These are certainly difficult times to be alive and the world of series is not exempt from the havoc caused by coronavirus. In recent months, umpteen shoots and projects have been put on the back burner and we’ve begun what is surely one of the most unpredictable television seasons in recent years, both for professionals and audiences alike. That said, we’re going to try to find the silver lining here and it’s true that there are creators who have had great success in finding ways to overcome the obstacles and restrictions of whatever kind, often a challenge for the most creative minds. In fact, even these complex times can produce some television wonders. As such, the brains at the BBC thought they could come up with just the right formula, and they were right. They felt it was the ideal moment to recover “Talking Heads”.
Originally released in 1988, “Talking Heads” was an anthology of monologues written by playwright and screenwriter Alan Bennett featuring talented names such as Maggie Smith and Julie Walters. The series had a second season in 1998, but there ended the journey. At the beginning of the millennium, the BBC began taking the TV drama revolution taking place in the United States at that time as a reference, and projects like “Talking Heads”, rooted in a theatrical tradition, did not seem to gel well in this new setting, which was actually taking TV series to a more cinematic terrain.
However, and herein lies the irony, in 2020, and with television series looking more and more like cinema performances than ever before, these theatrical roots make “Talking Heads” the perfect series for the times. Minimal staging allows each actor and the technical crew to follow safety protocols without placing themselves in danger. So, British public television decided to bring this classic back. Instead of doing a third season, something impossible to achieve in such a short time, a new version of the previous monologues has been made, starring a cast of names well known to today’s audiences, including Jodie Comer (“Killing Eve”), Martin Freeman (“Sherlock”) and Sarah Lancashire (“Happy Valley”). Alan Bennett himself contributed two new monologues to bestow upon the resurrected “Talking Heads” an incentive for fans who had already seen the original anthology decades ago.
And lo and behold…the result is excellent! The formula that had already produced great results back then, consisting of some top-class writing in the hands of top-class actors, continues to work today. It goes to show the relative importance of resources when you’ve got the talent. The direction, with a few more camera shots and angles, has reduced the impact of the theatrical feel of the original series and the effect of the characters looking into the camera, thereby making audiences accomplices in their story, continues to work a treat. Granted, some of the texts could have been updated, as is the case with Imelda Staunton’s character, a woman obsessed with sending out complaint letters about a host of issues. Perhaps today, rather than letters they could have used tweets. But the background of the stories is still valid, the plot twists, constantly playing with the viewers’ expectations, are still effective. And the pleasure of enjoying performances by such great actors from the comfort of your sofa as if you had a front row seat in a theater, captivated by the talent that shines, naked, in this minimal proposal, is wonderful. It’s even possible, although momentarily, to forget this damned coronavirus. “Talking Heads” is available on Movistar.