Amber for their uncommon bravery.

We have been getting what we want from television for a long time now, and the result of that can be seen any time we find ourselves out there on the digital wasteland, scrolling down through about a thousand channels on which they are showing Takeshi's Castle, Stargate Atlantis and Kourtney and Kim Take Miami.

No doubt they leave nothing unresolved in any of those shows, they are always thinking of us, and what we want.

And in so doing they have created that digital wasteland, that hellish zone of interminable nothingness – which is not what we want.

So if a show such as Amber, which is excellent in many ways, has an ending which feels different to the vast majority of endings to which we are accustomed, our instincts should incline towards generous praise rather than bitter condemnation.

Because the truth may not be what we want, but it is more certainly what we need.

And there has to be a place for that too, even in a universe which has largely abandoned such pursuits in favour of incessant pandering, and not just in television but in all areas of creative endeavour – again with consequences that are catastrophic to behold.

Indeed the only people who can save television, are those willing to risk the wrath of the multitudes by giving us something that we are not getting anywhere else by refusing to colour by numbers.

Already this year, by trying something new with its Play Next Door series, RTE had given us an immortal happening in the history of Irish art, that of writer Patrick McCabe playing the piano and singing Gentle Mother with Big Tom in the lounge of Big Tom's own home.

And as if to demonstrate that we will never go short of the more obvious pleasures, at almost exactly the same time as Amber was drawing to an inconclusion, on Sky Sports you could see Manchester United losing a penalty shoot-out.

That was your happy ending there.

* * * * *

The idea of running the drama four nights in a row itself could be seen as a further attempt to do something that has not been done before a million times, to give us what we need.

Interestingly, the BBC was also going for the four-in-a-row last week, with Winterwatch, in which a bunch of classically over-enthusiastic BBC presenters brought us live pictures of the wildlife of the UK going about their business at this difficult time.

By doing it live, on consecutive nights, along with all the internet streaming and the interactive Red Button jazz, they were clearly trying to reclaim some territory for television, to bring the people of Britain together in an old-school fashion to celebrate nature.

Or rather to celebrate the fact that they were sitting at home safe and warm, while others were out there encountering nature with all its dangers and unpleasantness.

In the Scottish Highlands, a particularly enthusiastic presenter could be seen standing in the icy waters of a river, trying to explain how the salmon makes his way to the spawning grounds, telling us how difficult it was for him even to stand up straight with the force of the water running against him.

While we admired his zeal, we felt that this could not really be regarded as a valid scientific experiment, due to the fact that he is, after all, a human being and the salmon is a fish, with certain advantages in this area. For example, while it is undoubtedly difficult for the salmon to get to its destination, it is quite natural for it to leap high into the air in ways that would be quite a challenge for a BBC presenter, even a most energetic one.

Modestly, the presenter in his comparative analysis refrained from mentioning that a salmon wouldn't be all that brilliant at hosting a wildlife show.

Otherwise, it was a good point, well made.

Irish Independent

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