Testimony: A critic’s review

Theatre masks

(Guest post by Chris)

I have really enjoyed the stories and blogs on here – so many have mentioned circumstances and experiences that mirror my own. So I am not going to attempt to repeat them from my own perspective. So below could almost be what one might say is a critic’s review – albeit probably a little too emotive to really be published as such. But it’s my opinion for what it’s worth!

A little bit of reality – please!

I am not a person who usually gets invested in TV programs of any kind – there are some movies over the years that have truly moved and inspired me, but I think the only TV series/program that did pique my curiosity and have me hooked was the first 3 series of Bad Girls – and that had an ok conclusion in my opinion and I think the acting and chemistry between the characters was spot on!

There was something about this pairing between “Bernie and Serena” that drew me in. The chemistry and rapport between the two characters in the build-up was wonderful, but it all ended so soon, and leaves me with the same opinion – that once the build-up is over and they stick them together they have no idea what to do with an actual relationship. To me this is nuts – am I alone in wanting some normalcy? To see a real relationship blossom and go through the usual ups and downs that is reality is far more appealing to me than constant bed hopping, death and accentuated drama! Is this really what keeps people watching TV programs? Not me that’s for sure!

This program is definitely a soap opera. But there are better ones currently airing than Holby that’s for sure. In my opinion the best is Coronation Street. It’s been around since 1960 and has stood the test of time. It’s not BBC, so has to survive on its own funding and has to continue to deliver on ratings. It has some really good actors – the story lines are in a lot of cases identifiable and down to earth (not always – sometimes it also has some pretty far-fetched ones).

Holby City has in fact commanded some pretty decent acting talent over the years too, but I think one of the reasons they fail to deliver is down to consistency in the writing of their story lines and also in their consultation of actual individuals who might provide insight into the subject matter.

If you look at Coronation Street, on the whole, there is a consistent writer of episodes. They tend to follow a storyline through from start to finish. Holby City apparently has representatives from the NHS assisting with the medical side of the content, and on the whole it’s probably delivered fairly accurately (if not sometimes accentuated for dramatic effect).

But actual policy is not accurately represented, as was seen with the recent examples of Serena’s bullying of the F1 Jasmine and also her liaison with an F1 (Leah) on her ward! And this also reflects the representations of the Berena relationship – specifically around how it was ended.

Episode writers – continuity of storyline

As I mentioned above, in a lot of cases on Holby city there is no continuity – it goes from week to week with different writers, making it hard to construct a continuing story. Its ok if you just want to have the program covering medical events and the short storylines around those – but if you want to, as Holby seems to try and do, bring in stories around their permanent cast – then you have to put some consistency around that writing.

A way to do that would be to perhaps assign a writer to cover that story from start to finish – it reflects that they do not do this. One was able to always pick really gaping holes in the Berena story and others that ran over a few episodes or more. As an example – the last 2 episodes of the Berena S/L were written by totally different people: “Love is” by Michelle Lipton and “The right sort of animal” by Ed Sellek. How on earth there can be any proper continuity in storylines is beyond me, and indeed it showed in the vast difference between the former and the latter.

The episodes in June “Primum non nocere”, parts 1 & 2, were at least written by the same person – Patrick Holmes – and I do think that showed in the continuity of the storyline.

Blame it on actor availability

I have seen a lot of criticism on twitter (and indeed comments and liking of comments by CR herself) about “actor availability” and how CR was not ready to ride off into the sunset blah blah blah… But let’s not forget – if you watch the original interviews introducing Jemma Redgrave, that she was in fact only there for about 6 months – she must have extended her contract, and it was in response to the popularity of Berena and the willingness to not end it by killing someone off or break them apart.

But actor availability is NOT to blame for this – it is not in fact the breakup that has caused the backlash – it is the WAY they broke them up and the false hopes that were given prior to the last 2.5 minutes of “The right sort of animal”.

I think it was the most careless, unprofessional rubbish I have ever witnessed. I do struggle to see how even the actors themselves could look at that final 2.5 minutes in the context of what had gone before and not think it shortchanged the audience!

Choice of Breakup Storylines

As already mentioned above – I think most now agree that the breakup is not the issue (well, as long as one’s availability is not blamed for it!). It was the choice of storylines to deliver the breakup that I, and many, take issue with.

I totally agreed with a lot of the points made by many about the cheating being a terrible storyline – from the point of view that Serena had been a victim of it and hated it – and had also given Bernie a hard time for doing it herself! Also when I think back to Bernie’s cheating – on the face of it she was totally ashamed of it – and of the hurt it caused, and I think a different circumstance in that she had finally awakened to who she was and that she was not in the right relationship.

And of course the choice of a 32-year-old woman for the task was deplorable! The Serena cheating storyline was just pure lust – no love involved at all – cheating on the “love of her life” – I found that to be totally sickening.

And as for the reference in the breakup talk where people interpret Bernie’s statement about “not being lonely” to her also cheating – I do not agree. I think she was either inferring she had offers there but had not acted on them, or she was just letting Serena out of feeling guilty for dumping her, because let’s face it – Serena did dump Bernie. Everything in Bernie’s body language showed her total love for Serena, and she would have “waited for eternity”.

Of the two I agree with you that Serena just wanted it over with – I am not convinced Bernie really did. She acted with such feeling in both episodes – and JR acts with her heart when she believes in something – she said once in an interview that acting is the only thing she’s ever really wanted to do because it’s “how she expresses herself”.

Then we have the actual breakup storyline itself. Serena uses some cheap lines like not imagining Bernie “putting the bins out in her slippers” – what the hell was Bernie doing all those months she was living in Holby working on the trauma unit? And she didn’t have to wear slippers to put out the bins! So not only was the cheating a lame storyline, so too was the ultimate breakup – not to mention catching a bouquet and then grinning like a Cheshire cat at the head of a line of dancers doing the conga! Crap crap crap!

Other observations of the storyline – beginning to end

I would go so far to say that through the entire Berena relationship – from beginning to end – it was in fact the character of Bernie that was the more invested of the two. Put aside the running away to Kiev (which in fact was a fear of messing things up and losing the friendship she valued so dearly) – it was Bernie who stuck there through Serena’s meltdown after Elinor’s death, Bernie who waited patiently while she went on sabbatical, Bernie who then joined her in France.

They decided on Nairobi together – but again it was Bernie who let Serena come back to Holby when Henrik needed her – then extended it when Jason’s girlfriend got pregnant, who then came and forced the issue in June and who would have honourably walked away when Serena wanted to stay with her family – (yes, and she never acknowledged Bernie as part of her family!). But Serena chased after her and asked her to “wait” – and Bernie would have “waited for eternity”!

Conclusion

Holby City has showed a total disrespect for gay women – and I would go so far as to say they in fact baited them before the breakup and laughed in their faces with the episodes after it. I truly hope they revert the Serena character back to men – I do NOT want her trying to represent me in any way shape or form ever again! Not that I will know as I have voted with my eyes – that program will never grace my screen again. And finally I would say this – if Holby city do not want to cover storylines (minority or otherwise) properly, then they should stick to short, fast-paced stories around a medical theme – and leave the proper stuff to programs that can deliver!

One Reply to “Testimony: A critic’s review”

  1. Cecilia Gergely says: Reply

    @Chris
    loved your analytical listing of points to think about/to consider :). I really enjoyed reading your thoughts, as I share very many of them. I was totally blown away by the Berena storyline. I just discovered it in February 2019, per chance, through a youtube feed – the Berena clip from Primum Non Nocere Parts 1&2 (I live in Hungary and had never heard of this tv drama before). I am still blown away by it, though totally incapable of re-watching the December 2018 parts – the Leah parts and the break-up, just ignoring them, as if it never happened (but very much re and re-watching the rest). Really, just can’t take it. And the reasons you summarized so very perfectly. And yes, I DO very much agree that it was Bernie who was more invested in the whole relationship, I for myself mean because she was a “real” lesbian, while Serena was something of a hetero-turned-gay and could not really fully live up to it. They alwasy gave obsactles in her life – Elinor, then Jason, then Jason and Greta – somehow always distracting her from her life with Bernie and from her feelings toward her. Why? I don’t get it. Yes, this was a betrayal, for sure! This emotional inequality between the two – this was what led to their breakup in the end. Probably the writers knew from the start (from Jemma’s contract period) they had to build up the story in a way that would allow for Jemma to step out when needed. This is why they did not work out the Serena part of the Berena as much as the Bernie part was very well worked out and had very deep and real feelings toward the other and very much consumed in the relationship.

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