Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Summer Travel Through TV: Blackpool 1.01

“An amusement arcade is the people’s stock exchange. Except we give you a chance to win your money back.”

As you can tell from the title of this post, I’m switching things up a bit and doing a “Travel Through TV” series on MTVP this summer. Our first destination is the kind of seedy seaside town (and hometown of Jenna Coleman) of Blackpool, England. I first heard of “Blackpool,” I think, back in 2010 when I became a big-time “Doctor Who” and David Tennant fan. There were two pre-Doctor performances by Tennant that a lot of fans were talking about; Cassanova in the “Cassanova” mini-series that later aired on PBS in the United States, and D.I. Peter Carlisle in “Blackpool,” which at the time had never aired here at all. I watched some clips from “Blackpool” on YouTube at the time and was impressed by the emotion and drama that was present along with a lot of silliness. You see, “Blackpool” was also the inspiration for the very short-lived, Hugh Jackman-produced “Viva Laughlin” on CBS that was the running joke of the 2007 – 2008 television season. I’ve never actually seen “Viva Laughlin,” but I can say that “Blackpool” is worth watching if you can get past the frequent random musical numbers. All this being said, I was super excited to discover recently that “Blackpool” is finally legitimately available to watch in the United States on Hulu. So watch I did!

We get a very good sense of what the show is going to be right from the beginning, with Ripley Holden (David Morrissey, best known to American audiences as the Governor on “The Walking Dead”) and his family singing along to “Viva, Las Vegas” as they get ready for the opening of Ripley’s new amusement arcade on the Blackpool promenade. All of the songs in the show are done in this sort of “sing along” fashion, where you hear both the original song and the actor(s) singing along, with the mix much heavier on the original song. It’s odd, but I find myself able to ignore these scenes and concentrate on the overall story. The dance numbers that accompany some of the songs are amusing, even if the singing is bad. The songs overall are always meant to comment on the action or the emotional state of the characters. I guess it’s a bit on-the-nose, but like I said, I choose to ignore it because everything else about the show is so good.

Anyway, let’s take a moment to talk about the Holden family. Ripley is the patriarch. He owned a few arcades in Blackpool, but he sold those and solicited investments from friends to buy one big arcade on the promenade. He has dreams of turning it into a full-blown hotel and casino, beginning the transformation of Blackpool into the Las Vegas of the UK. Ripley is British, but he has very stereotypical American sensibilities. It probably explains his fascination with Las Vegas, really. At one point, he tells someone that he believes everybody should work, and that’s why he makes sure when he donates money, it’s only to “legitimate handicapped” individuals. Ripley’s wife, Natalie, is described as a “trophy wife.” She doesn’t work, but she does devote her time to keeping their home and doing charity work. Her hobby at the moment is working a suicide hotline at an organization called Samaritans. Ripley and Natalie have two kids, 19 year-old college student Shyanne and awkward teen Danny.

Ripley celebrates the opening of his new amusement arcade with gusto, turning it into a lad’s night with all his investor friends. They end up hiring a bunch of prostitutes, and Ripley indulges happily, although he kind of regrets it later. The rest of the family isn’t as enthusiastic. Earlier in the evening (pre-prostitutes) there was a big party to celebrate the opening, and the rest of the Holdens all left early. Natalie left to go do a shift at Samaritans, Shyanne left to spend time with her new boyfriend, and Danny went to a club called Romeo’s. It’s interesting that the Holden family isn’t really all that interested in Ripley’s business. They all have their own drama going on, and we start to get a small taste of that drama in this episode.

When it comes to family drama, like I said, both the Holden kids have their fair share. Shyanne’s drama is more straightforward. She has a new boyfriend, and Shyanne is so into him that her parents insist that he come over for dinner. Ripley is horrified, however, when the boyfriend turns out to be a man named Steve, who is his own age. Steve, by the way, is played by Kevin Doyle, now better known as Mr. Molesley on “Downton Abbey.” At dinner, Ripley basically runs Steve out of the house with his antics. Later, Ripley confronts Steve at his work (Steve manages a local theatre) and threatens him. Apparently Ripley and Steve were schoolmates, only Ripley’s name at the time wasn’t Ripley Holden. Ripley hands Steve a paper with his real name on it, and he says that he’s even more messed up now than he was then. The name is enough to scare Steve into breaking up with Shyanne, and Ripley comforts his heartbroken daughter, never giving a hint that he is the cause of her pain.

The main plot of the episode (and the whole show), however, is a murder. At the big grand opening party, we see a young man with bleached blond hair causing trouble. It seems like he is trying to rob one of the slot machines. Ripley throws him out and uses some slurs about his sexual orientation in the process. It’s apparently that Danny knows this man somehow, either romantically, related to drug dealing, or both. Something is clearly up with Danny overall. Anyway, the morning after the big party, Holden lets the folks who will become his regulars into the arcade, where they are horrified to see a dead body. The body is of none other than the man who was causing trouble the night before.

D.I. Carlisle (Tennant) is assigned to the case. He’s a detective based elsewhere (Scotland, presumably, since Tennant is using his real accent) who has been temporarily assigned to Blackpool to help with overflow cases. His partner is D.C. Blythe, who is kind of adorable. Carlisle immediately suspects Ripley, although Ripley (falsely) claims that he has never seen the deceased before in his life. Tennant doesn’t show up until half way through the episode, but when he does appear, he makes his mark. Much to Ripley’s chagrin, he takes his job seriously and doesn’t want to let the case go. He also shuts down the arcade until a proper forensic investigation can take place. Carlisle has his quirks as well. It’s rare to see him not eating something.

In the course of his investigation, Carlisle decides that he needs to interview Natalie because he’s “good with the wives.” He finds her at Samaritans, and he manages to talk his way in. At first Natalie thinks Carlisle is there because he legitimately needs help, so she starts talking to him about his life. Carlisle tries to turn all of Natalie’s questions back on her, and she notices instantly. Eventually, he asks her out, and Natalie refuses, telling Carlisle that she’s a married woman. If Ripley knew this was happening, he would be even more pissed off at Carlisle than he already is. As it is, he is pretty darn pissed. He recruits one of his friends, who happens to be the D.C.I. in Blackpool (I’m presuming this is the British version of a police chief, or at least somebody pretty high up in the local police department) to try to get Carlisle to drop the case, but Carlisle won’t budge. Clearly, the game is afoot!

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