Had to be done

I haven’t watched much TV for the last couple of months, and need to catch up on my Holbys: I’m about six weeks behind, which is unacceptable. I knew I had most episodes recorded, but upon trying to watch them I realised one was missing. The iPlayer doesn’t have back-episodes of Holby, so I was reduced to searching online. I eventually found one torrent, but it was problematic.

I’m a bit fuzzy on how bittorrent works, but I know I need to connect to whoever is seeding the file. In this case I couldn’t connect directly, although he was ‘in the swarm’. I assume this means the file has to transfer via a few other people, or something. Whatever, the episode came in at a whopping 1k/s. And took six days. That’s got to be some kind of record. Totally worth it, though: I need my weekly Connie fix.

And the award for Most Cynical Use of the Christmas Carol Plotline goes to…

…the Holby City Christmas special1. Likeable Character 1 is romantically involved with Likeable Character 2, who is leaving the show. In order to stop #1 leaving with #2, three ghosts visit and show her the relationship isn’t going to work. That’s all they do.

People. It was the Christmas special. That’s just not nice.

  1. it’s amazing what you can catch up on when there’s an essay to write []

Holby’s conjoined twins dilemma

Holby City had an interesting moral dilemma this evening1. Their major storyline of the last couple of months has been conjoined twins, born to an illegal-immigrant North Korean couple claiming asylum on the basis of their persecuted Christianity. Throw in a very Catholic doctor, some very expensive operations, an unfriendly Home Office and a hostile hospital boardroom and you’ve got some interesting plots.

In tonight’s show they discovered a heart problem in one of the twins. She was almost certainly going to die, and was only currently surviving by ‘leeching off’ her twin. But if she dies, both die. So the hospital rushed to arrange the operation to split them, in order to save the single child. The parents refused to permit it, saying it was God’s will that both should die.

Now, I’m happy to dismiss this argument out of hand. It doesn’t matter whether you’re religious, there are multiple ways that makes no sense – God also put the babies into a hospital, surrounded by doctors, for example. But Very Catholic Doctor was conflicted for a different reason: he reacted to a comment about ‘cutting away one child as if it were a growth’, and wasn’t happy with an operation that would, essentially, actively kill one baby.

I personally still don’t find this too tricky. Non-action results in no babies surviving, while action results in one baby surviving. I don’t consider it immoral to ‘kill’ a baby that’s going to die anyway, if it means saving the life of another (providing you do everything you can to minimise suffering). I am also happy to go against the parents’ wishes, as children aren’t the property of their parents.

But I am not a parent, and others with me found it difficult. What do you think?

  1. I have forgiven its moment of madness []

Remember what I said about Holby City? Please ignore all that

So, last week I was raving about Holby City. On the very unlikely chance there’s anyone out there who gave the show a try because of me, let me say this:

I am so very, very sorry.

Really. I want to hide under a rock. It went from thoughtful, interesting and well-made to TOTAL BATSHIT INSANITY. Gunfights, car chases, spontaneous trips to South Africa, doctors in imminent danger of execution, pointless trips to Table Mountain, children’s lives saved by magic fairy dust, romances invented on the spot, a main character taking control of a surgical procedure in a foreign country by saying ‘I’m from England’, a patient who woke up in the middle of his operation at the very moment someone accidentally set fire to his heart, nonsensical and completely contradictory theological motivations and, possibly worst of all, massive retrofitting of a longtime plotline. They’ve been running that storyline for 18 months, and I assumed they, you know, had some idea where it was going.

I also mentioned that the lighting in last week’s episode was great. This time they appeared to think South Africa has, at minimum, two suns.

Sorry. Don’t listen to any recommendations I make, ever again.

Holby City

There are two tv shows I go out of my way to watch. The first is obviously Doctor Who, and the second is Holby City. Seriously, it’s really, really good.

It helps that they have some great actors, but it’s just a classy programme all round. It takes the time to build up characters, and actually (unlike soaps, generally) keeps them consistent – you rarely find nice doctors suddenly turning nasty if the storyline demands it, for example. It also pulls off the Cheers / West Wing trick of making them all likeable. When the emotional storylines come around you can’t help but empathise, and it’s regularly moving. Tonight’s show had two widowers struggling to deal with their new relationship. Not something you see on tv very often, and very easy to get wrong, but I really felt for both characters. Elsewhere one of kindest people in the show was getting screwed over by his girlfriend and, knowing his history, you’re sure he’s not going to cope well and you really don’t want it to happen. Did, though. Cow.

The writing varies with the writer, as with any show, but the dialogue is rarely less than effortless and often witty as hell. Storyline-wise, you can sometimes feel the writers coming and going – the occasional episode will wrap up a bunch of plots, to start afresh the next week – but it’s always neatly interwoven and, importantly, not forgotten. They’re happy to reference two-year-old storylines if necessary. The modular nature isn’t surprising with a full-time show – I don’t think it’s been off the air in three years – but they also have various long-running themes that cross boundaries. For example, there’s been an atheism/religion element in the last nine months. A couple of patients have referenced Richard Dawkins, an atheist consultant turned to god in a time of desperation1, and a Catholic doctor clearly has issues dealing with things that go against his faith. It’s not terribly overt, and I don’t know whether it’s ever going to come to anything (or even which side it’s on, if any), but it’s definitely deliberate. The ethics of private medical care come up regularly, too.

I also think it’s technically well made. The lighting on tonight’s show was beautiful, and their long-term use of popular music, relevant to the themes or events of the particular episode, is evocative. And, as I said, the acting is top notch2.

I think it’s the long-term stuff I like most. They’ve put the effort into creating consistent characters, with back-stories that don’t go away. It’s common to sniff at soaps / long-running dramas, but I think this is why they’re worthwhile. Building up characters and situations over literally years allows for emotional resonance you can’t get elsewhere – in books, sure, but no film or standard tv show has that kind of time. You follow the lives of these people, and share in their joys and tragedies. It’s genuinely upsetting when a loved character dies, but the complete opposite when, say, a long-running romance comes to fruition. And of course it goes away, but there’s a pleasure in these experiences that’s unique to the medium. I’m not ashamed to admit liking it – that’s what storytelling is all about.

Bit gushing? Probably. But atm it’s one of my favourite things on tv. Credit where credit’s due.

  1. this was particularly nicely played – it was never suggested that it helped, but this particular character grasping for any kind of control could be interpreted in various ways []
  2. they should pay Amanda Mealing whatever it takes; but then I’m a bit biased as Connie does strange things to me []

TV I have been watching

Gideon’s Daughter
Let’s face it – I watched this (and ‘Friends and Crocodiles’ earlier in the year) because the adverts said it was written by somebody called ‘Stephen Poliakoff‘, who is apparently some kind of giant in the television drama who I really should have heard of but hadn’t. Somebody with a name like that must be good, right? As it turned out I enjoyed both dramas. I found them to be interesting little stories, well told. Whether they had any deeper meaning I have no idea – too many years of English Lit. have made me nervous about reading too much into things – but I have a feeling that you take out as much as you want to.

Davina McCall’s chat show recently started on BBC1, and it’s quite odd. I find her very appealing as a presenter, and have been known to keep watching an otherwise uninteresting programme because she, unlike countless other automatons, seems to have quite a bit about her. She’s comfortable on-camera, constantly ad-libbing and always copes very well with the unexpected. A chat show seems a strange choice, though, and last Wednesday’s show was a little disappointing. Firstly, because she is so likeable I found myself more interested in her than the guest. For her to retreat and give them take centre stage is almost a waste. Still, this could work quite well if she uses her charm to ask interesting and probing questions. Sadly, she never gets the chance – on Wednesday’s show there were so many guests on the hour-long programme that they were allotted ten minutes each, which was barely enough to plug their latest single/film/book. Maybe a different format, with longer interviews, would work better. I flipped over to Kirstie and Phil before the show even ended. Shame.

Casualty / Holby City
I was going to use the words ‘guilty pleasures’ in this paragraph, but I don’t think I will. I actually find myself looking forward to these two, which is a major turnaround from a few years back when I avoided them completely. I think it’s because they’ve gone back to concentrating on staff members over 21 years old, with the result that they’re not entirely based around love triangles any more. The acting’s good, the characters likeable and the scripts are usually nicely written (albeit with the odd dodgy episode – I keep meaning to check whether they’re all by the same writer.) I find them decent, easy entertainment, and I’m not ashamed to say so 🙂

Deal or No Deal
I heard from various people how good Channel 4’s new afternoon show was, so caught an episode last week1. I figured it was some kind of quiz show, which I can normally enjoy as I like trying to answer the questions. Turns out, not so much. If you don’t know the format of Deal or No Deal, here’s how it works: A contestant randomly chooses one of twenty-two boxes, each of which contain a different sum of money varying from 1p up to £200,000. The contestant then opens the remaining boxes, one by one, revealing how much money he hasn’t won. Every few boxes a ‘banker’ will call and offer the contestant £x if he’ll walk away immediately. If he doesn’t ‘deal’ in this way, the contestant is eventually left with two boxes, his own and one remaining, and has to decide which one to open.

It’s mental. To be fair, I may have seen a slightly dodgy episode. The one I watched had the contestant demanding that everybody ‘send him their positivity.’ Every time a box was opened to reveal an amount less than £1000 the audience exploded into applause. The presenter, Noel Edmonds, kept wittering on about how much he believed in this system, and wasn’t something really amazing happening. For ages I figured I must be missing something – it seemed to be all random chance. And, yes, it was. The only skill involved, as far as I can tell, is to add up the amounts remaining in the boxes, divide by the number of boxes left, and see whether your answer is lower than whatever the banker is offering you – if it is, ‘deal’!2 This particular show resulted in the man turning down £40,000 and ending up with £10,000. My initial comments were slightly more scathing – I think “complete bag of toss” was the phrase that I used when describing it to Mum – but I think that’s just because I like to see people tested for rewards instead of it being blind chance. That’s just me, though – plenty seem to disagree and your mileage may vary.

I don’t know how I’ve ended up watching Eastenders. I’m sure I wasn’t a regular viewer last summer, so it must have happened some time over the autumn. I know my sister started watching, which drew in Mum, and then we’d sometimes watch it while eating. I guess I must have been sucked into some storyline, and by then it was too late – it’s impossible to stop without missing the end of one story, by which time another has started…I have no willpower. However it happened, I am currently wondering when it was that the scriptwriters realised that during January and February:

  • they would have very few interesting characters remaining
  • they would have no storylines that didn’t border on the farcicial
  • that the entire show would be carried by a seventeen-year old (playing a fifteen-year-old) out-acting everybody else on the screen.

I’m guessing the latter was a revelation, since she’s been inserted into every storyline since the beginning of the year.

  1. it was a calm-before-the-storm day while I waited for replacement hardware to arrive, so I wasn’t entirely skiving off 🙂 []
  2. It seems like a variation of The Monty Hall Problem, but Wikipedia says it isn’t at all []