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.