What formula does a television show need to be successful; and more importantly: What aspects of a series do audiences reward?
Of course there is no standard answer for these questions, however in reflection of the current trends in the television industry some common elements naturally arise. Audiences reward accessibility, originality, energy and creativity – otherwise known as four aspects that seem to be embedded into the framework of the brand new drama from the BBC, “Class”, which marathon aired its first two episodes on ABC2 last night.
Very rarely does a show come along with points of appeal that cater to almost everyone’s different interests and tastes; however that’s exactly what “Class” seeks to achieve with its first two episodes. The show centres on the lives of four six-form students and their teacher the insensitive Ms Quill, whose lives are turned upside down when they eventually become aware that their concept of reality isn’t quite as accurate as the believed. “They have to deal with the stresses of everyday life” reads the official synopsis, “ including friends, parents, school work, sex, and sorrow, but also the horrors that come from time travel. The walls of space and time have been stretched thin, and monsters beyond imagination are planning to break through and wreak havoc upon the Earth.”
Whether you are looking for comedy, action, horror or an emotive drama; the show’s broad appeal stemming from an intended audience of ‘Young Adults’ allows it the advantage of covering concepts and themes that wouldn’t be appropriate in family programs with the energy and relevance on struggles to be found in straight dramas. There is of course one exception to the show’s ability to cater for “all demographics”: This is not a show for the kids. While it may not be AS graphic as the likes of “Game of Thrones” or “The Walking Dead”, at some moments it definitely runs the risk of coming close – though never just for the sake of doing so.
One of the first victories “Class” can claim almost immediately is how incredibly accessible it is. Gone are the days where one could turn on the TV, flick to any channel and be instantly up to date and aware of a show’s entire premise unreservedly. Since the rise in popularity of long running dramas, jumping into a new show has often become as much of a daunting task as it has been an exciting one. “Doctor Who” – of which “Class” is a spin-off – has been especially criticised recently for struggling to cater for the ‘casual’ viewer as well as being accused of producing content that restricts its audience base to religiously devoted fans well versed in the show’s lore. You’ll notice that I have only just mentioned the fact that “Class” is a spin-off of “Doctor Who”. At this point of the article the 50% of readers that have an inch of sanity and are fans of “Doctor Who” have likely just been sold on the show, while the remaining 50% of deprived and misguided members of the population have potentially just realised how obtuse the idea to seek TV suggestions from a Radio Station actually was. “Class” finds its two greatest advantages in terms of raking in viewers that its parent show hasn’t yet managed due to the fact that the show is just starting out and therefore is relatively free from contextual baggage, as well as the distance that’s been established between it and “Doctor Who”.
Make no mistake, while “Class” is set within the same universe as “Doctor Who”, it is both quite removed from its parent in terms of content and atmosphere to allow for it to survive on its own merit. Now this isn’t to say that “Class” is without reward for Whovians as well (or else there simply wouldn’t be a point for a connection to be made in the first place), just that it has achieved the perfect balance between original concepts and fan pleasing references that don’t overwhelm the show. The most obvious example of Class’ origins is of course a remarkably short but worthwhile cameo from Peter Capaldi himself, though it’s far from the only Easter egg and aspect of the plot that eagle eyed fans will no doubt be overjoyed about.
“Class” and “Doctor Who” are very much shows about the same universe, but take drastically different angles in how they present it. While Doctor Who can often dance from adventure to adventure, staring darkness and danger in the face armed with a sly grin, overconfidence and sense of heroism, “Class” takes a more intimate route by focusing instead on how individuals are changed by the dangers the fight and deal with the darkness that haunts them in the aftermath.
At the helm of the series is writer and creator Patrick Ness who’s been internationally celebrated throughout his career as one of the best YA Fiction authors of our time. In recent years one wouldn’t be alone in struggling to find accurate portrayals of young people on TV, mainly due to the television industry’s inability to a) take them seriously, and b) rise above shallow stereotypes of “how teenagers act”. In his books, Ness proves how accurately he understands the mindset of the “Young Adult”, not shying away from depicting relatable and genuine characters as well as pointing the spotlight towards the struggles of mental illness, tragedy, reputation, body image and confidence everyone deals with growing up. Having read almost all of his written work and now having been exposed to the first two episodes of “Class”, it is very clear that Ness has the utmost respect for his audience, and by extension the entirety of the younger generation in the way he values rather than dismisses the feelings and emotions that every single one of us has felt at some point of our lives. It’s here that we can identify yet another one of the show’s main selling points: It doesn’t at all patronise its audience or the demographic its characters represent by not shying away from the often taboo and undiscussed issues that teenagers face. It is without question one of the most accurate and honest depictions of teenagers currently on television, simply by not falling into the pitfalls of decorated the plot with one dimensional stereotypes too “young” or “immature” to face hurdles head on.
Of course all of Ness’ work would be for nothing without an incredibly talented cast to translate his work with confidence and believability. By enlisting Greg Austin, Vivian Oparah, Sophie Hopkins and Fady Elsayed, “Class” has been blessed to have claimed not one, but four sincerely impressive and relatively unknown personalities to ensure its success. Rounding out the main cast is the utterly enthralling Katherine Kelly as Miss Quill who has already proved to be a favourite among audiences due to her impeccable comic timing. Though we are still getting to know these characters and performances it is clear that the show is in safe hands.
As a lifelong fan of “Doctor Who”, I can safely say that the ambition and quality that “Class” has exhibited in its first two episodes alone has (at least in my own opinion), proven to be easily the most confident and impressive debut of a spin-off to date. Only time will tell if “Class” will reach the quality of television that “Torchwood” achieved throughout its initial run, or hold the same place in fans hearts as “The Sarah Jane Adventures” – however if it maintains this momentum there’s no telling what the show could achieve.
Similarly, as a lifelong fan of quality television, the debut of “Class” has left me with the same enthusiasm and excitement as I would have had without prior investment in the show’s universe. Whether it is even possible to pin down a “winning formula” for television shows in 2016 is still uncertain; however what is clear is that “Class” possesses all the right ingredients and potential to amount to something truly special.
New episodes of “Class” go live on iView every Saturday night to coincide with their UK BBC release, and are then aired Mondays at 7:30pm on ABC2.