The promise of a shock is an excellent hook. Who can resist? We might not admit it but we’re all interested to see freakish behaviour in others and we’d love to know what goes on behind closed doors. This compulsion is at least half the reason for the success of Big Brother and other supposed ‘reality’ tv shows. As an audience we don’t want to be calmed or soothed or reassured; we want to be shocked! We want to be outraged or astonished or moved in some way. And for quite a lot of people, the darker the better.
This is also why the most outrageous actions are always on the advert. A good recent example is Bear Grylls’ vehicle The Island. The voiceover says “someone is going to die” and a contestant falls of a rocky cliff! OMG! What happened? Did he die? Tune in to find out! Well no, of course he didn’t die and he didn’t suffer any major injuries either (despite the consensus that he was an awful person and probably deserved getting bashed up a bit). Do you think even in 2016 they would have been allowed to broadcast an accidental death on a reality show? No. Obviously not. But in that moment, in that 30 second advert, we are swept up in the supposed drama and we HAVE to know what happens!
This weekend I started two series that have been promoted as dark and shocking. The Out-Laws (from the magnificent Walter Presents project on Channel 4) promises to be a shocking and hilarious black comedy from Belgium in which four sisters try to bump off their horrible bother-in-law, who they’ve lovingly nicknamed The Prick. The trick is right from the get-go we know he’s dead. We see the not-grieving sisters all together for the first time at the funeral. They’re anxious because insurance investigators are sniffing around. They wanted to get rid of him but didn’t want his wife and daughter to suffer being made bankrupt.
The problem is though that in episode 1 at least I’d argue that this fella Jean-Claude is unpleasant but not a monster. He makes nasty comments which are meant to be jokes at dinner parties. He makes crank calls and winds up a supposed friend by pretending to be an 8-year-old boy on the internet to entrap him. He refuses to let his wife and daughter do what they want – his needs always come first. I’d say that his behaviour isn’t shocking enough to warrant murder. Maybe it’s for a discussion later in the series about who the real monsters are – him or the femme fatale sisters (a favourite theme from The Walking Dead). My favourite character so far is Birgit, the sister who wears an eye patch, just because she looks like Elle Driver (played by Daryl Hannah) in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill.
I’ve always felt I ought to watch Twin Peaks. I was a bit young for it when it came out in 1990 so I was happy to see it’s available on Sky as a box set right now. The pilot was a double-length episode and by about half an hour in I was ready to walk away. I’ve always heard it mentioned in the same breath as The X-Files (not just because David Duchovney was in both) but to me it was more like The Young and The Restless and fitted nicely into the god-awful daytime soap melodrama category. So much yelling and crying, from almost every character. And such over acting! Maybe this was to reel in the 1990’s audience? Maybe this was just how American telly was back then? Maybe it was sending up the naff melodramas? I don’t know. It’s dark and shocking and people adore it, so I guess I’ll stick with it and give it a few more episodes. You can’t really judge a show just on its pilot. But right now the most shocking element for me is not the death of Laura Palmer, but how everyone rates this show so highly.
The Out-Laws is on Fridays at 9pm on More4
Twin Peaks is available now on Sky as a box set, both series 1 and 2