Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Blackout: We *heart* electricity, basically


There are two types of people in this world: those who don't mind pretend low-grade camera work wobbling all over the show, and those who watch such 'technique' for ten minutes and then start to long for a tripod and a stable shot with the sea-sickness pills to hand. We are longing for tripods.

It's not that we didn't appreciate the idea of Blackout. The Channel 4 drama following the unfolding chaos after a UK-wide electricity outage, told through the eyes of a set of individuals and their camera phones, is a nice pitch, but the mix of specially shot footage, re-purposed clips from CCTV and news bulletins, along with some hammy old acting of varying success, made the whole thing feel a little bit irritating. Sorry.

And how did those camera phone batteries last so long anyway? Tv-ooh's Samsung needs a top up every evening - quite how it, or we, would cope in a nationwide power cut beggars belief, especially if we had to go and visit our sick mother in a tower block in Sheffield, or decided to syphon off some petrol from a great big oil tanker before blowing ourselves up 'just for the LOLz'.

The problem, essentially, is that the use of hand held camera phones as a means of story telling tires quickly - trying to sustain one hour and 20 minutes of it was a brave idea but it didn't really work. The result is that it's impossible not to become preoccupied with why the people we're watching are bothering to record themselves.

To be fair, this was addressed in the script, but some characters had better reasons than others - Andy, the Homerton-based eco-warrior with lots of suppressed anger was video-blogging, while a young 20-something girl was recording the aftermath of her brother's car accident because she couldn't get hold of their parents. These were the stronger elements of the drama, where there was more of a (sort of) story.


However, the woman driving to Sheffield with her daughter and then encountering the tagged prisoner on the run, or the pair of larky lads who ultimately blew up that petrol tanker, were less engaging plot threads. At times it was like watching a Youtube comedy sketch but without the actual comedy - at least without any intentional comedy, anyway.

But even more frightening is that you can imagine some dimwits thinking the whole thing was real, partly because of the re-use of news footage from the London riots of August 2012, or adapted speeches from prime minister David Cameron talking about something else entirely, but also because the show's attempts at reality were actually quite good in parts - it's just a shame the camera phone style of capturing much of it meant a lot was at best disorientating or not properly seen.

You can imagine the art department having an absolute fit.

But it's not all negative: despite the annoyances, it does, actually, make us all think about where we'd be without electricity, and that the government and hospitals and supermarkets all have back up plans for their back up plans.

So in that respect, perhaps it's 'job done' for both Blackout and, indeed, for electricity.

Next week, watch No Heat - how the UK copes in the middle of winter without any gas. That would be a fun old watch, wouldn't it.

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