TV UK, 3 November
Legless: the dangers of mixing your genres.
There is a rule in bad television drama that whenever people are shown having a ‘good time’, smiling, laughing, having a drink, with ‘not a care in the world’, Something Terrible is about to happen. The BBC’s Casualty is the master of the trope, and so it was not surprising that it was cheekily referenced in Channel 4’s Legless (last Sunday night), a feature-length drama that demonstrated, deliberately or otherwise, that a central political concern of our time bears a striking resemblance to this TV cliché.
Legless was billed as a snapshot of Britain’s notorious ‘drinking culture’ on the eve of controversial changes to the licensing laws. Set in ‘a British town near you’, the drama portrayed the much-hyped debauchery to be found in city centres on Friday and Saturday nights, with bands of youths roaming the streets between pubs and clubs, bingeing on alcopops costing next to nothing in malevolent drinks promotions. The Casualty reference came when someone said an actor from the show was in the club, causing a frenzy of excitement. So you can add vacuous celebrity-worship to the litany of social ills on display.
Actually, Legless was not as nauseatingly moralistic as it might sound. There was quite a funny bit about racial sensitivity, when a bouncer was told off twice for apparently innocently noting that two punters smelled of curry, and an attempt to show that alcohol can be part of a sensible and, er, fun night out. All right, then – I suppose that part was pretty moralistic, since casual sex doesn’t count as immoral these days, as long as you’re ‘careful’. Indeed, the promise of sexual success, as opposed to drink-induced impotence, is a main plank of today’s watered-down anti-drink moralism.
But the drama’s moralism was less grating than its attempt to ‘do’ the politics. Two of the central characters were the police chief and the trendy young chair of the licensing board, who were on opposite sides of the liberalisation debate. The pair went out on the town together to see the ‘drinking culture’ for themselves. Of course, since both premised their arguments on the idea that things were bad, differing only on whether 24-hour drinking would make them better or worse, this seemed a rather futile exercise, but really it was just a plot device to get them out on the streets having the debate while they waited for Something Terrible to happen.
In fact, this spurious go at political debate is another thing Legless took from Casualty, which recently did an interactive episode on the ethics of transplantation (1). But if moralism has a long and sometimes even successful tradition in drama, attempts at political even-handedness are inevitably cack-handed, and after the Something Terrible, the police chief’s decision to allow the reform seemed utterly arbitrary. Whatever the future of Britain’s drinking culture, Legless serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of mixing your genres.
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