It only took a few moments of the BBC’s latest political-fuelled primetime thriller before the Twitter jokes were running high. “Don’t be fooled by the references to ‘City Hall’ and so on. It’s clearly set in Gothchester.” one user joked. “This episode of #DoctorWho is most depressing one I have ever seen. He’s going to have regenerate a new liver after all this.”
Funny that a series about political apathy, cynicism and disillusionment should provoke such a, well, typically British response. Buried somewhere beneath the humour is undeniable proof that Blackout has struck a chord with the Monday night audience. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that the same people, on a different night, may have been watching the integrity of their real-life politicians fall away through scandal, riots and inquiries.
Blackout provides more of the same though the comforting veil of fiction. Christopher Eccleston encapsulates the heavy-drinking, prostitute-shagging, forty-something local politician with lots of fingers in lots of pies – not all of them, strictly speaking, entirely legal. For such a politically-based drama, the actual references to corruption and systemic breakdown are actually pretty understated. The creators of Blackout prefer instead to deal delicately with such a volatile topic, shrouding their deconstruction of the ‘modern con’ with a distantly beautiful set of montages and dizzily discordant scenes. It’s deliberate, beautifully restrained – with a real sense of power building up to something quite remarkable. The breakdown of the pilot’s final scenes was perhaps fairly predictable, but the frenzied brutality of the final shots provided a cathartic, thumping triumph of an ending.
Blackout is visually stunning, though the joke on the name is perhaps played out after the first five film-noir shots of Eccelston’s face. For all its 20th-century media focus, there is something quintessentially timeless about those shots of dark alleyways and damaged men. It’s all too easy to place Daniel Demoys as a bleakly Modernist protagonist, existentially confused and morally lost. This somehow seems to lessen Blackout’s key asset: the impact of its relevance.
That, ultimately, is the danger with these kind of stylish, overwrought pieces. The show is clearly trying to do something clever, but risks falling under the weight of its own expectation. Episode One was a perfect example of a brilliant set-up. The jury’s out until episode three to see if it will ultimately deliver everything it promised.
What did you think to Blackout? Is there still a market for these kind of politically-charged pieces? Let us know in the comments below.