Invisible Mikey: The Village Martinet

The On-Camera Martin Clunes

The On-Camera Martin Clunes

British TV shows are better than American ones.  I’m sorry, there’s no other position to take. They don’t try to crank out 26 episodes a season, like we do here.  When you do that, you are guaranteeing that at least 10 of the episodes will be “meh”, even if all the others are good.  It takes a lot of work to make a superior hour of filmed television.  Aside from the necessity of great scripts, the days are very long when in production, at least 12 hours, often longer.  It’s too much of a grind to survive and still end up with a jewel at the end.  The Brits have it figured out.  Make 6-8 episodes/season, so they’ll all be good.  Not only that, but it leaves the actors free to have a real life, or perform in plays or even to be in a different series at the same time if they wish.  It’s civilized.

I’m totally hooked on another series about city folk moving to the country.  It’s an ITV production called Doc Martin that’s shown here in Port Townsend but not where I used to live.  You can, however, see three season’s worth of episodes (21 shows) in full 420p, 16×9 aspect ratio at hulu.com. Because I loved it from the moment I saw it, I went back to see it from the beginning.  It fits what I wrote about in the previous article on Green Acres.  The city guy is the fish out of water, in this case in the fictional coastal Cornish village of Portwenn.

The show is filmed in beautiful Port Isaac, and is about a once-successful surgeon from London who becomes a GP in a sleepy fishing village because he suddenly can’t stand the sight of blood.  The Dr’s name is Martin Ellingham (Ellingham is an anagram of the last name of show creator Dominic Minghella), and the locals refuse to call him anything other than “Doc Martin”, which he finds disrespectful.  The doc is a surly curmudgeon, has no bedside manner whatsoever, and is constantly in conflict with the villagers, except for his Auntie Joan (Waiting for God’s Stephanie Cole), a long-time resident.  This is a dance of dominance between the doc and the locals, so in an inspired choice the show uses catchy tango music for its theme and underscore.

It’s a well-understood axiom that actors who can play comedy can play anything.  Dramatic actors are often unable to do comedy.  England’s most famous 19th Century dramatic actor Edmund Kean reportedly said on his deathbed, “Dying is easy…comedy is hard.”  Martin Clunes, who plays Doc Martin, is classically trained but was best known previously for the comedy series Men Behaving Badly.  Mr. Clunes is a warm, caring animal-lover in person, so like Hugh Laurie on House (another sensitive, cheerful man playing a grumpy genius), Clunes is brilliant playing against type.

Now that Clunes’ hairline is receding, he looks a lot like Elmer Fudd, which also makes his bad-tempered bewilderment funny to watch.  The entire village gets to playBugs Bunny and confound him.  As in Green Acres, the locals are in their own alternate universe.  The town cop is either clinically depressed or agoraphobic (different actors and characters).  The park ranger needs anti-psychotic meds.  The doc’s receptionists make tea and biscuits for patients, who often have no complaint but still come to the surgery to eat, drink and socialize.

The village school Headmistress, Louisa (Caroline Catz) is the doc’s love interest.  She consulted on the committee for his hire, lobbying against it because of his coldness.  He immediately spots an undiagnosed eye problem of hers.  That’s called “meeting cute”.  It’s a standard feature of comedy writing.  Louisa is as warm and sociable as Martin is aloof and graceless, but they are exactly matched in intellect and compassion.  It’s so satisfying to watch the obstacles they must overcome to get together.  After four seasons, they are still on-again, off-again, despite viewers knowing that their romance is destined and inescapable.  A few days ago, the renewal of the show for a fifth series was confirmed by Clunes, who also performs in a series called Reggie Perrin.

Now that I’ve come from the big city to a little village looking for a position in health care, you can see why I would identify strongly with this show right now.  My new banker is advising me who to talk to about getting in at a local hospital because, like in Portwenn, if the locals say you’re all right, you get to see patients.  Wish me luck!

The Off-Camera Martin Clunes

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