His Dark Materials: ‘I’m in over my head. I should read the books’

The show is set in a parallel universe filled with hipsters who fly around in hot air balloons

His Dark Materials: Ruth Wilson as Mrs Coulter and her golden monkey

His Dark Materials: Ruth Wilson as Mrs Coulter and her golden monkey

 

Credit sequences are so crafty and tasteful these days - all subdued colours, abstract shapes and arcane symbols. His Dark Materials (BBC1, Sunday) begins with a camera moving ever outward through a vista of swirling dust, doorways, balloons, clockwork parts and mirrored cities. I hate it.

I miss intro credits that just used clips from the show interspersed with people turning with surprise to the camera before grinning warmly or impishly or roguishly while the actor’s name hovered over their chests in a golden font. “Evil monkey as himself,” for example.

And it’s apparently a rule now that the theme music has to be all triumphalist self-important orchestral motifs. I miss theme songs that had funky bass lines and told you the plot. It was far less stressful. And they’re not that hard to write. I write them for fun (you’ll have to imagine the melodies).

“Who will win the Gaaaaame of Throooones! It’s a very hard game the Game of Throoones! Can you win the Game of Thrones? No, it was [redacted] [redacted]won it and who saw that coming?”

Or

“Who built this house? It’s a creaky and drafty and it has no yard. Why it’s made of caaaards! That’s not appropriate for important government infrastructure. I must complain to the president. Oh no, the president is Kevin Spacey! ”

I’ve made the possibly erroneous assumption that His Dark Materials is a programme about sewing and tailoring

Or, while I’m at it:

“His Dark Materiaaaals, what will he do with them? Will he make a suit or some curtains! I’m not certain. Have another pack of Mint Imperials, then see what he makes with his Daaaark Mateeeeeriaaaaals!”

Okay, I’ve made the possibly erroneous assumption that His Dark Materials is a programme about sewing and tailoring. But if I’m wrong, that just proves my point about why vague abstract credit sequences are problematic.

So wait right here and I’ll be back to you once I’ve watched a couple of episodes.

(Two hours later)

It’s not about sewing. It’s a fantasy programme based on the books of Philip Pullman, set in a parallel universe filled with hipsters who fly around in hot air balloons and own comfort animals. Apparently these animals are embodiments of their souls. I’m in over my head. I feel like I should read the books to get up to speed.

(Two weeks later)

So, anyway, Lyra (Dafne Keen) is an orphan living in a big university in a makey-up town called Oxford where she runs around with a meerkat soul called Pan and is best friends with a barely sentient plot point called Roger (In fairness, the TV writers and the talented young actor have done their best to make Roger more interesting than he is in Pullman’s books). Roger is a kitchen boy who has no time for Lyra’s plucky notions and knows his place.

Lyra’s aristocratic uncle is engaged in mysterious business in the “north” and not in the way your weird uncle was engaged in mysterious business in the “north”. It’s a different north, with snow and witches and armoured polar bears. Also, his name is Lord Asriel and he is accompanied by a majestic talking leopard.

Asriel has deposited Lyra in Oxford with some stuffy old dons in order to protect her. Lyra, we are told, is “special” and some form of “chosen one.” Thanks to modern parenting methods this makes her indistinguishable from any of the children who might be watching. “Of course she’s special,” they think. “Just like me.”

He gives a presentation about dust and I assume he’s planning to become one of those slightly unhinged cleaning bloggers

In last week’s episode, Asriel (James McAvoy) returns from up north all excited to learn that there’s dust on everything. He gives a presentation to the people in the university about dust and I assume he’s planning to become one of those slightly unhinged cleaning bloggers, but no, it turns out that this is special magic dust and its existence has shown him a city in the sky and this will turn society upside down.

Lyra, who’s been spying at Asriel’s behest, tells Roger about this, possibly raising his hopes that turning society upside down is a reference to class struggle and redistributing wealth. No. She’s just talking about magic stuff of interest to parallel universe Guardian readers. In the brave new post-dust world Asriel envisions, people like Roger will probably still be kitchen porters (that’s the problem with centrism, kids).

Anyway, everyone lives in the thrall of a theocracy that calls itself the Magisterium, which seems like a perfectly fine name to me, but then I named my house the Brilliantorium. The Magisterium don’t like Asriel’s heretical ideas about dust and their nefarious agents include a baddie with a snake daemon who travels through a portal to our world’s London (unclear yet as to why, possibly just to shop) and a glamorous boardroom feminist named Mrs Coulter (Ruth Wilson) who recruits Lyra on a mysterious mission just as Roger and some other non-special children are kidnapped by mysterious baddies called The Gobblers.

Mrs Coulter, by the way, is accompanied by a creepy golden monkey. All the baddies in this world come with snakes or wasps or flies – what biologists call “the bad animals”. This suggests that, morally speaking, the people of this universe are slow learners. Mrs Coulter and her creepy golden monkey whisk Lyra off to the city of London where Lyra is seduced by wealth and knowledge but begins to smell a rat, or more specifically, a creepy golden monkey.

The strump may as well be accompanied by a creepy golden monkey because it’s implied from the start that he’s a grifting freeloader in a form fitting silky shirt

Meanwhile, the missing kids are in the basement of Mrs Coulter’s house about to be dispatched to the north for weird experiments. All in all, His Dark Materials is well paced, well CGIed (I almost believed Oxford was real!) and well acted (particularly by young Dafne Keen). But it would be nice if they also told the story in the theme song.

Gold Digger (BBC1, Tuesday) is the story of recent divorcee Julia (Julia Ormond) who, ignored by her children on her sixtieth birthday, stoically goes to a gallery and picks up a bestubbled young strump (the male version of a strumpet). This is basically a variation on the standard Irish mammy trope: “Don’t mind me, I’m okay here in the dark ... with this hunky strump! Hubba hubba! Vroom vroom! Aroogaaaa! etc.”

The strump, whose name is Benjamin, may as well be accompanied by a creepy golden monkey because it’s implied from the start that he’s a grifting freeloader in a form fitting silky shirt. At one point he even practises a taunting wedding speech in the direction of Julia’s most desperate angst-ridden sprog. He’s quite nefarious. Julia’s problematic, troubled adult infants aren’t much better than Benjamin. They take against her strump largely on the basis that, and I paraphrase, “THE BAD MAN IS KISSING MY MAMMY!”

Gold Digger is daft and also insulting to all the sixty-year-old women out there who could easily, if they were arsed, manage a relationship with a hot young strump without involving their idiot children or hunky grifters. Am I right, ladies? Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.

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