Tuesday, October 5, 2004 by

There was always a nagging feeling when watching NY-LON that something was missing – like everything was so close but not quite there. And yet, I kept coming back for the seven episodes. Partly it was because every now and then something really interesting would happen, a performance, storyline or dialogue exchange which would sizzle and lead to the other reason for my continued viewing – that at some point everything would finally gel together and I’d fall in love with the show.

But eventually – finally – it didn’t really happen. On the positive side the acting was uniformly superb and the show looked very picturesque. But the same problems kept re-occurring throughout, and I want to discuss them here from a script perspective.

The overall concept was perfectly fine and interesting. The subject of long distance relationships hasn’t really been covered in great depth on screen and this could have offered hundreds of story ideas as the couple dealt with having a relationship in separate time zones and countries – just the logistics of getting flights there and back and how much they cost for example. But in the end these elements only really came into play in the final episode and they weren’t really inhibitors. For much of the series the actual premise felt like a macguffin – a way to separate the lovers at key moments. To be honest one of them could have been on day release from prison and it would have made as much difference.

Equally it needed to be about the main characters. To care you need to give them time to breath. But in scene after scene, week after week, some plot or secondary figure got in the way, to the extent that the only time we ever saw the couple talking was either arguing about something or following sex. The audience needs to spend time with them in order to invest loyalty and a sense of caring in the relationship. For that you have to see the couple together just talking. That’s what Nora Ephron and Richard Curtis practise in their work, and since the programme makers were effectively splicing the genes of those writers it’s a pity they didn’t follow their formula. We needed to see Michael and Edie showing each other around London and New York or sharing a plane for the odd episode. You need to see the relationship when it works – that way we care when it doesn’t. The shorthand here of a minimal montage followed by a cutaway to a landmark just wasn’t enough. The first episode was the best. Why? All the talking.

And why have so many secondary characters? On both sides of the Atlantic there were enough bodies running around having feelings for two different shows – which might have been the idea. The problem was that having created these characters they were to some extent more interesting than the main cast, but were not given enough to do to compensate. You’ve got serious problems when the viewer wants to know what’s happening in the supporting casts’ life just at the point when the main character’s relationship is falling apart.

A decent comparison is the first series of Alias. In there, Sydney Bristow has a double life – she’s a spy and a college girl – and so she interacts with two sets of characters, which seldom meet. On each side of the story just enough is sketched in to serve the plot, but no more than that. This means, if anything happens to any of the extraneous crew, we only care about how that impacts on our hero. However, the problem with NY-LON was that we had about a dozen characters and the writers felt the need to service them all to some degree, and that resulted in us wanting to know more about them.

But I think the ultimate down-note was the tone. For some reason the programme makers decided to temper the fairy tale with tragedy. Which is fine – it grounds the show in reality and the premise possibly needs that. But you let love blossom before throwing a curve – you don’t have your main character return to the city to find her flatmate has committed suicide. That’s the kind of thing which can hang over a series, and it never really recovered. Temper this with the multiple relationship break-ups and job losses and its like Notting Hill directed by Ken Loach. A nice little funny premise drowned out through all the crying.

So inevitably everything ran out of steam in this final episode. Mike proposing to Edie might have been the desperate act of someone trying to solidify a relationship, but it also felt like a desperate act from the scriptwriters who were looking for something else to do – which is odd considering the amount of material left untapped. I have a feeling they’re keeping something back for a second series, which is a brave assumptive move. But, if you’re any good you throw everything into your first shot and then inspiration should come if they grant you a second chance. However, it was only now that the supporting characters were being underwritten and in this case literally standing around watching. And that was really annoying because I wanted to know how Lauren felt about Raph leaving. As the episode drew to a close and we’d “enjoyed” yet another row between Edie and Michael, we were treated to another in the seemingly interminable endless shots of them walking around their respective cities alone leading into a downbeat cliffhanger.

And a confession. I don’t think the show should end there. I want it to continue, because the ideas are all in there. Because, as I said at the start of this, now and then something really interesting would happen – a performance, storyline or dialogue exchange which would sizzle. I want to see the secondary characters from each side of the pond interacting more as well. I’d much rather be seeing Lauren and Astrid on the town together, or Raph and Luke trying to comprehend each other. Now that would be somewhere to go …

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