Thursday, August 02, 2007

Jekyll of all trades

Today's column previews BBC America's upcoming "Jekyll" miniseries, but really it's an excuse to talk about the genius of writer Steven Moffat (even if he isn't nearly as impressed with himself as I am with him):
Imagine if the same man created "Friends," then popped in once a year to write that season's best episode of "The X-Files," and on the side dabbled in updating 19th century English literature for a contemporary TV audience.

There may be American TV writers talented enough to pull off that kind of hat trick, but the business rarely encourages that kind of genre-hopping. The British TV system isn't so quick to pigeonhole, which is how a man like Steven Moffat gets to show off his amazing versatility.

He created "Coupling" -- the original BBC version, not the loathed NBC remake, which we'll get back to -- a hilarious comedy of sexual manners about six intertwined pals. Each season, he's writ ten an episode of the new "Doctor Who" series that's held up as that year's highlight.

(In season one, it was the Lon don Blitz two-parter. For season two, he gave us "The Girl in the Fireplace," with the Doctor and Madame De Pompadour having a love affair that spanned either a few hours or a lifetime, depending on which one you asked. In early September, Sci Fi Channel will present "Blink," a paradox-filled treat that the British fans adored even though it barely featured the Doctor at all.)

And on Saturday night, BBC America presents "Jekyll," Moffat's riveting six-hour (though aired here in four installments, the first and last double-length) sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

To read the full thing, click here. (If you'd prefer to go straight to the printer-friendly one-page version, click here, then close your printer pop-up window.) I'll be blogging about all four installments of "Jekyll," which is terrific. (Though I feel I should add the usual BBC America caveat that I have no idea how badly it'll be cut up when it airs.)

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, I understand why you can't print his comments about Coupling in the newspaper, but how about here? I'm dying to know what he said.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'm trying to knock down my blog's NC-17 rating, so all I'll say is that Moffat suggested that NBC violated the show from the back door.

Matt said...

Which is a little odd, since 3 of the 4 episodes aired were slightly cut (for time) and edited (changing Britishisms and BritPop references) versions of his own scripts (which were spectacular in the original). I agree that the U.S. version misfired, in part because "pornography" is about 15x funnier when said with a Welsh accent than an American one.

Homertojeebus said...

Alan,
you need to check this video out:
http://youtube.com/watch?v=gt9qyS1Ww30
I don't want to spoil it, but it combines 2 of your favorite things.
It's from my youtube show, The Jung Jurks. If you don't have time to watch the whole thing, just check out the last 2 minutes. Let me know what you think. Keep in mind that your opinion is very important to me, but be honest.

Nicole said...

I just finished watching Jekyll and I was very impressed. This could have been very predictable, but it was not and with Blink, an episode that may go down as one of the best of Doctor Who (but I'll discuss that later), I hope that Moffat is being considered to take over from Russell Davies after he finishes his fourth and last season. Did you broach that subject at all with him in the interview?

Alan Sepinwall said...

I hope that Moffat is being considered to take over from Russell Davies after he finishes his fourth and last season. Did you broach that subject at all with him in the interview?

Not specifically (I didn't know Davies is leaving Who after next season), but I did ask him what he had coming up. He mentioned "Adam and Eve" and mumbled something about other projects he couldn't talk about yet, but I didn't get that vibe off him. Also, when talking to Julie Gardner (one of the producers on both Doctor Who and Torchwood) about Moffat, while her answers were all really complimentary, I didn't get a "and this is the guy we're going to hand the franchise to" subtext out of them.

Doesn't mean it won't happen, but I was given no hints on the subject.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Which is a little odd, since 3 of the 4 episodes aired were slightly cut (for time) and edited (changing Britishisms and BritPop references) versions of his own scripts (which were spectacular in the original).

He agreed that the non-adapted scripts were better (the one that aired was by far the best of the four, and actually made me wish the show had stuck around a bit longer to see if it was a fluke), but keep in mind that the show was in production well past those four episodes, and he was hearing a lot of horror stories from the cast and crew about NBC's notes.

Plus, he'll never forgive Zucker for distancing himself from the show after it was cancelled by saying in public that it "sucked." Zucker was an early champion of the show and did a complete turnaround once he saw which way the wind was blowing. (While network executives can get away with dissing shows they've canceled, it always has to be couched in some way, like Kevin Reilly's "He made the show he wanted to" discussion of Sorkin and Studio 60.)

J said...

I haven't especially enjoyed any of the Coupling episodes I've seen, but one of the things I love about Moffat's career is that he's gone from writing a Who parody to writing the real thing.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Oh, and the blogosphere is currently lit up with the rumor that not only will Moffat succeed Davies on Doctor Who, but that James Nesbitt will succeed David Tennant as the Doctor. I like Tennant, but that'd be something to see.

(Also, I wonder how/if having to write multiple episodes a season and run the show would affect Moffat's work on the series. He's not an exact analogue to Darrin Morgan on X-Files, but at the same time, I don't think Morgan's stuff would have been nearly as memorable if he were running the show week to week and writing a half-dozen episodes a year.)

J said...

Morgan's the exact same comparison I use. But, buying into the speculation, I can see Moffat working better as a series-runner; after all, he's run a few before. His tonal changes are sustainable, while Morgan's were -- at least in context of those series -- not. While I love, love, love Tennant, and hope he has a Tom Baker-sized run, a casting change would sort of make sense. Davies tends towards melodrama and has enjoyed employing a pair of hams. One of the benefits of having a largely Doctor-free ep in "Blink" was seeing how relatively restrained the show could be. I'd love to see more of the show behave that way.

But again, I love Tennant, and his few scenes in that episode were so very welcome (emotionally necessary, even?). He also showed he can employ a decent amount of restraint when (mumble, mumble, future episode).

If unable to fulfill full Exec Producer duties, maybe Moffat can osmosively bring some brilliance by acting in an episode or two(a la "Small Potatoes").

Nicole said...

I wouldn't be surprised if Tennant left along with Davies after the fourth season, only because it gives the new show runner a fresh start in all aspects. Previous Doctors, since Baker have usually only been around for three seasons, so I anticipate that he will want to move on as well, although I will be very sad to see him go. If Nesbitt is the new doctor, I can live with that, although it will take me some time to get over his "Hyde". As they have just begun filming the Christmas episode, I think that they are in the very early stages of looking for number 11.

Dark Tyler said...

Oh, and the blogosphere is currently lit up with the rumor that not only will Moffat succeed Davies on Doctor Who, but that James Nesbitt will succeed David Tennant as the Doctor. I like Tennant, but that'd be something to see.

See, you shouldn't just say things like this! Because I love James Nesbitt (and while David Tennant certainly has his moments, I never really got that into him as the Doctor) and I most certainly love Steven Moffat. And now I'm supposed to go and do other stuff, and all I can think of right now is a Nesbitt/Moffat team-up for Series 5 of Doctor Who.

(Could this be an indication? Heh.)

And just when I thought I couldn't love the guy more, he goes and proclaims himself a Joss Whedon admirer. Maybe work together on "Ripper" for BBC?

(Hey, a fanboy can dream, right?)

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who remembers Moffat as the creator of Press Gang - one of the best teen shows ever made.

Even watching it now, 15 years after it was made, and at least 10 years older then the target audience, I still find it relevant and funny as hell.

jim treacher said...

I haven't had the heart to watch Doctor Who since Rose got left behind, but I just watched "Blink" based on your recommendation. Okay, so who else wants Sally Sparrow to be the Doctor's next companion?

Darrin Morgan! Man, whatever happened to that guy? I got the impression that he hated the very act of writing, which is a damn shame.

P.S. Thanks for the link to the printer-friendly version of your column. I get sick of putting in fake information to get to page 2. (Whoops, was I not supposed to say that?)

J said...

Darin Morgan! Man, whatever happened to that guy?

Morgan had some consulting position on the revival of The Night Stalker, a couple years back. He wrote an episode, but the show got cancelled just before they filmed it. The script (apparently also available in a .pdf file on the series' DVD) is online here.

And I want Sally Sparrow to be my next companion. Life is short, she is hot.

jim treacher said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jim treacher said...

P.P.P.S. Spencer Tracy used almost no makeup, just some furrier eyebrows by the look of it, to become Mr. Hyde.

P.P.P.P.S. The movie version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was a travesty, but the comic book is well worth reading. Alan Moore's version of Mr. Hyde is terrifying.

Dark Tyler said...

Oh well, Steven Moffat just posted this:

The James Nesbitt story is a total fabrication. Made up. A fantasy. Just a guy sitting at a desk and just inventing stuff.

Didn't deny the bit about him, though. ;-)


Anyway, just saw "Jekyll"'s first episode and I can't wait to read your thoughts on it. Simply amazing.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Guys, no spoiling Doctor Who episodes before they've aired here in the States.

Dennis said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alan Sepinwall said...

Seriously, no spoilers. with or without space.

Dennis said...

To be fair, spoiler space notwithstanding, it was just an unsubstantiated rumor, not really a spoiler.

No rumors, either?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Sorry, Dennis. I saw the spoiler space and went in and deleted it without reading the rest. Given that the entire season has aired in England, and that there's allegedly some super-big dealie towards the end of said season, I'm being extra-vigilant about this show, both for the sake of my readers and for myself.

Given the unusual circumstances, though, I think we're better off not talking about anything past what's currently airing on Sci-Fi, whether spoilers, speculation or whatever. I know I mentioned the Donna thing in my review of Runaway Bride, and in retrospect I wish I hadn't.

Dennis said...

No worries, Alan. I probably would have done the same, in retrospect, if I were in your position. Some people can be a bit too free-wheeling with their Who enthusiasm and end up inadvertently spoiling things accidentally. I wouldn't dream of doing the same.

J said...

God, I hope there's an episode in the Fourth Series called "Doctor Who and Some Alleged Super-Big Dealie."

jim treacher said...

That was a spoiler? Okay, sorry about that.

James said...

Darrin Morgan! Man, whatever happened to that guy?

He has written an episode of the new Bionic Woman show!

J said...

>>Darin Morgan! Man, whatever happened to that guy?
>He has written an episode of the new Bionic Woman show!


Awesome.

Ryan was, er, buoyant [END SPOILER] in the first couple hours of Jekyll. So I guess I now have more than a couple reasons to check out the Bionic thing.