Thursday, January 10, 2008

Moving Wallpaper/Echo Beach

It's a rare day when ITV tries something even vaguely unusual for its mainstream drama, so the high-concept tag team of Moving Wallpaper and Echo Beach seemed worth a look, if only for the curiosity value.

Here's the gimmick. Moving Wallpaper is a half-hour sitcom about a crassly commercial producer taking over a show at the last minute, stripping it of its artistic pretensions, and turning it into a commercial soap juggernaut. And immediately following it in the schedules, we get the show they're making: Echo Beach itself.

This isn't a totally original idea. The behind-the-scenes drama is pretty much a subgenre in its own right. But I don't think anyone has previously attempted to actually make the metashow, in full, and broadcast it as a twin show in its own right. It's an unusual idea. It could have worked.

But it doesn't, really. ITV is keen to stress that the programmes stand alone and you don't need to watch both. Bad call. For this to work, they had to be much more intertwined. The result is a show which is neither one thing nor the other.

Moving Wallpaper, for example, wants to be a sitcom about a moron producer dragging a show downmarket. But to follow that through to its logical conclusion, Echo Beach has to be awful, or at least seriously camp. They haven't taken that leap. So MW has to stop short of suggesting that Echo Beach might be, y'know, bad. It's prepared to admit that Jason Donovan and Martine McCutcheon were cast in Echo Beach solely because of their name value - but it also has to suggest that this is some sort of huge coup. At the end of the episode, the trustworthy script editor informs us that Echo Beach is, honestly, a good show despite its troubled production.

As for Echo Beach, it's hard to know quite what to make of it. It's awful. Bits of it are so clunky that you'd think they must be some sort of self-parody. Except they're not funny. They're just... bad soap. I have a sinking feeling that Echo Beach truly thinks it's a good mainstream soap, and that its blatant delusions of being a Cornish O.C. (when it's actually a Cornish Hollyoaks) are completely genuine and unironic. Moving Wallpaper cuts its legs out, by inviting the viewers to watch it as a metafictional stunt - and then leaving us confused when the show is neither good nor funny.

Echo is seemingly oblivious to the metashow concept, and what's the fun in that? Or maybe it does get the joke, but only in the dullest way possible, by writing a show which isn't cleverly bad, but merely bad.

Oh, and Wallpaper also gave away the ending of Echo Beach, despite the fact that Echo was trying to play it as a dramatic moment. Genius.

This doesn't work. They simply haven't committed fully to the concept, and the shows are working against each other. They should be thinking of this as a one-hour show, and playing the whole thing for laughs. What they've produced is a half-formed mess, unfortunately, and a pretty clear demonstration of what's gone wrong with ITV these days. This channel wouldn't know a decent concept if it saw one. They had one here and they didn't even begin to grasp what might make it work.

You can do a show about the making of an okay show - Larry Sanders did it - but not if you're going to present your production team like this. The whole premise of Wallpaper is that Echo Beach is a cynically tailored show aimed at drooling idiots. And then it turns round and expects the audience to take Echo Beach at face value. Are they on crack? I suppose it's always possible that week two will open with the Wallpaper characters sitting around reading the reviews in morose silence after realising that their show is, in fact, unwatchably bad. But I'm not holding my breath.