Saturday, 15 January 2011

Zen and the art of making TV programmes

With some interest, I was looking forward to the Zen series on BBC1 on Sunday nights. I have been a fan of the Michael Dibdin (dead these four years. How time flies...) books for quite a number of years, starting with either Cabal or Ratking (I can't remember which, but I think it might have been Ratking). In any case, and as a devotee of crime fiction, I thought the books were very fresh - readable yet cerebral enough; striking the right balance between the mundane and the suddenly terrifying; laced with a nicely understated dark humour, and usually formed around a well plotted and exciting crime story. Admittedly, not every Zen book held up quite as well, and Cosi Fan Tutti in particular was a bit of a stinker. I enjoyed though, most of Dibdin's non Aurelio Zen work as well, and was kind of looking forward (with that ever-present feeling of dread which bodes disappointment, about a book being made into a film or TV show) to the new series starting.

And then Rufus Sewell turned up on one of those Radio 4 shows that seems to meander along (Loose Ends, maybe? Or Broadcasting House) as a blatant bit of puff for Zen. What he was saying sounded fairly promising. At least, it seemed that he had read some of the source material, and he was keen not to overdo the Italian aspect - with the hand gestures and over the top accents. There was, it has to be said, a certain smugness about Rufus, but then he is an actor after all. So, my anticipation of the new series was slightly enhanced.

And the show was... OK I suppose. There were a few disappointments for me and a few irritations. Sewell was perhaps chief among these, as he hummed and mumbled his way through his lines and held overlong portnetous silences on the telephone. He comes across as being nervous of speaking, rather than just knowing when to hold his tongue. His griflriend is sexy enough, a pleasing bit of eye candy and clearly a hook for the gullible male viewer, but I became very annoyed with her accent. Judging by the boards on IMDb, I wasn't the only one. If everyone else (apart from Zen's mother - who is another major source of irritation for me) is speaking in an English accent, why does she say things like:

"Are we guing to ev an efferr?"

Finally, there was that bloke who turns up in so many bloody BBC dramas, usually as some senior Intelligence Officer or something. He has a voice like melting butter, does a lot of adverts, and can't act for toffee. Whatever his name is, he appeared as the villain of the piece, and from the moment I saw his face, I'd begun to lose faith in Zen. The second in the series was unfortunately worse than the first, and I found myself drifting away from the story before it ended.

I was somewhat pleased to read the Facebook status of a Jandrell acquaintance the day after which supported my critique.


Michael said...

I hadn't read the books so didn't have that sense of disappointment you usually get when TV adaptations are either badly done or don't live up to your own imagination.

I was almost put off by the misleadingly awful trailer, but enjoyed the show itself (you're right about Sewell's mumbling, though).

Off topic but it looks like Pardew's dead set on signing Steven Ireland. Should we be worried?

Michael said...

Oh, and if you like Italian crime novels (and haven't already read the following books), I highly recommend Sciascia's Day of the Owl and the Montalbano series.

Myeral said...

If you do get chance, try either Cabal or Ratking - worth a go.

I thought the programme trailed off, with the last episode feeling quite soporific. I hesitate to make comparisons there with Steven Ireland's career...

Thanks for the tip - I'll look out for some Sciascia.

Paul Pincea'velo said...

Truly, my heart batted when I saw the rocket. Surely we will have an interesting musing on Chapitre #3! But no! What is it that it is Zen? Is it that there are ourang-outans in it? Or a speech writer for Jimmy Carter?