Author Topic: Suffering Through Survivors  (Read 5799 times)

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Offline nacho

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Suffering Through Survivors
« on: July 28, 2010, 05:23:50 PM »
The original Survivors, in my opinion, is one of the most successful and the most entertaining post-apocalypse TV shows ever done.  Three seasons, 38 episodes. 1975-77. Famous for its cut-glass accents, and long shots of the grim Welsh countryside.  

The first two seasons are primarily focused on a small group of survivors that band together in the weeks following a world-wide, bio-engineered pandemic. (Deliciously, we never learn the background beyond the credit sequence which shows a Chinese doctor (though not necessarily in China) dropping a beaker and collapsing in a Moscow airport.)  The third season veers wildly off course…

With only minimal Mad Max-style PA shenanigans, the series circles around the community started by Abby Grant (and later maintained by Charles Vaughn) as they relearn all of the old skills – farming, making tools, etc – without the aid of modern technology, ultimately rebuilding civilization from the ground up.  By the third season there’s a telegraph, the beginnings of a government, and so on.

The episodes are driven by the classic 1970’s sci-fi “journeyman theme.” Think Incredible Hulk as a fine example of that theme.  This is before story arcs and all that, so each episode is pretty much stand alone and preoccupied with the problem of the week – a new member of the community is stealing, someone thinks someone else is a witch, there’s a killer on the canals, there’s a crisis on the farm, etc. Though each episode has its open and shut storyline, the overall story of the group’s survival carries through from episode to episode.  Journeyman sci-fi is where the seasonal story-arc idea really began.  Battlestar Galactica, Space: 1999, Planet of the Apes: The Series, etc.  Unlike Star Trek, the overall problem carries through the episodes, and is the driving force. There’s a goal, a destination, a season-spanning need, and the occasional episode that advances that overall storyline.

The second episode of the series sets a wonderful theme.  My favorite monologue in sci-fi, as Abby and her missing son’s professor discuss what must be done next.  The enormity of the problem.  The need to rebuild civilization…or die. A speech that galvanizes Abby and makes her our hero for the first series.

And that’s where everything goes wrong.  Written and created by Terry Nation (who brought us the Daleks), there was a bit of a row with the studio as the first season came to a close.  Nation disagreed with where the producer wanted to take the show, so he quit in a huff and left the Beeb holding the bag.  The second season, then, loses Abby and becomes a strange mock-up of the first season.  Where the first season focused on the politics of Abby’s little group, and the difficulty of survival, the second season picks up a little less than a year later and is truly that journeyman sci-fi. Each episode has its own problem and solution and everybody is pretty comfortable on the farm. We end with a hot air balloon arriving, and the first news from outside of the UK – a hydroelectric dam in Norway that’s still functional.  Greg (our number two for the last two seasons) takes off to Norway. And the audience goes “huh?”

The third season is a personal tale and, perhaps, the first true example of a series-wide story-arc. It’s clumsy, terrible, and hard to follow.  We leave behind farm life and follow three of the main characters as they search for Greg.  During their meandering journey through the UK, the larger story is the return of law and order, and the flowering of civilization.  

So... I'll start the marathon Saturday morning!
« Last Edit: July 30, 2010, 10:32:07 PM by nacho »

Offline nacho

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Re: Suffering Through Survivors
« Reply #1 on: July 30, 2010, 10:26:51 PM »
Ah, good... Here's that wonderful intro!


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Re: Suffering Through Survivors
« Reply #2 on: July 30, 2010, 11:00:56 PM »
The Fourth Horseman

I love getting these old shows on DVD.  It's like watching them for the first time.  Abby's nipples showing through her shirt! And the greasy fake sweat that can't be toweled off.  And a million little ugly things.

We open up with the ever-so-posh Abby Grant playing tennis and being a swell.  She talks to her son Peter on the phone (we will very soon learn to hate Peter, even though we never see him) and is cold and unemotional around her maid. 

But trouble is afoot.  Abby's in a village outside of London, worried about her husband who's tied up in a commute from hell. The virus is already in full swing and services are shutting down.  The trains aren't running, the phones are out, and the country doctor looks worried.  The early stages of the virus are believed to be some sort of crazy flu, and we're only engaged because we read the preview before watching.

Abby takes her maid to the train station, has an enjoyably British exchange with a Britrail employee, and then we segue with the sick maid on the train to London, where Jenny is tending to her sick friend...and where we are soon about to learn that the virus is killing everyone and the world is fucked.  Jenny's desperate flight to the hospital, and then out of a London teetering on the edge of apocalyptic lawlessness, is intercut with Abby and her husband discussing the virus in that pip-pip, tally-ho sort of way.

The 70's Britishness of the Beeb really leaked into the show, and perhaps stains it a bit. It's nice, these days, to hear different accents in these shows meant for export. But Nation seems aware of this, and he creates what can best be called a Very British Apocalypse.  These proper swells are about to get fucked, and that's all pretty ably told in the next few episodes.

Now...Peter.  The first season is nearly consumed by Abby's need to find her son Peter.  This is true in Nation's original book, as well, except there it's demented.  Peter and Abby eventually meet...from a distance...and Peter unwittingly kills Abby. And then you throw the book against the wall because that's the very last line, the end, thanks for reading.

Nation can't do that shit on TV (and maybe he tried to, which is why he quit), but he does bring his trademark darkness to the series.  Like his later series, Blake's 7, no one is safe in Survivors.  Main characters can and do die.  Though we aren't ever taken to that ultimate level of insanity that we are in Blake's 7 (where the Blake of the title dies....twice).  Comparing the two shows, there are many similarities. Again, the creation of the season-long story arc that propels modern sci-fi shows is right here, and especially in Blake's 7. So you can thank Terry Nation for the current soap opera-esque storytelling.

This episode is all origin story. The world is still alive up until the very end, when Abby wakes up from her near-death and, along with her, we discover that everything came to an end while she lay in bed.

Other things to note:  This episode will make you look at King's The Stand and go, hmmm.... There's no doubt that the first few episodes of the first season are pretty much parallel to The Stand's opening chapters, as civilization falls.

This aired in 1975, and The Stand was published in 78.




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Re: Suffering Through Survivors
« Reply #3 on: July 30, 2010, 11:59:26 PM »
Oh, and I'm wrong in my first post.  The "survivors" speech comes at the very end of episode one.  Been a while since I watched these.

And I found it on Youtube!


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Re: Suffering Through Survivors
« Reply #4 on: July 31, 2010, 11:57:13 AM »
Genesis

We open up with a helicopter flying low over the desolate earth.  Abandoned roads, abandoned neighborhoods, abandoned little towns.  The chopper wakes up Abby, and then we cut to the pilot -- Greg! One of our trio of heroes.  Though, now, he's just a bitter bastard cursing his dead wife's body and taking off in a convertible.

Meanwhile, in the grim winter countryside, Abby and Jenny continue to miss each other by just a few feet.

We're in full Terry Nation country till towards the end of the season, so the poetry of the story is strong.  The way we're led along is wonderful as well.  Since Survivors is no-budget (just film in the countryside), Nation is hampered by rickety monsters and cardboard corridors.  He can focus on the people, and he does a great job.

Though you have to wonder... These days, when the Beeb films outdoors in the winter or whatever, actors still nearly die.  What must it have been like in the 70s?  There's a commentary track for these first episodes that I may go back to...

Genesis is where our heroes all finally find each other.  Jenny finds Greg and they both find Abby, and we're introduced to other, not so nice survivors. Abby, meanwhile, has set up camp with the goal of starting a new community, thanks to a few days mulling over the professor's speech.

Where the remake went wrong was having a doctor in the main group of survivors.  MAybe a ham-fisted way of copying Lost?  It certainly makes for easy writing -- medical drama when you need it, and no need to belabor the fact that a tumble down a hill can actually kill a main character.

In the original... Fuck that doctor shit.  Characters are hurt and the others are unsure of what to do.  Greg's introduction is that he's resourceful but, ultimately, useless as he is dumbfounded about what to do with Vic's injured leg.  Again that theme from the professor's speech -- without civilization, we aren't able to do much more than fashion crude stone tools. Here we have Greg unable to set a bone or fix an otherwise non-life threatening injury.

And what do we get?  We get a situation that creates a deeper level for three characters -- Greg and two recurring ones. Character depth was wholly lacking in the remake.

Another problem in the remake is Wormley's character.  In the remake, they do a gender switch and his equivalent is a highish-level minister who survives and quickly forms a very large and very settled community, albeit run by thugs and over-the-top evildoers.

Originally, Wormley was a leftie unionist whose heart was in the right place but he'd given himself over to a tyrannical, feudal dream. His small group of thugs were barely holding on (though they get stronger, and more evil in later episodes).  Setting up the character as an archvillain for two seasons in the remake was a mistake.  Like most groups our survivors run across, Wormley's had the sense that it wouldn't last.  Or, perhaps, it does last, but doesn't matter.  Eventually, our survivors get far enough away... And that's the key.  Even when groups have some strength, they're still just scraping by.  Survival doesn't allow for the scenario in the remake -- where everyone has plenty of spare time to fight each other and drive around in complicated circles pursuing each other.




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Re: Suffering Through Survivors
« Reply #5 on: July 31, 2010, 02:40:01 PM »
Gone Away

Wormley returns, and his "government" is now pretty organized.  Enough to put Abby, Jenny and Greg in trouble and drive them from the district.

This episode is largely devoted to cementing the central trio for the season.  The reluctant Greg is slowly wooed, and Abby's vow to find her son (fucking snore, already), is being supplanted by the need to find a safe haven.  She'll never let the fucking search for her son shit go, but we're moving closer towards Little Apocalypse on the Prairie here, and that's just fine.

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Re: Suffering Through Survivors
« Reply #6 on: July 31, 2010, 03:01:41 PM »
One thing the remake did do well, however, was to improve the character of Tom Price.  He's probably the one good thing about the remake -- a cold-hearted criminal who slowly becomes the anti-hero, of sorts, over the two seasons that it ran.

In the original, Tom Price was played by famous 70's and 80's character actor Talfryn Thomas, who specialized in playing comic relief Welshmen and country yokels. Which is, largely, his role throughout much of the first season of Survivors.  He's painful to watch.  Unless you're a nostalgic 60+ pensioner living in Tunbridge Wells.

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Re: Suffering Through Survivors
« Reply #7 on: August 01, 2010, 10:28:03 AM »
Corn Dolly

As Abby, Greg, and Jenny leave the district, they run into Charles Vaughn.

This is a wonderful episode.  The theme is the stark loneliness that's getting all three of our heroes down, and then the failure of the first non-tyrannical community they find (Vaughn will eventually fail utterly and join Abby's team in the second season).

We open with some wonderful angst shots.  After a spot of car trouble, Abby walks a mile to the garage.  Halfway, in the vast emptiness of the post-apocalyptic countryside, she stops to look at the flowers, the singing birds, and just collapses in a sudden wave of despair.  It's an awesome scene and so perfectly done.  No dialogue... You just feel the crushing weight of the empty world on her shoulders.

Greg and Jenny, meanwhile, give us the same sort of scene except with dialogue (and we're bonding with them as the love interest couple). 

Though Vaughn gets kind of a bad light in this episode, he's instantly likable.  His dreams of community mirror Abby's (though he has a slight twist), and the initial scenes where he's wandering trying to round folks up are great.  His regular greeting:  "You need us; we need you."

And, of course, it's nice to have someone besides our trio who isn't a thug.


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Re: Suffering Through Survivors
« Reply #8 on: August 01, 2010, 06:22:54 PM »
Gone to the Angels

Warning!  Child actors! Mix a drink.

We open with the now trademark urban decay desolation shots.  Our trio are coming to a head over Abby's insane quest to find Peter, nonetheless they follow her back to the school.  So we're already going back to square one.  For no good reason, after running out of gas, Abby decides to take off to the school in another car while Greg spends the 20 minutes it takes to pump out some more gas for their main car.  Really?  She can't wait 20 goddamned minutes?

Well, of course, Greg and Jenny find a couple of kids as Abby goes off chasing her windmill.  So we have to deal with child actors.

The remake borrowed some elements of this episode as their series-wide story-arc.  A secret society of some sort that was aware of the plague and/or acted fast enough to build a safe haven -- "where the angels are."  We don't really explore this further in the original series, though.  It's the ramblings of children and we eventually discover it's just a group of religious fruitcake hermits.

Comically, Abby inadvertently kills them.  Because she's a plague carrier.  It's only ever important in this episode but, again, Abby's unique status as the sole survivor to have had the plague and survived is a major plot element in the remake.  In the original, nobody cares because all the other survivors are naturally immune and there's no ridiculous government agency to pursue her like in the remake.  So woe unto those who sealed themselves away from humanity during the outbreak and then later run into Abby... But this is the only time that happens.

(The "council of elders" idea that the "angels" in this episode sort of represent was ruthlessly stolen in the second season of Jeremiah, Showtime's occasionally entertaining PA series from 2002.)






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Re: Suffering Through Survivors
« Reply #9 on: August 01, 2010, 06:40:13 PM »
A fun drinking game for the first half of the first season, before they settle down, is to chug when Jenny's not wearing her nasty giant blue coat.  It started out nice and clean and oh-so-very-70's but, I swear to god, the state of her blue coat by the second episode makes you wonder if all this is a reality program or something.  Maybe it's really happening!

In Corn Dolly, her very trim tan coat makes its first appearance.  It's folded up over her sleeping bag.  And she actually wears it briefly in this episode.  But then she goes back to her very dirty blue coat.  And this woman hasn't bathed in weeks, either. 

I love that about the original -- they're dirty.  They're complaining about not having a bath. They're struggling with all these little things that kind of drag you in.  Even with breaks for tea and those cut-glass accents, you can feel and smell the discomfort. And it's all happening during winter, too.  So twice the desperate horror. It's cold, nothing's growing, nothing's surviving, and it's all just miserable.  The series is really quite dark for these early episodes.

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Re: Suffering Through Survivors
« Reply #10 on: August 04, 2010, 07:59:33 AM »
Garland's War

Probably the most popular episode of the series... So much so that the remake had to shoehorn a terrible retelling of the episode into the second season.  In the remake, it was a sort of Lord of the Flies tale and it made no sense.  Suddenly Abby runs off to Waterhouse in search of her son, then gets caught up in all the shit.

In the original, our trio (now with two annoying child actors) are still doing the vagabond thing.  So Abby only goes 40 miles out of the way to follow up the rumor.

Our heroes run into a guy and a kid who are living quite well on their own and seem very unconcerned about anything.  It's tea and proper accents all around, he tells Greg and Jenny about Waterhouse, and then cheerio, pip pip, he and the boy wave goodbye as Team Abby take off.  Not like it's the end of the world or anything!

Or maybe he correctly guessed that Team Abby was kind of hopeless.

So Waterhouse is this big old mansion where there are a few kids Peter's age.  But our story then switches to bad men hunting someone who's clearly out good guy.  Abby saves him, and he turns out to be Garland, the owner of Waterhouse, who's been conducting a guerrilla war against the group of survivors who took over his property.  Blah blah shit happens, and we end with no conclusion.  The group keeps the house and Garland continues fighting his war...

Kind of a disconnected episode in the original, too... And sad, as well.  This is the last wandering episode.  Next up: Our heroes settle down at the Grange and the group rapidly begins to grow.

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Re: Suffering Through Survivors
« Reply #11 on: August 04, 2010, 09:14:45 PM »
Starvation

Whew boy!  The first of the bad episodes.

First of all, nobody's really starving.  They complain about being hungry, but they all find shit and are looking pretty healthy. So the title of the episode should really be "Everyone is Craving a Sunday Roast but Instead They Have to Eat Fish and Vegetables and Canned Food and Lots of Other Stuff."

We get a fix on the time frame.  It's been about three months, and there's the vague sense that we've skipped about a month in the storyline. For example, the horrific child actors are now called Greg and Jenny mommy and daddy.  So I guess everyone's gone deeply and horribly insane.

Abby's given up (kinda) on the Peter quest and they all finally decide to settle down.  While on the way to do so, they intervene to help a sad old woman and an airheaded young girl.  Abby splits from the group to save them and (horror of horrors) runs into Tom Price again, in full villain mode.  He's also, queerly, still the comic relief.  So it's like, haha, the Welsh are retards...as they try to rape everyone to death and...oh...god...

Jenny and Greg fail to outrun a pack of wild dogs in their schoolbus, because I guess these are bionic dogs.  But they magically disappear and Greg and Jenny and the annoying kids find themselves outside a big out country manor house.

This is where they all eventually settle -- Abby brings her two charges, and fucking Tom Price, and they find a simpleton hiding in the house, and Little Apocalypse on the Prairie begins!


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Re: Suffering Through Survivors
« Reply #12 on: August 05, 2010, 04:04:08 AM »
Spoil of War

The awesome Mr. Russell and his secretary show up.  I think we're supposed to worry that he's a political threat to Abby's little community, but he comes across as a wise figure who gives you hope that Abby can succeed.  Especially since we also meet Paul the hippie who knows everything about everything and basically tells them they'll all be dead by winter if they don't start doing things right.

What's fun about this episode is the sense that they threw the actors into doing all these farm things.  We open up with Abby and Jenny struggling with a horse and plow, and it's all almost ad-libbed, candid footage.  There are little scenes throughout.  Posh actors milking goats and shit... There's a clumsy sort of disgruntled reality that seems completely honest. 

Greg suddenly remembers that Vic, whom he had met in the second episode, had a huge horde of supplies.  So he sends fucking Tom Price and the retard off to check them out, they fuck up and get pinned down for two days, then we get a long BBS-quarry sequence where Vic is eventually rediscovered, captured, and brought into the community... Along with enough supplies to keep everyone going for months.

And, now, things are about to get a bit dark...

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Re: Suffering Through Survivors
« Reply #13 on: August 05, 2010, 10:03:14 PM »
Law and Order

Okay.  Springtime during the apocalypse.  This episode is all kinds of fucked up. Tom Price gets drunk, rapes the little mousy girl, and then stabs her to death.  Then he blames it on the retard and Abby and the others elect to execute the poor bastard... Then Greg, Jenny, and Abby discover the truth and decide to keep quiet about it because...Tom's good at snaring rabbits.

Seriously.  That's the reason.  His "poaching skills are essential." Mind you, we've only seen him catching rabbits so far. 

So...humanity has been wiped out.  It's estimated that only 10,000 people have survived "the death" in the UK.  So, you know, the spring following "the death" should have no shortage of rabbits.  The idiot kids could probably just go out and club a cartload of them.  Fuck, I could go to the UK tomorrow and catch a brace of rabbits by hand. They're a plague.

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Re: Suffering Through Survivors
« Reply #14 on: August 07, 2010, 10:31:48 AM »
The Future Hour

A pregnant woman and her buddy flee from a madman who's set himself up as a roving trader. A character reworked into the remake as a slaver, but here he's just obsessed with the pregnant woman... Which, in between agonizing scenes of child acting, leads to him besieging Abby's group and, finally, to a shooting war where Tom Price gets killed.

The only important part of the episode is that tempers are running a little hot in Abby's group.  Nobody's getting along and there's still that fear that they won't live out the year.

The despair will come to a head in the finale...and in the next episode which opens with Vic trying to kill himself.