The Take: Why can’t we let good TV die?

A third se­ries of Doc­tor Fos­ter, a se­cond of The Hand­maid’s Tale and more Big Lit­tle Lies with added Meryl. Louis Wise wishes they would quit while they’re ahead

Grazia (UK) - - Contents -

TOP UP YOUR chardon­nay and de-friend your exes – Gemma Fos­ter will be back. That much be­came clear af­ter Suranne Jones scooped two Na­tional Tele­vi­sion awards for her siz­zling adul­tery drama Doc­tor Fos­ter – prompt­ing re­ports that the BBC has green-lit a third se­ries, and this is great news. Right?

Peo­ple loved the first Doc­tor Fos­ter; they loved and/or hated the se­cond; lord knows what they’ll think of a third. The show veers con­stantly be­tween chic drama and mad melo­drama, and many have lost their pa­tience with it for that rea­son. So ev­ery time it an­nounces its come­back, it touches a nerve: when do you let a suc­cess­ful se­ries go? When does an ac­claimed, stand­alone drama be­come an un­end­ing, iffy, jumped- the-shark saga? It’s some­thing we’re hav­ing to ask more fre­quently.

Take two of the other big­gest hits of last year – Big Lit­tle Lies and The Hand­maid’s Tale. Both were based on hit nov­els and both used up pretty much all their orig­i­nal ma­te­rial in their first se­ries to make heart-stop­ping, high-qual­ity drama. Yet both, it seems, will be back. Now, ad­mit­tedly, one of these was based on a clas­sic lit­er­ary mas­ter­piece, a fem­i­nist dystopian night­mare imag­in­ing life un­der a pa­tri­ar­chal regime (the other was The Hand­maid’s Tale). There should be plenty left to say. And yet, you worry. The Hand­maid’s Tale was mag­nif­i­cently, hor­rif­i­cally taut through­out 10 episodes – can it re­ally re­peat the same ten­sion 

yet again? You won­der where else can Of­fred and her fel­low hand­maids go. Won’t it just sag, and droop, and make us roll our eyes? There have been in­stances of great shows not over­stay­ing their wel­come ( The Of­fice, Fawlty Tow­ers, This Life) but they seem to be get­ting rarer. It’s as though TV has for­got­ten the art of a classy good­bye.

For me, as a gen­eral rule, most se­ries should bow out a good two sea­sons be­fore they ac­tu­ally do. Home­land? They should have left it at one. Stranger Things? Very sweet of them to re­peat it on a big­ger bud­get, but I got it the first time around. Mad Men? Yes, I know the ‘vi­sion’ was al­ways seven se­ries but, frankly, I was all smoked and whiskeyed out by round four. And let’s not even get started on the late, mad it­er­a­tions of Lost. Al­though long telly epics ap­par­ently of­fer us ‘great char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion’, ‘vivid worlds’ and ‘the pass­ing of time’, we should also be a lit­tle bit real: there are only so many hours in a week­end, and there’s only so much act­ing Jan­uary Jones can do.

On the other hand, noth­ing has quite the same emo­tional im­pact as your favourite telly, and noth­ing of­fers quite the same com­fort as the com­pany of your favourite char­ac­ters (why else do peo­ple love soaps?). When the se­cond se­ries of Happy Val­ley aired, I cheered, de­spite all the hor­ror that was on show: some­thing in Sarah Lan­cashire was so heart­en­ing. Like­wise, The Fall: there was no de­cent rea­son to pro­long all that misog­y­nist mur­der, but then there was the sheer bliss of zon­ing out over Gil­lian An­der­son’s blue-steel and blouses. And then there’s the show that isn’t tech­ni­cally even a drama but, of course, it re­ally is: Great Bri­tish Bake-off. I tut­ted when Chan­nel 4 said they’d plug away at it, even with­out Mel and Sue and Mary, but then I watched it all the same. So did you.

It’s true that when you smell a cash-in, you get sus­pi­cious. To be frank, the fact that Meryl Streep has been cast to star in the next in­stal­ment of Big Lit­tle Lies made me groan. I’m not sure I can quite ex­plain it, but I think it has some­thing to do with over-egging the dra­matic pud­ding. Well, of course Meryl was go­ing to be in it! Heaven for­bid she pass up the chance to do a bit of Iconic Act­ingtm. It sounds both amaz­ing and a lit­tle lazy.

And yet, here we come to the nub of it. These shows will al­ways re­turn, for two solid rea­sons. First: money. Tele­vi­sion is, first and fore­most, a busi­ness – in the busi­ness of en­ter­tain­ing you, sure, but still a busi­ness. Most ex­ecs won’t care whether you loved or hated Doc­tor Fos­ter, as long as you watched it. That’s what makes it a hit.

Se­cond: the roles. Tele­vi­sion of­fers the prospect of deep and re­ward­ing parts, par­tic­u­larly for women. It’s no co­in­ci­dence that the bulk of the shows I’ve men­tioned are headed by fe­male stars. Telly is where most of the good stuff is for them these days, as op­posed to Hol­ly­wood, where clearly most women had to fend off some kind of mas­sage in or­der to get a bit-part as the hero’s wife. So who could be­grudge them a se­cond or third bite of the cherry? That’s prob­a­bly why TV’S hero­ines strug­gle to say good­bye. It’s hard enough to get to say hello.

TV HAS FOR­GOT­TEN THE ART OF A CLASSY GOODYBYE

Clock­wise from main pic­ture: Doc­tor Fos­ter, Big Lit­tle Lies, The Hand­maid’s Tale and Stranger Things – all out­stay­ing their wel­come?

Mad Men (top left), The Fall (top right) and Lost (left) were good shows that went bad. The Of­fice (above) and This Life (right) fin­ished on a high

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