From a young age, I would spot continuity errors in American productions like Kojak, Hart to Hart, Starsky & Hutch and Charlie’s Angels. Little things like people driving without rear view mirrors, or running out of a house wearing pyjamas and acquiring a dressing gown by the time they reached the end of the road. A glass of beer would alternate to be either half full or full, depending from which angle the protagonists were being filmed. And the businessman’s tie would change from brown to green and back to brown again. Why in urban car chases did they always crash into a pile of empty cardboard boxes stacked in an alleyway? Or oil drums? It was cheap TV, churned out for the masses who, back then, had limited viewing choice.
But now, with binge-watching a national passtime, we have overwhelming choice and may even be inclined to leave a review. Viewers have turned into film critics, sharing their opinions and rating the shows. Big budgets have upped TV productions’ games and the likes of Amazon, Disney and Netflix are pushing out quality. But annoyingly, shockingly brazen ‘that wouldn’t happens’ occur on a daily basis.
Driving – why do drivers wiggle the steering wheel when driving straight? Have you ever noticed that a driver sets off in sunshine and arrives a short distance away in rain, sometimes snow or in the middle of the night or a different season?
The seasons – Filming schedules and pandemics bugger up time sequences. This is why everyone is filmed in swimsuits around the pool with bare trees in the background, pretending it’s not freezing February but balmy August. They can do great tricks with lighting to fake sunshine, and a hosepipe on a windscreen for rain. Christmas either has characters sweating in their festive jumpers as the trees are dazzling in full leaf and the heatwave continues, or they’re bouncing around in fake snow (because as long as we can remember, it always snows on Christmas day in the UK).
Superpowers – Protagonists are a resilient lot, possessing extraordinary powers. They can continue with the chase even after they escape from the car after it’s plunged into an icy lake at night. If they’ve been shot in the shoulder, they can still climb walls, drive and run. Women who’ve just given birth revert immediately to their size 8 tiny waisted outfits. People in a lit room at night can look through a window to see and hear someone outside moving about in the bushes 200 meters away. Even when he’s been shot, fallen off a balcony or been stabbed in the heart, the bad guy can still spring back to life and grab the heroine by the leg one last time. Our superheroes just keep on going – no need to eat, drink, use the loo or sleep.
And honestly, who can dig a churchyard-sized grave with a shovel in the middle of the woods, in an area criss-crossed with tree roots?
Unlikely casting – Often, in complex dramas, the casting team add to the mystery by ensuring that everyone looks the same – similar hair colour, everyone has beards, similar age, weight etc. Who’s the baddie? Who is she married to? Which one is his brother? Hugely confusing. Or, a group of siblings look nothing like each other or their parents. A woman’s hair always looks good, even when she’s been dragged through a hedge backwards. And it can grow short and long multiple times, depending on which scene she’s in (I’m thinking Shiv Roy in Succession). And what is it about age? In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Sean Connery played Harrison Ford’s father, although he was actually only 12 years older than his ‘son’. In Normal People, the actress playing Connell’s mother was only 9 years older than her on-screen son.
TV old people tend to stoop, have a stick and are deaf. Except if you’re 80-year old Jane Fonda and friends in the 2018 film, Book Club. A group of elderly, insatiable pals get so turned on reading 50 Shades of Grey, they go on the hunt for virile men to bed – and they get lucky.
Quick as a flash I wish I was able to swap SIM cards in mobile phones in less than 30 seconds. I’m also useless at guessing computer passwords and transferring data from a colleague’s computer when she’s on her coffee break. If I lost my keys, I’d love to be able to hotwire a car, or get into a stranger’s house in the middle of the night without waking anyone up. And why do co-incidences never happen to me? When in London, England, I never bump into anyone who knows the shocking secret my family has been hiding from me all this time.
Travel That’s it! I’m leaving! I’ll just go and pack one tiny suitcase, which weighs nothing and I’ll do it in 10 seconds flat. I just don’t do lugging heavy bags as I prefer to travel light to begin the new chapter in my life. I can always get a seat on a plane which leaves in a couple of hours. I don’t need to make an internet booking, hunt for my passport, obtain a visa or a find a hotel as I’m going to Brazil with my little bag. (Post Covid, this might prove a bit tricky).
Sounding strange Apart from the classic iPhone ringtone, all mobile phones in TV dramas sound the same – a silent buzz or an odd tinkling sound. Landlines still ring like 1980s’ trim phones in offices, police departments and homes – they all have exactly the same shrill, fast ringtone. Our heroes don’t need to worry about WiFi passwords, phone signals or user coverage. Cars haven’t bleeped when they’re locked for decades, but on TV, they still do. Apparently viewers need to be audibly reminded that locking has taken place – to prevent untoward hot-wiring. Bullets on TV travel very slowly. You hear the gun go off, and the bullet takes two seconds to hit the target. Punches in fights, like ringtones, all make the same studio-generated sound. Thwack! Thwack! I can imagine someone in the editing suite punching a slab of beef with a wet towel and stepping on pasta shells for the bone cracking sounds.
Where is everyone? Traffic jams, diversions and road closures only occur when they are an integral part of the plot. Otherwise, the roads are clear. Free, unrestricted parking is available outside the City offices, the hospital entrance, the Houses of Parliament or the best restaurant in town. Have commercial real estate agents not cottoned onto the development potential of abandoned warehouses with Thames frontages? Why are these sites not locked properly, and why do decaying warehouses have chains and ladders hanging down everywhere and holes in the ceiling, yet the powerful lights can still be switched on? Women’s toilets in offices, pubs and music venues are always empty – why?
And glorious, deserted beaches and beauty spots in summer? A solitary lovers’ car parked on the clifftop, an available table on the Cornish pub terrace, overlooking the fishing harbour, two toddlers digging in the sand (no pebbles), empty dunes, an ancient rocky cave and a solitary person scrubbing his yacht at the marina next to the remote, rugged coastline. I’m talking UK here. I wasn’t aware that everyone was in lockdown during Broadchurch.
A different set of rules – Large, sprawling hospitals never present problems for our characters. They can navigate the corridors, tap the right combination codes and get into the patient’s room when all the nurses have momentarily vanished. They can disconnect the life support and slip out, undetected, as the patient flatlines. There’s no CCTV, police guard (or hand sanitiser either). For less dramatic scenes, our hero just enquires of the whereabouts of a patient to a passing scrubbed-up surgeon dashing to an operation. Surgeons know all the patients in the hospital and which wards they’re in.
And why, oh why, does the fugitive always switch off the TV mid bulletin, when the whole world is looking for him? Or just look at the newspaper headline on the news stand? Doesn’t he want to know the full story?
Sex – I find when I go to sleep wearing full makeup and lipstick, it’s all smudgy in the morning, Not so in La La Land where the women are fresh as a daisy the morning after the night before. Which brings me to the question of sensual, passionate sex. Why don’t these people take their underwear off for lovemaking? Not just socks, but what about pants and bras?
Police – Sometimes they are involved in solving a crime (usually in a police drama). On other occasions, they are conspicuously absent from crime scenes, murders, car crashes and investigations. But an ex or recently-suspended-from-duty copper (overweight, alcoholic or suffering from a personality disorder and a broken marriage) steps in in lieu of the county police force to find out who dunnit. These ‘investigators’ use their own money, petrol and time to track down the bad guys, while the police force does everything in its power to stop the rogue rozzers, not the criminals.
Tracking down In TV dramas it’s always easy to spot someone in a dark, crowded nightclub, where you can surprise them by whispering shocking news in their ear. Interestingly, the music is turned down at this point. There’s also plenty of seating for further chats.
And in TV land, if you want medical information on a perp, make an appointment with their GP or just turn up for a consultation. Doctors will always have time to see you. Invent a symptom, send the doctor out of the room for a minute (any excuse will do), and then go through the files on their shelf or PC. There, you will find the information you need and you can photograph it with your phone. “Oh, doctor you’re back. I’m feeling fine now. Bye.”
Plot Here’s a game to play. I’ll name a prop or a scene, and you write the plot. Ready? Sharp kitchen knives in knife block. Fuel leaking from a pipe. A skylight with a diners at a table underneath. A device with wires, a digital clock and semtex – off scene, a handheld mobile phone. An unlocked door to the roof of a skyscraper. A Ming vase. A dark, underground car park. A listening device hidden in a photo frame. An old wooden chest. A bottle of bleach (or acid). A covered well. Prescription drugs in a medicine cabinet. A black car pulling up to an idyllic country home where there’s a lavish celebration (with bunting) taking place and beautifully dressed children running round in circles… See, plot development isn’t that hard.
Never work with animals or children – It’s easy to spot the scripts written by people who don’t have children or keep pets. “Right, go to your room now. Mummy and Daddy need to talk to the policeman about Granny’s disappearance.” Exit passive child who happily skips off to her bedroom. Incredible. No arguing, refusal, bribery or making a scene. Neither do I know many kids who spend their whole life at home, sitting at the table drawing, or running round in circles holding a toy aeroplane aloft while their parents’ lives fall apart. Apparently babies can go without sleeping, nappy changes and feeding for days at a time. Have you noticed the age disparity in Christmas adverts for children’s toys? A hideous plastic game for toddlers is being enjoyed by well dressed, gleeful 10 year olds – not being bashed or crayoned by snotty three year olds.
I don’t recall horses in real life neighing, but on TV, they’re at it all the time. And what dog (usually some kind of fluffy mongrel) sits in its basket, facing in the opposite direction to its owner staring at something in the distance when the police are piling in to the kitchen and a kerfuffle is going on? Dogs on TV are either on a chain, barking aggressively, or unexcited beings wandering about aimlessly.
Soaps – where to start? Soap characters are angry and morally corrupt, yet they never swear. Their sense of community, particularly within a large city is extraordinary – they move in with neighbours, murder, marry, divorce, have affairs, physically, sexually and verbally abuse each other, swap houses and drink in the same pub for decades. They leave in a huff, go to live overseas (one suitcase and Brazil again) and return ten years later to the street, square, launderette, job, friendship group and pub they shunned way back when. They have nothing to report about their adventures in the Amazon and no-one asks anyway.
Stereotypes – In American films, the baddie is often English and distinguished by his or her social awkwardness, posh or cockney accent and bad teeth. Top of the mornin to yah’ jovial Irishmen pop up to bring cheer to the world, while Scottish characters are known for being big drinkers. America doesn’t do Welsh stereotypes because they’ve never heard of Wales. Every village has an idiot, but thankfully, there’s always someone ‘wise’ in the village too. He or she has lived alone in the same bungalow from Victorian times. They know everyone, their business and every myth, legend, folklore and gossip. They also keep old maps, books and keys to vaults. You know the type – a stereotypical, know-it-all who is a bit creepy (and often turns out to be the murderer).
Ugly characters are unfortunate in love, work and life, but they’re kind, comforting and never very bright. Good-looking protagonists get all the luck, but sometimes, they turn out to be inherently evil. Hollywood likes to keep us guessing. Likewise, children with ginger hair also have a predisposition towards being fat, making them problematic or not very nice. Nerdy, quiet children always wear glasses.
Judges in court rooms in America are eccentric gavel bangers. Incidentally, in the British courts the gavel is not used – except in UK TV dramas where it adds a bit of excitement to a rowdy courtroom scene. Doctors always have stethoscopes around their necks, while vicars can be found wafting alone in their churches wearing ceremonial chasubles, lighting candles and tidying hymn books. This is what they do all day long. What I want to know is why the nuns who are beautiful (and let’s face it, are never 100 per cent committed to their vocation) find time to pluck their eyebrows and apply soft pink lipstick?
Handy items Do you remember Looney Tunes’ Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner (amazingly created in 1949)? Dynamite, anvils, giant magnets and other props (all made by Acme) were employed for a dastardly plot which inevitably went wrong. Well, taking a leaf out of Looney Tunes’ book, I ensure that I have to hand matches and large cans of petrol for burning down buildings. I don’t go anywhere without them. I always carry a hairpin, a metal nail file and a paperclip so that I can pick a lock. I also keep a shovel in the boot of my car in case I need to bury a body and some bolt cutters should I need to break into a warehouse at night. If someone is running after me, I grab the first piece of piping I find on the ground and swing it.
If I’m in a barn, I will always go up a ladder to the rafters. Ditto a deserted warehouse or factory where I’ll use the iron stairs. When the building catches fire, I can get onto the roof where I will be airlifted to safety by a helicopter. If I’m on a ferry or ship, I go down to the engine room (good place for shooting practice), or the galley where I can hide in a cupboard with the pans.
I have night vision so I can run barefoot through a forest in the middle of the night with ease. If I’m cast into a Swedish cellar in winter wearing nothing but a silk dress, I don’t die from the cold. Hey, I don’t even feel cold.
I may not know how to fly a plane, but if my life depended on it, I could turn up at an airfield, steal a light aircraft and fly away. I’ve seen it done in films so many times. I’m also fluent in Danish, learned from overdosing on Nordic Noir and matching the subtitles to key words. “Hej tak meget. Det var så lidt”.
Messing about with locations What’s with these tardis like TV properties – small on the outside, but big on the inside? Not wishing to be judgemental about people’s earnings, I’m surprised by the magnificent homes lived in by young people often working in the public sector, with a partner who doesn’t appear to have a job plus two kids who occasionally need to be taken to school. Nosy, busybody neighbours and curtain twitchers are de rigueur.
We all love to spot locations with which we’re familiar. In Ricky Gervais’ Afterlife, the town centre of Hemel Hempsted was used as the setting for his office and home. Nice old buildings and a market town feel to it. Definitely not a seaside town. So I was surprised when he took his rather boring dog on a walk from his house to the beach, which was actually Camber Sands in Kent. A long walk.
I’m always grateful for the location prompts in American films – London, England (Big Ben or Piccadilly Circus), Paris, France (Eiffel Tower). Geography isn’t my strong point, so these visual explanations are helpful. And when will Sky News learn to spell on its ticker tape? It’s Palestine, not Palastine you philistines.
Happy endings We all like a happy ending. The bad guys get their comeuppance, the family is reunited, the novel gets published, the terrorist plan is foiled at the last minute and we can enjoy a bit of lighthearted banter, open a bottle and celebrate. Never mind about the cleaning lady, the chef, the jogger or the elderly neighbour who lost their lives for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nobody gives a shit.
So there we have it. Plenty of irksome anomalies which cannot be unseen. Enjoy!
© Purple Sofa 19 July 2020