A few pals speak of being at the “DVD boxset” stage in life. Some have kids, some can’t be fagged going out of an evening. I’m just a bit rubbish following telly as it airs. I either forget or something comes up in Real Life or I’m racing to meet a deadline.
The recent, needed lull in my writing commitments means I’m gulping down great swathes of the goggle box.
I've just got through the second series of The Wire – as leant by Codename and Mrs Moose. Having beaten the Barksdales last year, our gang of shades-of-grey cops are variously investigating the Baltimore docks, looking into murders and drugs and the union. The Barksdales are licking their wounds, either weathering prison or trying to restart their business. And slowly, very slowly, it’s all coming to a head…
As just about everyone on the planet has enthused, The Wire is a brilliant series. Funny and smart and rude and surprising, the serious, clever and violent adult stuff is nicely balanced with bits of slapstick and silliness, the stupid everyday things people say and do. If you’ve seen it you already know this; if you haven’t I don’t want to say more for fear of spoiling its wonders.
But I’d be quite happy were Idris Elba to be the next Doctor Who.
It’s not just box sets. I have also been watching telly LIVE. Little Dorrit is am impressively grimy, dirty adaptation – and the trailers keep suggesting a sapphic something involving Freema Agyeman. What is not to like?
Dickens is particularly good on the petty viciousness people heap on one another, the debilitating effect of gossip, the decades wasted on silly intrigues. The Dickensian world is a ruthless, brutal place, everyone on the brink of ruination. Yet because he populates his stories with such comic archetypes, it's very easy to over-play. Actors pull on frock coats and mad facial hair and prance about doing funny voices.
Far better is to play against the comedy, to pretend you're not comic characters at all. That way – as in the books – the comedy works to underline the awful things befalling the weakest characters. And that's why The Muppets' Christmas Carol is the best ever adaptation of Dickens.
Also, in Little Dorrit Andy Serkis plays another compelling grotesque. I'd like to see him play something heroic. In fact, I’d be quite happy were he the next Doctor Who.
The new series of Spooks unleashed two thrilling episodes this week, featuring Richard Armitage as a new character. The Dr was very pleased with the important plot point that he's got William Blake tattoos (and so had to take his top off).
For all it's good fun with lots of chasing, there were lots of silly things. If you're sneaking around someone's bedroom while they're asleep in bed, it's probably best to switch your mobile-phone-cloning machine to silent rather than letting it bing. And the Prime Minister would be committing political suicide if he cancelled Remembrance Sunday.
Armitage is looking pretty buff having spent eight years in a Russian prison. Also, his debrief seems to consist of being asked “Are you a double-agent?” - to which he answered “Yes”. He hangs round the office waiting for a cup of tea, and then is quickly part of the next mission. The writers should look at The Man With The Golden Gun (the book) for what happens when James Bond comes out of the cold...
Yes, I appreciate they sort of address some of that in episode two. But not really very much. Again they ask him if he's a double-agent, again he tells them yes. So they let him back on the mission again. Still, I wouldn't mind if Armitage was the next Doctor Who.
Incidentally, I also saw Mark Lawson talking to John le Carre with its top fact that the word le Carre invented for a “Russian asset” – mole – came from The Wind In The Willows.
And then there's Dead Set, in which zombies get into the Big-Brother. It's impressively violent and grisly, though the quick cutting means you're not always aware quite how grisly it is. The Dr missed one episode so I explained about Davina being stabbed through the back of the head, the lamp-pole bursting out of her eye... And realised it was far more horrid telling it than it had seemed on the screen.
It licked along quickly, never explaining how the zombies came to be or suggesting any solution. Horror can often be just a sequence of horrific events, bludgeoning against your eyeballs. But this managed to be smart and funny, keeping us guessing right up to the end.
Oh, and I’d be quite happy were Kevin Eldon the next Doctor Who.