Saturday, 12 February 2011

We Build Your Young

There are only three things in the world that I hate, and one of them is dialogue for young people on TV.

There are a lot of dramas on British TV, and a lot of them are good, but when it comes to teenagers talking, most of them completely miss. This is bad for three main reasons. Firstly, it makes these shows unrealistic and unbelievable. Secondly, it reenforces negative media representations of young people. Thirdly, it patronises young people.

Some programmes can write for young characters. Channel 4's Shameless comes to mind. In fact one of the (many) brilliant things about Shameless is that it doesn't patronise anyone. But in so many dramas I've watched, teenage characters come out with unrealistic, clich├ęd lines. It's the fucking annoying result of lazy writing.

I'll give you three examples. If I think about this more I can come up with better ones, but these are the three that come to mind. Firstly, there's the BBC drama Dive which was on last year. Dive got practically everything wrong, including casting Gina McKee as (DUM DUM DUUUUMMMMM) the anxious mother. God she was anxious. But the second worst thing about Dive was the dialogue between the teenage couple, with one line so awful that I still remember it word for word:

"I don't really do girlfriends and shit, I'm just a bit wank at them."

Presumably the writer (Dominic Savage) thought "teenagers, they swear a lot don't they! Those teenagers with their swearing." Before falling asleep on the keyboard and submitting the result as a final draft. If only there was some way of knowing what Dominic Savage wanted to do when he wrote Dive... Oh wait, there is!


"We wanted to write a film that properly gets inside the minds of young people and expresses their feelings, thoughts, needs and difficulties in a truly emotional and real way – a way that's not hysterical and headline-grabbing, but quiet, thoughtful, and sensitive. It was very important for us to get the authenticity right." (The Guardian. Clearly.)

Really? Very important?

The second example is Channel 4's The Promise, the first part of which I watched yesterday. It was actually very good, but again, wrote the lead character as generic teenage girl 1. Not only did she fail to tell her mother that she was off to Israel until the day before she was due to leave (?!) but when she was in Israel, her phone rang and on the screen it said "Mum Calling" (just after she'd said the line "now you're starting to sound like my mother", which was a big load of fucking coincidence) and she rejected the call and said:

"Geez, give me a break!"

No really, she said that. Gosh, teenagers really hate their mums don't they! Those teenagers, with their... moods. She might as well have whined "Ack! Mum!" Though this episode also contained the line: (when people are laughing at a girl having an epileptic fit) "Fuck off, can't you see she's epileptic?" so it might be best to just ignore any dialogue in that programme.

Finally, E4's Skins. My general annoyance with Skins can best be explained by the amazing Stewart Lee in this clip from the amazing Charlie Brooker's amazing Screenwipe.

Amazing. But anyway, I don't watch Skins so I had to google "Skins quotes" for an example of terrible teenage dialogue, and imagine my surprise when I found this gem:

(Boy to his male friend) "Shall I give you head?"

(Friend) "What?"

(Boy) "Might cheer you up."

A quick note to the writers of Skins: We don't do that. If we're looking to cheer a friend up, a hug will do, at most.

So that's why dialogue for young people in British TV dramas needs to improve. In its current, inaccurate form, it portrays teenagers as, to quote Stewart Lee, "selfish, avaricious, out for themselves..." and we're not (all) like that.

The title of this blog comes from Made For TV Movie by Incubus, the song with which I will leave you. Enjoy! and shit.