Thursday, 21 July 2011

Sirens (C4): TV Review

Season 1, Episodes 1 - 4

Drink with this: Corona and lime

Tries to appeal to men, by virtue of being beer, and to women, by coming with a slice of citrus fruit. Refreshing and cheap enough to drink on a big night out, but not really part of binge-drinking culture.

The first episode of Sirens is enjoyable enough, with several quite funny jokes. Unfortunately, episodes two and three string out these self-same jokes, with no introduction of any kind of over-arching series narrative arc to distract us. But as with the Mafia, so it goes with British comedy television programmes of the twenty-tens. Just when you think you’re out, they’ll pull you back in. The last seven minutes of the fourth episode felt genuinely engaging, and more moving than the previous one hundred and eighty-one minutes of television.

(I might have been carried away by all the Scottish characters in Episode Four. Five hours from home, I get a bit giddy when I hear Scottish accents now.  Sometimes my afternoon playlist at work is composed of the rather niche category of music by artists who are not only Scottish but who actually sing in a recognisably Scottish accent. ) But from an objective point of view, I would like to think that Episode Four could have marked a turn-around, where Sirens begins to pull its dangling threads together to create some kind of cohesive, beautifully knitted whole.

Sirens follows EMTs Rasheed, Ashely and Stuart while on and off shift, as well as policewoman Maxine Fox.  The portrayal of Maxine, as a female cop whose tough attitude makes it difficult for her to meet men, felt a bit hackneyed and tended to grate on me. Similar accusations of stereotype have been leveled at Richard Madden’s portrayal of Ashley, as the token gay guy. I did try to evaluate these claims, but I got distracted by his face. Sorry, but as Game of Thrones viewers will know, he’s just beautiful.

Sirens started as a blog, and then became a book before being made into a TV series. I’ve not read the book, but a look at Brian Kellett’s blog made me wish Sirens was a more faithful adaptation of it. As a glance into a world I know nothing of, I found it absolutely fascinating. Intense, funny, and at times despairing, there is a lot more reflection there on the NHS and its various processes than made it on screen. I want to see this stuff as a TV show! I’ve seen countless shows about twenty something guys trying to pull, but I’ve never seen a show about the daily workings of the ambulance service in Britain.


"If this is comedy, it’s just not funny enough." 

I feel that American drama and comedy are much more sharply delineated than their British equivalents. Sirens tries to be both comedy and drama at once, and so never really achieves a consistent tone. If this is drama, we need more character development. Even after four episodes, all the characters still felt one-dimensional to me. The aspects of the show which could be really moving or meaningful – the medical emergencies – are not explored in any serious way.

If this is comedy, it’s just not funny enough. It’s immature enough to appeal to viewers of the Inbetweeners – but seems tame in comparison.  We’ve all seen enough medical dramas now to be unfazed by anal surgery. Following the example of Scrubs or Green Wing and introducing a wider range of oddball supporting characters would also help.

By trying to do everything, Siren ultimately fails to do anything completely successfully.

Verdict: Worth watching as background tv, while doing the ironing. Or another activity of your choice. I don’t iron, but I imagine this is the kind of thing you might do.

Director’s cut: I want to remake this as a kind of British sixth season of The Wire. Why don’t we have great drama which looks at the NHS in the same way as the Wire looks at journalism, education, politics, and the police? Ok, we have loads of shows about the NHS. But this aspect – emergency services – is something which has not been given serious treatment.

Highbrow/lowbrow: No Angels for guys. Green Wing for Hollyoaks viewers.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post - interersting stuff. I haven't seen Sirens, but I was interested in your question - 'Why don’t we have great drama which looks at the NHS in the same way as the Wire looks at journalism, education, politics, and the police?'

    I believe that there are 2 interlinked reasons for this, one economic and one political. Economically, no independent filmmaker(s) could invest the time and money that HBO invested in The Wire and hope to recoup their investment solely on British TV screenings - the advert market is too small. Therefore they'd have to plan for international sales, and is there an international market for a series about the NHS? I doubt it.

    Politically, the only people with the clout to do something similar are the BBC and they're too scared of upsetting Govt to make such a series, in the sense that it would inevitably result in exposing corruption, incompetence, penny-pinching, hypocrisy, etc. They've done it in the past, I know (eg Our Friends in the North) but things have changed. The result is wishy-washy make-believe (compare Waterloo Road to the education series of The Wire) and/or safely-exportable costume dramas.

    Keep up the good work!