Let’s Talk Cranford

I know that these WGBH-related posts bore the vast majority of my extremely small readership to tears, but there are about three of you who care (one of whom is me), so here’s your weekly fix of my public programming complaints.

I liked the original Cranford.  I have to confess I never read Mrs. Gaskell before, and this almost tempted me to pick up a couple of her books.  The original Cranford was the story of a small town in England in the 1840s that’s on the cusp of major changes with the coming of the railroad.  The series highlighted the ups and downs, the warts and wonders, of living in a town dominated by a bunch of aging spinsters and widows who live by a strict (if somewhat weird) code of conduct.

I was looking forward to Return to Cranford, even though they’d killed off Philip Glenister’s character at the tail end of the original series, thus reducing the sexy quotient of the whole town of Cranford by 95%.  (We were able to retain 5% sexiness by a brief appearance by Martin Shaw as Judi Dench’s brother.  And, yes, we can certainly discuss Glenister after this.  But let me have a paragraph or two to complain about Return to Cranford.)

So — if you read this, you would have thought, “Oh, great, I’ve got another three hours of Judi Dench in a charming and elegiac tribute to a time gone by.”  And you would be completely misled.  First of all, Martin Shaw was replaced by some dude with big sideburns, so no one will be getting any action in Cranford.  (Not that they were in the first series, but at least Philip Glenister was exchanging meaningful looks with the milliner/BFF of Francesca Annis.  So there was hope that not everyone in this town would be a spinster for ever.)

Return to Cranford is one big bloodbath.  Not only do they kill off two pretty major characters in the first half hour or so, but they also don’t bring back any of the more interesting characters.  Wacko sister who wanted to marry the doctor but ended up with the butcher?  Indisposed.  That chick who got married to the soldier in India is gone, and Mary Smith, the visitor to the Jenkyns household, is gone.  No more young doctor, that poor kid who gets the 20,000 pounds isn’t really around.  And perhaps the point is that Cranford’s becoming a ghost town, but it could have been done in a little less boring manner.  I do not recommend you return to Cranford unless it’s to watch the original series again.

OK — now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk Glenister.  T-Traveler liked this review of the American version of Life on Mars and I could not agree with it more.  Specifically:

[Harvey Keitel] lacks the beefy virility that British actor Philip Glenister brought to the role of Sam’s boss, chief detective Gene Hunt, in the BBC show. Glenister’s Hunt is everything we treasure in a ’70s television cop: He’s crude, sexist, mildly racist in a nonmalicious way, built like a bull, and forever itching to knock heads. Much of Hunt’s dialogue (e.g., “You great, soft, sissy, girly, nancy, French, bender, Man United-supporting poof!“—which, for those who don’t speak 1970s Cro-Magnon Brit, is basically a list of synonyms for homosexual) offers guilty laughs in the Archie Bunker mold, with a wincing Sam functioning as a sort of Meathead from the future.

Yes, yes, and yes!  I loved Glenister in this, and I think he’s even better in Ashes to Ashes.  He doesn’t play Gene Hunt as a one-dimensional bigot, and I think he is just about the most attractive human being on TV today.  (Not handsome, but I think he just has such great charisma and intelligence, and the roughness around the edges doesn’t hurt, either.)  I caught him in Byron, which was on Ovation a week or two ago, and he was playing the manservant of Lord Byron, and he was really great.  And I tried desperately to like Demons, and he is the single worst thing about that show, which says a lot.  I don’t know whose idea it was to have him play an American (improbably named ‘Rupert’) but he’s one of those Brits who only has Chicago gangster in their repertoire of American accents.  So I keep thinking that they’re going to be involved in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre when they’re trying to slay vampires or whatever it is they’re supposed to be doing on that show.

So someone at Masterpiece needs to give Glenister a part he can really sink his teeth into.  Enough with all the Jane Austen miniseries that aren’t as good as the 20 Jane Austen miniseries that have already been produced.  Put Glenister in the role of the Mayor of Casterbridge or — better yet — give him his own series on Mystery! now that Inspector Lynley is no more.  Or — better still — just put me in charge of programming at Masterpiece so that I can make sure I always have my fill of Inspector Lewis and possibly make better choices of hosts.

9 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Cranford

  1. Lee says:

    Hi –
    I can’t speak to Cranford. I never got hooked. But the original Life On Mars was drastically better than the strange and strangely uninteresting U.S. version. You’re right about Philip Glenister. He captures your attention and draws you right in.

    I love Inspector Lewis! The Inspector Lynley shows were very good. (Something about Sharon Small always makes me think of Katherine Erbe of L&O Criminal Intent.) I also got a kick out of New Tricks – silly, yes, but interesting and sweet.

    And I couldn’t get enough of Foyle’s War. I so hope they end up making the rumored extra episodes.
    – Lee

    • Nicole says:

      I should have said that the reason I never watched the American version (besides “how can someone improve upon perfection”) is that I live in fear of Harvey Keitel. Or, rather, Harvey Keitel’s butt. Or, more precisely, that I will see Harvey Keitel’s butt. This is the reason I will never watch The Piano and why my husband has to pre-screen anything featuring H.K.

      I love Foyle’s War too! And your observation about Sharon Small = Kathleen Erbe is exactly right!

      (And — if I may — if Inspector Lynley were still on the air, Philip Glenister would be the SECOND most attractive person on TV, because Nathaniel Parker is way too good-looking for his own good.)

      But I think we can all agree that I need to be in charge of Masterpiece 🙂

  2. t-traveler says:

    I’d like to defend the U.S. Life on Mars. It was a great 10 pm ABC Wednesday night show, far superior to “the Unusuals” which repaced it.
    The music was awesome, including a great Whiskey in the Jar by Thin Lizzy.

    I loved Jason O’Mara from Monarch of the Glen, Lester from the Wire, Lisa Bonet, Gretchen Mol, Michael Imperioli’s mustache, Keitel, Dean Winters from Oz.

    I respect the anglophiles here. I am sure the US version would be hard to take after enjoying the English version, but it was truly enjoyable. The ending was poor, but that is true of so many American series with great promise,

    I looked in at Cranford before, but missed the Return. Thanks for writing on it here.

    Glenister’s brother was on Hustle on AMC, yes?

    • Nicole says:

      The music on the British version was great as well. I will love anything that gives Mott the Hoople — the best band ever — any airplay.

      I wasn’t expecting the Return to Cranford to be as bad as it was — but I always appreciate a different perspective, so if you get to watch it, let me know what your thoughts are!!

      Also — yes, that was his brother, though I never really watched the snow. The brother used to be married to Amanda Redman (who was also in Braithwaites…)

  3. Lee says:

    I’m not a big Harvey Keitel fan either. He has too high a creep factor – kind of like Robert Blake. And after The Piano, well, enough said.

    Nathaniel Parker looks like the real life version of the man all of the “bodice ripper” cover artists are thinking about when they create their book covers!

    Yes, do take over Masterpiece and either host it yourself or bring on board hosts who don’t leave you scratching your head wondering WHY they are introducing a show!
    – Lee

    • Nicole says:

      My husband had a student a looong time ago who was the author of numerous romance novels, and Fabio was actually on the cover of one of her books. She said that she didn’t much like the covers but (as you can imagine) the author gets no choice. (Also — my husband was in the dedication of one of her books — luckily the research he helped her with was not in the bodice-ripping portion of the book.)

      Thanks for backing me up on Keitel. I totally agree on Blake.

      I will continue to lobby for a takeover of Masterpiece. FIrst order of business: bring back Diana Rigg to Mystery!

  4. t-travleer says:

    forgot All the Young Dudes was a cover

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.