Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)

Saturday, March 25, 2000 by

Reeves and Mortimer are usually the last word.

However this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are funny: Shooting Stars contained everything you need to know about cheesy quiz shows and Families at War provided the definitive statement on Saturday night light entertainment. Similarly, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) may well be the epitome of 21st century Saturday night primetime drama.

Certainly, after last week’s visually dazzling but ultimately insubstantial opener, “Mental Apparition Disorder” felt very much like real Saturday night entertainment. In a week in which The Matrix grabbed four technical Oscars R&H(D) is fast becoming its televisual equivalent, with some stunning directorial tricks and effects in this second episode. Reeves and Mortimer too, seemed more at ease in their roles, and the heavenly Tom Baker provided welcome ballast. Like the over-the-top direction, there was surfeit of famous faces on which to engorge. Tempted by the credibility of Messrs Higson, Reeves and Mortimer, Hugh Laurie, Steven Berkoff and Martin Clunes all wandered across our screens providing archly knowing performances.

So lots of sparkle, but this was by no means the perfect hour of entertainment. A Prisonercribbed story, coupled with Marty Hopkirk’s trawl through limbo allowed scriptwriter Higson to explore a number of surreal concepts, yet these were merely welcome distractions. The central plotline (that of the nefarious Laurie’s attempt to brainwash his patients) unravelled most inelegantly, with very little progression provided by our heroes. In fact the dénouement was entirely dependent upon an arbitrary skill that Hopkirk had picked up earlier in the episode. No detection was required, but of more concern was the fact that the central gimmick of the series (i.e. a dead spirit using their moving unseen to aid the resolution of a mystery) has not yet been employed in the furtherance of an investigation. Our most recent Saturday night dose of the fantastique has been Jonathan Creek, so perhaps it was inevitable that structurally R&H(D)was to be something of a disappointment, and it is reasonable to assert that such comparisons are little unfair. Yet, Higson’s limitations as a writer of such fiction are usefully exposed when held up to the rigorous examination of Creek.

Still, let’s not be too mealy mouthed. The successful evocation of the genuine weirdness of the original series, as well as the authenticity of the Prisoner pastiche provided admirable compensation for the ill-disciplined plot. Certainly, this series appears to have captured that unmistakable 1960s essence far more successfully than Bugs, or indeed Crime Traveller. Furthermore, there was little of the cynicism usually redolent in such remakes. This was good, clean fun and has the makings of an obvious hit. It is unclear whether Vic and Bob are fans of the original series, yet it is obvious that Higson has fond recollections of not just Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) but a swathe of classic British TV. One hopes his fondness extends beyond such programmes’ peculiarly British eccentricities and takes Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) into the ingenious narrative territory populated by McGoohan and the rest.


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