The latest plot twist in the long-running series called “Great Britain” is a General Election https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/apr/18/theresa-may-uk-general-election-8-june
This bizarre fantasy series set on a large island “just off the coast of France” imagines a European nation that is somehow also part of the anglosphere. While the deeply amoral but wonderfully costumed historical series of “Great Britain” won huge ratings in the past, critics have claimed that this was “largely due to a hugely powerful navy forcing us to watch”. The exciting World War 2 season of the series managed to recast the protagonist as a more conventionally heroic character, while scaling back on the now tired “Empire” story arc.
Later seasons have shown major ratings drops, as the focus shifted to a more introspective drama with a more diverse cast. Some have blamed the loss of viewers on that diversity, while others have pointed out that there are just so many other countries available to watch these days.
For reasons known only to the script writers, the current season appears to be trying to repeat a minor ratings hit from the late 1970s/early 80s. Viewers will remember that season as a transition from a politically divided country with rising far-right violence, the “Scottish” branch aiming for its own spin-off series (would definitely watch) and a sense of political malaise, to a country run by a right-wing authoritarian woman with a penchant for starting wars.
This twenty-teens riff on that earlier storyline is not playing with quite the same knife-edge drama. Instead of a taught political drama, the current season is a giant game of idiot-ball. The ruling “Conservative” party (could they not have thought of a less obvious name?) is portrayed as cartoonishly evil and incompetent. It simply isn’t plausible that these people who are both overtly unlikable and bumbling idiots would get any votes from anybody. The script writers are forced therefore to make the opposition party equally as bumbling.
While the theme of the “Labour Party” being prone to circular firing squads is a long running one (used repeatedly for dramatic effect in the “twentieth century” DVD box set), this time it feels like a lazy rehash. The left wing leader is written as having almost no capacity to build a broad political coalition on the left, while Labour’s technocratic wing are supposed to be both arch-schemers and also incapable of organising a coup and/or a piss-up at the Labour Party Conference bar.
Critics have suggested that the showrunners painted themselves into a corner when some hack in the writer’s room suggested: “why not let the Euroskeptics win?” Certainly, the “Brexit” story line was poorly written and made little sense as a plot development. The rising tension and the surprise reveal on the day was exciting but it left the story with nowhere to go but a bureaucratic muddle. Nobody wants to see idiots bumbling about unless it is a comedy. Yes, yes rival show “USA” is currently a rating hit with its very dark comedy about a low-IQ psychotic fraudster who somehow becomes the supreme leader of a nuclear superpower, but that is intended to be comedy (surely?) and the whole premise of that current season is driven by one OTT character replete with comedy catchphrases and clown make-up.
As for the big-bad that both “Great Britain” and “USA” are employing in what promises to be a cross-over event (seriously? That never works for Marvel and it won’t work for these shows), the idea of recycling both “Russia” and “Nazis” doesn’t count as a new idea even if you mash them together. It would be like Doctor Who deciding to run a whole season in which the Cybermen were secretly funding wannabe Daleks but in a really obvious way so that the VIEWERS can all see that it is actually Daleks but none of the main characters can. Just how can we take this seriously? And if we aren’t supposed to take it seriously then why aren’t the jokes funny?
Any hope for this series? Well, the “Scotland” spin-off currently under discussion has the advantage of an engaging, young cast and charismatic characters. However, if those characters leave the main series for their own show then what is the main show left with? Cheaper versions of 1980s characters with half the charisma and weaker dialogue.
Best move for the writers? Ditch the current story line. Yes, that requires a somewhat rapidly implausible set of events: Labour gets its act together, wins the general election, reverses Brexit, fights the Nazis, uncovers the Russian plot and sorts out whatever is going on with the Great British Bake Off (I don’t watch it but the cat does). Can they really pull all those plot lines together in less than a month? I hope so but it seems unlikely – in which case the show will descend into a kind of ethical entropy: somewhat nasty people with low competence bumbling around nastily for no good reason and with no direction. Who wants to watch that?
Details: “Great Britain: Season 482” available on Netflix, HBO, CNN, BBC and most encyclopaedias. Two stars.