The new dramatisation of War and Peace might edify. Scandinavian thrillers may well captivate. Breaking Bad or The Sopranos can satisfy as much as a meaty novel. The joy of TV, for me, is when treasure is found in unexpected places. For example, Horrible Histories on CBBC is one of the cleverest, funniest and well-written comedies - tucked away for the enjoyment mainly of children. I would happily exchange it for Lucas and Walliams or Mitchell and Webb. It certainly has a higher laugh per minute ratio. Just as surprising is the fact that one of the most finely crafted and well tuned narratives has to returned to the BBC for a final season before it moves to ITV - The Voice and its revolving chairs. There is little point in watching it past this stage - anything that follows can only be a disappointment. As long as someone is singing to the back of a potentially spinning chair, I am hooked. I've watched it on YouTube in languages that I don't speak. It doesn't matter. The story-telling is perfect.
This is the basic structure. In itself, as a story-telling device, it is repetitious, but also endlessly suspenseful. However, there are other elements. There are characters. The introduction to each contestant is swift - we gain a small insight into their life, and importantly we judge them on their friends and family. This is how we really get involved. We see the person in context. We get to assess and make assumptions by the way they way interact. Like any great nineteenth or twentieth century theatre - Chekhov, Ibsen, Shaw - we learn about the character by the nature of their relationships. We judge them on the place they come from and the company they keep. We experience their starting point and we witness their journey. We watch it at the same time as their friends. The slow walk to the microphone; footsteps echoing in silence.
The Voice seems endlessly meta-textual. Once a decision has been made, it must be discussed at length. I'm very surprised that this format does not have a 'sister show' accompanying it; there is no equivalent of the Extra Factor, Strictly Take Two or Bit on the Side. The discussion here is immediate: each coach assessing, revealing, confessing, analysing. It is how we behave after the wedding. Someone - probably Woody Allen - said that the whole point of getting married was for the bride and groom to have something to talk about for the next five years. The value of the competition on The Voice is the discussion afterwards: 'He is so unusual;' 'I really loved her sense of style and her shoes;' 'I'm really kicking myself now for not hitting my button'. This is the final act of each perfect vignette. The reason for the choice becomes clear. In all good drama, the invisible must at some point become visible. The competition is immaterial; most important is the story it initiates.
As any writer knows, the stakes must be high. While watching the early stages of The Voice, we suspend our disbelief. Realistically, the outcome is incidental; we know from several years' experience that the victory of the overall winner is short-lived. I sometimes feel relieved when an 'artist' doesn't make it through, as it means they will not have to endure the miserable betrayal that occurs in the 'battles'. But, while we are engaged in spinning chairs and coach picking, we don't care about reality, we just love the illusion that all of this matters, especially when an 'artist' declares histrionically that this is their 'last chance.'
Of those discarded coaches over the years, I will only really miss Rita. Within the conventions of the narrative, she was perfect. Unabashed, transparent, enthusiastic and endearing. We saw every thought as it passed over her face. We knew the choices that she would make before she realised it herself. She repeatedly fell in love. She became consumed often. It was physical, spiritual, and lustful. All enjoyable drama demands instantly understandable relationships, even though these relationships evolve. Long running TV drama requires reinvention. Like a new alien or a regeneration on Doctor Who, I am excited to see what will happen with George and Paloma.