Thursday, 30 August 2018

Callan - Wet Job



Bringing back a popular show can be enormously tempting. It worked once, so why wouldn't it work well again? I wasn’t keen on the idea of a revival and reviews from others set my expectations low, then lower again, so I had put off watching this for some time.

Wet Job does start reasonably well and the set up with the Section manipulating Callan is good. How he came to retire is left rather murky, allowing us to plough on with the present. The idea of an old job coming back to haunt him seems the best way to drag Callan back into the espionage world. The new Hunter fits in well. He's just as upper class and slightly removed as the others, and I think Hugh Walters does a reasonably decent job in the part. If Wet Job was a way of testing the waters for another series, I would have been pleased to see Walters again.

Callan's current occupation, running a military memorabilia shop, fits well as Callan was always depicted as having a great deal of knowledge as well as passion for the subject. The Nazi items on display seem a tad out of his area but perhaps he’s just decided to go with what sells well, as opposed to making friends with his local NF branch.

The scenes between Lonely and Callan are undoubtedly the best in the production. They both effortlessly slide back into their old roles and the two are wonderful together. I love how proud Lonely is at finally going straight and I only wish we could have got a look at the photo of his beloved. Gawd knows how he got her. It seems losing Mr Callan from his life has benefitted Lonely in the long run, which makes it all the greater shame that he honestly believes their meeting again is pure coincidence. While they do recreate much of their old on-screen rapport, I think scripturally their relationship is more reflective of the literary Callan, where James Mitchell depicts them as better friends. Callan treats Lonely much nicer here than he normally did in the TV series and Lonely himself has developed the confidence to stand up to Mr Callan a little. It’s lovely seeing Russell Hunter and Woodward so comfortable together.

In fact, I think Woodward is fantastic throughout. Despite those massive, ageing, we’re-definitely-in-the-1980s glasses, his old ‘Callan’ expressions shine through and there are intonations in his voice that immediately bring the character back into the room. Considering how physically different Woodward looks compared to Callan's last outing seven years earlier, I think easily establishing the character this well is important for the audience. This is probably the main thing that makes Wet Job slightly bearable because, well…

There is so much bad stuff. So, so, very much and so, so, very bad.

The script is a mess. After a promising start, it all goes to pot. Meres’ replacement, Thorne, is pointless and seems to be there to plug a gap that doesn’t need to be filled. Apart from tailing Callan and giving him a lift to Oxfordshire, he is utterly useless. He blags his way into Lucy Smith’s conspiratorial flat and learns precisely bugger all. It was undoubtedly an enormous mistake to believe that Anthony Valentine's wonderfully cold Toby Meres could be so easily replaced.

George Sewell could have been a marvellous villain but partway through his character decides to chuck out the whole plot so far, abandon his plan to kill Callan, and murder a Czech dissident with the KGB instead.

The KGB bloke. You need a high-profile enemy of the people to disappear in a foreign country on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Apparently you send a short fellow with a ‘tache who can barely use a gun.

There is also an awful lot of padding to bring this up to length as a TV movie. It's 80 minutes long, running in a 90-minute slot when broadcast, which seems like something today's advert-drenched prime time can only dream of. It needs to shave a good 20 minutes off though. Instead, things really start to drag, and we have too many minor characters like the KGB man and Lucy's communist friends that fail to make an impression. I was stunned to learn from Robert Fairclough and Mike Kenwood's The Callan File (an impressive and enthusiastically recommended tomb) that the Wet Job we got had already had 20 minutes cut. What did they cut for us to still end up with this monstrosity?

Who knows what was going on at ATV because the picture quality is noticeably worse than that of the Thames series a decade earlier. Everything in the studio seems to have a dark hue and I found myself squinting to make out details that should definitely be there. Yet outside on location everything is far too bright and sunny. Apart from the contrast between the two being terrible on the eyes, the brightness doesn’t suit the traditional dark colour palette of Callan at all. Bring back the grey and brown.

I've held back on what I believe is the worst aspect of the production and I only wish he had because the composer's incidental music on Wet Job is enough to make you want to cut off your ears, put them through a shredder and boil them in acid. Callan never really needed incidental music and the damning silence in scenes often spoke louder than a hundred of these electronic noise machines ever could. It sounds cheap, poor, and none of it, not one single note, is appropriate for the tone of the programme. If this wasn't enough, he, that ruinous bastard Cyril Ornadel, never lets up. There is not a moment of silence that he won't fill. It's infuriating. I just wanted it to end.

Wet Job is a poor revival for Callan. Cut the music, tighten the script and make it on film instead of whatever videotape atrocity ATV are utilising and I think it could have been great. It has nothing to do with the passage of time - indeed, Woodward makes a considerably better older Callan than I would have expected - and everything to do with what's gone on offscreen. Wet Job is frustrating because it feels like such a waste and it's a shame that Callan's final television outing is so far off the series' high standards.