Monday, May 05, 2008

How to Watch a Great Show (One in Particular)

As I've made clear before, I'm a big fan of Blake's 7, the late-70s cult BBC space opera that time forgot - what I've seen of it, anyway. So I thought I'd post a hat-tip to this excellent article on how to appreciate it for newbies.

Yes, yes, I know - any series that needs to tell you how to love it is a bit suspect, right? Well, right - but I think I'm with Mark Steyn when he writes that

The past may be, as L. P. Hartley wrote, another country, but it's rarely as foreign as Britain in the 1970s.

There is, simply put, a huge cultural divide to get over with Blake's 7. Like Space: 1999, my absolute favorite show (well, if you ignore the disastrous second season, which I emphatically do), it's the kind of thing that could only have been made in the 70s. Strange but true: it's a hopeless product of its time that nevertheless deserves to be a classic. It's sort of the way you need an education to appreciate Shakespeare - even though those plays were marketed to the lowest common denominator back in the 1600s. Blake's 7 may have been a cheaply-made timeslot filler, a relic from a weird interlude in 20th century history where everything went wrong or stood still, but it has redeeming qualities in spades to those that can be bothered to see them.

The link goes to an article that's full of helpful pointers - some more interesting than others. Here are those:

  1. Read the Spoilers - In the article of mine I linked earlier, I was polite enough to place a spoiler warning around the whole thing, as it deals with my interpretation of the final episode. The final episode is, to put it mildly, NOT the way fans are accustomed to having these shows end. Just as i09 says, I won't give it away here in case you're one of those types who insists on watching these things in order - but I can definitely see the point in this advice. The show is arguably more interesting if you know how it ends ahead of time, just as a study in how these characters got to where they ended up. And in fact, by pure coincidence, the final episode is the first one I ever saw, and though I didn't watch it through to the end at the time, I knew how it came out before I sat down, years later, to give the series a serious look.

  2. Skip Season One - Nice to hear, since I haven't seen much of it. I'm pretty sure the final episode - Orac - is the only one I saw all the way through.

  3. Season Two was the peak - I've heard this everywhere. No reason to doubt it, I suppose. It's like one of those bands like Iron Maiden where the members keep changing on you - but there's always that classic lineup. Blake's 7 invented the idea of killing off main characters for no good reason, and it was season two that saw the "classic" lineup though.

  4. A nice list of which ones to skip - always valuable for something like this. Given the current dismal state of TV here in the US, where it's all reality shows now, I'm sticking my neck out a bit by saying this, but I think TV has gotten a LOT better recently - if you take "recently" to mean "since 1990." Starting, really, with Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure (to a lesser extent), there was a brief, shining decade-and-a-half where television took itself really seriously and put out some great, cinema-quality stuff. Blake's 7 predates that in sensibilities, and without the special effects and creator's creative control necessary to pull it all off. It tried, but it was ahead of its time, and that means that a great deal of what they produced is stuff you have to polish away to get at the gem underneath.

In any case, thanks to i09 for the interesting read!


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