Sunday, January 13, 2008

Primeval Series 2 - a completely personal view

Marie liked it - even if she was viewing it between flips with The One and Only (me, I was full on concentration).

What do you think I thought?

That wasn't hard was it?!

If someone had said to me a few years ago that one of the actors I most love and have followed for many years would be on my TV in a prime-time slot on a Saturday I would scarcely have believed them.* Sure, Henshall deserved the success, but this level of public profile and familiarity? Whoah: that's just awesome.

Primeval Season 1, as you know, started as it meant to go on and settled in to being rather HAWT enjoyable and even thrilling fun. You could say that the presence of Douglas Henshall as Nick Cutter created an unbalanced view for me, but heck I don't care. There is always something wonderfully wry, charming, attentive, charismatic and thoughtful about his portrayals - and Cutter is no different (with an extra dose of academic-forced-to-be-heroic on top: always appealing for me!)

Anyway, less of Cutter - sigh (only in the sense of I have to write a review). If you haven't seen s1 but are intending to catch up, or want to watch s2 but haven't gotten around to last night's episode, then sorry folks but there are ***SPOILERS*** in this review FOR THE STORY SO FAR.

Characters (excluding Nick Cutter):
Last year, I really hated Ben Miller's character - perhaps rewatching s1 so often on the DVD has tempered that reaction but I certainly groaned less often in response to his characterisation (which is admittedly still a tad one-dimensional). Perhaps with the changes wrought by Cutter's re-emergence from the anomoly into... well, something which thus far is at least subtely different, the James Lester figure came across trying less hard to be the pantomime villain. Still the most rubbish character though. Shame, as I'm rather fond of Ben Miller as a comedian/actor.

It was also a pity that Abby had so little to do this episode - dammit boys/girls, you didn't even get to see her in her panties this time (or out of them). I do hope they're not going to diminish her active contributions to the team - but I am intrigued how much they will have changed of her background / experience / purpose in this alt.verse.

Stephen continues to be something of a cipher: last season he was clearly the admiring foil to Cutter (heck, he so wanted to be him - or with him if you follow the slash writings! - that he'd even shagged Helen, Cutter's errant wife). This year, following that revelation of adultery, there's a more begrudging and wary spark between them. I did like the touch about the tranquilizer gun not going off for each of them...

For me the most improved character was Connor: in s1 he was a more simplistic comic character. Resident geek in unrequited lust for Abby, he could hardly compete with the stoic macho/metro sexuality of Stephen. This year, I liked the fact that the show's team seem to have beefed up how Cutter (semi-reluctantly) likes having him around. I loved that it was Connor who makes the the first step to believing the possibility that the world has changed [it probably comes from watching all that sci-fi] and that Cutter isn't entirely mad. From last year's first episode to this year's Connor seems the one who has been rounded out the best.

So what of the changes and newbies? Claudia Brown has been erased by the paradoxes of the s1 finale anomoly trip: the actress is back, but as a new character. This kinda makes sense. If I have one reservation about it, it's this: poor Lucy Brown having to wear that GOD-AWFUL amount of eye-make-up! Blimey, what did she do to piss the show team off that they put her into that level of we-have-to-make-her-look-totally-different make-up?! Claudia was efficient but soft at the edges. Jenny Lewis looks like a refugee from a bad 80s band. She'll probably not even immediately fall for Cutter. Pah: that shows how much of a rubbish character she'll be... [Actually, I'm being prejudicially harsh there: I think its rather smart what they've done since it avoids the issue of Nick and Claudia getting together and any possible reaction from Helen-back-in-the-anomoly-Cutter. After all, the fan-fiction will more than compensate for the what-might-have-been narratives of Nick and Claudia]

Oliver Leek - Lester's right hand man - is a new character completely. As he is played by the genius that is Karl Theobald from Green Wing, we're currently prepared to forgive him a lot. Even the fact that he's pretty certain to turn out to be evil (or at least on the side of Helen Cutter...)

Helen, at present, isn't back. But since gorgeous Juliet remains in the titles we can reasonably assume she will be. Personally, I'm scarcely forgiving her for taking up with Stephen (or was she perversely relishing how Stephen was really thinking about Nick?) and thinking that spending 8 years away from Nick Cutter was a nice thing to do. Bitca.

Rating last year: 3.5/5
Rating for S2: 3.8/5 - still work to do, but better. Not quite a 4 mind, as Cutter remains the most nuanced character in the show (a factor I feel is not unconnected to the quality of the actor portraying him).

Character - Nick Cutter:
Still frayed as a perfect character, but Henshall makes it work. Add in the blue eyes, quirky clothing (come on: that Arthur Daley beige coat at the end suited him but made me smirk something wicked!), nice arse... [yes, I am shallow] AND the accent... sigh. Nick Cutter is still the best thing about the programme.
Rating last year: 4.5/5
Rating for S2: 4.7/5 - because he's back dammit, he's back.

Last year saw some howlingly clunky lines and duff decisions on the early direction of the show. This year, they seem to have fixed a fair bit of the worst parts. This probably reflects that as the show developed last year it DID find its feet a bit more in structuring its narratives. Sure, they had to have the fill-in-the-gaps story section at the start of the episode for late-comers or those who haven't watched the DVDs repeatedly since last season (ahem). But overall there was a consistent quality of tension and delight in the story structure. Still some weird blanks in the storyline mind - they missed a trick having the team find the bloodied handprints of the eaten security guard, and the throat attacked cleaner would have been better handled. The idea of using the intereference on radios as a tracking mechanism for when/where the anomolies appear was brilliant and elegant solution to how Helen could know when they appeared. Not sure Marie caught that in her channel hopping, but that was a really nicely handled bit of the epiosode. It will be interesting to see how the series progresses with slightly different participants on board this time around (e.g. Paul Cornell...)

Rating last year: 2/5
Rating for S2: 3.4/5 - perhaps I'm feeling more sympathetic.

The fact remains that all effects date really quickly. As I said last year "That's why you need good character, direction, script and substance. You need those to help you suspend the disbelief that comes into play in fantasy TV/film." There is no getting away from the fact that this show just does not get the movie level budget that is thrown at NewWho etc. I still like the anomoly imagery itself: I can certainly agree with Cutter that it never fails to impress. In long shot - and this year even in some of the close ups - the monsters/dinos did look good. Generally they kept them moving faster, and as Marie said, when Daddy dino ate the human-throat-gashing-baby-dino in one smart mouthful, that was fabulous. It's a shame that they couldn't afford more extras for additional ramp up the tension - it also begs the question why they really need a PR person to quash public concern if there are hardly ever any public about to be eaten... Still, they had to find something for Jenny-not-Claudia-Brown-with-extra-rubbish-overloaded-eye-make-up-Lewis to do... And in terms of locations, the chasing in the car-park was especially neat...


Sorry, I drifted slightly there at the wholely indulgent delight I took in Nick Cutter's glance over the shoulder saying "chase me". Shudder.

And I'm back.

Rating last year (pre-suspension of disbelief and in some dodgy mid-shots): 3/5 - rising (once suspension kicks in) to 4/5
Rating for S2: overall 4/5 - apart from some dodgy stunt double shots [still, this dogs many series and given that I've just been laughing my head off at how bad the stunt doubling remained on Angel right through to its final season I'm prepared to overlook that matter]

A bit less on the pop cheese soundtrack this year? Either way, I noticed it less. Good thing?
Rating last year: 3.5/5
Rating for S2: 3.5/5 - though more because I paid less mind to it, so maybe it was a tad less OTT.

Other issues:
This is one for this year, but can I just say I felt like BITING MY HANDS OFF WITH AGONY every f-ing time that shite awful parody of the show comes on to promote f-ing Haven Holidays either side of the Ad breaks. Roll on the DVD.

Overall rating last year (excluding Dr Cutter): 3.5/5
Overall rating for S2 (excluding Dr Cutter): 3.8/5 - as long as I block from my mind those awful sponsored ads...

Overall rating last year (including Dr Cutter): 4/5
Overall rating for S2 (including Dr Cutter): 4.2/5 - still some work to do to hit full on perfection, but this remains a highly enjoyable romp of primetime tv. My blue eyed boy is back and I can't ask for more than that.

SIX more weeks to go! Yippee!

* A certain raffish youth hailing from a similar part of Scotland may have got a Saturday night slot first, but lovely DH with his intensity and talent stole my heart first. I'm just lucky enough that with Primeval and Doctor Who I now get a rolling provision of loveliness on winter-spring Saturday evenings to charm me...


AnnaWaits said...

Ok, so this review is *slightly* better than mine.... :P Heehee it's fabulous! Almost makes me excited about it....

Marie said...

A bit less on the pop cheese soundtrack this year? Either way, I noticed it less. Good thing?
Rating last year: 3.5/5
Rating for S2: 3.5/5 - though more because I paid less mind to it, so maybe it was a tad less OTT."

I dunno - I was loudly singing along with "Ready To Go" as they zoomed around the shopping mall on motorbikes...

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

As over-used as the Republica track is... and boy does it get used a lot!... i really thought that was great fun. thanks for the reminder Marie! Still makes me chuckle about the scene in the car park.