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Home > Media

TVJism: Bring Back 'Robin of Sherwood'! Oh, You Have...

3 November 2006

This week there was yet another minor TV furore as Christians accused a show of anti-Christian bias. What was this show? A blistering attack on organised religion by Richard Dawkins? An expose of extremist Christian fundamentalism by 'Dispatches'? A take-no-prisoners drama by Jimmy McGovern about a Christian religious cult controlling people's minds?


It was 'Spooks'.

'Spooks', in case you haven't seen it (which is unlikely because it seems to be on its 100th series by now) is the BBC's distinctly so-so spy drama. The spooks in question are a group of young, faintly trendy, mobile-phone wielding identikit characters - it's a long way from 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' or 'A Perfect Spy', because the show is as detached from reality as events in Gotham City.

This is something that seems lost on the handful of Christian rentaquote idiots who whinged to the media. The controversy in question was that 'Spooks' featured a storyline in which loony fundamentalist Christians attempt to start a religious war with Muslims. As ever no one emerges from the row looking good. Christians should take note that 'Spooks' is fiction, and not very good fiction at that. Complaining that 'Spooks' is unrealistic is like getting a job with Shell then complaining it's nothing like 'Dallas' . On the other hand, Spooks' 'mad Christians' plot smacks of being a fudge - the fact that Islamic extremists represent a real terrorist threat to the UK is surely enough material for a drama. Instead, rather than upset Muslims, the BBC opts to show something that is a ridiculously fanciful take on terrorism, and as such has little to say about anything. For fuck's sake - there *are* people in the UK who want a war against Muslims (and other races). You can find them right this moment, posting away on various websites, but they're not Christians, they're neo-Nazis.

Oddly, the row is less about controversial subject matter in TV drama, and more about the way drama has shifted from anything resembling reality to just entertainment product. 'Spooks' is typical of this: it can be about anything it wants, *so long as it doesn't resemble reality*. The BBC has developed a noticeable love of dramas that are glossy entertainment products, rather than serious drama. Thus we get 'Spooks', 'Hustle' and 'Robin Hood', all claiming to be drama when in reality they're closer to ITV fodder of the 80s like 'C.A.T.S Eyes' (or indeed 'Robin of Sherwood') than 'Edge of Darkness'.

There are a couple of problems with this approach. American TV has produced plenty of solid, watchable entertainment dramas - 'The X-Files' and the 'CSI/Law and Order' franchises spring to mind (we look forward to the day the ideas barrel runs empty and we're treated to 'CSI Special Victims Unit Disneyland', with a pilot episode in which Huey, Dewey and Louie are being abused by Goofy). These shows also lack a certain heart though - the CSI genre in particular is essentially a far-fetched whodunit with high production values and tight storytelling. British programme makers have difficulty recreating the style of these programmes, and the results are slightly unconvincing. Witness 'Hustle', which tried to be a sort of TV 'Ocean's 11', but which ended up looking more like 'Minder' set in a trendy Clapham Common bar. (We don't want it to look as though we're singling out BBC drama - it's just that it's taken as read that ITV's drama output long ago descended into utter drivel, usually dull murder mysteries or laboured 'modern relationships' dramas propped up by celebrities like Alan Davies, none of which hold a candle to 'Cold Feet'.)

And so it is with other recent BBC 'drama'. 'Robin Hood' is a pretty bad programme by any standards. It's apparently aimed at children *and* adults, yet it takes everything that was (deliberately) bad about 'The A-Team' and transposes it to Sherwood Forest in the 13th Century (a 13th century that has ruthlessly had 21st Century values imposed on it, complete with extra-feisty Maid Marion). Thus we get endless punch-ups (with a nod to chop socky nonsense), two-dimensional characters, and a script which alternates between ponderous seriousness and lame wisecracking. Oh and Robin's Legolas-style archery skills. They may as well have called it 'Robin Hood the Elf' - it wouldn't detract in the least from the overall badness or implausibility of the show.

'Spooks', 'Hustle', 'Robin Hood' - it makes you wonder why they don't amalgamate them into one dreadful programme aimed squarely at kids and subnormal adults - 'Sherwood Spy Detective Grifters', anyone? - and let someone else get on with making proper drama.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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