Saturday, 13 December 2008

Dawn of the Dull

- It's the end of the world, not that anyone would really notice the difference

Survivors
BBC One
James Ellingworth


Throughout human history, the apocalypse has generally been imagined to be a fairly exciting event. From Medieval paintings of judgement day, full of devils leering over cauldrons of boiling oil, to the visceral 28 Days Later, the one thing depictions of the end of the world haven't tended to lack is drama.
Viewed in terms of this tradition, Survivors is worth watching, for the simple reason that they've managed to make the apocalypse look, quite frankly, a bit boring.
Firstly, the disaster itself. Everyone just gets the flu, goes a bit clammy, and keels over politely, doing their best not to get in anyone's way. It's all very British. Some people are immune to this pandemic, and they don't die. And that's that. No zombies, explosions or chases – in fact, no drama of any description. Mad Max it ain't.
The survivors of the title stand about a bit to a soundtrack of mournful piano, looking a bit confused. Their blank stares mostly seem to reflect their surprise that they don't really have anything to do, especially now that the dead haven't got back up and started on their expected high-protein human brain diet.
The first episode's ten-minute ending scene (stretched out with yet more dirge-like piano) basically boils down to: “I want some milk in my tea, but all the milk's going off now and everyone I know is dead. I'd still like some milk, though. I've heard it comes out of cows, we could get one of those.”
Survivors' vision of Armageddon isn't only bland, it's surprisingly female-friendly. What plot there is concerns a mother searching for her lost son, and the obligatory rugged male leads are neutered by silly roles. One just wants to settle down, another is a playboy who becomes a father figure to a young boy, and the 'criminal psychopath' character is played by a fugitive from the multi-coloured high-camp dross that is Hotel Babylon. Enough to snuff out any lingering embers of credibility.
Survivors, therefore, is for anyone who wants to watch the world end with minimal fuss, some emotional bonding and mournful piano chords. It is in fact, so unique, that I can think of only one conceivable use for it.
If ever your granny asks to see 28 Days Later, show her this. There's no nasty eye-gouging, it's marginally less exciting than overcooked peas, and you can even enjoy a nice scone as you vegetate to the ever-present sound of that mournful bloody piano.

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