Thursday, 13 March 2014

True Tantalization

Years ago, I programmed the video recorder to tape an episode of Midsomer Murders. When I came to watch the tape, I found that I'd somehow managed to cut off the ending of the programme. As a result I had no idea who'd done it - the Midsomer murder in question, that is.

What I realised next was that I didn't care either. The resolution of the crime wasn't the point. It was the things along the way - the pretty villages, the ladies on old-fashioned bicycles with wicker baskets, the cozy pubs with baskets of flowers hanging outside their windows - that I watched the programme for*.

Guided by my children, I've moved on from Midsomer Murders now, most recently to True DetectiveTrue Detective is set in an utterly different landscape to that of Midsomer, a place where nothing is cozy, no-one attaches wicker baskets to anything and the only reference to flowers, (in the final episode), is difficult to interpret but almost certainly very peculiar indeed.

For the last seven weeks, the makers of the series have been intent on building up a sense of mystery and menace. In contrast to my experience watching Midsomer Murders, while watching True Detective I've wanted more and more to get to the heart of the mystery, to find out what the hell has been going on. With each new episode, I've grown more tantalized. While driving or cleaning or cooking or walking, I've turned possible solutions over in my mind.

I did something similar as a child one Christmas morning, when I woke before dawn and saw a cluster of packages waiting at the end of my bed. I knew I wasn't allowed to unwrap them until everyone else was awake as well as me, and so I whiled away the next few hours unwrapping each one in my head instead.

Of course, when the time came to unwrap the packages in the light of day, with my hands rather than merely my vivid imagination,the objects inside the brightly coloured paper could not live up to my fantasies of what they might be. As each one was revealed, all I felt was mild disappointment. I knew I should be grateful for everything I'd been given, but nothing in reality could possibly match the shiny things I'd dreamt up in my mind.

Which brings me to the finale of True Detective: lots of people are peeved by the supposed cop out that they see in the conclusion. I'm not though. In this one aspect, True Detective resembles Midsomer Murders for me. It was almost inevitable that the ending was not going to match the anticipation. It didn't, and I'm not sure I ever expected it would. What lurks in the dark very rarely retains its horror when brought out of the shadows. All the same, while I might feel a biit disappointed by the slight descent into schmaltz that True Detective allowed itself,  my overriding feeling towards the makers of the programme is gratitude for the fun I had along the way.

Life is usually at its most interesting when it is at its most tantalizing. The prize can often look better at a distance than it does when you have it in your hands. Initial infatuation may be the most exciting part of a romantic relationship, (not the best part, but the most exciting). Expectations are generally hard - if not impossible - to live up to. Anticipation is an underrated pleasure. Is this what Robert Louis Stevenson meant with his travelling hopefully remark - that the journey, not the destination, is often the most fun?**.


* After living in the UK fairly recently and observing remarkably little in the country's life that still resembles the Midsomer Murders milieu, it has crossed my mind that the whole Midsomer Murders phenomenon may have been created precisely to maintain the illusion, (for the British, whose daily reality tends more to Tesco superstores; overcrowded motorways; grubby, packed, inefficient public transport; and bureaucracies who delight in finding rules that mean they can say no, than to rural idylls), that England is still a green and pleasant, (if somewhat violent - in a genteel kind of way), land.

**My oldest daughter, who has just endured delays of 6 hours, (Brunei) and 12 hours, (Dubai), might answer that question with an emphatic, 'No'.


  1. I've never been able to watch more than ten minutes of Midsomer Murders, as it seems absurdly twee, like The Archers with a few crimes thrown in. It portrays an England that only exists in Richard Curtis comedies and the minds of Daily Express readers.

    But other British crime dramas are equally unrealistic in the other direction, portraying a society that is far more urban and multicultural than it actually is, with the same stock characters: the young black detective, torn between his work and his background; the ambitious young woman, struggling to deal with the boorish sexism of her older colleagues; the lazy, corrupt middle-aged man who resents the other two and the maverick inspector who is loved by the staff but hated by his superiors. I often forget which programme I'm watching, because the characters are interchangeable.

    I shall have to try True Detective, as most of the best writing in television seems to be coming from the other side of the Atlantic. The two exceptions were both produced by the BBC - The Fall and Line of Duty

  2. Now you mention it, I wonder if Midsomer Murders is what inspired Richard Curtis - in which case, it has a lot to answer for. I used to like The Archers, back when it was boring. Nothing ever happened, no cliffhangers, just a comforting burble coming from the radio at regular intervals. Nowadays, you'd think Ambridge was part of that troubled housing estate they were always rushing off to in The Bill. Does the Daily Express still exist? Looking forward to your almost out of copyright book publishing, by the way - are you thinking of only doing e-books or also hardback? True Detective is best in the first two episodes, I thunk, plus it's all overblown style and no substance - it's an entertainment (the southern drawls are so thick, specially Matthew Maconaughey's, that I coukdn't understand absolutely everythung that was said)

  3. Apologies for spelling errors due to writing on a screen

  4. I'll give the first episode a try. I've just finished Breaking Bad, which was extraordinarily good - the antithesis of Midsomer Murders.

    Re: The Archers, one of the cast occasionally works for me when his character is having a quiet time. I thought he'd feel at home on a farm.

    As far as the book publishing is concerned, perhaps an e-book would be the best place to start.

    1. I hope it's one of the Grundy family. We were given a copy of Breaking Bad but I can't get past the Y-fronts. Will try again. Shall follow your orphan copyright publishing progress with interest

  5. It's worth trying again. Here's Anthony Hopkins' endorsement:

    1. It's not so much a question of trying again as trying at all - I can't get past those underpants.