Wednesday, December 27, 2006

"Come On You Reds...Come On You Reds..."

Kids with their mom and I'm fighting a nasty cold, so spent the past couple days rewatching the first six Cracker's...the U.K. Cracker originals of good.

For the uninitiated, it ran as a series of movies from 1993-1995 (with a one-off special screened in 1996 and a further special in 2006) and starred Robbie Coltrane as Dr Edward "Fitz" Fitzgerald, a troubled criminal psychologist brought in to assist the Manchester Police Force interview, profile, and catch killers. It ranks right up with the 'Prime Suspect' series as some of the best of British television.

Character-driven 'open mysteries' - not so much 'who done its' as 'why done its' - they were filled with nifty plot twists, usually in the personal stories as opposed to the mystery story. Just the fact they are introduced as the creator/writer Jimmy McGovern's 'Cracker' should tell you that there's something right about this series. And 'To Be A Somebody' is still one of the best stories ever committed to film.

A young Robert Carlyle is terrifying yet mesmerizing as the working class sod who snaps, pulls a Travis Bickle, and decides to avenge the tragic deaths of 96 footballer fans at the 1989 soccer match in Hillsborough. His soccer fan chant mantra's will haunt you long after the program is finished.

"L..I..V E..R..P DOUBLE O..L Liverpool Are We!"

Sarah K at the Unofficial Guide to Cracker puts it rather well...

Everything about 'To Be A Somebody' is classic Cracker - McGovern's powerful writing, the interview scenes between Fitz and Albie which are some of the best of the series, along with the general interaction between Fitz and the police (most notably the still lingering tension between Fitz and Bilborough). At the time of its screening, 'To Be A Somebody' may have received a lot of attention due to McGovern's tackling of the sensitive issue of the Hillsborough disaster, but it without doubt left its mark and will long be remembered as three hours of the finest British television ever made.

Hear hear...if you don't have a lot of time, follow that movie up with the sixth installment 'Men Don't Weep' and you can experience an abridged best of this series in all its brilliance.

It struck me while watching Cracker how much 'Fitz' and Dr. Greg House are alike.

Unlikeable in so many ways, yet they manage to engage and intrigue and fascinate us. We 'like' them against reason and better judgement. Much like Jim Rockford (going waaaay back here to the Rockford Files), the surly snarky Malibu based private investigator.

I loved Rockford Files when I was a kid. Or at least I knew my dad loved it, and it was something we watched together, so I loved it too. A mystery series with requisite action (and those car chases), it was something of a revisionist take on the genre, grounded more in character than crime, and neatly infused with humor and realistic relationships. And they still hold up today - I try to catch it on Superstation WGN each morning whenever I can - with the winning supporting cast (Becker, Beth, Rocky...Angel!), and those wacky answering machine messages that led off each episode...

"Hi, sonny, it's Rocky. I got the bill and I've been trying to figure what everybody owes on L.J.'s birthday party. Tell me, did you have the Pink Lady?"

And that theme good,

Rockford, Fitz, House...they all give us so many reasons to change the channel, yet we don't. What is it about these kinds of characters that turn our notion of the hero upside down yet still manage to entertain us?

The leads all have unpleasant traits and vices, are generally sarcastic and bitter, seem unable to keep any sort of lasting relationship...yet we still want to watch them. Reluctant heroes or Anti-heroes?

I read somewhere that the Rockford series was pitched as 'a private eye who would rather be doing something else'. Fitz and House appear to be cut from the same cloth. A psychologist who'd rather be doing something else...a doctor who'd rather be doing something else. I suppose all of us would rather be doing something else, even if most excellent at one thing...maybe that's part of the attraction.

I'd love to see Fitz and House and Rockford in their prime go toe to toe. Three brilliant bastards at the top of their game, trying to outsmart and outshine each other.

That'd be sweet.


Crashdummie said...

Catchy theme song... hope you all get well soon!


Bill Cunningham said...

Gee, I wish when I had the sniffles, I could lie back and watch Cracker and Rockford and God knows what else...


I'm here in the rice paddies, sluggin' it out with Charley...

wcdixon said...

"Were you in the shit, Bill?"

"Yeah, I was in the shit."

Good Dog said...

Oh, The Rockford Files. Fantastic! Used to watch that growing up and loved it.

They've been showing repeats recently on the terrestrial channels over here. Unfortunately BBC1 have the rights to the early seasons, ITV1 has the rights to the last three, and the dumb mutton heads were showing them on Saturday afternoons and overlapping them. Nice.

But it's great to see Garner getting roughed up and ending up out of pocket most times. And the few frames of the sunbathing woman at the end of the title sequence.

I think the reason the return of Cracker this year was a disappointment was because the initial run was so brutal and angry and original. It was a complete slap in the face to the audience. Especially Bilborough's confrontation with Carlyle's character.

So if the cold lingers what else are you going to catch up on?

EditThis said...

I freakin' LOVED the Rockford Files. And the main title theme music was great. (Remember back in the day when composers wrote those themes, and they didn't just rehash pop songs?)

Caroline said...

I agree with everyone on the Rockford Files. Will, I think CBC is running the latest series of Cracker here in January.

Poor Will. My remedy for a cold is always hot and sour soup ... it will clear out your sinuses and the spices are good for what ails you (plus it is yummy). Also drink like 2 litres of water and a litre or so of cranberry juice (pure if you can stomach it) for a good flush out and vitamin C boost every day for the next couple.

jimhenshaw said...

"The leads all have unpleasant traits and vices, are generally sarcastic and bitter, seem unable to keep any sort of lasting relationship...yet we still want to watch them." Why...?

I think you nailed it right there, Sparky, they're -- us...

wcdixon said...

Jim...oh my called it...


Dave said...

hey dix
cracker kicks ass, no doubt.
come on you reds, baby.

i'm not sure if this story is true or not but i remember reading an interview with one of the writers of The Simpsons. he was asked: 'writers' rooms nowadays always reference the Simpsons-- so who did the Simpsons writers talk about? the answer was, reportedly, The Rockford Files.

wcdixon said...

Come on YOU reds..." Thanks for the catch Dave.

Callaghan said...

I know I'm late to the party here, but yeah, "To Be A Somebody" is just outstanding. My better half just recently got me into Cracker and that was the episode that she used to do it.

Caroline is right, CBC are indeed showing the most recent Cracker movie sometime in January. I'm not sure when. It's a two-hour Made for TV Movie, relating to the aftermath of 9/11. Looking forward to it.

And the Rockford Files ruled. One of my favourite childhood memories was when my Dad caught pneumonia, so he was home for a couple of weeks and we got to watch Rockford Files reruns every afternoon together. Catching pneumonia = not so good. Watching Jim Rockford everyday = excellent.

wcdixon said...