Identity – Second Life

When you find out where they’ve been, you’ll discover where they’re going.

Keeley Hawes Identity DSI Martha Lawson

DSI Martha Lawson

This is not me trotting out pop-philosophy following on my brief flirtation with pop-psychology in my last post. Rather this is the strapline for the new to STV (Scottish TV) show Identity.

Identity is a crime-drama – when you encounter a new drama on ITV there is a better than evens chance that it will be a crime-drama. Though it is new to STV it is not new to British TV. British people not living in Scotland (I am now navigating a political trip-wire here!) would have had the chance to become acquainted with DI John Bloom and DSI Martha Lawson back in 2010. Why the STV program controllers thought to hold it off to its Scottish viewers to 2012 I do not know. We are quite provincial about Scottish crime dramas it seems – much loved but now deceased crime soap The Bill always had significantly lower viewing figures north of the Hadrian Walls than south of it and when it comes to geographical divides it is never about North versus South but West versus East and I am not invoking the Cold War either rather of Glasgow’s Taggart and Edinburgh’s Rebus and never the twain shall meet – joined up policing, as if! But as much as we Scots like Taggart and as ever-running as it is, it cannot have been this that kept Identity off the STV schedules.

Perhaps that is what Scottish Independence will come down too – good riddance to you say the English and you can keep your Taggart too and with two fingers back in return (for the sanctity of stereotypes if not poetic license at least, we are less polite) ‘aye and the same to you and you can take your Midsomer Murders and stick it where the sun don’t shine and I don’t mean Manchester!…shame on me for making parochial meteorological allusions in a blog being read all over the world!!

The Scottish Independence debate will not of course be as churlish as this.

But as gripping as the vagaries of regional TV scheduling is for us all I think I should move on to the show itself.

Just as there is a high chance that a new ITV drama will be a crime drama there is in turn another high chance if it is a crime drama that it will be an adaptation of a crime book, preferably a long running serial  And in turn yet again if so a very high chance that its author will be Lynda La Plante.

Keeley Hawes IdentitySo what about Identity. This does seem to be written for Television. It is certainly not an adaptation of Milan Kundera’s 1999 Identity and the only other book titles I could find called Identity were dry sociological studies and tracts concerning what it is that makes us who we are, and who we are not.

Its creator is Ed Whitmore. He wrote it, directed it, produced it. Identity then is his baby. His TV CV is threaded through by crime too – Silent Witness, Waking the Dead, The Inspector Lynley Mysteries and on – he has even written one episode of US crime drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. The Internet Movie Database tells me this and that he wrote a TV movie also called Identity in 2011. I have not seen this but it is as you might expect based on this TV series. It stars Angela Bassett and Orlando Jones so I am just guessing that it is a version made in the USA. Curiously though it has no reviews and is awaiting five ratings – what exactly does that mean?! And like the falling unheard tree in the woods if a film has not been reviewed did it ever exist. For a film called Identity it seemed somewhat fitting.

What’s that you say, there is a TV program to be reviewed, oh yes, so there is…

Before recording this to review – sorry going to have to keep you waiting a bit longer, or am I by now talking to myself – that would have been a good strapline for my blog actually – I had to make space for it on my PVR and so watched another program toward deleting it. This was Mark Zuckerberg: Inside Facebook broadcast on BBC2 December 2011. It was a look at Mark Zuckerberg’s astonishing Facebook success – his life before Facebook, his life since. It was presented by Emily Maitlis and it was a surprising yet also unsurprising reveal of Mark Zuckerberg depending perhaps on whether you had seen The Social Network. But this paragraph does have a relevant point to this review. Namely that Facebook is about identity, about privacy, about truths, half-truths and lies. The identity we want the world to see.

The opening episode of Identity was called Second Life an obvious allusion to the Second Life website and digital world within a world. Except that Second Life could also describe Facebook.

This opening episode is about stolen identity.

Are we rightly vigilant about our identity becoming lost let alone stolen online or have we been scare-mongered into paranoia, paper-shredding away our existence, by a traditional mainstream media using fear to sell copy?

Alas fear it seems sells more than hope.

The stealer of identity in this opening episode was near-invisible, a shadow of a shadow, wreaking havoc on seemingly unrelated victims.The thief-of-selves had no government records, no private financial accounts or traces of purchase transactions, no credit card used – a cash only circumspect existence.

Aidan Gillen Identity

Aidan Gillen

This then was not just any old crime but a rarefied crime. The police investigating it would need to be of a specialized unit – and as likely to be sat infront of a computer screen as burning up rubber in pursuit of some common-place knife-wielding villain. And how to make police officers in swivel chairs and a mouse not a gun in hand dramatic? Well there would be plenty of opportunity for going undercover – good old fashioned private dick stuff – and those that do remain stuck back in the office have plenty of opportunity to overwhelm if not astound us by bleeding edge tomorrow-is-already-happening technology.

The head of this team was the aforementioned (aforementioned about a thousand words ago weren’t you paying attention?!) DSI Martha Lawson played by Keeley Hawes. She is the people-manager of this team of inevitably brilliant misfits. It is also her brain-child and baby and she is keen to nurture it in the face of a not always empathetic police hierarchy. Her career and reputation are on the line. It might not be worth mentioning that she has played a TV cop before as any British actor worth their salt – and Keeley Hawes is definitely worth her salt, whatever that actually means, I understand it to be something damn well good – as played at least one TV cop – in her case as Alex Drake in the insufficiently over-rated Ashes to Ashes. It might not be worth mentioning but as you can see I did anyway.

Her team includes the also aforementioned DI John Bloom played by Aidan Gillen who first came to my attention in the late 1990’s as Stuart Jones in Queer As Folks. For any American readers (as if, there are always American readers!) you may have seen him as Mayor Thomas ‘Tommy’ Carcetti in The Wire – I watched and enjoyed The Wire and only say this because as a blogger-reviewer of TV programs I am not allowed to say otherwise. You as a reader of blogs may have been watching one of the endless CSI franchises instead. The key factor about John Bloom is that he worked previously as an under-cover cop, deep undercover – he thinks like criminals do having breathed their company for longer than he should have, it takes one to no-one, that sort of thing…

Identity Holly Aird and Shaun Parkes

Shaun Parkes and Holly Aird

These were the two characters allowed to spread their wings in the first episode. DS Anthony Wareing’s wings were kept in check but his character’s brooding more black-and-white view of crime and criminals was clearly as counter-weight to his more liberal-minded colleagues. Moral relativists in the police force, what is the world coming to! He is played by Shaun Parkes.

In programs such as this – let us say ‘CSI like’ as it has the widest cultural resonance – don’t all reflex at once – largest viewership then – there is at least one on the team who is office-bound, socially awkward, a super-intelligent geek, who will be feverishly tapping away at his or her Mac keyboard (sorry PC users but you know its true!) muttering to themselves as they go as no-one else will listen to them or certainly not understand them anyway. In Identity this is Tessa Stein played by Holly Aird.

In this Second Life her first moment of earning her cop chops is being able to track this seemingly invisible villain’s location to a petrol-station because, get this, they used their Nectar card. For all non-British readers this is a Supermarket Loyalty Card – I won’t say which Supermarket as well for one thing WordPress does not allow advertising on this blog so where’s the Quid pro quo in that. At the time I was musing to myself ‘wow fancy that my supermarket loyalty card can betray my movements, not just my guilty purchases’.

But wait for a moment. We are being asked to believe that this stealer of identities, so careful to protect their own identity that they leave not even a footstep in the snow behind, cannot stomach buying their petrol with cash without getting Reward points from their supermarket of choice?! Though I guess when you are running up other people’s credit cards to the tune of hundreds of thousands of British pounds those loyalty points really do add up and unlike the cocaine you are wolfing back they are not to be sniffed at.

Nevertheless it is this complacency with their customer loyalty card that leads the detectives to close in.

I found the final reveal to be surprising and clever if also a little contrived – as if they realized the hour was soon to be up and this was no two-parter and they better move from a stroll to a canter. It was a story-line that would have been better served over a couple of episodes.

I hope you have appreciated how I have not overly plot-spoiled for those who have not seen it – which I am guessing will be most of you – even to the extent of using gender-neutral language to describe him sorry her, them!

This Second Life episode has certainly whet my appetite for more even one whose appetite for crime drama is a sated one.

Identity has identified a current visceral fear no matter how reasonable or not that fear might be. It is certainly a contemporary bogey and ripe for TV drama.

I hope that Identity delivers.

Spooks Returns – when Harry met Elena…

Spooks Series 10 Web LogoSpooks returned for its tenth and final series last night. Showing on BBC 1, ITV had scheduled its Autumn heavy-weight contender, Downton Abbey, alongside it. But in the age of Personal Video Recorders such ratings-showdowns matter not to us the humble viewer. Well leaving aside that Big Brother was also airing on Channel 5 and Heston’s Mission Impossible on More 4!

The viewing figures reveal that it was the World War 1 costume drama and not the post Cold War spy drama that proved the most popular of the two, with twice as many Brits tuning into it.

Spooks is the British equivalent of the US 24 – or James Bond in a post-cold-war, post-9/11, al-Qaeda world.

Spooks - Max Witt

Max Witt – not long for this world

Except there is no Jack – Spooks is about the team not the individualist action hero of Jack Bauer, Jason Bourne or the prototype JB, James Bond.

The leading men always perish – Tom Quinn (Matthew McFadden), Adam Carter (Rupert Penry-Jones), Lucas North (Richard Armitage) – far more realistically I would think than the US world view where heroes always prosper, villains always get their comeuppance, eventually!

Having said that James Bond was unrealistically invulnerable – but with Spooks we have grown up. Though perhaps our Jack Bauer equivalent is Harry Pearce, played by Peter Firth, the MI5 Section head? And as Spooks is about to meet its mortal end destined for a Telly heaven of re-runs on UK Gold or Dave – though just how many re-runs before that TV heaven becomes Celluloid Purgatory then Telly Hell?! – can we assume for Harry Pearce the assassin’s bullet finally catches up with him?

Spooks - Erin Watts

New Chief Spook Erin Watts

I wrote leading men but Spooks has given us leading women too, Ros Myers (Hermione Norris), Zoe Reynolds (Keeley Hawes), and does so again in series 10.

This time with Erin Watts the successor/rival of Harry Pearce – Erin Watts is played by Lara Pulver – who you may recall from True Blood and alongside fellow ex-spook Richard Armitage in the BBC’s Robin Hood. She is the new acting head of Section and was its MI5 Chief while Harry was on enforced sick-leave during his ’employment tribunal’ (he comments that for one dark moment during it he had considered taking up gardening!).

Erin Watts as Lara Croft when Lara Croft has to resist going it alone and act as a team-player – if its leader.

Spooks - Harry Pearce

Harry Pearce

In the opening episode it is all about Harry – and has the veteran of his team and the service it is in his Cold War past that skeletons start to do more than rattle. Harry is still supported by his wax-and-wane love interest Ruth Evershed, played by Nicola Walker, and in this episode it is not just former enemies that resurface – Ruth finds herself face-to-face with a former asset of Harry, Elena Gavrik, played by Alice Krige, – a former asset and so much more. I think you can probably guess how much more?!

A former spy and colleague of Harry, Max Witt, is found murdered and had also been trying to set up a meeting between them. Harry and his team must find out why. Alongside this the UK is now to set upon a political and diplomatic course to make a friend of a former foe, Russia, and is this what Max was trying to warn Harry about?

SpooksLike 24, technology of the bleeding-edge variety is never too far out of view – this episode sees them all sporting iPads if naturally kitted out with highly encrypted spyware – authorized spy-ware! I recall in a previous series, as a rival to fingerprint and iris recognition, blood-vessel recognition – or was that an episode of Hustle?!  In this episode the body recognition software is about how we walk-the-walk rather than talk-the-talk. We all apparently walk in a unique way – our height and weight and its distribution – such that no matter how we disguise our face our gait gives us away. I do not know whether this technology is science fact or fiction. I rather like the thought that it is but the product of the Spooks’ script-writers’ imagination and the various intelligence services of other governments watching Spooks are then sent scrambling to investigate its veracity and or plausibility!

Spooks Elena Gavrik

There’s something about Elena…

I hope that Spooks is not being decommissioned due to Harry Pearce meeting his demise – that is back to James Bond logic – the service is greater than any one man or woman – a show about spies has endless plot-lines and machinations.

Previous threats to our green-and-pleasant-land and democratic-life and everything-we-hold-dear have included inevitably al-Qaeda home-grown and abroad, the re-emerging Chinese Economic and Military Super Power, and post Cold War Russia and its many ex-Soviet Satellite States be they of a European or Asian leaning persuasion.

In this series as noted the UK are making – or having to make – a choice to go it alone or find new allies in a post special-relationship world where the USA have become more isolationist – so an alliance with an old-enemy (an old Country has many old enemies!) Russia is posited. No European Union of spies entertained by the Spooks script-writers then?!

We are always living in interesting times. Currently we have the Arab Spring and WikiLeaks and information spun and information overload and global financial melt-down and possible end of free-market-capitalism with ever more wealth going to ever fewer people – though as the Fiona Bruce hosted The Queen’s Palaces currently showing on BBC 1 reminds us 95% of the wealth with 5% of the people was ever thus – with high finance and big global corporations in bed with governments and media – (News International an evil empire right there!), the terrible appropriation of confusing party political interest and ambition with national security – a new Orwellian night-mare…where is a spook to begin!

Truth is giving fiction a good pasting these days – you could not make it up as the saying goes. Fiction has to work that much harder to avoid looking like a dry documentary if suffused with poetry!

Spooks has been one of the best shows at giving reality a good run for its proverbial money – I will be sad watching its demise.

In the meantime, will Harry save us? Ruth? Erin? All spooks as one save us? And, of course, save us from what?

Tipping the Velvet Underground

Tipping the Velvet - Sarah WatersJust finished reading Sarah Waters‘ 1998 novel Tipping the Velvet. A real page-turner. In part for me because I was I think as blind-sided as Nan King was at Kitty Buttler’s betrayal-liaison with Walter Bliss and expected a resolution and reunion between the two with each subsequent chapter before belatedly resigning myself against this. There was a happy romantic ending – a number indeed – but not telling between whom as do not want to spoil for those who are not familiar with it! – a real tear-jerker the ending was too following on the emotional rollercoaster of Nancy after Kitty.

I now want to watch the BBC and Andrew Davies 2002 adaptation (which also was the cover of the version of the book I read so Rachael Stirling and Keeley Hawes were already indelibly imprinted in my imagination as Nan and Kitty) – and I want to seek out everything else on TV and in print from Sarah Waters such as Fingersmith and Affinity and am awaiting the 2011 Richard Laxton adaptation of The Night Watch with eager anticipation.

Tipping the Velvet TV cast photo

Though the ending was romantically a happy one the politics of the book made me a bit rueful. Not the sexual and equality politics – there have been significant developments in Britain since the time of its setting in the late 19th Century – rather the labour and economic politics of the book as exemplified by the Florence Banner character and her brother Ralph.

Sarah WatersAt this time socialism was still a hopeful dream of working people. The 20th Century saw it become a nightmare with the Capitalism it sought to replace flourishing and stronger than ever come the end of the 20th Century. But here we are in 2011 with Free Market Capitalism itself now dead following its demise in the 2008 financial crisis and what to fill the vacuum? A pauperization of the middle-classes now seems in place and the Karl Marx observation that

Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks

remains as pertinent as ever. Only social democracy can perhaps save us now but will the crony capitalists relinquish their reigns – they have prevailed for an awfully long time.

However lest you have not read this book and now thinking it a dry political tract don’t let my tangential musings mislead, the political and economic travails of working people is but a part of this rich and many layered story. The wilful Victorian love-child of Charles Dickens and Emily Bronte. And then some!

Doctor Who – Twelfth Doctor – Femme Fatale?

The 32nd run of Doctor Who began April 23rd with the 771st episode (count them!) The Impossible Astronaut followed by this Day of The Moon episode.  And it was as riveting as most recent series have been with Matt Smith at the helm and Karen Gillan his charismatic companion. This episode was also a fitting and touching memorial to Elisabeth Sladen who died April 19th and who was former Doctor companion Sarah Jane Smith and then latterly star of the spin-off Sarah Jane Adventures.

The Eleventh Doctor

Doctor Who like much of the superhero genre appeals to young and old alike.  For the young there are the special powers and effects, monsters and other villains, costumes and other fantastical elements.  I have nieces that love the new Andrew Davies and Julie Gardner rejuvenation of it, Eccleston, Tennant and now Smith, as much as I did when I was their age in the early 1970’s with Pertwee and Baker at the helm.  And for the old there are the angsty existential themes of mortality and immortality, love and hate, peace and war of which to grapple with. Though in truth if we are young at heart we enjoy as much the special effects and monsters as these weightier themes!

Doctor Who is a bleak story and character.  He is timeless yet all his friends exist in time – they all die, he lives on, ultimately alone. Quite a secular tale too – aliens are eminently plausible but heavenly beings are mere poppycock. Matt Smith captures this existential situation very well.

Matt Smith is the Eleventh Doctor. The Doctor is a space-time traveller. Virginia Woolf’s Orlando did the same upon its Big Bang nearly a century ago in 1928. Orlando went one better than the Doctor though – the Doctor has not yet transformed his male physical anatomy into female form, Orlando did.

The Twelfth Doctor?

I had hoped that the Eleventh Doctor could have made this gender transformation.

Billie Piper would have been a candidate but alas has companion Rose to the Tenth Doctor David Tennant this would be a violation of a televisual scripture if not a temporal rule!

But come on – we Brits belatedly had a female Prime Minister yet still no female Doctor!

For the Twelfth Doctor I am hopeful.  Keeley Hawes would make a fabulous Time Lord. Sarah Parish I could also see the part as a brooding soul lost in time-space. Michelle Ryan had a super-hero role cut short as The Bionic Woman so perhaps the Doctor role would be a perfect reprieve for her. Though I now recall her as The Lady Christina de Souza in the ‘Planet of the Dead’ episode.  But cast aside the televisual scripture! – actors can be recast anew a thousand times at the hands of the casters and broadcasters!

Time for the Doctor to get in touch with his feminine side.

 

Charlie is Dead, Long Live Charly!

I have recently been watching the first TV series of Charlie’s Angels from 1976 downloaded an episode at a time to my Apple TV – how would they live it up to my adolescent memory of them?

Those motives for watching Charlie’s Angels were not sophisticated!  – three beautiful women and I loved the blond ones the most – first Farrah Fawcett then Cheryl Ladd – because they were blond – shame on me! My other program of choice was The Bionic Woman which I had been introduced too via The Six Million Dollar Man such were my eleven year old tastes in television!

Watching them again was as much then a nostalgia exercise and I enjoy watching television from past decades as much for what is being revealed ‘off-camera’ – the styles of the time in cars, clothes, music, its home interiors and technology – as much as the on screen action.

I have not been disappointed with the on-screen action so far – I am only three episodes in so it could become formulaic and I will update this post again if so – but so far the plots are good and acted well.

The writing is good too but the dialogue is bedevilled by male-chauvinism – that was reflective of its time – all four decades ago! – so the dialogue is going to reflect that I think if unintentionally. The BBC crime drama Ashes to Ashes better relived this a few years back with its more knowing ironic revamp with the compelling Keeley Hawes at the helm as Alex Drake coming face to face with the Seventies in the guise of Gene Hunt played with zest by Philip Glenister as the unreconstructed male chauvinist.

Kate Jackson as Sabrina

Kate Jackson as Sabrina

Time has also changed my impressions of the Angels themselves – I no longer judge a woman by the colour of her hair!   My favourite angels now are Sabrina Duncan and Kelly Garrett – not a blond hair in sight!

Charlie’s Angels I believe was quite a progressive program for its time – Cagney & Lacey was still not upon our screens and not one, not two but three female crime fighting agents was of precedent – though they were still overseen by men – their boss Charlie and his public face Bosley – the opening sequence opines with a wink in its voice ‘once upon a time there were three little girls that went to the police academy’…much of the dialogue between them and Charlie proceeds along those lines – what a loveable rogue middle-aged Charlie is with his extra-marital activities!

Jaclyn Smith as Kelly Garrett

Then there is the way the Angels and other female cast members are sometimes treated – the episode I most recently watched – The Mexican Connection – they were expected to infiltrate the male drug gang it seemed by making themselves available to be kissed, groped and if required bedded – clearly not a progressive message there.

A new series is being made in the US and I am looking forward to seeing how it will be updated for this decade. The Bionic Woman was itself remodelled a few years back with the excellent Michelle Ryan in the shoes of bionic Jamie Sommers – that series alas did not get beyond one series of eight episodes.  I hope this remake proves more enduring.

And that Charlie too is better served – perhaps it would be better if he were retired and that Charlie became Charly – perhaps played by Kate Jackson or Jaclyn Smith! – with no need for the angels to run it by the boys first before they put the world to right!