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Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Takin’ Over The Asylum, BBC4

Did we like it?
A welcome rerun for this brilliant drama series that illustrated the blurred distinction between mania and modernity.

What was good about it?
• A fantastic cast headed by Ken Stott, giving believable shape to the harassed Eddie who savours his job as a hospital radio DJ, but also lives with his hectoring grandmother who despairs of him ever finding a wife. And he trudges through the day in the worst job known to humanity – a double-glazing salesman.
• But when his boss at the hospital is bullied into sacking him by his ultimate replacement – an obnoxious brat (a young Ashley Jensen) – he takes flight to the local mental hospital to revive the role of hospital DJ there, and slowly rediscovers his love of life.
• At the hospital he meets a menagerie of patients who run from the merely foreign Nana to the disturbed Francine, and gradually restores meaning and order to their metronomic lives spent clustered about the TV for the nightly soap opera – which also served as a barb on the sterility of contemporary culture.
• With each patient, often through their own initiative after being effectively being discarded by society, they incrementally advance towards relative sanity through finding an outlet for their talents that have been suppressed in the infertile clinical environment.
• Campbell (marvellously played by David Tennant) channels his manic energy into the rigours of being Eddie’s apprentice DJ (where, tellingly, he is sometimes too passive for the role).
• Obsessive-compulsive Rosalie is cunningly coerced by the genial Campbell into sorting out the derelict pile of records dumped in the crumbling studio before Eddie’s first show, while the laconic Fergus helps repair the mixing desk.
• And while the patients in the asylum are drawn with care and devotion, outside in the real world, there is a directionless mantra of capitalist zeal that makes this cast of caricatures far ‘madder’ in their actions than those sectioned.
• The most glaring of these is Eddie’s boss Mr Griffin, a megalomaniac who bamboozles his workforce with moronic corporate metaphors and a fanatic pursuit of a sale. He hires a motivational speaker to rally his workers to bark out a senseless chant of “Sell! Sell! Sell! Sell!”, while Eddie tries unsuccessfully tries to slip away.
• It’s funny, too. As Eddie trains Campbell as a DJ he coaxes him to speak louder and louder into the microphone until the placid patient’s temper snaps: “Eddie, I’m a mentally ill person. If I shout any louder I’ll be restrained and sedated!”

What was bad about it?
• The stereotype that even in 1994 was hopelessly outdated of rap fans as being badly-dressed shell-suited morons.
• The only element that seemed to wilt under the gaze of oppression of time was the saxophone-led incidental music.


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