Sunday, June 17, 2012

Great Heavenly Hemorrhoids, It's The Thin Blue Line!

It took a while but I finally warmed to The Thin Blue Line. When it first made its way over to PBS in 1995, I was expecting Rowan Atkinson to play the role of Inspector Fowler like Blackadder. I am sure I am not the only one. By this time I had seen Mr. Bean so it shouldn’t have been too strange for me to think that Atkinson could play different parts but that was more down to how I didn’t appreciate how talented Rowan Atkinson was. For some reason, I thought he was only a one-dimensional actor even though I had seen Mr. Bean and could see that he was capable of a lot of different styles. My views were ignorant at best.

When I first watched The Thin Blue Line, I was generally underwhelmed. There were some funny moments but a lot of the characters were extremely clich├ęd. Perhaps even stereotypical. It lacked any true style to the series. Even the theme music was some-what generic. The theme grated on me yet I continued to watch it. The entire series wasn’t what I expected. But was that a reason for me not to like it?
Court in the Act TX: 14/11/96

This week I look at two episodes from Series 2. Court in the Act starts off with Fowler introducing to his team proposed new police uniforms. For this, he employs Constable Goody to show off the new uniforms. It’s difficult and to be honest, everything is more difficult with Goody. He can’t even show off uniforms without messing it up. Meanwhile CID’s Grim is working with Boyle to raid Harry the Spikes house and finally get him behind bars. Harry is a bad man and deserves to go to jail. Boyle suggests to Grim that evidence can be placed in Harry’s house to be “found”.

CID gets the help of Fowler’s officers to raid Harry’s place. Of course, this is after they finally burst into the right house. While searching the flat, Boyle suggests that Goody checks behind the cooker. Goody finds the drugs.  The next day, Fowler tries to prepare Goody for the trial as Goody will need to give evidence. Fowler plays the barrister to prepare Goody but every time Fowler (as the barrister) asks Goody a question, he breaks down in tears. There is a portion of every episode of The Thin Blue Line where a good deal of time is spent on a scene between Fowler, Goody, Habib, and Gladstone. It’s mainly with Fowler trying to explain something to Goody with Goody just not getting it. In this instance, Goody is cracking under the pressure of Fowler’s barrister. Habib suggests that Fowler puts on a mop to look more like a barrister wearing a wig. She suggests all sorts of things to help Goody get “it”. Fowler responds, “I doubt Constable Goody would "get it", if it came in a large bag marked, "IT". A wonderful Ben Elton line! Especially watching this when I was younger and was (let’s be honest) basically wanting to see more Blackadder, this line almost made me homesick for that series. At any rate, by the time the scene is done, Fowler is dressed up as a barrister, Habib is the prosecution, and Gladstone is the judge. Poor Goody is the only one who is supposed to be himself in this and he is the only one who has no idea who he is supposed to be!
A couple of things happen. By the end of the scene, Goody tells Habib that he swore he checked behind the cooker before and there were no drugs. Fowler finds out that the barrister for the defense is the Mayoress. Fowler and Habib talk with Goody and realize that CID had to have planted those drugs at Harry the Spike’s place. Fowler tries to trick Grim into admitting to the drugs being placed by CID by tape recording their conversation but screws it up. Eventually Fowler is able to get the case dismissed as he tips off the Mayoress that Goody was not wearing an official Police uniform but rather a proposed one that has no official markings on it at all. Grim is furious but at the end breaks down to Fowler. He didn’t want to catch Harry the Spike illegally and was glad that matter was closed.
The underlying message to this episode is that the Police and CID can be corrupt. There has to be people internally to do whatever they can to keep these organizations within the law. For a comedy series, the episode does have a serious tone about this. We are seeing characters of the series we like doing something completely illegal. Fowler steps up and even tips of the Mayoress about something his own man did but that’s because he knows nobody on the force should be above the law. Fowler gets a lot of ribbing from CID and even with online articles I read such as saying Fowler was a poor leader. This simply isn’t true. Fowler can be a stick in the mud but he knows what is right and he knows his duty.

One area I do find very dull is Sergeant Dawkins constant jealousy of everything Fowler does. Fowler and Dawkins have been in a long term relationship for 10 years. They live together but she is very jealous and this becomes very prominent with the arrival of Mayoress Wykham in Series 2. To me, it’s not even funny. I understand it adds a different dimension to Dawkins & Fowler’s relationship and to the whole series but it bores me. Maybe because Dawkins seems to have no element of professionalism to her work ethic at all. Am I taking this all too seriously? Yeah, I thought so.
Ism Ism Ism TX: 21/11/96

The Mayoress needs to have Fowler and his team arrest an asylum seeker. During all of this, the Police, in general, are asked to look into how it treats minorities. Fowler needs to have a mini-seminar with his team about compassion for minorities and other minority groups. Meanwhile Grim is trying to become a Todger.  He has tried to get into the Masons and other secret groups that could help him move his career forward but no one wants him. Hopefully the Todgers work out better for him.
While Fowler is trying to explain why we should accept people’s differences, Fowler does an impression of an alien from another planet who would like to work at the Police station. It’s a lot of fun to watch since this is the kind of stuff that Rowan is so good at. He does multiple things with his body and his mouth all at once to be weird yet truly funny. It’s out of character in a sense for Fowler but it is what I love to see from Rowan Atkinson. During this, Grim comes in and enlightens the rooms and about “Isms” which he constantly get burned by Boyle:

Grim: What "ism" ever robbed a bank? What "ism" ever mugged anybody? What "ism" ever put a gun to somebody's head?
Boyle: Terrorism?
Grim: Yeah alright. What "ism" ever threatened the security of the state?
Boyle: Marxism?
Grim: What "ism" ever hurt anyone?
Boyle: Sadism?

It’s funny. It’s also funny how even with the best intentions (perhaps being too PC) someone could get themselves into trouble. Fowler tells everyone including Grim that he is bringing in a gay officer to talk to the officers. At that point Melvyn Hayes (who played “Gloria” Beaumont in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum) comes in the room dressed very flamboyant and clearly everyone in the room thinks he is the gay officer. Fowler of course starts stuttering making innocent comments to hide his nervousness towards him, even saying “Don’t think twice about being a homosexual.”   In fact, this is the Chief Todger who actually is at the station to look for Grim. Grim doesn’t realize it is the Chief Todger and freaks out after the Todger calls him “Little Bird”.
Regardless of all of the work the crew does to understand people’s differences better, when they arrest the asylum seeker, they arrest the black man in the room dressed in foreign clothing. They did not arrest the asylum seeker, in fact, they left him behind. They arrested the EC Commissioner for Human Rights. What about Grim, did he make it into the Todgers? Sadly no. Just as he was about to do the ceremonial initiation of kissing a turkey’s bum while wearing a dress (as one does), Fowler and Dawkins burst in through the door of the apartment. They saw silhouettes of a man beating a woman from the street but it was in fact Grim wearing a dress and going through the initiation. As the Chief Todger says, “Close the Turkey’s legs…his bottom will not be kissed tonight.”
One of my favourite parts of this episode is when Fowler and Habib are talking about men and women in terms of sexual discrimination in the workplace and Fowler goes to Dawkins to get her support on his views. Fowler talking to Dawkins:
Fowler: “Constable Habib and I are talking about sexual positions. And I want you to assure her that I know only one.”
Dawkins: “There’s no need to tell the whole world.”
Fowler: “And that is the upright one. In which men and women are interchangeable.”

For some reason which I never knew, Ism Ism Ism was not originally shown on PBS. It was left out of the syndication package. I have heard that it was because of the subject matter of the episode or it may have simply been because of some kind of mistake such as the episode of Are You Being Served? Top Hat and Tails accidentally being left off the PBS syndication package in the 1980s. Of course now it has been reinstated and I believe Ism, Ism, Ism has been too. It was said that the episode had been included on VHS when it was released. While researching this article, I did not see an NTSC video release for this episode but it was released in the UK. The R2 DVD release came out in 2000. This is what I viewed these episodes from. I do not remember if this is the first time I had seen this episode. Something tells me it is as I seem to remember thinking it was very good and a shame that it was not in syndication. Maybe some of you have better memories? What is interesting that a lot of these episodes are longer and this episode clocks in at 35 minutes.
The Thin Blue Line is the old guard vs. the new. I know that Ben Elton was a big fan of Dad’s Army and he based some of the relationships and characters from that series. Fowler was Mainering Vs. Grim who was Hodges. Goody was Pike. I can see this but I also see it as slightly different way. Fowler is the stiff old generation in the Police force.  He is needed to teach these newer officers about how the Police force works. In some ways he seems modern and other ways he seems inflexible. He talks about how his bowel movements run like clockwork. He gets annoyed when the store no longer has his chocolate frog. He thinks the youth is behind this. He is afraid that his chocolate frog will be replaced with caramel private parts or strawberry flavoured lesbian. Of course, this is where Rowan shines and this is where my youth of watching this series was way off. Like I said, I wanted Blackadder and what I got was another glimpse at how Rowan is genius. What was odd for me was that Fowler was not in control. Unlike Blackadder, he never got his way and a lot of times he was the underdog. Fowler always looked after his team. He may have yelled at them for doing something stupid but he always was loyal to them. He was a good leader.
The rest of the cast is kind of odd. David Haig as Grim is amazing. Simply put. He likes to talk tough but sounds like a complete moron: “cause you know what'll happen Raymond, don't you - it'll be your cock up - my arse!” Habib has some life to her but I feel Ben Elton was a little out of touch with the youth and she felt a little one-dimensional to me. Gladstone was very forgettable. Some of his lines were funny but even writing this paragraph, I almost forgot to write about him at all. This leaves me with Goody.

I really don’t like Goody. To me he is almost the Gilligan from Gilligan’s Island. He is someone who screws up everything. On a side note, if I were on that damn island and Gilligan kept screwing things up that cost me from getting off the island, there would soon be no more Gilligan. Ok, I am glad I got that out of my system. Goody shouldn’t have a job. He is a horrible officer. He messes everything up and is extremely juvenile. This is not a slant against James Dreyfus who played Goody. I think he is a great actor. I loved him in Absolutely Fabulous. I never watched My Hero nor will I ever watch My Hero. Just for the record, both of these episodes include the Mayoress. She was once a sort of flame to Fowler. Lucy Robinson plays her and I honestly think she does a horrible job. She plays the role so over-the-top that it just cringes on me. I can’t stand her; sorry! She is in only 3 episodes of Series 2 yet it feels like she was in all of them. This is not a compliment.

I know there is a sort of correlation between The Thin Blue Line and Dad’s Army but I think there is a closer line between this series and Dixon of Dock Green. Dixon of Dock Green was about Constable George Dixon who firmly believed in his duty to protect every citizen in his reach. It was a very romantic view of the job and I feel this is similar to Inspector Fowler. Fowler has that same romantic view. I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense but more as someone to admire to take those beliefs and really stand behind them. If Dixon of Dock Green were to ever have been a comedy, this could be it. Even the openings are similar. Dixon would start (and end) every episode with him addressing the viewer and letting them know the “lesson” to be learned of the episode. Starting with Series 2 of The Thin Blue Line, the show ditches it opening title sequence and starts each episode off with Fowler addressing the audience warning us about what kind of problem will crop up in this week’s episode. After he is done, we then go into a more subdued and simpler version of the theme with title graphics taking place over the episode action. That was a real nice way to start the episodes.
Like I mentioned above, it took me a while to get into this series. It wasn’t the series fault but my own ideas of what I expected. I am really glad I stuck with it. It really is one of those gems of British comedy that gets funnier with every viewing.
Next week: From police to spies, we travel back to the 1960s where we meet up with that amazing duo John Steed and Emma Peel as we look at an episode of The Avengers. We learn The Correct Way to Kill.
Have a great week!

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Dave G said...

The Thin Blue Line does take some getting used to if you are only familiar with Rowan Atkinson from Blackadder. Still, it really is fun, and you know right away it is Ben Elton writing.

I have to agree about Goody. How did he ever become an officer, much less keep the job? Also not a big fan of the Dawkins characterization. Oh well, can't have everything. Still, at least we always have Detective Inspector Grim fannying about.

Greg said...

I agree. Dawkins is really annoying but I understand why her character is there. Grim more than makes up for any shortcomings of the series.

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