Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Thin Blue Line Christmas

This could be my favorite time of the year, not only because of Christmas but because whatever I pick to watch for my blog this time of year is Christmas related. There are a ton of series through the course of the history of British television that took the time to make a special Christmas episode of their series. This falls into a number of variations. The Christmas episode could have the same kind of narrative as the other episodes of that series but has a bit of Christmas cheer to it, it could be a special episode of a series that airs outside of its normal run of episodes. It could be a heavily themed Christmas romp or maybe no mention of Christmas at all but the episode could be on a grander scale than normally seen in the series. Whatever the situation, they are usually fun to watch. Sometimes stiff characters let down their hair a little and get into the spirit of things. It’s fun to see how these series celebrate Christmas.

To start off this season of Yuletide fun, we turn to the 1990s comedy series The Thin Blue Line. I’ve written rather extensively about why I had underestimated this series in an article I wrote here. It’s actually very interesting because as I viewed these episodes for today’s article, I feel like I have a better understanding of my own stance on this series which I will get to later. When I watch anything that I put into an article, I tend to watch either a couple of episodes or at least something that takes 45 minutes to an hour. So I watched two episodes of The Thin Blue Line. Because there is only one episode that is Christmas themed, I started with the penultimate episode of Series 1.
Kid’s Today TX: 18/12/95

To the police, the youth is becoming an ever increasing problem. If it is not minor theft or graffiti, it something else. In this episode, when the subject of graffiti comes up, Fowler decries it as garbage and Habib calls it a new form of urban art. This is 1995 and I wonder if people were seeing it like that back then. I thought it was interesting and forward thinking. To be honest, I didn’t expect that here. As the threat for what these kids are doing grows more and more, Inspector Fowler only can think of one thing to do for combatting this problem. Take these children on a camping trip. Grim of CID has a different idea. Round them up, put them in jail and throw away the key! DC Kray also has a unique idea, put maternity hospitals into the prisons so once a mother gives birth, the children could be locked upright away. Perhaps a tad bit of an overreaction?
Grim sets up Kray and DC Crockett as kids to infiltrate a rave at a house. They get to the rave and knock on the door to get in. The kid that opens up the door takes one look at them and says, “Piss off coppers!” and slams the door. Prior to the two officers getting to the rave, a young woman arrives at the house and lets the same kid know that she did what he wanted her to do; she was very distressed about this.

Meanwhile at the station, a group of rowdy young people are brought in and taken downstairs to the lock up. The biggest kid doesn’t go into the cell when he is told to by Habib. The kid responds with a racial slur to her. Remember, Habib is Indian. Constable Goody doesn’t think twice, because he is in love with Habib, and punches the kid out. The kid is about 6’3” but he was in handcuffs and although he was being a racist pig, he was not threatening immediate harm to them. He also was 15.  The next day, Fowler has to charge Goody with assault as the mother of the kid is pressing charges. It’s actually a very serious matter. So serious that they handle the situation with…….a camping trip.
Remember earlier, I mentioned that Fowler was bringing this rambunctious youth camping. Here is the thing I find very interesting and maybe things were done differently back then. It seems to me, while Goody is charged with assault and having even a loose investigation going on, why is he (first of all) still on duty but also why is he allowed to be around other kids. Even by the end of it, Goody is clear of the charges because the kid’s mom also slaps the boy around and Fowler makes that an opportunity to get her to drop the charges against Goody. I would think there would be more classes Goody would need to take to make sure he never does it again. Once again, I take a comedy series a little too seriously. Moving on….

The camping trip is with renowned Brigadier Blaster Sump (damn you!) played to perfection by Stephen Fry. Blaster Sump (damn your eyes!) is written very much in the same vein of General Melchett from Blackadder Goes Forth. He uses lots of lofty big sentences that make no sense and generally frightens people.
“Here's your gear. You'll find everything you could possibly need from lavatory paper to sand paper. Don't confuse the two! I did myself once. Not a wholly unpleasant experience, but then I went to Charterhouse.”

He is only in it for one scene. He wears a kilt and apparently no underwear based on the reaction from everyone in the room when he puts his leg up. I remember when I heard that Fry was going to be in an episode back when I first seen the series. This goes back to what I mentioned earlier and in my last article. I was having a hard time watching something that was made by and starred people who was in my favourite series Black Adder yet it was so much more generic. I couldn’t wait to see Fry and Rowan Atkinson back together for this episodes. I remember being a little disappointed that it was only for one scene.
Once again, Grim is on the move. He gets his team to raid the house where the teens were having the rave earlier in the episode. They get to the house to bust their way in (after ringing the doorbell first) only to be told by the neighbour next door that some other police officers came by earlier to take the kids on a camping trip.

Meanwhile at the camping trip, we see the boy and girl from earlier.  The girl was upset about something she had to do. That was giving up her baby. Her boyfriend is just mean to her about it around the campfire. He is mean about the child and cruel about her. Fowler loses his temper and nearly hits the boy. What is with these people! Anyway, things settle down and they all got to bed. Of course the next morning, Fowler and his team wake up to find these troubled teens stole the tents they were all sleeping in and took off. Incidentally, the baby that those kids had was fine and was put into hospital by Habib.
Yuletide Spirit TX: 26/25/95

This episode displays one of my favourite kinds of comedy, comedy of errors. It is such a simple and hilarious form of comedy if done correctly and I think it is here. The Gasforth Amateur Drama Society is putting on their yearly production of Peter Pan. Every year Fowler tries out for the role of Captain Hook but always comes home playing the part of the alligator who swallowed the clock.
As it is Christmas, it is a time for gifts and Constable Goody is in the gift giving spirit. He decides to give Fowler a tire puncture repair kit for his bike but he has taken the more saucy decision to get some sexy lingerie for Habib. Keep in mind, these two are not dating. In fact, once again I question how Goody is on the force or for that matter, why he has no brain. In the last episode he punches a kid out and here what he is doing pretty much amounts to sexual harassment to Habib at the workplace with what he is implying with the underwear. I hope they show highlights of Goody to young cadets in the police force to show them what not to do.

Grim get wind of Fowler trying out for Captain Hook and ridicules him for trying to do it. To Grim, it’s just a lot of “fannying” about! Fowler is pretty confident that this year he will get the role. We cut to Fowler going back to his and Dawkins’ apartment with a great big rubber alligator costume. Who got the part of Captain Hook? Grim of course! Of course now that he has the part, Grim is much more interested in that than what he really needs to focus on which is a group of carolers who are going house to house singing in the front while someone breaks into the back of the house and steals things.
Fowler: You'd be bored watching Olivier play Hamlet.
Grim: Well, I don't like football, especially foreign teams.

Goody gives his gifts out. You don’t need to be a comedy genius to know what happens next. Goody, as with everything else in his life, messes it up. He gives the puncture repair kit to Habib and the sexy lingerie to…….
Fowler calls Goody into his office. He is very worried and uncomfortable with what he needs to talk with Goody about. He starts out, “Constable Goody, do you find me……attractive?” Goody’s facial reactions are quite good in this scene. Over exaggerated and shocked! Fowler goes on asking when Goody started to “crave” seeing Fowler naked. It’s pretty funny and probably the funniest thing I’ve seen over the course of these two episodes. Once Goody says it’s a bicycle puncture repair kit, Fowler then thought that Goody wanted Fowler to where that lingerie when he needed to repair his tire!

After it is all sorted out, Fowler and Goody leave the room but Dawkins enter and sees the underwear. She assumes it is for her. She confronts Fowler later, telling him how much it turns her on. It’s funny because Serena Evans who plays Dawkins really gets into character when she tells him how much it turns her on. She plays it like such a desperate woman that I am unsure if I am meant to feel funny or sad for the character. Anyway, she wants that underwear not realizing that it is actually meant for Habib.
Unfortunately, by the time Fowler and Dawkins talk, Goody already made arrangements for the gift to be put into Habib’s locker. Fowler now has the awkward task of going to Habib to ask for her underwear. The reason why Fowler can’t go out and get underwear of his own is because it is already Christmas Eve. Habib doesn’t realise that Fowler wants the underwear for Dawkins but think he wants it for himself. She calls it male menopause.

Grim takes his team to round up the nasty carolers who are stealing. The carolers, all young menacing men, hear the sirens of the police approaching and take off. The police cars show up and take away a bunch of real, elderly carolers and brings them back to the station. Of course this group of people include the police commissioner and a bishop. It sounds like a beginning to a joke.
The Police Commissioner is pissed at Grim since it was his operation. The Commissioner wants to see Grim in his office on Boxing Day evening. That’s the night of Peter Pan so Grim needs to miss the play and give the part of Captain Hook to his understudy……Inspector Fowler. Habib finally sees the underwear from Goody and immediately gives it back to him and tells him off. Goody leaves it on the counter, and Fowler discreetly takes it with him to give to Dawkins later. For once a good day for Fowler.

There was also a sub-plot about two homeless people, a couple, who take up residence at the police station. The woman is pregnant and is about to give birth. Obviously this is an metaphor to the birth of Jesus. In fact, at the end Fowler points out the metaphor and similarities to the famous baby. Of course Goody asks about the famous baby, “Who’s that then?” to which Fowler turns around and says, “Jesus Christ Goody!” Goody takes objection to Fowler swearing at him since he didn’t know! I feel like this whole sub-plot existed just for this joke. The homeless guy is played by Ben Elton who created the series and wrote the episode. Yuletide Spirit is the final episode to have DC Kray and DC Crockett in the series. When Series 2 returns, Kray is replaced by DC Boyle. The end credits also feature a nice lighter Christmassy version of the theme.
The last time I wrote about this series, I note in great detail how little credit I gave to the series when I first watched it on PBS 1995. I wanted to see Rowan Atkinson play more Black Adder and was really surprised how much of a wet blanket Inspector Fowler was. The one thing I didn’t understand at the younger age was how endearing that aspect of Fowler was as a character. He is not overly dynamic or exciting but overall he is a good person who passionately believes in the “right” of what the Metropolitan Police are doing and what his role in Gasforth is to make sure the law is upheld. Fowler really has a romantic view of the Metropolitan Police. It is a wonder how a relationship such as Fowler and Dawkins’ really work since Dawkins wants a lot of excitement and passion yet Fowler would much prefer a nice cup of tea and work on his model airplane as we see in Kid’s Today. I can appreciate that!

The thing that strikes me about these episodes and the article I wrote about this series in 2012 is that even though I was hard on the series when I first saw it in 1995, Series 1 is actually not great. A lot of the criticisms I had at the time still hold up. Obviously the stuff with Grim and Fowler are always funny but this is really a case of a series that is finding its footing. Ben Elton is hugely talented but I think a lot of this was new territory for him too.
When Series 2 returns, it is slightly re-tooled and it makes a huge difference. I feel like Elton and maybe Atkinson looked at the characters and decided what needed to happen. For one, Fowler is expanded to make more use of Atkinson’s unique talents. The lectures between Fowler and his team are expanded and are actually funny. A lot of the humour in Series 1 has a lot of same type of gags such as when Fowler will come up to Habib and ask for something from her and she mistakes the request for something that Fowler needs help with because he is older such as mistaking the request for her underwear in Yuletide Spirit because he is going through a mid-life crisis. Fowler would make statements in the episodes that sound slightly sexual where Habib would start to chuckle like a little girl at which point Fowler would ask her what is so funny. Which, in fact, to this viewer isn’t funny after the 14th time.

Series 2 has more complex and better designed humour. I don’t think Series 1 is bad, in fact, I think there are some great moments in it. It just needed to find its feet. Series 2 comes along and it is overall a stronger series. Most of the characters become more well-defined and we learn more about them. It’s too bad, as I think if there was a Series 3, it would have been pretty awesome. I don’t think this could ever have been a super long running series but I think 3 series would have been just right. Just in the way Yuletide Spirit was just right in setting the tone for my holiday viewing.
Next week: We look at an example of a series that has a Christmas “special” episode which has nothing to do with Christmas! We look at the Lovejoy episode The Lost Colony which has a great deal of the story taking place in the US. Is it a star-spangled catastrophe?

Have a great week!   

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