September 4th, 2008

Live fast

Blackpool? More Like Manhattan Murder Musical!

Unwittingly, I have done two British series in a row with abysmally failtacular American remakes. Remember all the hype about Viva Laughlin, which lasted a whopping two episodes? Chances are it wasn't nearly as good as Blackpool.

Ripley Holden runs a casino—excuse me, amusement arcade—in the small town of Blackpool. He's having a wee bit of financial trouble, but that doesn't stop him from celebrating in anticipation of his proposed casino hotel, which will make all his investors rich beyond their wildest dreams and invigorate the economy of Blackpool.

Things go a bit pear-shaped when he opens the doors of his casino and discovers a corpse. Moreover, he's the prime suspect.

As if that weren't enough, his daughter, Shyanne, is dating a man as old as he is; his son, Danny, has been staying out all night doing God knows what; and his wife, Natalie, is unknowingly seeing DI Peter Carlisle, the man investigating him.

Also, the town and its people occasionally burst into surreal song-and-dance sequences set to songs by Elvis and the Smiths and the Clash and Billy Idol. It's odd because they play the original songs loud and have the characters sing along to them. It's like someone based an entire series on the "Wise Up" scene in Magnolia. Plus, it's often unclear as to what the reality of the situation is since there are times when it's obviously a fantasy sequence and other times when actual plot is occurring during the songs. For instance, the numerous singing sex scenes. The schtick works way better than you'd expect, but it's also kind of superfluous; the series would be just as compelling without the songs. With the songs, it's just extra fun. It's like State of Play meets Moulin Rouge.

The real story of Blackpool is not the murder mystery. The murder mystery is great, and I would change my guess on who the killer was every episode. The cat-and-mouse game between Carlisle and Ripley is always exciting and sometimes gay (they duet to "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'"). Little background details percolate for a few episodes until becoming plot points.

But the real story, I found, was the story of the Holdens as a family. The events of the series really put the family to the test, threatening to tear it apart. But Ripley Holden will have none of it. He has a unique relationship with each member of the family, and we see each one develop. David Morrissey manages to make you actually feel for Ripley, despite the fact that he's kind of an unsympathetic jerk. Guess he had practice after State of Play, although he's a very different character here. In State of Play, he was low-key and downtrodden, but Ripley Holden is larger-than-life, almost a force of nature.

The show features another David: Tennant, the Tenth Doctor himself, being very un-Doctor-like. For one, he's totally Scottish. For another, he's acting and stuff. Playing a human detective is different from playing a Time Lord! Amusingly enough, he's macking on the Empress of the Racnoss.

Blackpool is only six episodes, but it manages to feel like an American season's worth of television, there's so much packed into it. Should you watch it? Well, let's pull the lever on this slot machine here...


Guess so.