March 8, 2009

Lee Adama & Martha Jones - Crimebusters!

In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime; and the Crown prosecutors, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.
Franchises are often very fragile things - do it right, and you end up with much more than you bargained for. Battlestar Galactica worked because it stripped away the 70s cheesiness for early millennial angst. Doctor Who adopted the best of what went past and revamped it. So I was eager to see how one of my favorite franchises, Law & Order, would fare in a British translation.

Having just seen two episodes from Law & Order UK, I have to say that I'm....disappointed.

With the expectation that the show would take on a British view, I expected it to be not very different, but with a much more jaundiced view. My knowledge of the way British courts work is limited - I think it is more about finding the truth than an adversarial system like the US. In many ways, the show take some elements from its American cousin (the opening narration, the familiar shtunk-shtunk transition chime), and develops others (different theme music, title credits, etc).

Storywise, L&O UK's biggest drawback is that it is extremely dependent on the franchise's current formula. Rather than develop individual and unique scripts, this pair of episodes are adaptations from the American series....which makes it almost like the American series was done with funny accents. Granted, the second episode - which deals with a young boy beaten to death by a peer - does slightly extend into new territory (the characters differentiate themselves enough to make it a slightly edgier show), there seems to be too strong an adherence to the work of Dick Wolf.

But in all honesty, it's the acting that really stands out, and two actors from (ironically) other franchises really stand out. Maybe it's because he's in his native country and keeps his native accent, but you can see the enthusiasm that Jamie Bamber brings to the role of Matt Devlin. (Especially compared to Bradley Walsh, who does his best to channel his inner Lenny Briscoe). I won't say that he may be happy to be off Galactica, but there does seem to be a greater sense of centeredness in his acting....maybe because he doesn't have to seem so gosh-darn earnest.
And Freema Agyeman does her best as Ayesha Phillips, the "assistant" to James Steel (Ben Daniels) in the Crown Prosecution Service. Here's where the series tends to diverge somewhat from its American cousin - in the second episode, Steel & Phillips' boss refers to the former doing the "headboard shuffle" with a defense attorney in the past. There's a greater edge to the ethical debates, maybe because they're not "torn from the headlines" in England. There's even a friendliness between the CPS and the police...something which doesn't play out in its American cousin.

However, the blame for the weakness of the stories is the fault of showrunner Chris Chibnall. Given the relative strength of his writing for Torchwood, it's surprising that these scripts are just...well, there. They seem to be more straightforward adaptations of American scripts than an attempt to adapt a successful format into another culture.

Maybe to the British watching ITV, this is a relatively new phenomenon - the show seems to be successful. However, although there may be plans to bring the show to the's probably worth missing, unless you're like me and Warren Frey, and you find the thought of Freema in a barrister's uniform extremely attractive.

1 comment:

Camera Obscura said...

One would think, given the recent deluge of attempted cross-overs, that folks on both sides of the Pond would learn that to translate the shows from one country to the other successfully, you really have to reuse only the premise and crank out new country-applicable scripts.