I like to consider myself a fair critic, fundamentally. Some may view me as being overly positive, and too lenient when it comes to ignoring a work’s faults. They may be right to an extent, but I like to think that at least in the last post, I was attempting to be kind to writers I felt had tried their best to create a worthy adaptation.
However, having viewed this second part, I’m going to apologize for giving this production the benefit of the doubt – This is awful beyond any redemption. It shows no respect for the work of literature it is trying to adapt and it is clear now that none of the changes are an attempt to make their vision of the work more cohesive or even to improve on the original story but simply an attempt to buck the established story and show they are willing to do something new, with no thought to the end product that is created or what the purpose of the original story was and how it conveyed that meaning.
Just as the first one did, this has a nice opening, easing our way back into Pagford, through an atmosphere of pure peacefulness and controlled civility surrounding the funeral of Barry Fairbrother. Obviously, this is in direct contrast to the farcical tone that whole section had in the book, and the “Umbrella” song is excluded.
That already is a red flag, since it signified the deep connection between Krystal and Barry, and how music can have a profound effect on people even if other people can’t understand or appreciate it. In these ways, it had an important role in the story, but it seems that Sarah Phelps may have only seen it as a method for the youth to affront the established authority and break the controlled, civilized atmosphere of Pagford. She may even have felt it was too blatant at this point in the story. In any case, the mood is disrupted (apart from the tension of Krystal and Robbie arriving in the church) again when Fats comes up to Andrew in the cemetery and whispers: “Samantha Mollison’s got the most amazing arse. Have you ever noticed that?…Got a massive boner in the church. What? It’s a ruddy nice phenomenon… Sex and death. Grief gives you the raging horn, both men and female, even Mary. You put the touch in her right now, you could do whatever you wanted. I mean, she’d probably be crying, but still you could do what you wanted.”
So… what new facts have we actually learned about Fats from all that to make him interesting? He’s a sex-obsessed, arrogant idiot teenager who believes he is smarter than he has while showing no respect for polite society.
Fascinating. At least the book did this in funnier ways, simpler, too, with bits like Fats deliberately angering the woman on the bus, that get the idea of who he is across quickly and in a semi-creative way. The one consolation I do have is that this second part does focus largely on the teenagers, who were at the heart of the story.
We do also get an effective contrast with Andrew’s un-amused reaction to Fats, simply responding “She’s my auntie” to show that even he is offended by Fats’ behavior, which is of course the first sign that their friendship is not to last.
The bit with Fats finding his mother’s watch and letting Krystal keep is kept as well, and it’s here that he actually explains his philosophy at least slightly, when he tells Krystal how he admires her for being authentic, and Krystal explains what she feels he meant in a very simplistic choice of words to her mother.
This is very small consolation. The real problem started for me at the end of the last part, actually, with the “Ghost of Barry Fairbrother”‘s annoyingly conversational tone. It is difficult to tolerate the slang and jest-filled nature of the test on its own, but then when the post is followed by an abrupt attack on Miles just for the sake of a cheap joke at the expense of the Mollisons who thought the Ghost was on their side, I simply felt nothing but anger and contempt for this production. That was the moment when it became something that was completely beyond redemption.
I don’t think I can detail all the reasons why this is wrong, wrong, wrong, and systematically ruins everything that made the book work well. So let’s go through this, very carefully:
- Obviously, television is a visual medium, while literature relies on the power of words. This is very evident when you see how much careful craft Rowling put into the words chosen for all four Parish council messages written by three separate teenagers. Andrew was taking the task very seriously. Even if it was an idle teenage prank to get back at his father, he didn’t want anyone to think so. Rowling describes his writing of the first post as “a… laborious process.
He had been trying for a style that was as impersonal and impenetrable as possible; for the dispassionate tone of a broadsheet journalist.” This is very evident when we see the first post, and how carefully chosen the words are, so that it would be seen as the type of writing a conscientious adult voter would write about an election: “Aspiring Parish Councillor Simon Price hopes to stand on a platform of cutting wasteful council spending. Mr. Price is certainly no stranger to keeping down costs, and should be able to give the council the benefit of his many useful contacts. He saves money at home by furnishing it with stolen goods – most recently a PC – and he is the go-to man for any cut-price printing jobs that may need doing for cash, once senior management has gone home, at the Harcourt-Walsh Printworks.” From there, the quality deteriorates rapidly. Sukhvinder writes her post in the heat of anger, with next to no editing. You can detect the angry, sad and pathetic teenage girl in every line, as she pettily writes it from Barry’s point of view, as opposed to Andrew simply using his name (that he only thought of at the last minute): “Parish Councillor Dr. Parminder Jawanda, who pretends to be so keen on looking after the poor and needy of the area, has always had a secret motive. Until I died, she was in love with me, which she could barely hide whenever she laid eyes on me, and she would vote however I told her to, whenever there was a council meeting. Now that I am gone, she will be useless as a councillor, because she has lost her brain.” Barry Fairbrother’s son even guesses, based on analyzing these posts, that they were written by different people. But the style in which they are written becomes most important with Fats’ post, written in his pretentious pseudo-sesquipedalian style, complete with gratuitous title: “Fantasies of a Deputy Headmaster
One of the men hoping to represent the community at Parish Council level is Colin Wall, Deputy Headmaster at Winterdown Comprehensive School. Voters might be interested to know that Wall, a strict disciplinarian, has a very unusual fantasy life. Mr. Wall is so frightened that a pupil might accuse him of inappropriate sexual behavior that he has often needed time off work to calm himself down again. Whether Mr. Wall has actually fondled a first year, the Ghost can only guess. The fervor of his feverish fantasies suggests that, even if he hasn’t, he would like to.” And when his mother, Tessa, reads this, how does she react? “It wasn’t Mollison. Stuart wrote that, I know he did. Tessa recognized her son in every line. She was even astonished that Colin could not see it, that he had not connected the message with yesterday’s row, with hitting his son. He couldn’t even resist a bit of alliteration. He must have done all of them – Simon Price. Parminder. Tessa was horror-struck.” Here, Andrew writes his posts like some guy in a bar, nudging you and joking about the guy sitting in the back just to get into a quick fight for fun. Fats writes his post later on in the exact same conversational manner with no noteworthy differences in prose.
- That wasn’t the only respect in which the post shed serious light on Andrew’s character, though. We got a solid idea of his motivation for attacking his father. He wanted him to suffer, and he wanted him to get in big trouble because he was angered by years of putting up with his father’s abuse while his mother pretended he was a saint while being beaten. AND THERE IS NO FUCKING REASON IN THE WORLD FOR ANDREW TO RANDOMLY ATTACK MILES MOLLISON WHEN HE ISN’T WORKING FOR HOWARD, HAS NO DIRT ON HIM OR ANY REASON WHY SOMEONE WOULD TAKE HIM SERIOUSLY AND NOT VOTE FOR THE ASSHOLE, AND BARELY FUCKING KNOWS THOSE PEOPLE AT ALL. THIS SCRIPT MAKES NO SENSE. WHY IS ANYONE PUTTING UP WITH THIS SHIT? OH MY GOD JESUS CHRIST.
- We don’t even get a chance to see Simon’s full, abusive self in action. He has to restrain himself here because he’s told by the Mollisons instead of his wife, for no reason. So naturally he isn’t going to start swearing at them about it. Instead, when he gets home he only demonstrates the amount of anger that anyone in the world would when dealing with a situation like this. And we never even got a clear idea of Simon’s criminal dealings in the first place, as proper set-up for this! Andrew does hear him apparently subjecting Ruth to violence downstairs later, but this is after the post is published and it, for some reason, inspires him to attack Miles instead of writing something else about his father.
- Tessa asks Fats if he wrote the post when she has no reason to suspect him of this. The incident in which Simon humiliated Fats happened years ago and has never even been mentioned here, and it shows her as an unfair parent who isn’t capable of discerning her son’s voice in writing. Then later when they’re trying to dump the television set in the river, Simon figures out Andrew wrote the post with no explanation at all. He just randomly accuses him of doing it AND PROCEEDS TO DANGLE HIM OFF A FUCKING BRIDGE AND LEAVE HIM THERE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT BASED OFF OF ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. SERIOUSLY, WHY IS ANYONE PUTTING UP WITH THIS WRITING WHEN THEY CALLED THE DARK KNIGHT RISES OUT ON THIS SAME FUCKING UNIMAGINATIVE “I CAN SEE IT IN YOUR EYES INTUITION” BULLSHIT IN 2012?
And from there, it actually manages to get worse. I couldn’t believe it either, but it does. Let’s get to that worthless second post where Andrew attacks Miles for no reason. It’s clear now the writers are actually aware of my complaints about Miles as a worthless, ineffectual non-character because that’s what Andrew’s post is all about. No complaints about his political ideas or shedding light on unethical acts committed by his family, he just calls him a mama’s boy. (The same things people have been saying about Marten Weiner on Mad Men for years, and what a shock, he’s still hanging around.)
Because Miles is the thin non-character the post correctly accuses him of being, he displays no real reaction to this other than to be a bit worried and confused, and fumble around awkwardly. He spends the rest of his time on screen eating marshmallows, being pushed around by his wife, and acting uncomfortable when his father is insulted in a political argument over dinner that he, of course, has no real involvement in despite being the one actually running for office. (And before it starts, we get that HILARIOUS scene where Dr. Jawanda insults Howard and Shirley and wouldn’t you know it, they’re standing right behind you? Because why couldn’t you start immediately slandering people you know will show up at any moment, right?)
The reason this argument starts over dinner is because in this version, Dr. Jawanda insults Howard’s weight and rants about his medical conditions over a small dinner that is being held for Tessa, Shirley, Howard, Miles, Samantha, Mary, and the Jawandas. So it’s something the voters would never hear about, in other words, so it has no real effect on Howard’s personal dignity or the judgment of those who may be on the edge about whether to get rid of the housing estate or not.
But the real purpose for this scene becomes clear. Since there’s no real incentive for Howard to be furious about it as something that actually mattered, it instead is transplanted to become the catalyst for a bizarre storyline where Howard experiences paranoia over the idea of his imminent death. Apparently feeling that Dr. Jawanda is right and he really should stop eating so much, he has a long extended nightmare where Barry shows up in his restaurant and says “You know what the real casual vacancy is? It’s the grave.” Howard then sees A GIANT ANIMATRONIC SKELETON GRIM REAPER SWINGING A SCYTHE IN THE SQUARE and wakes up terrified after seeing worms devouring his rotted cheese, and seeing worms come off his own face.
I am not making this up. I know what I said in the last post about the need to physically express what is going through people’s minds, but this is just completely over the top. There is no subtlety here at all. Did they really think that we couldn’t figure out what the “casual vacancy” represented, without being told? I get what they’re doing here, they’re trying to show very blatantly what the story is about so people won’t ask “what are we watching?” But it is mind-boggling the lack of credit they give to people’s intuition AND BASIC INTELLIGENCE! ALSO THIS IS A FUCKING CARTOON. HOW DO THEY EXPECT ANYONE TO TAKE A GIANT ANIMATRONIC SKELETON SWINGING A SCYTHE SERIOUSLY AT ALL.
But I will give them credit for one thing: They actually managed to make Fats more loathsome! I didn’t think it was possible, but here after a scene involving him and Krystal jerking off to each other behind a shelf in the public library, (Married… with Children did this on network television in 1996, “Bud Hits the Books”. You are not SO EDGY, BBC/HBO.) Fats casually zips up his pants and tells the librarian to “call my mum and complain”. He then proceeds to ignore his parents’ lecturing, smoke a joint in front of them, and talk about having sex with Krystal. GOD, I HATE THIS FUCKING KID SO MUCH. PUNCH HIM IN THE HEAD. But thankfully, Tessa does actually do some disciplinary work as a parent here, in the form of trying to sort him out and FLAT-OUT PULLING THE MARIJUANA OUT OF HIS MOUTH. I know that has absolutely nothing in common with her portrayal in the book and thus Rowling’s commentary on “casual parenting” since she is at least trying to do something, even if it isn’t working. I don’t care. That was awesome, and at least Fats’ motivation for slandering Colin has solid backing here. (Even though it’s written in the same style as Andrew’s post, as probably mentioned before.)
So the second part of our tale ends with Shirley cluelessly wishing Howard to look fondly to the future: “…the Ghost will disappear, we can get a good night’s sleep. Nighty-night.” And as her husband goes to bed thinking of the day he will never wake up, Andrew Price rolls up the covers in the Fields housing estate, both staring at the same portrait of the deceased Aubrey Fawley. The credits roll, and it is clear no one will sleep peacefully.
Least of all me, because I have another full hour of this garbage to review.
P.S. I didn’t find the place to mention it because it didn’t seem to be remotely importantly, but Gavin has been completely cut from this production. More importantly, Nana Cath is also absent. What is this story supposed to be about again?