Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Revived by 'Viva'

Every writer, whether they're writing novels, news, scripts, reviews or technical manuals, faces battles with that damn blank screen (or page, depending on your style). There are periods in my job when there just isn't enough space, even with a daily column, to write all the things I want to. Then there are days, like today, where that blinking cursor just taunts me.

I got back from three rainy days in Montreal and was struggling with material for either the column or this blog. (While I was gone, by the way, I missed the chance to link to a couple of All TV columns, including a mailbag dealing with the bizarro re-editing of "Boston Legal" episodes and today's column (written by Matt) about the "Nightline" anchor change .) And as I sat at my desk, I had nothing. This is one of those slow periods, in between the burst of fall premieres and the arrival of November sweeps. Few new shows to review, too early to revisit stuff I wrote about a few weeks ago, only so many times I can write about how bad the ratings for "Apprentice: Martha" have been. And while I was in the Great White North, the only shows I saw were a French-dubbed episode of "That '70s Show" and Sunday night's "Grey's Anatomy" (a good one, and my suspicions about Ellis Grey and the chief were proven right).

So nothing to write about for the column (a non-issue, since my editors opted to use the space for other stories on a busy day), and not even much to blog about. I was on the verge of writing a long, boring essay on how much I've been enjoying FX's "Spin City" reruns (it was just a pretty good sitcom at the time, but compared to most of what passes for funny now, it's a frigging masterpiece) when I decided to head home, ride the recumbent bike and hope like Hell I found something interesting enough to watch and write about.

Enter "Viva Blackpool." It's a mystery, a love story, and a musical. And it's fucking brilliant. And it's the kind of show that smashes through writer's block in about five seconds.

The short version, since I'll be reviewing it before next Monday's premiere on BBC America: Ripley Holden is a wannabe Trump (with Elvis sideburns and David Carradine's wardrobe) who builds a casino in a dumpy seaside resort town. His wife Natalie (Sarah Parish, who may be my favorite British TV actress since Diana Rigg) is so neglected and unhappy that she works at a suicide hotline to cheer herself up. Then a dead body turns up on the casino floor and a Scottish cop (played by David Tennant, aka the new Doctor Who) rolls into town to investigate Ripley and romance Natalie. I've seen a lot of Dennis Potter homages since "The Singing Detective" ("Six Feet Under" and most of David E. Kelley's work wouldn't exist without Potter), and this may be the best.

Whenever I have one of those stupid existential crises about the value of TV criticism, along comes something like "Viva Blackpool" to remind me why I do what I do, blank screen or no.

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