Season 2: The phrase "WTF" comes to mind as creativity meets serious points meets crime story meets Eastern mysticism meets surrealism and chaos (major spoilers)
My IMDb peer and kind provider of this DVD set Theo Robertson came back to me after my comments on season 1 and assured me that season 2 would not be a re-run of season 1. I was curious to see what this meant and recently I started watching season 2. The new season leaves no time in showing you what has changed as it treats us to a ridiculously over-the-top credit sequence. It was at this point (seconds into the first episode) that I figured that the show was not about to suddenly become the gritty piece of social realism that I thought the original Play for Today was not too far from becoming. No, what it appeared to become was a crime story infected with a sort of mad camp comedy that continually had me scratching my head at what I was watching suffice to say that Theo was bang on the money, "more of the same" was certainly not something I had to worry about.
However there were things to worry about as season two brought in the triads. Although Gangsters is held up for credit for bringing multi-racial characters onto the BBC in the way it did, with the Chinese I didn't think it was worthy of such comments. In terms of putting "coloured" faces on-screen then fine, but in regards making characters it falls way short. The Chinese characters are mostly mystical and full of kung-fu; hardly progressive to play up the usual clichés and stereotypes. These qualities are copied from martial arts films with laughable sequences of action complete with poor sound-effects and a hilarious sequence of one man in the woods. Such things could be a problem were it not for the fact that at no point does Gangsters S2 provide a consistent tone or thread on which to sit while observing weakness. Instead I found myself thrown around in scenes that jump from thriller to spoof to toughness to dumbness to downright madness. Narrative sense is out the window and instead we get a North by Northwest spoof (out of nowhere and for no reason) and lots of other silliness.
The final episode is a good summary of what I am saying while also being one of the most bewildering things I think I have ever seen. From now on when anyone complains to me about the ending of Twin Peaks (for example) I will point them to this series. The final episode pulls the threads to a close, sees the death of a major character and at times engages as characters twist and betray one another to survive. However it also features a comedy catfight, narration that focuses on a minor character (the show not having had narration before) and of course a deadly hit man called WD Fields who talks to the camera. This final point is about as close to madness as I have ever seen a show suddenly go and then it ends with the 4th wall not so much being broken as destroyed. It certainly makes for a memorable ending but other than that it just smacked of a show that had been cancelled and had just figured "f*** it then, lets tear the whole thing down". But that is not just it because it morally gives comeuppance to Kline for his misdeeds (shown as part of his flashback death scene) and also makes a serious point about modern Birmingham and race relations but yet does both of these while also having the writer impersonate WC Fields, which incidentally, if the show were a person, would have got it sectioned under the Mental Health Act for sure.
If I understand the point of this, it is the writer's way of responding to criticism for his lack of morals in the first season. This sounds absurd now but this level of frustration at blame for all society's ills combined with total control of the project has produced a surreal mess of a season one that gets weirder as it goes along. I have no quarrel with his point or his imagination but cannot help feel that, had someone had more oversight or courage, a way could have been found to deliver this theme/criticism without it meaning the entire show becomes something of a farce that moved in the opposite direction to what had been good about season 1. For my money an alternative respond could have been to prove that this is reality and not apologise for putting it on the air perhaps by "doing a Wire" and getting into Birmingham more and using real people who live in these places. I guess the 70's were a different place and it is easy for me to say this now but it is hard to see a lot of merit in what Martin did here, other than it being "an experience".
The cast go along with it the best they can. Colburne is solid and didn't deserve his rubbish end. Cassidy tries to bring humanity to her part and does well despite the futility of her efforts. Khalil is a solid lead on his side but is mostly left wanting. Parsons is wonderfully OTT with her sexuality, costumes, sweet eating or acting. Likewise Jaffrey is awesome with his comedy character madness perhaps but still funny with help from Satvendar's Kuldip. It isn't an actor's series but I was impressed by how they went with the flow whatever was happening.
Overall not a show that impressed me all that much beyond historical cultural significance, Gangsters falls into madness in season 2, with serious points and threads mixed with stereotype, farce, spoof, clever references (the captions for example), daring breaks from narrative convention and "chaos, utter chaos". Did I think it was any good? No. Will it stick in my memory? Most certainly and I am glad that I saw it. Thanks Theo!
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