We hear a lot, these days, about living in a golden age of television. Predominantly, to be fair, from people who’ve been paid write opinion pieces saying ‘we live in a golden age of television’… But, do you know what? I’m not sure that I agree. I think the latest series of The News has been the worst one ever broadcast. And here are the four reasons why:
Any long-running series will recycle storylines. That’s a law of the universe, like ‘what goes up must come down’ or ‘matter cannot be created or destroyed, but merely moved from the floor to the sofa’, or ‘you can’t make an omelette’. But the latest series of The News is taking the mick. Spiralling homelessness? The deliberate and concerted deconstruction of the benefits system? A brand of fascist-flavoured ethno-nationalism creeping slowly and insidiously across the globe every time you look away, like a weeping angel? We’ve been here before. Depressingly. Which brings me on to point two
2. Lack of a consistent genre
I think one of the problems is that The News can’t decide what genre it is, swerving between horror and farce like an exhausted driver drifting between lanes until woken at the last minute by panicked cries from the passenger seat. One minute, it’s showing us dying bees, melting glaciers, and flaming forests, and the next minute it’s all ‘MP makes a dick joke instead of answering a serious question about the future of the Irish border’. Should we be crying ourselves to sleep with hopelessness, or should we be more positive and cry ourselves to sleep with a mixture of ennui and frustration? It is not clear, and I would say that this is entirely the writers’ fault.
The latest series of The News is just not believable. From awarding a multi-million pound ferry contract to a company that owned no boats and appeared to have copied and pasted its terms and conditions from a takeaway delivery site, to demanding the mathematically impossible feat that all schools should perform ‘above average’, and the revelation Chris Grayling has cost the British public 2.7 billion pounds. (Not 2.7 million. 2.7 billion. That’s equivalent to 4.65 billion creme eggs, 117,391 nurses’ salaries, or 196 ferry contracts), there are a number of plot elements that just don’t make sense. What are the characters’ motivations? Why aren’t people revolting? Hypothetically, where could I buy four and a half billion creme eggs? Do that many exist at any one point in time?
4. Coherence across the series
I feel like one of the problems with recent episodes of The News is that long-term viewers are not being rewarded. Plot strands and characters are introduced, presented in a seemingly random sequence, and then never revisited. It’s a bit like the chef of one of those sushi bars with a conveyor belt has had a nervous episode, and just keeps sending out the kitchen utensils one by one to do a lap of the restaurant. I find myself thinking – okay, this is compelling, but how does this relate to what’s come before? What happened to the Arab Spring? Is Syria still problematic? What happened to the storyline where we were running out of liquid dinosaur? What’s the message? What am I supposed to feel? At the moment, it’s just fear and confusion, with an aftertaste of sadness. A bit like the last time I went to a restaurant with a conveyor belt.
Having said this, though, The News does deserve some credit for the creative risks that it has taken. The director has made the bold decisions to eschew traditional musical soundtracks (opting instead for a melange of road noise, high winds, and phone interference), to tell stories in almost real-time on location (reminiscent of the creative audacity of the Dogme 95 collective), and to outsource vast swathes of the filming to camera-people whose only qualification seems to be ‘owning a cameraphone’. Overall, I’d give it 2.5 stars. But, to be honest, I’ll probably keep watching. I want to see how it ends.
Image credits: AlMahra – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76909446
Ferran Pestaña – Abeja – abella – bee – apis, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64338307