Monday, December 08, 2008

"Created and written by Adrian Hodges"

OK, so I would have posted about Survivors sooner but I accidentally deleted the most insightful and witty review the world had ever seen from my 'handheld' a couple of weeks ago and so had to start from scratch. Hard to make the words go together a second time so here's something slightly less witty but much less mean.

I'm a big fan of the original Survivors, you might have guessed that after my droning on about it for the last year or so since the new version was announced. I was pretty excited about the remake as I think it's that rarity - a story that deserves, demands even, to be retold. If you ask me the apocalypse is more relevant today than it was thirty years ago and I doubt society has ever been closer to it's inevitable collapse.

A couple of years ago, before I'd heard of a Survivors remake, I started writing a post apocalyptic drama pilot about a rag tag group of mismatched people bonding together in the face of barbarism, disease and the threat of their own lack of practical skills. I was halfway though it before I realised it was really just a retread of Survivors.

Maybe that's what irritates me so much about Adrian Hodges unimaginative take on Survivors (apart from the qu
estionable 'Created and Written by' credit he seems to have given himself*). It's such a great premise for a series and so full of potential for new tales yet this reinterpretation retreads very closely the ground covered by the original. Whole sequences (I'm thinking particularly of the sequence where Abby succumbs to but eventually survives the virus) seem to be filmed straight from the original script. I suppose I'd read to much into it being described as a re-imagining of the original.

As has been pointed out in previous comments on this very page the new show is populated exclusively by young and beautiful people, shunning the ordinary folk of the original while crowing about it's multiculturalism.

Our band of beautiful survivors came together very quickly, which just about worked for this viewer, but I can't help feeling that was more due to only having six episodes commissioned than for the benefit of the story.

'Shit,' cries Mr Hodges, 'we can't spread them all meeting out over three episodes guys. They all need to have bonded by page 82. Plus let's just have them already set up in a house when episode two starts - no time for all that travelling the countryside guff'.

We heard so much about how 'slow' the original was and how 'pacey' and 'updated' the 2008 version would be. Truth
is the storytelling in the remake is just rushed, not pacey.

Once established (off screen) in their new home the survivors seem to take no steps to protect themselves, despite encountering a series of armed and unfriendly people they gad about shopping and chasing chickens without any apparent thought of arming themselves or indeed any sign of a plan for the future. Stark contrast to the original where the group is drawn together by Abby's determination to survive and designs for doing so. By the third episode there seems to be little feeling of danger or jeopardy. There has been much talk of farming and relearning old skills but zero evidence of it actually happening.

The apocalypse has been a slight inconvenience mainly manifesting in an inability to text. This lack of danger is exacerbated by the viewers occasional visits to a secret and isolated scientific base where people wear lab coats and talk about the virus and it being 'time to begin'. Yawn. Perhaps this problem is caused by the programme makers seeming intent to focus on the 'hope' aspect of the story in an effort to avoid the show being depressing or weighty. Chirpy post-apocalyptic dramas are, in my experience, quite rare - and I struggle to see this as a bad thing.

Another irritation in the opening episode is the casting of lovely Freema Agyeman as Jenny, a character who survived the entire run of the original series, only to kill her off in the opening episode. That caught us off guard didn't it? Except the character replacing Jenny isn't particularly different to her and a new viewer wouldn't care anyway. It feels as if the production team are saying 'Ha! Anything goes in our Survivors.' The reality though is that it doesn't make a blind bit of difference if Jenny survives or if Anya survives. The change is purely superficial.

Public reaction to the show seemed to start well, although ratings have declined with each episode. Internet chatter and press reviews seemed to take issue with another post apocalyptic drama (perhaps not helped by the very recent, and very good, Dead Set on Channel 4). Perhaps in these days of 28 Day/Weeks Later, Shaun of the Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Fallout 3 and Wall-E there's only so many dead Earth's the public can take (not a sentiment I share). They'll be gutted to hear there's another TV version of Day of the Triffids on the way then.**

None of which is to say that I'm not enjoying it...

Maybe it's just the apocalypse slut in me but I kind of like it. I like the new characters, I like the multiculturalism. I think Paterson Joseph has managed to channel Ian McCulloch's standoffish (to the point of having a personality disorder) Greg Preston. Julie Graham (wincingly awful in the dire, dire, dire Bonekickers) brings much determination and passion to Abby Grant, even if she can't really compare to Caroline Seymour. Phillip Rhys is fun as the disenfranchised yuppie, completely out of his depth in the brave new world.

Cream of the new crop however is Max Beesley's Tom Price. A very differnt proposition to Talfryn Thomas's sometimes comical itinerant sleeper villain. The 21st Century Tom Price is a mercurial sociopath who seems happy to stand fast with his codependants for now, though it seems inevitable that blood will spill sooner or later - but whose will it be? His interaction with the other survivors is one of the highlights of the series so far.

If it wasn't for that 'Created and Written by' tag I'd probably be wholeheartedly endorsing Survivors 2008. As it stands I'm sticking with it in spite of it's lack of originality, it's arrogance and it's oddly neutered and unthreatening quiet Earth...

*How can something be 'Created and written by' one person AND ALSO 'Based upon the novel by' another person..? Discuss.
**And not gutted for the very good reasons that a)they can't hope to improve upon the 1981 version and b) there is so much more to Wyndham than the bloody Triffids. Why not film The Kraken Wakes for Gods sake!


  1. Great post, Rob.

    I was a big fan of the original show when it came out.

    Haven't seen it since but I seem to recall the survivors were always in some sort of jeopardy, fighting to the death over food, petrol or property.

    The new one seems quite tame, a kind of gentle apocalypse for good looking people under 50...

  2. Rob. You seem to have stolen all my words.

  3. PS. "Created and Written by" does seem a bit of a cheek.

    I am warming to the new Tom Price. He is more three dimensional than I was expecting him to be.

    But I still miss Talfryn Thomas.

  4. Yes, the 'created and written by' tag is a bloody cheek.

    As far as I'm aware the BBC could only secure the rights to the Terry Nation novelisation and not the scripts/concept of the original series. And it's certainly a remake and not a re-imagining.

    I've tolerated the new series and all your points about it being a quiet apocalypse only experienced by people under 40 are the same ones I raised in my own reviews on Cathode Ray Tube. However, the last two episodes were a big improvement on the first three and I have hopes for the finale. Max Beesley is the best thing in it, too.

    Is it as good as the original? No, not a patch on it. It needs to raise its game to get even close.

  5. I am so incredibly excited about discovering both versions of "Survivors" (I haven't seen either, the original because I wasn't old enough, and the new version because I'm still 10,100 miles away from UK TV.) I'm also eager to check out "Dead Set".

    Post-apocalyptic dramas are one of my all-time favourite genres for TV and film. The only TV shows I recall, however, are "The Last Train", shown on ITV about 10 years ago, and "The Tribe", a kids/teenage drama based in NZ.

    Are the Survivors episodes an hour long each? It would probably copmpare to "The Last Train" for me, which I thought developed at an OK pace.

    I can understand how frustrated you must be at the "Created and Written by" debacle. It does indeed, from reading this blog post, seem as though they are changing aspects merely because they feel the need to claim some originality in their version. But I can imagine all that will do is annoy people who appreciate the original version.

    Am I right in thinking you don't like the chirpy-ness of the current series? (Your comment could have been read either way). I personally don't see the need to bring the style of filming into the 21st century if it's going to take away the atmosphere relayed in the original.

    Post-apocalyptic dramas are designed to scare people and initiate positive thinking of how one would survive if it were to happen to them... The fact that the new version has shirked off all serious issues such as working for sources of food and fuel and so forth annoys me. " By the third episode there seems to be little feeling of danger or jeopardy." That says it all, really!

    However, I am still eager to watch it (I assume I'll be able to somehow...) and see for myself whether this questionable remake is truly worthy of its genre labelling...

  6. Gee, a lot of interest in Survivors then!

    Haven't watched the finale yet but the series certainly picked up. I agree that Tom Price is the best reason to watch.

    Pleased to see the show has been picked up for a second series, but disappointed it's only another six episodes. Hopefully they can improve on series one.

    Will probably post a follow up once I'm all caught up. Be interested to hear everyone elses thoughts on the series as a whole.

    Michelle - watch the original first!