Wednesday 3 July 2013

Compelling television

I've had an idea for a television series. I think it could prove to be one of the great spectacles of our time. It would be entertaining, provocative, must-see viewing for the general public as well as ticking all kinds of favourable boxes with television folk. Put simply, my idea is this: people with the same surnames as famous serial killers recreate their namesake's crimes.

It's easy to be dismissive of ideas as pungently brilliant as this one, but give it a little thought and the full spectacle of this programme should start to crystallise in your mind. This isn't just straightforward television designed to shock and appal, or to subtly reduce the number of immigrants and poor people in a way that would no doubt find favour within certain departments of our beloved government. This programme would instead run the full gamut of emotions and experiences craved by the increasingly sophisticated and choosy television viewer of the digital age.
Fred and Rose:
been there, done that
For a start, it would be a gritty psychological study. These people may not even want to do these crimes. They are only doing so because they are being filmed for television. The moral, emotional and psychological cost would be documented with video diaries and analysis by specialists.

Then, there's the educational aspect. Serial killers pock mark our history and any society's shared experience of life. We are fascinated by them and appalled by them in equal measure. They are us but different from us. Like gorillas. Each featured serial killer's story would be explained in both historical and sociological detail, to try and give the viewer a rounded view of the individual pathology as well as contextualising their actions within the time in which they lived.

The crimes themselves would, of course, be the main feature. These would be re-enacted as faithfully to the original deeds as is possible. They would be shocking, enthralling television. A genuine event with cultural resonances to be felt like ripples by the generations to come. Like the Coronation, but with an increased chance that someone involved might have earned it.

These would then be accompanied by sequences explaining how the evidence was disposed of and how the perpetrators will try and evade justice in order to kill again.

Because the police will not be party to these goings on. While this does rather hinder the possibility of there being a second series, the advantage in terms of narrative tension far exceeds its pitfalls. A television crew would be placed at the appropriate police force's headquarters under the aegis of making a fly-on-the-wall documentary series. From here we will see the investigation from both sides. As viewers, we'd be both the pursuer and the pursued. It would be above and beyond every thrilling finale or cliffhanger ending ever seen on television before.

Samuel and Timothy: lives about
to become complicated?
Of course, the exciting part would be in the casting. Celebrities with the same surname as famous serial killers would of course be attractive: father and son actors Timothy and Samuel West could recreate the crimes of Fred and Rosemary West, or the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion Caroline Lucas could live the life of the matricidal one-eyed drifter Henry Lee Lucas. Steve Wright could be Steve Wright. But there's just as much value in letting members of the public be the protagonist (or antagonist - the programme would never be predictable). Indeed, there's even the delicious possibility that, in the cases of serial killers with rare or unusual surnames, that members of their own family would have to step in and fill the breach.

Television as demanding, ambiguous and real as this programme - working title "Naughty Namesakes" - comes along perhaps once in a lifetime. Innovative, enervative television. It would make Breaking Bad look like King Rollo.

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