Two weeks ago I watched the final episode of Sherlock series two, The Reichenbach Fall. Much as I appreciate the talents of Benedict Cumberbatch, I was again blown away by the incendiary Andrew Scott as the fiendish James Moriaty.
The next morning, I spent an espresso-fueled few minutes Googling (yep, it's a verb now, people) Scott, and stumbled across his new ITV show, The Town. Off I trot the online ITV Player to watch the first of the three episodes. Darn it. Seriously, evil web overlords? I'm in the wrong region to watch this video? Ugghh.
I shouldn't really have been surprised - this has happened at least twice a week since I moved to Kansas City 11 years ago. Something to do with my IP address not jiving with UK websites, regional copyright, blah blah. To quote Moriarty, "It's all so boring, isn't it?" Yes, it is.
But this time I would not be denied. Quick internet search, found an 'IP cloaking device' - which I'm still hoping will actually make me invisible when I need to be - signed up for $8 a month, and I was good to go.
The first thing that struck me about The Town was the dread that Scott's character, Mark, feels at returning to his boyhood home after having escaped from the no-hope town to London some years before. Within hours of returning a slovenly friend comes to the door of his now-deceased parents' house, mumbles his condolences and then tells him to come out for a night of beer and, if he's up for it, pot, with the old gang. Mark reluctantly goes along and instantly regrets it. A girl he barely knew in school fawns over him when all he's interested in is his grief, then he finds out that his old flame has married and had a child. So he drinks himself silly, goes to a crappy nightclub after the pub closes and ends the evening throwing up in front of his ex-girlfriend's house.
Now, the part about the ex and the throwing up are not experiences I've had on trips back to England and my friends are all successful in their careers, but many aspects of Mark's feelings about the old town ring true. There are still the people who seem stuck in a time warp, and who consider it the highest point of achievement to drink more than their mates, see a different girl each weekend, and maybe get in a fight for a little extra excitement. The suspicion about those who've gotten away and done something - not just me, I'm not that vain - but everyone who has cut loose is certainly something I empathize with. In episode two Scott sneers, "Gosh, everyone knows each other here, don't they?" This is a far cry from the anonymity of the big city he has embraced in recent years. It's not familiarity that's the problem, but the prying, the snooping, the inability to craft a new narrative for yourself.
Now, on some level, I love going back to southwest England, or "The Shire" as my friends and I call it as a hat tip to Mr. Tolkien. Stourhead Gardens is one of my favorite places, I would move my family to Bath in a moment if we could afford it and North Cornwall is, summer crowds notwithstanding, idyllic. I also treasure the few pints of some lavishly-named ale, like Firkin Fox, that I share with friends in a pub that doesn't have wall-to-wall TVs, as do the horrendous American sports bars that hang a sign with a pseudo-British name, have Guinness on tap and think that makes their cookie-cutter joint have Old World charm. I wish I didn't live 4,000 miles from my family.
But yet, there's something all too familiar about Mark's reluctant return to his home town in, err, The Town. He likes to wear shirts and suits that, heaven forbid, actually fit his body type, and is mocked behind his back for probably being "gay" because of his fashion sense. He tells his ex-girlfriend that he can't accept that she's given up her dreams of being a singer and has "ended up like this." He immediately regrets his words and she is offended, but he has hit the mark with an all-too-true observation - it's oh so easy to surrender your dreams to small-town paralysis (James Joyce, eat your heart out). Not that getting married and having a child and/or staying in the place where you were born are bad life choices, but giving up on your passion is (even though, as we see in episode two, Alice is no Adele).
As Scott's character soon discovers, there aren't many fulfilling jobs for ambitious young people in his old stomping ground - he's reduced to taking a two-week temping gig at the drab council office. It is, in fact, the desire for something better that led this fictional character and me to leave our small towns in the first place. The thought of going back and trying to ply my writer's trade for worthwhile compensation is, frankly, horrifying, given the dearth of opportunity for such things.
Beyond The Town prompting all too many "holy crap, this is exactly how I feel when I go back"
reactions, the acting is superb. Martin Clunes is very good as the pompous mayor, and the rest of the supporting cast is balanced just right. But it's Scott's show. It's no surprise that he was chosen to play Moriarty, or that he has won two Laurence Olivier awards and a Best Supporting Actor Bafta. Even when still, there is a kinetic energy about him, a barely-concealed rage just waiting to burst out. In The Town he is not a villain, but his unpredictability as the grieving Mark is just as compelling as his on-the-edge portrayal of Sherlock Holmes' nemesis.
In a recent interview, Scott talked about not wanting to be pigeon-holed as a bad guy, but with such rare talent, not least the stage actor's ability to, at times, convey powerful emotions through nothing more than a facial expression or hand gesture, he should have no worries there.
The Town might not garner worldwide attention like Sherlock. But let's hope that TV, theatre and film producers keep calling on Scott. He richly deserves the same accolades and opportunities as his mega-star Sherlock cast mates.