I love the BBC. Really, I do. They make some cracking programmes, and they champion new writers on both radio and TV. The thing is, though, they’ve started making some proper drippy nonsense recently, and top of the heap is recent offering London Spy. Several Twitter pals asked me to write something about it, so behold, some words and stuff. May contain moping.
I wanted to like London Spy, mainly because it contains Ben Whishaw, best known for his roles as Q in the new James Bond films, and as the voice of lovable Peruvian immigrant Paddington Bear. But I really struggled to love this spy drama, mostly because it was, er, devoid of any drama. Where to start?
Aside from the ‘for the love of god, stop using blue filters everywhere’, the ‘staring sadly out over bodies of water‘ trope is back to stay. Which would be fine if it was punctuated by scintillating dialogue, but even that isn’t possible. Our brave hero, marked out as working class from the offset by his hoodie and accent innit, runs into a man he manages to bed within half an hour of the first episode. (Don’t worry, though, this is the fastest-paced part in the whole series.) The initial conversation with Danny and Automaton 125B is so stilted, I genuinely wondered if the actor needed the key in his back wound up.
The sex scenes have been frothed over by the Daily Mail and other usual suspects, but to be honest they were more sad and/or disturbing than anything. Like the rest of the show it was like watching Bergman direct a drama with spare actors from a Chekhov play, interspersed with a mix of mopey shoegaze music, ‘tense’ piano and the sort of generic shuddering bass notes that they insist on playing at full volume in the cinema that shatter every bone in your body. STOP THAT.
My main problem with London Spy, though, was that it simply didn’t go anywhere. We’d have twenty minutes of Danny having a harrowing HIV test, or half an hour of Charlotte Rampling rambling about her amazingly gifted, unsurprisingly autistic-ish son, but nothing useful coming of these scenes. Not even the excellent Jim Broadbent could fix this hot mess. There was a frustrating mix, too, of the Captain Obvious Reveal and plot strands that spent ages trundling along before going ‘AHA!’ and baffling the entire nation with the revelation that Alex was really a child genius with a stereotypical drug addict mother, only he has two mothers and one of them is basically a psychopath and why is my brain leaking out my ears?
The thing is, this show will probably scoop up all the BAFTAs because I’m not the gatekeeper of good TV writing. So it got me thinking, after I tried to write a Homeric pastiche of some of my stuff, maybe the key to getting that lucrative book/TV deal, other than to have a boyfriend whose job it is to commission BBC dramas *cough*, is to give it a shot for myself…
[EXT: Gritty housing estate, dusk. Camera pans across tower blocks while Boards of Canada play in the background.]
Our Inglorious Hero: *sigh* *stares out window*
[Wistful piano music. Zoom in on sad eyes. Continue zooming for ten minutes.]
OIH: I’m so sad, sitting here with no purpose in life. If only someone would, just once, give me something to do that would, perhaps, advance this plot beyond staring out this grimy window.
[Nothing happens. Coldplay quietly shuffle into shot and tune up. There’s a knock at the door.]
OIH: Hello, can I help?
Jim Broadbent: HELLO THERE GOOD SIR. I’VE COME IN TO ENSURE THIS SHOW WINS FUCKTONS OF BAFTAS.
OIH: Oh, okay, I suppose you’d better come in.
[Jim Broadbent wanders through the flat, pausing to inject himself with hard drugs for no apparent reason, before sitting on the sofa.]
JB: YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND, SON, THAT IT’S ALWAYS BEEN THIS WAY. LAZY CLASS STEREOTYPES IN A MOSTLY-WHITE SAUSAGE PARTY IS WHAT THE VIEWERS REALLY WANT.
OIH: But Jim, why can’t I, I dunno, go out and advance the plot by beating someone up or–‘
JB: THAT’S CRAZY TALK, BOY. NOW SHUT UP AND LOOK WISTFUL.
[Coldplay start performing. Quiet sounds of a Guardian journalist jerking off come from the bathroom.]
OIH: I really think it might be better if I had some kind of coherent plotline.
[SHUDDERING, SURPRISE BASS RUMBLE. Close-up on Accidental Broadbent.]
JB: OH NO YOU DON’T. THIS IS THE POINT WHERE I TELL YOU I’M REALLY A SOVIET ROBOT SPY, YOU’RE THE LOVE CHILD OF HAROLD PINTER AND AN EASTENDERS SCRIPT, AND YOU TAKE YOUR CLOTHES OFF.
OIH: Wait, what?
[Accidental Broadbent proceeds to get naked. Chris Martin from Coldplay makes a bonfire of the scripts of dramas that never made it. Our Inglorious Hero sheds a single, crystalline, manly tear. Fade to black]
Ah well. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the Beeb commissions something thrilling from me, right? Right?