Two and a half years in the making, Babysham, the long anticipated spin-off from the popular A New Soap, finally hit our screens last night. Was it worth the wait?
From the start it was evident that this was not just A New Soap 10. A scratchy Eastern European animation about Nazi mice (complete with uncomfortable aeroplane / skyscraper impact sequence; this was 11th September 2004) opened the show for no clear reason, other than perhaps to make some sort of curious parallel between android detective lead Babysham and popular fascist dicatator Hitler. I doubt this interpretation of the opening is correct, but other than that, it's hard to see what the animation sequence was there for. Perhaps it was some sort of parody of Maus (which recently concerned itself with the September 11th attacks) but if so, the message appears to be one of Jewish Nazis. Again, my interpretation seems flawed. Oh well. Let us forget this and move on, just as the programme appeared to do.
The first half of the episode was almost entirely a direct copy of the original 1944 film version of Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely. Interestingly, a line of dialogue quoted in Halliwell's goes "You've been... shot in the arm until you're crazy as a couple of waltzing mice." (surely not the reason for the opening...). For anyone who's seen this film, Babysham really was a bit of a pointless remake (not quite Gus Van Sant, but you get the idea). I dare say it wasn't even as amusing as the original. But there you go. The first fifteen minutes or so were really very dreary indeed (albeit with the occassional light relief, not least Liz Smith), and for me things didn't really think about getting going until we went with Martin Clunes to the scariest ski village in Christendom. For some reason, a shovel round the noggin will do it for me every time. The primative gardener in me, I expect.
Throughout this rip-off first half, I winced consistently to the sub-standard Blackadder lines spewing forth from Guy Pearce's gob. I couldn't warm to his character at all. He was being far too pushy for his own good, and by the time Babysham and Jade were out on the town, I was really getting upset with things. Pookie Quesnel's Jade was even more irritating than Babysham. Not least because her actions seemed pointless and senseless. It's as if the writer/director, Steph Jesper, failed entirely to get to grips with the motives of the characters she's stealing. Or perhaps it's supposed to be a parody, in which case it's really not a very good one.
I didn't cheer up until Tomy said fascist for the first time in the episode (a surprising show of restraint that was well worth the effort). This was my first laugh, and alas, two thirds of the show had already passed. Tomy saying "Fascist" half an hour in seemed to be a real watershed though, as for the first time, the show began to drift away from the Chandler rehash.
The visit to Jason Donovan's saw the first steps in the right direction. The original film is in no way a candidate for parody. It's a fine film, with its own self-effacing sense of humour, and a small audience. So parody is doomed. The Jason Donovan scene was full of Farewell quotes, but fortunately had the good sense to be a little more open and playful with them, not that I approved at all, but it was a step in the right direction.
It wasn't until we entered the library that the episode became honest, and by that point it was getting late. The moment Babysham recognised that he was in a pointless remake of an existing story was the moment that the show ceased to be a pointless remake of an existing story, and at last it began to explore its own territory. Of course, you, having only seen one episode, will not have been able to come to that conclusion quite so easily. Fortunately for myself, having worked as editor on the series (cutting out as much crap as I was allowed) and therefore having seen the whole thing, I can tell you that the library scene really does mark the end of the Farewell crap. At least for now. So relax in the knowledge that next week's episode will be its own show, and not just a pointless rip-off (a week too late, in my view).
It has to be said that, frankly, the last scene was/is the best. By which I mean the call to the Lapp directory inquiries service. Of course, this scene was also the most New Soap of the lot; the most irrelevent to anything but itself. A New Soap was at its best when it neglected narrative in search of humour, and at its worse when it tried to get on with a story. It seems to be Jesper's biggest failing, and one that's been carried over into Babysham. What's worse here is that the story isn't even hers, but rather, a crass cover-version.
It's pretty though. I'll give it that. The usual eccentric lighting, and challenging direction, all present and correct. And let's be frank, it's got about as many gags in it as A New Soap ever did when all is said and done. I just found the Farewell, My Lovely remake painful. Let's face it; Chandler is well parodied now, so you've got to do well to be good in this genre. Fact is, this is no Police Squad.
It's not crap, but it wasn't worth the wait either. End of the review, it's watchable but nothing more.
What of the future episodes though? Cos, as I've already mentioned, I know what's to come. Well don't go expecting a hilarious comedy series. Or for that matter a gripping crime drama. It fails in both regards, and in that respect it is the perfect comedy drama: not one, nor the other, merely a slury of two halves. The second episode has its moments, but not so many more than the first. The third and fourth are perhaps a little better on the grounds that they are both a little less concerned with the plot. I mean, don't stop watching, because it's not that bad. But don't waste your tapes either.
AView: Monday 13th September 2004.