Friday, November 28, 2014

Ultimate Farce

Hasn't the digital TV revolution been great?  Now we have access to to a plethora of channels instead of just the boring three terrestrial channels of my youth.  All of them endlessly showing repeats of the programmes I used to watch on those three channels.  Still, if nothing else, the arrival of CBS Action on Freeview means that I can now remind myself of why I never watched the Ross Kemp SAS thick ear Ultimate Force when it was shown on ITV back in the early noughties.   To be fair, quite a lot of people didn't watch it, which is why it got pulled from the schedules, (both series three and four suffered abrupt and premature terminations, with the remaining episodes being scheduled months - years in the case of series four - later), and eventually cancelled.  Prior to last week, I'd only ever seen part of an episode from series three during its original run - it was supposedly set in Africa, but looked like it had been filmed in someone's back garden - which really hadn't impressed me.  However, thanks to CBS Action, over the past couple of weeks I've see the better part of three episodes from the first three seasons.  It hasn't improved with age.

The thing which really struck me when watching these episodes of Ultimate Force was how much British action TV series had declined by the turn of the twenty first century.  It really does look poorly made, with lifeless action sequences and lumpen dialogue.  Worst of all is the acting - lots of miscast actors trying desperately to look like hard men by strutting around and bellowing at each other as if they were on steroids.  The worst offender is definitely Ross Kemp - I honestly can't even dignify his appearances with the word 'performance', it's just a display of macho bullshit: he doesn't come over as a skilled special forces operative so much as some violent oaf from the pub.  Which is another big problem the programme had - a total lack of likeable, let alone sympathetic characters.  If we're to believe Ultimate Force, the SAS is composed entirely of dysfunctional psychopaths who, in reality, would be incapable of mounting any kind of covert military operation.

Unfortunately, thanks to digital TV, repeats of earlier British action series are available for comparison, making Ultimate Force look even poorer. Even the average episode of The Professionals features better writing, plotting and acting - and The Professionals represented a step down from series like The Sweeney, Special Branch or Minder.  All of these series were far more stylishly shot than Ultimate Force, with its dully filmed locations and plodding action.  Indeed, it even compares unfavourably with sixties action series:  The Saint, for instance, made the Elstree back lot and various locations around the Home Counties look far more convincingly 'foreign' when they stood in for France, Italy or South America than Ultimate Force ever does.  It all makes me wonder at what point did we forget how to make decent action-orientated TV series in the UK?  Looking back to the sixties, seventies and even early eighties, you realise that, ITV at least, were pretty good at coming up with them.  But somewhere along the way, the expertise seems to have been lost and we ended up with tedious fare like Ultimate Force.



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