A kitchen in a terraced house in the north of England. Godzilla enters, wearing work overalls and a hard hat. He’s drunk and belligerent and keeps stomping on all the tiny people who are running around screaming.
Mrs Godzilla: Drunk again, I see.
Godzilla: Whisht, woman, there’s trouble down monster factory.
Mrs Godzilla: Stephen, you can’t keep running from your problems. You won’t find answers at the bottom of a bottle.
Enter a harried-looking King Kong in an ill-fitting suit. He is also stomping on tiny people and swatting away little biplanes.
King Kong: Hello, Stephen. Hello, Michelle. Bad news I’m afraid. The union vote is going against us because of ...
Mrs Godzilla: Oh no, Kevin, not again!
Godzilla (shaking his fist): Thatcher!
Cut to credits and theme song: “You do the mash, You do the MONster mash ... ”
This is the opening of my spec script for the next instalment of the Monsterverse saga, which has, up to now, included such films as Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Godzilla versus Kong. In my version King Kong is played by Timothy Spall, Godzilla is played by Jim Broadbent and Mrs Godzilla is played by Meryl Streep.
It was inspired by the fact that Apple’s new show in the franchise, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, has an episode called Secrets and Lies, which makes me think of Mike Leigh’s film Secrets & Lies. And because I am not a film critic, I always get tragicomic class analyst Mike Leigh and politically minded polemicist Ken Loach mixed up (along with the Comic Strip’s The Strike). Anyway, my pitch is called Ken Loach’s Monster Mash: Godzilla Versus Thatcher. I imagine it will be snapped up immediately and become, at the very least, a graveyard smash.
Everything is part of a wider cinematic universe these days. If anything, Apple is late to the game. Amazon has the incredibly expensive Lord of the Rings stuff. Disney has both the Star Warses and the Marvels. Apple has had a pretty good run with clever, darkly funny shows such as Slow Horses, Bad Sisters and Severance, but it has not, until now, had something that came with a franchise.
If I had one tip for the creators of this huge monster-themed franchise it would be: more monsters. After an intro in which John Goodman is attacked by a giant spider (classic John Goodman), the first episode is largely about some boring old humans dealing with boring old human problems. In fact, it’s all very Secrets & Lies by Mike Leigh in that our heroine (Anna Sawai) discovers that she has a secret Japanese half-sibling (Ren Watabe) while also coping with post-traumatic flashbacks to a big monster stomping on San Francisco in a previous film – Babe: Pig in the City, possibly. (I genuinely have no idea what films are in the franchise.) The city-stomping monster bit was, sadly, not in Mike Leigh’s iteration of Secrets & Lies.
There are wider existential question about what happens to a civilisation that keeps returning to the same old stories instead of inventing new ones. It’s even on the minds of the writers
Our heroes’ missing mutual dad has some involvement with a secret agency called Monarch, which seems to be involved in the old monster-investigation business, and soon they are breaking Kurt Russell out of a sort of retirement jail for rogue monster fighters or, possibly, rogue Kurt Russells. The story juggles this time period with the 1940s and 1950s, where the grandparents of our heroes and a much younger Kurt Russell are wandering around a jungle with a Geiger counter, attempting to find overly large, fangy creatures. It feels like Godzilla, King Kong, Mothra, Mechagodzilla and the rest should be easy enough to find, but in this show they can clearly disguise themselves with sunglasses and a wig. These olden-daysers eventually find, in a crater in an old ruin, a bunch of weird glowing eggs. Obviously, they descend into the crater to poke at the eggs. They are immediately besieged by oversized carnivorous insects. Serves them right. “Leave well alone.” That’s my motto, and I’ve never been besieged by oversized carnivorous insects even once.
By the fourth episode our heroes in 2015 are on a snowy mountain being mauled by some sort of facially betentacled ice beast – this is where you traditionally turn to the person on the couch next to you and say, “I didn’t know you were in this programme” – and there are warnings at Monarch headquarters about an imminent Godzilla attack. That’s where things stand at the time of writing.
It’s no Ken Loach’s Monster Mash: Godzilla Versus Thatcher, but Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is, nonetheless, zippy, characterful and fun, wearing all that franchise weight relatively lightly. It genuinely doesn’t matter much that I don’t know what related film the John Goodman character and the big spider were in. (Was it Paddington?) It’s also nice to see the seemingly ageless Kurt Russell return to an action role as a monster-chasing oldster.
There are, as always, wider existential question about what happens to a civilisation that keeps returning to the same old stories instead of inventing new ones. It’s even on the minds of the writers, with one character explaining that he’s “interested in why people tell the stories they tell”. So why are we telling these stories now? Once upon a time Godzilla was seen as a metaphor for the nuclear weaponry that destroyed Japanese cities in 1945. Nowadays if these giant monsters are metaphors for anything it’s probably the franchises themselves, lumbering away noisily with us at their feet.
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is cocreated by the comic-book whizz Matt Fraction, who first worked on TV as a consultant when his excellent Hawkeye comics were being adapted into a Marvel TV show. The recent Doctor Who special, The Star Beast (Saturday, BBC1) was written by Russell T Davies but is based on a 1980s Doctor Who comic-book story created by the cult comic legends Pat Mills and Dave Gibbons.
Both of the recent Doctor Who specials have the virtue of being small, tight yarns that involve no lumbering world-destroying monsters. The Star Beast is set in the back lanes and attics of British terraced houses. It brings back David Tennant as the Doctor and Catherine Tate as Donna Noble. (Davies is rewriting the terribly sad ending he gave that character 15 years ago.) It involves a cute, big-eyed creature called the Meep, who is lost in London and being pursued by space soldiers, and it comes with a welcome dash of trans acceptance (in the text and the subtext of the story). Last Saturday’s episode, Wild Blue Yonder, features Tennant and Tate on a huge spaceship lost between galaxies dealing with some inventively terrifying body horror. These episodes are funny, clever, gently subversive science-fiction stories that aren’t bogged down in excessive lore or franchise faff.
Which brings me to my second pitch of the column: Godzooky, MD, in which Godzilla’s nephew returns to his hometown to set up a new medical practice and reconnect with his past. For more details, television executives can contact me at the usual address.