BBC TV: Paradox

Usually I have people who alert me to what pops up on British TV.

This time I wasn’t alerted at all and I tripped across a new BBC TV series called Paradox via the Net.

When I asked around on Twitter, I was warned off it.

Being stubborn, I wanted to see for myself.

Paradox is a new twist on a premise used by CBS TV series called Early Edition. A guy named Gary would be awakened in the morning by a mysterious cat who accompanied a copy of the next day’s newspaper. Gary took it upon himself to try to prevent the disasters he had advance knowledge about.

Paradox updates this premise somewhat for the world of technology.

It also throws in the countdown clock trope from the series 24, although the clock isn’t done real-time.

A Ministry of Defense satellite monitoring station …

… manned by a people-averse physicist …

… receives images that are timestamped eighteen hours in advance.

In the opening episode, the images — eight of them — seem to show an impending disaster.

The physicist requests a cop “with imagination” to investigate the meaning of the images.

In the original Wikipedia entry I consulted (since buried in the massive number of revisions the page has undergone), it stated there would be six episodes in this series. As it turned out, last night’s fifth episode was the series conclusion.

Which has messed with my head greatly.

The series wasn’t exactly grade-A stuff to begin with. The scripts had a very bizarre structure that irritated the hell out of me. Those who think FlashForward on ABC is incoherent or hard to follow would have their heads explode from Paradox due to the story construction.

After much, much thought, I concluded the writer was attempting something new — trying to make the audience really feel the frustration of the situation, instead of just letting us ride along on a smooth time-wasting trip.

For those who stop to think about the implications of having actual — and totally unexplainable — foreknowledge, Paradox couldn’t help but be intriguing at the very least.

And the series mixed things up. In one episode more than eight images showed up. And in another episode, an image that affected one of the detectives (there were ultimately a team of three) …

… press-ganged into the now-covert and under the protection of the MoD investigations, was withheld from him. Plus, the detectives didn’t usually have a full eighteen hour window in which to unravel the meaning of the images and prevent whatever was going to happen.

Do you see the frustration there, built into the series itself?

Gary in Early Edition had a printed newspaper that laid out everything for him. Names, places, even approximate times — as well as the possible future outcome.

Paradox offered no assurances like that whatsoever!

It was like getting eight pieces of a larger puzzle and having to draw the rest of the puzzle from those too-few pieces.

Plus — would their actions affect the possible future for the worse?

I haven’t read any of the reviews (they’ve apparently all scragged the series and last night’s Twitter chatter about the series was 2 or even 3 to 1 negative!), so I don’t know if reviewers didn’t understand it, or hated the cast, or maybe pointed out something else.

English TV has a history of doing unexpected things. The epic series Rock Follies concluded with absolute failure. Pennies from Heaven ended with its two main characters, respectively, executed and committing suicide (until Dennis Potter’s daughter complained about that ending in his script, so he tacked on a sarcastic happy one). Blake’s 7 also ended in utter defeat.

Paradox, however, ended with an episode that was thoroughly unsatisfying. At least the ending of Rock Follies made sense. Paradox made none!

And was that its entire point?

In a post here, writer Warren Ellis comments on an interview question reply from writer David Simon:

It’s easy to forget what you turned up for.

That’s the sense I’m left with from Paradox.

All this led up to … that? And for what? Why? What does it frikkin mean?

Well, one thing, at least Paradox wasn’t irredeemably wretched like another recent series.

If you’re a writer, it’s worth tracking down. If only as a seriously strange object to study. Those in England can probably still see it via the BBC’s iPlayer.

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