Tinsel Town

Monday, March 18, 2002 by

You have to hand it to BBC Scotland. Just when it seemed that they would let their public down by producing an interesting and experimental series in their current Gruth is Uachdar (a period drama adaptation in a mix of Gaelic and English, beautifully filmed in Harris) they reassert their place as the principal purveyors of awfulness to the people of Scotland by coming up with another series of Tinsel Town.

The first series was bad enough: dreadful acting, strangled accents, contrived story lines, the most bizarre night club seen on television since the demise of The Hitman & Her (it was filmed in the derelict old Govan Prison which, with it’s white tiles and cells had the look of a large public convenience or – funnily enough – a derelict jail). Now the second series has returned with almost all of these faults but also a strange aura of confidence, as if the first run had been either a public or critical success.

Certainly series one attracted attention because of its use of images depicting recreational drug use and of course the homosexual affair between a policeman and a schoolboy (sounds far more interesting than it actually was). But on their own these were not enough to make it work and Tinsel Town was, to my certain knowledge, lampooned by the audience demographic it was supposed to target (including me and my friends).

So it showed people taking ecstasy and smoking hash? So it depicted homosexual affairs? So it featured a couple of drug dealers? All of these things you can see any night of the week in the pubs and clubs of any city in Britain. The inference was that the show was worthy just because it illustrated these things. Sorry, but I’d rather like a bit of plot as well.

Credit where it was due, however, and Dawn Steel (also to be seen in that other picture of every day Scottish life, Monarch of the Glen) stood out as did the actress who played her alcoholic mother in that first series, the excellent Barbara Rafferty (sadly missing, so far, from this series). But apart from them, things were bad in the first series of Tinsel Town.

So could the second series do any better? Actually, it probably managed to be worse. Whereas in the first series we at least got to spend some time with each character as their situation was explained to us, this time round we were simply shown them once more in their new(ish) settings and then we were away. The only discernible change seemed to be that whereas the Tinsel Town of the first series was the aforementioned hackneyed nightclub, the eponymous location for this series is a hackneyed “trendy” clothes shop – although this was hardly referred to at all with only the neon name flashing somewhere in the background for a couple of minor (presumably, although it’s always difficult to tell) scenes.

Then we had our wander along the lives of the main players to see where they are now: Ryan, the boy in the first series who had the affair with the man out of the Scottish Power adverts (which provided the only real watercooler fodder first time round), was in bed with two flamboyant men who had to be thrown out of the window as his parents arrived. Sadly, the flat is on the ground floor. Sandra, his sister, who is now living in the flat with Ryan and her boyfriend Jack (the undertaker from the first series) was at an office do where she was repeatedly called her boss’s “Matthew Pinsent” and then offered a promotion prospect which could mean working over his head. Dawn Steel re-emerged to be confronted at home by a woman of uncertain origin (to us, that is) who told us that the little girl (who may be her daughter or sister, it wasn’t made clear) had “a new daddy” and then there was something to do with the shop of the title but by that time it didn’t really matter.

There was drink, taking lines of cocaine, hash, fags, middle-aged people having sex in their daughter’s room: confused? You will be. Interested? You won’t be.

More than anything else it’s just difficult to see what the point of all this is. Surely not to provide “gritty” drama? dinnerladies is grittier than this. Not as an educational experience? It’s not telling those of us it’s supposed to be targeting anything we don’t know already and have known for years. Is it a soap? A drama? A comedy?

One of its greatest crimes is something I find deeply insulting. It is perfectly clear that the director has said to the actors, okay, it’s set in Glasgow so you must speak with Glaswegian accents but just to make sure everyone can understand you must enunciate every word clearly. What we then get is a bizarre world peopled by a kind of Chic Murray/Rab C Nesbitt/Nicholas Fairbairn hybrid manner of speaking that bears no relation to anything I have ever heard. Imagine someone speaking in a cockney accent but being forced to form each word perfectly. What we have here is a Scottish Eliza Doolittle-esque that sounds simply bizarre and taints the entire production. Couple this with atrocious acting of truly Taggart calibre and we have a real mess of a programme that is merely an image of pretension and nothing more.

Chuck in a few Roxy Music and techno tracks and some special camera effects and what you get is what we are told is “gritty” and “cutting edge”. It’s bloody awful.


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