Before I begin, I just watched the second Act of Doctor Horrible and pretty much the only complaint I have is it's only 13 mins long per act. I'll write about it in full once it's finished this weekend.
Today instead I give you two interlinked shows called Moving Wallpaper and Echo Beach. It'll be best to deal with these two shows separately and then talk about the entire thing as a whole.
Elizabeth Berrington as Mel Debrou
Raquel Cassidy as Nancy Weeks
Sarah Hadland as Gillian McGovern
Sinead Keenan as Kelly Hawkins
Dave Lamb as Carl Morris
James Lance as Tom Warren
Lucy Liemann as Sam Phillips
and Ben Miller as Johnathan Pope
Moving Wallpaper is a term that's used to describe television in general and often applied to TV Soaps in particular. It's based on the way many people use TV shows as sort of a background. Moving Wallpaper the TV show on the other hand is a comedy show about the fictional writers of the TV Soap Echo Beach; a brand new post watershed ITV Soap. Ben Miller plays Johnathan Pope, the new producer drafted in by the network to make Echo Beach into a huge success. Unfortunately for the writers of the show Pope is something of an ass, lacking any real social awareness while muddling his way through something of a mid life crisis.
The writing team consists of Gillian - a new age feminist, Carl - an aging, single man who's useless around women, Tom - a handsome and smooth individual with a streak in cruel practical jokes, Sam - the script editor and normally the level head of the group, Kelly - the secretary and Mel - John's assistant. They're a somewhat neurotic group who struggle with the constant demands of the network and have their problems additionally compounded by Pope's antics. Pope himself has a lot to handle as his direct boss is Nancy, a women with an intense dislike for him as she sees through all his pretences and understands just how obnoxious he is.
Each episode of Moving Wallpaper is about the difficulties involved in writing the corresponding episode of Echo Beach. While watching you can see how events that occur in and around the writers end up making it into the script for various reasons. You can also hear dialog that later makes it into the script. Moving Wallpaper is a fast paced and witty show that's not afraid to have some off the wall characters and run with the concept. It's an exceptionally strong sitcom that's enjoyable to watch. Ben Miller's performance in particular is fantastic and he carries himself well throughout the show, not afraid to look like a complete w****r when the situation requires it.
ITV's home page for Moving Wallpaper
Jason Donovan as Daniel Marrack
Martine McCutcheon as Susan Penwarden
Hugo Speer as Mark Penwarden
Ed Speleers as Jimmy Penwarden
Hannah Lederer-Alton as Abie Marrack
and Susie Amy as Angela Cole
Echo Beach is the linked soap "created" by the characters from Moving Wallpaper, it's based in Polnarren, Cornwall and initially was supposed to be a worthy drama about social issues in Cornwall. But Johnathan Pope arrived and decided to sex it all up with stunt casting, exciting story lines and a gorgeous cast. The plots for the show mostly revolve around the Marrack and Penwarden families and their past involvements together.
And that's where I need to stop talking about what happened in Echo Beach (if you want to read more here's the wikipedia entry). Because I really did not enjoy watching it at all, I hoped that there was going to be something entertaining in watching it. That the show might hit say the utterly ludicrous level of Sunset Beach and provide an ironic parody of the whole soap experience. But in fact it doesn't, it seems that the creators of Echo beach decided to try and create a proper honest to goodness soap. It's like watching a poor facsimile of any other British soap and as I really cannot tolerate them I found the experience dull and slightly painful. It's very jarring moving from such an entertaining and witty sitcom into a dull and predictable soap and as such I found myself ignoring the television while Echo Beach was on and only paying attention when the segments occurred that were obviously linked to the relevant Moving Wallpaper episode. It was a nice experience to see how the dialog and events from Moving Wallpaper "inspired" the direction that Echo Beach took. But this wasn't enough to hold my interest.
I'd go as far as saying that watching Echo Beach almost replicated the experience of going to a British Beach. In that it sounds exciting and you expect a wonderful time. But once you get there you end up sitting about bored stiff in dull weather, yearning to be back home where you can do something more productive; like say, removing your own teeth with a chisel and hammer.
Taken together as a package these shows are a fantastic concept, it's a real stroke of genius to come up with the idea of a mockumentry showing the writers and then have the show they write follow it up. But the key problem with the entire thing is the lack of viewership preferences between the two shows and the weak nature of Echo Beach. In the collected boxed set you watch first one episode of Moving Wallpaper and then one of Echo Beach, this means you're switching back and forth between a show you're interested in and one you (may) not be in interested in at all. How often does the TV soap and sitcom demographic collide?
It could have worked if Echo Beach had been a bit less serious, if it had taken some truly ridiculous moments and worked them in. Classic soap moments like, the return of a previously dead character, the evil twin, the abandoned child returning or impregnation with a turkey baster. But instead Echo Beach plays it too straight and instead of giving us a modern Acorn Antiques it delivers something like Hollyoaks, but even more boring. I know it was meant to be rubbish, but it managed to be rubbish in an utterly mundane manner - it's no Plan 9 from Outer Space.
Fortunately, Echo Beach has been dropped from the line-up and is being replaced with a show about zombies. (See Dan's Media Digest here and Digital Spy here). Now zombies has a real potential for providing either laughs or a fresh new experience. There hasn't been a zombie based TV series on UK television that I can recall (feel free to prove me wrong) and it doesn't matter if they play it straight, funny or attempt to make it look really bad they should have a hit on their hands. Additionally there is a lot more crossover of demographic between fans of comedy and horror, just look at Shaun of the Dead and Spaced. It's a brilliant idea, I love it!
As I mentioned the DVD set of Moving Wallpaper/Echo Beach alternates between one ep of Wallpaper and then the matching episode of Echo Beach. This is fine as it's how the show was meant to be watched, but in all honesty it's not a pleasant experience to do this. As such I'd thoroughly suggest you instead pick up just Moving Wallpaper by itself and experience the good half of the shows. The extras on this twin set are all related to Moving Wallpaper and they're brilliant, including a fantastically disturbing performance from Jason Donavon in one webisode of 'The Mole Diaries'.
Unfortunately the DVD menus do not contain a play all option for each separate series, so you'll either have to watch all of them, skip the Echo Beach episodes or watch one episode at a time via the single episode menu.
The bright side is it can be had for a £10 in HMV right now, which is around 3.7p per minute. That's a decent price just for Moving Wallpaper. The other brighter-side is the next series won't be linked to that soapy piece of drab television called Echo Beach. Here's hoping Moving Wallpaper goes from strength to strength as I like it quite a bit.