We never used to expect that much of shows launched in the summertime, knowing that TV channels would wait to launch their big guns later in the year. With more of us watching television in different ways nowadays it probably matters less when programmes are released. These two very different drama series were launched to considerable publicity recently. One is a new British ITV prime-time cop show, the other an American “limited series” revisit to what was a landmark television adaptation. I was interested to see if both lived up to the hype or whether they were, and I hoped not, summertime season filler.
Firstly “Wild Bill” which was apparently based on a projected appointment of an American Bill Bratton, nicknamed “Wild Bill”, to run the Metropolitan Police Force. That didn’t pan out but it sowed the seeds for this six- parter where an American cop becomes the Chief Constable of East Lincolnshire Police. Created by Dudi Appleton, Jim Keeble and David Griffiths, I’m sure the idea really sprang to life when Hollywood star Rob Lowe agreed to play the central character in this fish- out- of- water tale. It’s exciting to have Rob Lowe on our screens on a weekly basis over the summer. It got me thinking about what I’d seen Rob Lowe in before and frankly I drew a blank (apart from the 2015 British/American co-production “You, Me & The Apocalypse” where he stole the show as an off-the-wall Vatican priest). I kept thinking of films from the 80’s but then realised it was Matt Dillon, Brad Pitt or a Baldwin who had starred in them. Google to the rescue then to discover Rob Lowe made his name in films such as “The Outsiders” and “St Elmo’s Fire” (remember the theme song not the film) and had his mainstream Hollywood career scuppered by a sex tape scandal. He has worked fairly consistently in film and especially TV since but this is his first British work.
I do like the premise behind this, relocating a go-getting American cop to Boston, Lincolnshire with the idea that he will make serious budget cuts while in post, not exactly endearing him to his new colleagues. My main concern was that it might be a little too “ITV cosy crime”, a mash-up between “Midsummer Murders” and Martin Clunes’ star vehicle “Doc Martin”, neither of which do it for me but the opening sequence of Episode 1 with Lowe engaged in a rural car-chase saying “Shit!” continually put my mind at rest and certainly language wise at-least it seems more out there than much prime-time ITV1 fodder. I really enjoyed the first episode with its emphasis of the American attempting to adjust to a very different life, although plot-wise it probably did throw too much into the mix for a series opener. I was less keen on the second episode where alarm bells which were tinkling away subtly to begin with started to resonate more fully.
Bronwyn James with Rob Lowe
My main stumbling block is that the characters just aren’t very nice to one another. I can’t work out the hierarchy yet but no-one is giving Bill a chance and I totally understand the reasons why. The antipathy and aggression towards work colleagues might have worked in a 70’s set show like “The Sweeney” or “Life On Mars” yet here in its contemporary Lincolnshire setting it just doesn’t ring true. “Wild Bill” has not found its identity yet. I’d like to see the Rob Lowe character getting a little more wild and the rest of the force beginning to toe the line a little more. The Channel 4 series “No Offence” shows how good a mix of police procedural, character led plots, dark comedy and drama and a clear dollop of camaraderie at its centre can be but here the elements are not as convincing. The character who is really shining at this point is DC Muriel Yeardsley played by Bronwyn James who is grappling with diligence and thoroughness in her career whilst being obligated to a dodgy Russian moneylender who has bought the debt on her parents’ farm. This, after two episodes, looks like where the unexpected heart of this series will be.
The original TV adaptation of Armistead Maupin’s “Tales Of The City” really did light up our screens when shown on Channel 4 in 1993 and was significant because it put gay characters centrally into the plot-line with a delicious portrayal of Michael “Mouse” Tolliver, initially by Marcus D’Amico. This was almost unique at the time, six years before the game-changing “Queer As Folk”. It also had a big-star presence in Olympia Dukakis who was wonderful as Barbary Lane matriarch Mrs Madrigal and introduced most of us to Laura Linney.
The originals : Marcus D’Amico, Laura Linney and Chloe Webb – Mouse, Mary Ann & Mona
Set in mid-70’s San Francisco this was a heart-warming adaptation of Maupin’s early books and a love-letter to San Francisco itself which would have been added to many “must visit” lists on the strength of this showing. Its depiction of a bohemian, carefree 70’s lifestyle proved too much for Middle America who showed “edited versions” and led to its cancellation with further instalments being produced in Montreal with a recasting of some of the major roles.
Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis -then and now
Eighteen years on from the last visit cast originals Laura Linney and an 88 year old Olympia Dukakis are back in this present-day set revival. I’m having slight difficulties with the time-line here as how the characters fit in and also with how it all fits in with the books (which I’ve read over the years all apart from the most recent, the final instalment, “The Days Of Anna Madrigal”). I wish that Netflix had made at least the first series available so that we could refresh ourselves with what had happened decades ago as a way into the new series, because I think if I had watched this without the background of the old shows and the books I wouldn’t really know what was going on. This new re-boot is aiming to be very 21st Century with a range of characters from the LGBTQ+ spectrum very much fitting in with the heterosexual characters as before, which was always its great strength, but here it’s looking a little worthy and there’s something about this whole production and especially the dialogue (and I’m only two episodes in) that makes it all seem a little unreal. We’ve had so much “realness” in the depiction of LGBTQ+ characters recently in excellent productions of Ryan Murphy’s “Pose” and Russell T. Davies’ “Years and Years” that this revival of a trend-setting brand is looking a little middle-aged and bloated. I’m even a little nervous that I won’t stick with the ten episodes to see if it redeems itself and that it might fall into that familiar Netflix trap of “watch a couple of episodes and nothing more”. I hope not because the source material for this has been part of my entire adult life and I really want to see it being taken on board in a big way by a new generation.
(for both so far)
Wild Bill in shown on ITV 1 on Thursdays at 9pm with the first two episodes available on the ITV Hub. The whole series of Tales Of The City is available on Netflix.