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Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Dude Turns Into A Tree? Are You mad?

There are few things more exciting in this life, or at least in my life, than the chance to watch, after years of listening to awed conversations and reading reverential magazine articles, a true classic of television. Shows that can evoke such extreme reactions are rare; The Prisoner is one (McGoohan version, lest anyone think me insane), Robin of Sherwood another; Twin Peaks is up there of course, and more recently the likes of Firefly and Smallville (joke!) have staked their claims as likely to be on the list in 10 years.

A Great Show

A Great Show

Not A Great Show

Of the shows mentioned above, I've watched all but a handful over the years. The only one not completely 'checked off' when it comes to the Quest is Twin Peaks; I saw it when Sci-Fi (as was) ran it about 10 years ago, but for reasons too complicated to go into here, I missed a number of episodes at various points in the run, which is far from ideal with any show but as anyone who has actually watched Twin Peaks will attest, with this show it's an absolute nightmare. Thankfully, the modern age has come to the rescue and I now have the complete series on DVD, sitting on my shelf, calmly awaiting it's chance to shine (which should be when I get to the end of Supernatural S5, barring any last minute change of plans).

When I was faced with a derailment of my viewing of Supernatural at the end of S3, I didn't want to delve into Twin Peaks straight away since I hoped that I'd be back with the brothers Winchester as soon as possible, so I picked up a couple of quite short lived shows just to tide me over. The first was Spartacus: Blood and Sand, and the second was another show that belongs on that list of classics above; Edge of Darkness. And it's this show which I plan to talk about here.

I went into Edge... with something of a tinge of regret; I had, after all, been pre-spoiled simply by virtue of the fact that the show was so old and so well regarded. I worried, as I often do with shows of this type (I had similar qualms when I started watching the aforementioned Twin Peaks for the first time), that the impact of the spiritual/mythological aspects would be lessened on me because I knew they were coming, rather than approaching the stories as murder mysteries and having the, for want of a better word, crazy, take me by surprise. Of course, then I realised that if it weren't for having foreknowledge of these elements, I probably wouldn't be watching the shows at all, so, you know...

Anyway, as is my totally arbitrary policy on here (me like, me no spoil; me no like, me spoil the shit out of), I'll not be spoiling this show. This poses something of a dilemma though, since discussing the plot past episode 2, in even the vaguest of terms, is going to result in pretty massive spoilerage. All I'll say is that it's about a copper who, whilst in the process of investigating a particularly personal murder, gets led down some pretty dark, and unexpected, paths; oh, and the people doing the leading are pretty much the epitome of shady.

Our hero is Ronnie Craven, played by perennially, if not underrated by those who actually know of his work then certainly under recognised, actor Bob Peck. Craven is everything you'd expect from the lead in an 80's British cop show; he's middle aged, he's gruff, grumpy and dour, and he leads a relatively dull life of domestic normality. Sonny Crocket he most certainly isn't. What he is, despite all that, is loyal, honest and surprisingly funny when he chooses to be, which is mostly in banter with his daughter. He's also, once he gets his teeth into the case, doggedly persistent; perhaps unsurprisingly given the deeply personal connection he has to it; and it's this quality that leads the various shadowy factions at play in the plot to choose him as their agent, whether he knows about it (or likes it) or not; they know he's going to get to the bottom of the situation, whatever the cost.

Getting second billing is Joe Don Baker, as Darius Jedburgh, an attache of some kind at the American Embassy. Now, we all know what 'attache at the American Embassy' inevitably means but as I say, no spoilers so I'm confirming nothing. What I will say is that it's an absolutely stunning performance that has you liking the guy when you're sure he's a baddie, thinking he's a tit when you're sure he's a goodie, and just plain admiring the guy, good or bad, flaws and all, by the end; layered is not the word for this performance. Of course, he likes Come Dancing, which is almost enough to turn you off him, but we're none of us perfect.

Future Mrs Batman Joanne Whalley plays Cravens daughter, Emma. Emma is something of an activist, and her politics are somewhat (radically) at odds with those of her Father, but theirs is not an antagonistic relationship; they obviously care a great deal for each other, aren't estranged to any great degree, and seem to take great delight in debating (and baiting) each other on the issues of the day. It's a healthy relationship, and it's only when watching this show that you realise how rare that is; it's so easy to go down the route of generational differences leading to ideological differences leading to estrangement and bitter conflict, both in drama and in comedy. It's refreshing to see a couple of people who accept each others views and still manage to live together in relative harmony.

Emma is an important character within Edge of Darkness for... a number of reasons, but it's as her Father's sounding board that she makes her presence most keenly felt; throughout the running time we see him venting his thoughts, feelings and worries at her, while she plays devils advocate, as well as urging him on in his quest. It's an effective means of dramatising the thought processes (and crisis of conscience/confidence) of an otherwise very taciturn man.

Beyond those main three, the cast comprises a veritable who's who? of British television. Look, there's Ian McNeice and Charles Kay! Oh, and isn't that Tim McInnerny? Why, that woman looks a lot like Zoe Wannamaker! Greatest of all though, it's only Brian bloody Croucher! Of course, several of them weren't the household names they are now, but it's still a damn fine collection of thesps, who know what they have with this script and give it everything it deserves; there isn't a duff performance in the six episodes.

Edge of Darkness is murder mystery, political thriller, exploration of grief and... something else as well. What it really is though, above all of those things, is a classic piece of television. Regardless of country of origin, genre or age this is a show which, if you consider yourself a lover of good television, you absolutely owe it to yourself to watch. I'll say no more.

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