Sunday, February 27, 2011

Still Fresh

In early 2003, I worked at a PR firm that promoted BBC Video. Not a bad gig for a somewhat-recent college grad. Especially if you like British humor (oh how I still think it's a tragedy what the USA did to Coupling. And don't even start me on my thoughts on the original British version of The Office...).

There was one DVD release, though, that took me by surprise. I had never heard of The Singing Detective. Our product managers on the client side spoke well of it... very well. And, when a member of the PR firm spoke to then-TV critic at the New York Daily News David Bianculli (he's now a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air and founded TVWorthWatching.com), the well-respected critic referred to the 1986 BBC production as one of the best bits of dramatic TV ever. He ended up writing the DVD liner notes.

Most of you have likely encountered Michael Gambon in the Harry Potter films. A younger Imelda Staunton (who also made her way to Harry Potter) has a role. There were plenty of reasons to watch.

It took me until this weekend. For years, I had kept it on the back burner. Countless weekends of time to myself passed with other diversions taking its place. Maybe there was a game on. Maybe I went out with friends. Whatever the case, I couldn't find the six hours needed to burn through the series.

Side note: thank you to our British and Canadian friends at the BBC and CBC, respectively, who don't use the season-based method of shows. By opting to air series of episodes -a format HBO, Showtime and AMC use masterfully today - the concept of good TV writing can be preserved.

Good writing positively abounds out of The Singing Detective.

One of the most challenging and rewarding bits of TV I've ever watched, The Singing Detective holds up masterfully as it approaches its 25th anniversary. The story mixes three somewhat complex threads effectively, even though they are permitted to intermingle throughout and, at first, confusingly. The viewer is left to sort out what the "reality" of the situations are and, as the story develops, the payoff is wonderful. A complex work that challenges us all psychologically, The Singing Detective forces us to live with some severe gray area. As the main character notes:

"All solutions and no clues. That's what the dumbheads want. I'd rather it was the other way around: all clues, no solutions. That's the way things are. Plenty of clues. No solutions."


Things get tied up in the final episode. But the ending, like all good pieces of art, begs questions in its resolution. Something that will keep many a modern viewer uncomfortable, to be sure.

So, as much as I think you should check the series out (not the more recent Robert Downey Jr. movie of the same name), one thing sticks out from the whole experience that I can say whether or not you think a six-hour psych-thriller is you bag of donuts: what are you putting off that you should check out?

It took me nearly eight years to fire up these DVDs. The entire series of Lost started and ended in that time. It pains me to say it, but the Red Sox won the World Series (twice) in that time. The whole time, it was right there, asking for slightly more of me than the time it takes to fly across the country.

If there's something you've been hearing is worth it, break your routine for once and see what awaits. Perhaps, even do so with The Singing Detective.

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