Archive for Television

BBC Naked: the Clever Coverup that Reveals all!

The other night I finally had the opportunity to watch the final episode of the BBC’s Series 2 of “Sherlock” with my friend and colleague, the lovely and talented K. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you might recall K’s appearance in the Birthday Chronicles, and those of you who have seen us together will express little surprise at what follows.

K and I have spent many a Saturday night at my apartment, watching and re-watching some of our favorite films, most recently BBC’s “Sherlock” (about which we are publishing a long-anticipated book chapter…watch this space for details). Well-equipped with equal measures of wine and wit, K keeps up a steady stream of live descriptive video. As she has frequently pointed out, my blindness shouldn’t rob me of essential (and sometimes non-essential) visual details. So adept has she become at transmitting visual information that, in true Sherlockian fashion, I have often declared, “I’m lost without my describer.”

This past Saturday night’s viewing of “The Reichenbach Fall,” in addition to the usual routine of giggling, pausing, rewinding, and giggling some more, was responsible for the coining of a new catchphrase about to take the world by storm. Partway through the episode, K drew my attention to two particularly enticing scenes. IN the first, John Watson (Martin Freeman) emerges from the shower at the Baker Street flat he shares with Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch).

K: John just walked into the room, and he just got out of the shower, and his hair is wet, and it’s really sexy. Oh, and he’s wearing a robe. Nothing else. Just a robe. You need to know that. It’s important.
Me: And he’s clearly naked under the robe, even though you can’t see anything, because, you know, this is the BBC.
K: Yes, exactly, and he looks really sexy. I mean, really. I just think you need to know. I don’t want you to miss out.

Scene Two: Sherlock and John are in their Baker Street flat, finishing dressing for a court appearance.

K: OK, so, get this. Sherlock and John are in the flat, and they’re finishing getting dressed for court. IN the same room. Sherlock is buttoning up his shirt, and John is adjusting his tie, and oh…there’s eyefucking. Sherlock is totally eyefucking John’s reflection in the mirror. So, they either were just naked, or they’re thinking about getting naked.
Me: They’re BBC naked!

And thus was coined the phrase “BBC Naked,” adjective- a state of appearance in which a character’s clothing is arranged in such a way as to suggest a prior state of nudity or to encourage the audience to visualize the character in a state of nudity to circumnavigate the awkwardness of actual televised nudity. Perhaps one of the best-cited examples of BBC naked is this scene from their wildly popular television adaptation of Jane Austen’s /Pride and Prejudice/ (1995). Discussing the scene in an Interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air” several years ago, Colin Firth (whose dripping Darcy has become iconic among fans and scholars of Austen alike) revealed that in the original script, Darcy dives into the lake completely naked. “But,” Firth pointed out, “the BBC didn’t consider that acceptable…so, then in the end I thought, well, what’s second most spontaneous to taking all your clothes off and diving into a pond? And I suppose, really, not taking any of them off.” Thus the image of him emerging from the lake to confront Elizabeth Bennet, dripping and distinctly flustered, while intended to lend an air of propriety to the sexually-charged scene, had precisely the opposite effect.

Hence my assessment of the above “Sherlock” scenes as prime examples of the BBC naked strategy, particularly in scene two. The ritual of dressing together is sumptuously sensual. If John and Sherlock are not dressing after an episode of intense lovemaking (which K and I have in fact theorized is the case), the depiction of dressing together intensifies their level of intimacy and comfort with one another, which, sexualized or not, is an oft-inevitable result of sharing domestic spaces and routines.

Now, of course, having coined this catchphrase, I am presented with a daunting task, because with great power comes great responsibility. It is now my mission to re-watch every BBC series to which I have ever been exposed to seek out examples of “BBC nakedness,” which extensive list will serve as evidence for introducing the term into popular discourse. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.

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Chillin’ With ma Boys at Baker Street!

Project Give Thanks Day 11

I usually have at least one moment every day when I lean back in my desk chair, clasp my hands above my head, stretch luxuriantly, and think to myself, “God, this is too much fun. They can’t be paying me for this.” On some days, I have to search for that moment, like rummaging in a pile of dirty laundry for one clean sock. ON other days, like today, it’s far easier.

As several of you know, I am currently co-authoring a chapter in a collection of essays, /Sherlock Holmes in the 21st Century/, scheduled for a late 2012 release. Working on this chapter involves, among other things, watching and re-watching Guy Ritchie’s 2009 film and series 1 of BBC’s “Sherlock”. Amid the flurry of end-of-semester insanity, I’m grateful that this project, as demanding and time-consuming as it is, has actually forced me to sit down and spend 90 minutes doing something I thoroughly enjoy. I love the fact that I can legitimately categorize my love of British television and my adoration of Benedict Cumberbatch as the sexy-but-sociopathic Sherlock and the adorably hobbity Martin Freeman as John Watson under the life heading of “professional development”.

I realize that I am probably shooting myself in the foot here and that this confession is only contributing to the numerous arguments that the Humanities are a “soft sell”. It’s a bit like the time during my first semester as a PhD student when I was working on a seminar paper on /Pride and Prejudice/, and one night when on holiday visiting the family, my dad found me feverishly taking notes on the infamous wet shirt scene in the BBC television adaptation while everyone else was in the living-room decorating the Christmas tree. I had to manufacture this expression of intense concentration, all the while feeling like a guilty kid with my hand caught in the cookie jar.

Ah well. There’s plenty of time for me to prove the value of my career choice to you all. For now, back to Baker Street I go!

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The Firthday Five: Viewing and Reviewing Colin at his Best

For years–ever since I was a child–I’ve been an avid Colin Firth fan, and over time, my fascination has evolved into an academic investment of sorts,
from the occasional graduate student seminar paper addressing his work in literary adaptation to employing it as a teaching tool in my own courses (God
bless you, Colin, for being almost single-handedly responsible for contributing to renewed student interest in Jane Austen. If literary academia hasn’t
collectively written you a letter of thanks, It’s high time we did).

In a celebratory tribute to the man on his birthday, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite Colin performances. For purposes of practicality, time, and space, I’ve limited the list to five films, mostly because any more than that would make narrowing my choices considerably more challenging. Four out of five of these films are literary adaptations because I think that this branch of film represents some of Colin’s most impressive work. The intuitiveness with which he brings literary characters to life manages to tap into the popular imagination’s image of that character while presenting an authentic interpretation of his own. So: let’s have a look!

1. A Single Man (2009) This adaptation of the Christopher Isherwood novel of the same title features Colin as the middle-aged, British English professor George Falconer as he struggles to cope with life following the tragic death of his partner, Jim. After nearly two years since seeing this movie in theater, Colin’s performance still resonates with me—the way he gives every fiber of his being over to the character of George. In general, the movie strikes at the white hot center of life, snaps your head around and challenges you to stare your own mortality in the face, and Colin captures that so well. He dissolves the boundary between actor and audience and invites us into his personal space. At once shocking and sensitive, heart-warming and heart-wrenching, I’ve only since reluctantly forgiven the Academy for overlooking this performance because they redeemed themselves with “The King’s Speech”.

2. The King’s Speech (2010) I’ve never missed an opportunity to wax rhapsodic about this film; Colin’s portrayal of the stammering monarch George VI is masterful; he maneuvers the mechanics of stammering with amazing authenticity and presents an intimate portrait of Bertie as a man, not a monarch. Needless to say, a very well-deserved Oscar. Kudos to the king.

3. Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003) Yet another of Colin’s appearances in a literary film adaptation and, I think, one of his best. Here he plays Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer in an adaptation of Tracy Chevalier’s historical novel of the same title. Though his character has little screen time, he is allocated a very pervasive presence throughout the film, and Colin capitalizes on every visible moment he does have. His interpretation of Vermeer is precisely how I imagined him when reading the novel; seemingly withdrawn and enigmatic, with a quiet, mesmerizing intensity, he draws his audience into his gaze and into Vermeer’s world—a world of swirling colors and intense passion. We feel, even as he entraps us in this web of color, that we want to be held captive by his gaze, if only for a moment.

4. Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001) This film needs no introduction; in a witty adaptation of Helen Fielding’s novel—itself a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s /Pride and Prejudice/, Colin’s portrayal of Mark Darcy manages to pay tribute both to the Mr. Darcy of Austen’s making that remains one of popular culture’s iconic Byronic heroes and to Fielding’s contemporary recasting of Darcy while reprising his own legendary performance of Mr. Darcy in the BBC/A & E Pride and Prejudice with grace and good humor.

5. The Importance of being Earnest (2002) I first saw this adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s play as an undergraduate in a Victorian Literature course several years ago, and it’s the Firth film I inevitably reach for when my life needs a little comic relief. Alternately witty and ridiculous, Colin’s spot-on performance of Jack Worthing is one of which I think Wilde himself would have been proud—a true tribute to one of the Victorian era’s most celebrated playwrights.

Finally: two bonus picks:
Pride and Prejudice (1995) I didn’t include this in the above list because I think—and Jane Austen and Colin fans alike will likely agree with me—this performance defies categorization. A staple of the Austen film phenomenon, Colin’s Mr. Darcy brings our beloved hero to life in a memorable and, I think, unmatchable performance.

Lastly: The Secret Garden (1987) I’ve included this one purely for sentimental value; Colin appears briefly here as the adult Colin Craven in Hallmark’s television adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s novel, and it was my first encounter with Colin. Short-lived and little-known though this role is, I remember, as an eleven year-old girl, being mesmerized by that face. There wasn’t anything immediately remarkable about it;
so neutral in appearance, so passive in expression, but with a hint of something rippling beneath the surface like a lake stirred by a light wind. That
was what intrigued me; that carefully modulated reserve; that passion kept in check, a characteristic Colinesque trait that fans have come to love and admire over the years.

So, Happy Birthday, Colin Firth; your talent is a gift that many cherish. Thank you for serving as a constant reminder to me, as to many others, that a life without laughter is no life at all.

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Jane Eyre (1983)

I’ve just finnished watching the BBC Masterpiece Theater adaptation of Jane Eyre, and I must say that for the first time, I’m sadly disappointed with the BBC; as a general rule, I find their film adaptations far superior to any other.
First off, who’s idea was it to cast Timothy Dalton as Mr. Rochester? I have a feeling I’m alone on this one, but his performance just did nothing for me; it was far too overdone. He’s either far too rough, or far too overly dramatic.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way: the first few scenes are, I think, the best; they depict Jane’s Gateshead life accurately. Once she reaches Lowwood, things start to deteriorate pretty rapidly; Jane’s relationship with Helen is underdeveloped (to say the least); Miss Temple is slightly too severe, and we never really get a true sense of her impact on Jane’s life as a maternal figure. The one exception is, perhaps, the scene directly following her marriage, when she promises to write to the girls as they bid her farewell.
Every aspect of the story from the point at which Jane arrives at Lowwood to the final episode just seems far too rushed; quite a bit is glossed over, especially concerning Adelle and, later, jane’s arival at Marsh end and the discovery of her relationship to the Rivers’s; plot-wise, the details were tied together sloppily in my opinion. They seem to have endeavored to remedy that problem with the occasional interjection of voiceover, but even that was so infrequent as to be jarring and awkward–like an afterthought or trying to watch the film with someone’ who’s read the novel and is hurriedly trying to fill in the gaps.
The only element with which I was really pleased, aside from the first few episodes, was the adaptation’s treatment of Bertha; it manages to heighten the suspense for cliffhanger effect while also highlighting the gothic element of the mysterious madwoman of thornfield Hall. I was intrigued by the fact that directly after Mrs. Fairfax shows Jane to her room, we hear the chilling laughter, and to an audience unfamiliar with the story, it might seem as if she herself is the culpret; for who else could it likely be, at this point?
Then, of course, there’s the moment just before Bertha flings herself from the battlements: “I hate you! I hate you!” Charlotte Bronte never tells us precisely what Bertha shouts–and we’re left to assume that it’s just the unintelligible ravings of a madwoman, but we know, if we read closely, that Bertha can speak; Mason indicates as much. yet we can’t really say that Bertha has a voice because she’s never permitted to engage in any dialogue herself; all of her dialogue is recounted after the fact by the individual with whom she had spoken–be it Rochester, Mason, Grace, etc. Now, she does have a voice of her own, even if it is only to declare, with her dying breath, how much she despises her husband (which we could probably have deduced anyway…people typically don’t enjoy being shut away in an attic for an indefinite period of time).
In short, not the BBC’s best work.

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BBC1’s Sherlock

This past week I had the opportunity to view the first season of BBC1’s new series “Sherlock”, which, in short, features everyone’s favorite consulting detective and his faithful sidekick in the 21st century. As a Victorianist, I was intrigued about how this would work, but on a completely non-academic note, delicious Britishness is always welcome to a starved American anglophile.

Having only watched each episode once (so far), my comments are pretty generalized, sprinkled with some rather interesting observations made during the shows with the friend who introduced me to the series. For me, at least, the plots of the cases, though certainly interesting, were secondary to the unfolding relationship between Sherlock and John; the writers make no secret of the fact that they’re teasing out an oft-overlooked romantic and/or homoerotic element of this friendship, and it is, I think, done tastefully (deliciously so). One can certainly ignore the hints, but they’re there if you choose to observe them (i.e. the suggestive addressing each other by their first names–something that never occurs in the original stories).

I definitely want to watch each episode again before I can really draw my conclusions, but I felt the need to put my initial reaction in writing. Generally speaking, what intrigued me most was the way that the series calls into question the way that we categorise the relationship between John and Sherlock: are they lovers, or is it a “romantic friendship”? (Tangentially, it’s delicious that the series is addressing something so taboo for the Victorians). I think the initial response would be to read the homoerotic subtext, and while one could certainly do so, this would imply that there can’t be romance between two men, not to mention our difficulty in separating the dominant/submissive roles in a relationship from gender–the notion that dominance is characteristic of the male in a relationship, and submissiveness characteristic of the female. Sherlock is undoubtedly the dominant one in the relationship, and even I found myself slipping and referring to him as “masculine” and John as “feminine” because it’s just a knee-jerk reaction; without meaning to, I automatically tried to analyze their relationship and make sense of it within a heteronormative framework. In general, we can’t seem to wrap our minds around the possibility that dominant and submissive roles can exist independently of gender roles.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the contemporary setting works quite well, mostly I think because there’s no time-travel involved; it’s as if the characters were created to exist in the 21st century, which still takes considerable imagination and creativity to pull off. Admittedly though, since I grew up on the original stories, there were several jarring moments: seeing the London streets full of cars, Sherlock comunicating via text rather than employing the irregulars–though he does use them in the third episode because, despite the advancements we’ve made in technology, the boys are still the most efficient and unobtrusive way to have ears and eyes all over the city.

In short, it’s an innovative way to make the stories accessible to a 21st century audiance, and it’s an interesting coincidence that Doyle’s Dr. Watson is a military man who’s served in, of all places, Afghanistan. Highlighting that element of the original character is something that would certainly resonate with the viewing audience.

I’m certainly going to need to watch each of the three episodes again before writing up a more detailed reaction, but my appetite has certainly been wet, and I’ll be curious to see how the American audience will respond when it airs here in October.

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