In this post I’m going to talk about two shows that I thought were good but that turned out to be pretty mediocre (Marcella) and pretty bad (Silk).
Marcella is a British detective drama from this year*; Silk is a British legal drama from a few years ago. They’ve both got fancy cinematography, snappy editing, and a general vibe of ~prestige drama~ that hides their true nature.
*It’s got another season coming, but I’m not watching so it counts as a retrospective in my book.
They also both have Nina Sosanya in them because Britain has, like, ten actors.
So let’s start with Marcella. It stars Anna Friel (who I loved in Pushing Daisies, by the way) as a former detective who gets pulled back into the job when an old, unsolved case seems to reopen. Pretty bog-standard premise and that’s the first problem of the show, is that it fails to really tread new ground. It even has a “oh no am I the murderer?” thing that lasts for a few episodes before getting resolved super anticlimactically. The one interesting thing the show does have is the main character’s stress-induced fits of rage and subsequent memory loss, but of course that goes wholly unresolved in the first season.
The show’s biggest problem for me, though, was its ending. It’s pretty standard for shows like this to have a climactic showdown between the protagonist and the culprit, and there’s nothing wrong with that, and Marcella‘s is actually really good . . . but where in most shows this is the end, resulting in the culprit’s takedown, in Marcella it results in Anna Friel nearly killing the culprit but not arresting him. He then goes free and she gets a slap on the wrist. She only pins him for the crime by finding a tiny little clue that she missed previously.
Like, what? How could anyone write that and not realize how anticlimactic it is?
It took me about two-thirds of the way through Marcella‘s six episodes to realize how mediocre it was, though, because it uses a lot of the same conventions that I typically see in better, more sophisticated shows. For starters, the cinematography is pretty decent, but more importantly it frequently uses unconventional camera angles or lingers just a couple seconds too long before cutting to the next shot. The show also refuses to use even the tiniest bit of exposition, and frequently starts showing characters far before they become relevant to the plot, often only giving them five minutes of screentime spread across an entire episode and yet the viewer is expected to follow what they’re doing.
In a better show, these tricks would make everything more engaging, more interesting, and so I figured the same was here and tried to get into it. But by the end, the unconventional camera angles were just silliness and the allergy to exposition was just annoying.
Silk is, like I said, similar in its trappings. I only watched maybe three or four episodes of the show before stopping, and the only reason I made it that far was because the show’s cinematography and editing are smart and crisp and this results in the dialogue seeming snappy.
But as I realized . . . Silk sucks. The biggest problem were the weekly cases, whose plotlines were founded entirely on characters revealing information they were hiding for little to no reason.* The most egregious example was a case where a cop was being disciplined for hate speech. Turns out he was saying it to a fellow cop as an inside joke and she took no offense (she even did the same thing to him). But she didn’t tell anyone this because . . . she was shy, I think? Like, her friend was about to lose his job but she couldn’t be assed to clear him? Come on.
*Reminds me of L.A. Noire, a video game with an interrogation mechanic that resulted in characters lying for no reason in order to provide gameplay.
There were some subtextual issues with the show, too. In the episodes I saw, the only two people of color on the show just happened to be the antagonists, and though the protagonist was a woman her agency often felt compromised by male characters making decisions for and about her without her knowledge, such as deciding to coddle her when she was pregnant because pregnant women are crazy, right? (Even if she needed coddling, the way the show went about it was just creepy.) The pregnancy, by the way, ended in a miscarriage after she got pushed and was almost immediately forgotten by everyone including herself, despite the fact that she was planning on keeping the baby.
Anyway. It’s interesting to me the ways in which these shows hid their badness from me at first. I imagine part of it, too, is that they’re both English shows; the accents really go a long way as far as the watchability and tend to make dialogue sound better to my American ears. Plus, the tricks that the shows used that made me think they were better than they were might just be things that are more common in English TV, regardless of quality.
I don’t really have a good conclusion for this post.