What news of Little Nell?

It’s that time of year  when new US TV dramas sprout up all over   the UK channels and I have to concentrate on keeping my mouth shut  because I’ve already seen the whole series that’s just starting. Yes, I’m a committed  downloader of US dramas. I download episodes a day after they air in the States. Sometimes I let an entire season run and then download the lot in one go and I still get to see the entire series before the first episode gets anywhere near a UK channel. Life may have just started on ITV3 but sorry guys, I watched the final episode of this first season last Christmas.

Bittorent sharing of TV episodes is illegal, of course, but it falls into that grey area between broadcast and DVD release in which digital distribution is possible the moment a TV show is broadcast. For me it’s a matter of keeping abreast of current trends in TV drama so I can perfect my screenwriting craft as well as write about series and preview them here when they finally do get a UK release. It’s like having a VCR that can tape foreign TV shows.

This doesn’t help UK channels like ITV3 who want advertising revenue from series like Life, though. Channels are trying to discourage downloading by having shows appear   in the UK shortly after US transmission. Heroes is a great example – there’s no point in downloading it because you can see it within a week of its US release. But with other dramas there’s a long way to go.   Excellent series like Mad Men, Burn Notice and Californicationare well into their second seasons in the US but don’t hold your breath waiting for them this side of the pond.

If these shows appeared here within a week of their US debuts, people like me   wouldn’t bother with bittorrent. We’d wait for them to appear on our tellies and   happily watch the accompanying adverts. But sorry guys, if you want that to   happen you need to take a look at the broadband reality, because it’s moving way   faster than you are.

There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be watching these series simultaneously   with our American cousins. So why are they being shipped to us with all the   speed of Victorian partworks? Why do we feel like those Americans crowding the harbour in 1840 asking ‘What news of Little Nell?’ to arriving Brits who’d read last week’s chapter of Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop? It’s 2008, folks. This shouldn’t be happening.

But anyway, what of this ‘new’ drama series Life?

Those who’ve already seen the first three episodes on ITV3 will know that it’s a police procedural starring Brit Damien Lewis as Charlie Crews  a detective just out of clink after serving twelve years   of a life sentence for triple murder. But like Ivan Dobsky, HE NEVER DONE IT. And now he’s back on the force, even though he’s got mega-ding from his compensation, and tracking down the people what put him away.

He’s also developed a few handy character quirks. Prison will do that to you. He’s into Zen, and obsessed with fruit, and is now, quite understandably, most likely to say ‘he never done it’ even when the murder suspect of the week is wearing a sandwich board with the words I DONE IT  painted in the victim’s blood. Yes, Charlie Crews is a maverick, and a very entertaining one.

Thankfully, after the first few episodes, the quirks  take a back seat and Charlie starts to become a much more interesting character. This is because, deep down, this is a Superhero story type (using Blake Snyder’s rather helpful genre types). Crews is special, and that makes him an outcast. This is, at its heart, about the difficulty of being an extraordinary hero in an ordinary world.

You don’t need to wear a cape to be in a Superhero story type: see those two notable Russell Crowe movies Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind. These are stories about human superheroes challenged by the mediocre world     around them. It is the tiny minds that surround the hero     that are the real problem. All Superhero tales are about being ‘different’, are about the    difficulties of being ‘special’.

Thankfully Life delivers on this promise and the rent-a-quirk fruit obsession dies a quiet death off screen well before the gripping season 1 finale… which I saw a year ago… and will leave you to enjoy for yourself.

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