Out of tunes
Television, like all other forms of traditional media, is in mortal danger. Audiences are fragmenting, advertisers are fleeing and money is running out. If it wants to survive, television needs one good idea. Just one golden bullet of an idea that will revolutionise everything and remind people that an invaluable source of entertainment lies in the box in the corner of their room.
Ladies and gentlemen, that idea has been found. It’s a non-musical version of Les Misérables.
During the course of six weeks, stars such as Dominic West, Lily Collins and David Oyelowo will tell Victor Hugo’s epic story of revolution and redemption in a just-announced BBC adaptation that promises absolutely no singing whatsoever. At no point will Oyelowo make a noise like a rhino walking barefoot over Lego as he attempts to clatter One Day More into a flaming skip. West will not roar or honk anything about being able to hear people sing. Collins will categorically refuse to do that Susan Boyle song.
No matter when you tune in, you will be confronted only by the sight of people saying things in a normal way. It will be incredible. Your teeth will remain unground. Your sphincter will remain unclenched. It will give you everything you ever wanted from a musical without the agony of any actual music. Cut this out and show it to your grandchildren, for this is what progress looks like.
For too long, the worst part of any musical has been the music. All the bloody music, swelling up out of nowhere and killing the story dead for three minutes at a time so that some wobbly lipped non-entity can stumble on and warble about how sad they are in rhyming couplets, even though they’ve already just said that they’re sad, plus they’ve got a sad face so everyone had already worked out that they were sad ages ago.
Musicals are my least favourite form of entertainment, and I say this as someone who has spent some of his morning watching a cartoon dinosaur kick a cartoon elephant unconscious on the Youtube Kids app. They have no place in the modern world now that we have speech and emojis. Watching a musical in 2018 is like being made to listen to someone with terrible taste’s automated Spotify Discover playlist while they sit on your chest and stop you from leaving their house. I just asked how your mum is, for crying out loud, you don’t need to reply by playing me Galway Girl three times in a row.
I can’t bring myself to trust people who enjoy musicals. I seem to have pegged them all as cheats, as people who don’t understand subtext or nuance, who don’t want to do the work and constantly have to have everything spelled out for them. You can draw a line between the invention of the musical and civilisation’s lowest point – the advent of people clapping along to the Strictly Come Dancing theme tune. It is a straight line, and it ends badly.
So wild horses couldn’t stop me from watching this new Les Misérables series. I don’t care that Liam Neeson already made a musicless version in 1998 and there have been dozens of other Master of the House-free adaptations of the novel before. It means I’ll finally get to experience a modern version of the story that doesn’t give me a cluster migraine. A version where Russell Crowe won’t look into the camera, pull a face that makes him look like he’s trying to digest something terrible and then maliciously release a harrowing infrasonic frequency into the universe. A version where Anne Hathaway won’t win an Oscar for synchronising the popping of her snot bubbles to the crescendo of I Dreamed a Dream. It’s not the ideal version of Les Mis – that would be a three-second clip of a Frenchman with a messy face saying: “Cor, stealing candlesticks is a bad idea innit?” – but times are hard and we need to take what we can get.
It is bound to be a success, but I’m rooting for it nevertheless. If enough people watch Les Misérables, then the BBC will continue to treat us with musicless versions of famous musicals. Maybe we’ll get to see a musicless version of Mamma Mia!, where the unvarnished truth of Donna’s negligent motherhood comes to the fore. Maybe we’ll get to see a musicless Grease, where Danny’s friends will just verbally ask him if he assaulted Sandy instead of couching it in song. Maybe we’ll get to see a musicless version of Cats, where some cats introduce themselves and then nothing else happens. It will be a wonderland.
And it will only be the start. Now that science has cracked the songless musical, it can go on to slice out all the other worst parts from otherwise enjoyable mediums. Fantasy books without maps in the front. Songs without drum solos. The train is in motion now, and nobody can stop it, and we only have Les Misérables to thank.
There is no place in the modern world for musicals now that we have speech and emojis
Revolutionary… Davidoyelowo,lily Collinsanddominic Westaresetto starinthebbc’s newversionofthe Victorhugoepic