Contains spoilers for Survivors
I was going to wibble on about Survivors for a bit, but Rob Stickler has beaten me to it here (and in typically erudite fashion as well – I quote: “The apocalypse has been a slight inconvenience mainly manifesting in an inability to text.” Arf!).
Even so, there were a few things that bothered me, not least the issue of what appeared to be a weird structural decision on behalf of the programme makers. Survivors is of course a TV show, which means it should have different structural concerns than film. Arguably, TV should provide a broader canvas, which means that everything has more space to breathe, for characters to develop, for themes to expand; after all, a ninety minute opening episode is a lot of televisual space to fill up.
So, how did Survivors choose to do it?
Mostly by elongating twenty minutes worth of story into ninety minutes.
If Survivors was forced at gunpoint to shrink its six and half hour running time into a ninety page screenplay, then no doubt the first episode would be concluded well inside the twenty page mark. And if it was, would you have lost any significant scenes from the remaining seventy pages?
I don’t think you would.
It’s not that Survivors was particularly slow as such; it just took its own sweet time in getting to the point – probably a consequence of the realisation that there was ninety minutes to fill (I haven’t seen the original series, so I have no idea how the respective first episodes stack up against each other). A case in point was when Abby awoke after being in a coma to find her husband dead in the front room. If this scene had been designed for film and not TV, it probably wouldn’t have been longer than a page. Such as it was, we saw Abby do a huge variety of things before discovering her husband’s body, none of them particularly interesting or essential to the narrative. But then, don’t forget: there’s a lot of time to fill here. And if you’re not going to fill it up with honest to goodness story, you’ve got to fill it up somehow: watching characters eat, take showers and wander around deserted suburban streets is probably as good a waste of time as any.
The other strange phenomenon that came to mind watching Survivors was the fact that it’s essentially a re-make (yeah, OK, so the BBC describe it as a ‘re-imagining’, but that still makes it a re-make in my book). Add to this news that Day of the Triffids is to get a makeover next year, and you have to start to wonder what’s going on in TeeVee land at the moment (even Wallander was in effect a remake – BBC4 handily showed the original Swedish series for comparison the other night).
I’ve always (probably naively) assumed that the BBC doesn’t have to chase ratings in the same way that their commercial rivals do, which surely means the Beeb is able to indulge in a certain amount of risk taking. What you seem to have is the opposite: remakes aplenty (wasn’t there a rumour recently about a Reginald Perrin remake? Yikes!), Andrew Davies writing every costume drama in christendom and ‘single drama’ relegated to the seldom watched margins of BBC2. In comparison, ITV looks like a veritable hotbed of originality. And that’s a scary thought.