Sunday, 21 June 2015

Tatau and Terrific TV


I just finished watching Tatau with the family. Tatau was/is the BBC3 series filmed on the Cook islands with plenty of directorial verve. (Directors Wayne Yip, Josh Frizzell and Michael Hurst.) On my blog profile I say how loyal I feel towards the BBC and it is this kind of series that makes me want to support them wholeheartedly. It felt like an independent production and had plenty of dazzle in the performances, the direction, the design features and the overall idea. It wasn’t a homogenous committee-drama, that’s for sure, and all the better for that.


I hope the decision to put BBC3 online does not backfire. Several of their shows have been big successes: Being Human, In the Flesh, Gavin and Stacey, Torchwood – and there have been excellent documentaries too – one I remember vividly, My Brother the Islamist, could do with monthly repeats. I don’t know how expensive it was to send the crew and cast to the Cook islands for Tatau but it was FANTASTIC to see uncommon locations and less-familiar actors (including a good number from Commonwealth countries) in a weird and wild drama.

Brave commissioning

Some shows are victims of the commissioning channel’s lack of support, for example, the sudden cancelling of Atlantis which grew into a greater show with each episode. I imagine Tatau will not get a second series so we will never know whether it would have matured over another set of episodes. But I for one would tune in if the series was re-commissioned. Bravo to the BBC for giving viewers something out of the ordinary.

Tatau’s strengths

It made an eye-pleasing change to see sun-kissed locations different from drab urban offices and bucolic green villages favoured by typical home-grown TV series. The actors were uniformly good with the double act of Joe Layton as Kyle and Theo Barklem-Biggs as Budgie managing to convey the reality of buddies who had been travelling and who had a shared history. Joe’s intensity and Theo’s buoyancy motored the plot. Theo’s story contained an imaginative twist (no spoilers) and the hints at Maori culture were intriguing.

New faces to British TV

Shushila Takau, Alex Tarrant and Rawiri Jobe as Aumea, Maui and Koringo were convincing and unsettling in their portrayals of ambiguous characters – should Kyle and Budgie trust them or not? Cian Elyse White as Lara Morgan, I thought, was an attractive and charismatic performer and character; she probably had the best-written part in terms of variety of tone and emotion.

Tatau’s weakness

Sadly I think the show’s weakness was in some aspects of the writing, where, although the set-ups and the complications all had massive potential, there were underwritten characters and scenes that seemed either missing or rushed. I want to applaud Richard Zajdlic on the one hand for creating a complex show with some fine scenes and character moments but I wonder whether the pressures of budget and/or time and/or location meant he would have produced a more satisfying total narrative if circumstances had allowed. I noticed he was producing too. I know he is an experienced writer and one of the (many) past shows to which he contributed, This Life, is a major classic, in my opinion.

I wanted to see more depth to particular characters

Aumea’s father and her brother both had much more potential than the script allowed.  Temuera Morrison as the father had a powerful screen presence and his role in the climax could have been much more developed. Budgie’s mum (and Budgie’s whole back story prior to arriving on the island) proved functional rather than integrated and thematic. It struck me that Tyler and Dries (Tai Berdinner-Blades and Barry Atsma) had a lot more mileage and were fascinating in their vignettes but it struck me they were potentially more complex than the screen time given; the relationship between Kyle and Tyler seemed to have resonance but we weren’t shown how or why. Ditto Maui and Dries.

Future Stars

All the actors were engaging and I hope to see them again in the future. The series was ambitious and I hope the BBC does not shy away from promoting material like this again. Overall my family and I enjoyed this series a great deal – and relished shouting at the characters’ decisions – always a good sign of an engaging drama.

Daring to be different – are we in a Golden Age of TV?

Tatau didn’t fall into the category of total predictability. Many TV drama shows follow a formula these days so you can anticipate how each character will behave and even what the director is wanting you to think with predictable camera moves and angles.  Notable exceptions in recent times have been, in my opinion, (in alphabetical order): Arrested Development, Breaking Bad, The Bridge, Deadwood, Fargo, Game of Thrones, Happy Valley, House of Cards, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Last Tango in Halifax, Orange is the New Black, Peaky Blinders.

Past Glories

From the past I would cite as Great and Golden TV: Band of Brothers, Battlestar Galactica, The Beiderbecke Tapes, Bleak House, Boys from the Blackstuff, Brideshead Revisited, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cracker, The Crow Road, Damages, Edge of Darkness, Firefly, I Claudius, The Jewel in the Crown, The Killing, Life on Mars, Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, Our Friends in the North, Martin Chuzzlewit, Middlemarch, Pennies from Heaven, Prime Suspect, The Prisoner, Shameless, The Singing Detective, The Sopranos, Takin’ Over the Asylum, This Life, Tutti Frutti, The West Wing, Twin Peaks.

Not yet seen….

(I’ve had reliably recommended, but not yet seen, Boardwalk Empire, Dexter, Freaks and Geeks, The Game, Generation War (Our Fathers, Our Mothers), The Hour, Line of Duty, Lonesome Dove, Pushing Daisies, Ripper Street, Six Feet Under, Spiral, Veronica Mars, The Wire.)  I’m happy to receive further recommendations or to be reminded of anything I’ve missed from my list.

Tatau is one of those “Guilty-Pleasure” shows

The following list are TV series that I have watched with huge pleasure, but even at the time knew they were not for all tastes : 24, The 100, American Horror Story, Atlantis, The Avengers, Being Human, Call the Midwife, The Champions,
Doctor Who, Dynasty, The Flash, Glue, Heroes, The House of Eliott, In the Flesh, Land of the Giants, Merlin, Misfits, My Mad Fat Diary, North and South, The Returned, The Tripods, Spartacus, Star Trek, The Three Musketeers, Timeslip, The X Files – all entertaining and, for different reasons, shows that absorbed my imagination. But I wouldn’t put them in the “Past Glories” paragraph above. Tatau fits into this category, I think.

Perfect entertainment but something amiss

In all these guilty-pleasure shows, the concept is bigger than the final execution. The actors are usually brilliant, scenes are regularly stunning, all the design elements could not be bettered. But somehow the totality of the script misses a satisfying arc; often the conclusion is contrived, rushed or flawed; sometimes a formula kicks in and writers start repeating successful tropes. Alan Garner once wrote that “originality is the colouring of existing themes” and, in my book, Tatau’s colours were vibrant.