Friday, 23 May 2014


"And the Sunday sun shines down on San Francisco Bay
And you realise you can't make it anyway
You have to wash the car, take the kiddies to the park
Don't marry her, (have) me..." (The Beautiful South)
Got back from holiday to discover that a new series of Episodes had started. And since technically I can’t tell you anything about our holiday until I happen to watch a programme about Holland, I shall write about Episodes instead. Now into season three, it appears that much of the original premise (the transatlantic transition of an award-winning British sitcom in the hands of a cultural-nuance-oblivious, ratings-obsessed American television network) has been lost. We are now focusing almost exclusively on the love triangles (getting complicated enough to be verging on love tetrahedra) which have developed. To be honest, the details of these would have escaped me entirely had there not been a flashback at the start of the first episode. Though if in doubt, just assume Matt Le Blanc is shagging them. It would be nice to say that Matt Le Blanc is being terribly decent showing himself up like this, but really he is still playing Joey from Friends, just with a slightly higher IQ. Only this time when he is playing Joey in LA, the television programme featuring it has at least been successful.

The American guys (apart from one token camp one) are all big and beefy, and the American girls all skinny and plastic with ice-white teeth, as you might expect. The British have inferior dentistry and are as terribly polite and neurotic, equally as you might expect. Stephen Mangan plays his character like a lost puppy, and Tamsin Greig hers as a slightly wistful uptight eccentric. But by this point in time the British characters appear to be assimilating nicely to their film studio lifestyle. They power-walk in the Hollywood Hills but drive to work. They enjoy the glamorous parties and the luxury condominiums. Mostly the scenes are bathed in a golden glow, which may represent either the glorious Californian sunshine or the less glorious Los Angeles smog. Although the first scene of this series was set in a torrential downpour, which may just be because they film a lot of the show in Britain.

I have never been to Los Angeles. My picture of life there is enough to put me off visiting, even though this picture has been formed entirely from what I have seen on the television, both fictitious (on shows like Entourage) and factual (on, like, the news). LA strikes me as a place of ludicrous excess intermingled with the effects of extreme social deprivation. So you have the bullshit of pilot season on one side of Sunset Boulevard, and the genuine risk of a drive-by shooting on the other. You see corrupt police, riots and choking pollution, but somewhere nearby is Disneyland.

I have had to work with people in Los Angeles, however. Or rather in Burbank, since most of the film studios have long since left Hollywood behind. When I was working as a translation project manager for a DVD subtitling company in London, the company that owned us and consequently a lot of our clients were based in California. Generally this served as a source of irritation, since - thanks to the time difference - our American friends would arrive at work just as I was planning to leave. They would be full of (fresh coffee) beans just as I was fading at the end of my London day. They would usually hit upon some major problem that they could see many hours left in their day to solve. But the only hours left in my day were overtime, and unpaid overtime at that.

Eventually, to help us beleaguered souls in London, it was decided that one of our team should be moved over to Burbank on a rotational basis, each person staying for around a year. I was never among the ones selected, and never applied to be. But the ones who did go did seem to enjoy it, and some never actually came home. So life in LA must be a little seductive after all.

I have been to California at least, but it is a scarily long time ago now. The trip, undertaken when I was 19, is rather a blur, since when I was there I was taking some evil antibiotics for a case of giardia that I had managed to pick up in Glacier National Park, Montana. I also discovered in California that I don’t do heat all that well. Being British, I had previously thought that I quite liked hot weather, but this was the first time I’d experienced 103 degree Fahrenheit in the shade on the edge of a desert, and my coping strategies for this were tantamount to useless. Goodness knows what the family I was staying with made of me, but there must be a reason that the British people in Episodes are all portrayed as so neurotic. Anyway, I have vague memories of being driven through vineyards and a forest of redwood trees, and across the Golden Gate Bridge. I remember a strange house in San José (which I would dismiss as a heat hallucination now had I not just double-checked its existence) and walking along the boardwalk of an earthquake-destroyed Santa Cruz at night. I slept in a tent trailer in someone’s sweltering back yard and ate a lot of slightly dysfunctional vegetarian food. (And I just learned, as a sad postscript, that the father of the family I was visiting died a few years ago.)

My favourite place of all was San Francisco, because it was cool. Not cool as groovy, but cool as in cold. There was always a sea fret in the bay, which lowered the temperatures to an acceptable warm British summer level and meant I could function again. But even then, San Francisco is still vague in my head – Chinatown trinket shops, pyramid skyscrapers, sea lions, cable cars, curvy roads, Alcatraz, a tube train called Bart. But I see it every day on a painting that hangs above our TV in the lounge. It features the view from the top of Hyde Street, minus the cable cars, and is by my friend Nadine. The colours have the same golden glow that filters through Episodes.
Read the artist's blog here
(And the real Hyde Street)

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