Momentum, thats what the key word for this blog, so i’m going to try and cut a lot of my usual waffling pre-amble. This blog is about the New Yes, Prime Minister Series which has just finished showing on Gold. I’ll cut to the end and say overall I was disappointed.
To understand what was wrong with the new show you have to look back at why the original worked so (seemingly) effortlessly well. The original was about machinery, the machinery of whitehall, of government. Jim Hacker, first the Minister and then the Prime Minister tries to put the machinery to good use (to secure his position in cabinet, win votes and to make peoples lives better, in that order). Sir Humphrey Appleby the Permanent Secretary and then the Cabinet Secretary is concerned only in keeping the machine moving. In keeping the momentum up. One way the show conveyed that momentum was with script which zipped along, their was never any excess fat, nothing that didn’t need to be there. When it appeared that a script was slowly down with a quiet drink between two Permanent Secretaries it hadn’t, this was just the Whitehall machine at cruising speed, at maximum efficiency, gliding along to a managed resolution which seemed inevitable but which you didn’t see coming. Every week it pulled the rug from under you, yet left you smiling and laughing and wanting more, all because it did it with so much charm, wit and grace that you couldn’t help but be impressed and in awe. The half hour episodic format might seem like it should hinder the momentum which is so key to the show, but but they turned it into an advantage, because when you came back the next week, the machine kept moving, by hook or by crook Sir Humphrey kept the momentum up and it seemed like this machine would never stop. It definitely didn’t stop whilst you weren’t watching, in the back of your head you knew it was still keeping it’s rhythm.
Fast forward and certain about of time and after wearing out my DVD’s of all 5 years I go see the stage play of the show. I’m a little nervous because it’s a different cast, it’s apparently been updated for modern times and i’m wondering how it can keep the momentum going for 90 minutes. They pull it off by presenting a single crucial weekend at Chequers as an EU Summit is falling apart. They inject just a little more farce into proceedings and they continually heap more and more pressure onto Hacker as they present him with an impossible decision. He’s got an ever decreasing amount of time to authorise something a Prime Minister definitely shouldn’t be authorising or the momentum moving hard in another direction will sweep him away. And it all works beautifully because they use all the differences in the format to their advantage rather than fight the differences. The one enforced interruption, the intermission is the best example, it’s such great effect that the play earns one of the biggest laughs within seconds of returning for the second half.
Fast forward a bit more and they are adapting the stage play back into a new TV series. Again i’m a little nervous, but less so, since they’ve just provided they know how to handle difficult transitions. But having now having watched all 6 episodes of the new series i’m disappointed. Virtually every change they make to the stageplay to make it into a 6 part TV series hurts the key ingredient, momentum. They show scenes which in where only referred to in the play, but don’t move the plot forward any more than the four corresponding lines in the play so momentum is hurt. They add additional scenes which aren’t referred to in the play at all to similar effect. They have to find 5 additional routes into ‘…Yes, Prime Minister’ and so momentum is hurt. They need 5 brief summaries of the plot to get us back into the story and so the momentum is hurt. There are still some good jokes, some of Sir Humphrey’s speeches still have me in absolute fits of laughter, but without the momentum jokes which raised howls of laughters in the theatre or only worthy of a small chuckle on TV. Momentum is what elevated Yes, (Prime) Minister from funny sitcom to all-time great and it’s sadly lacking from the new show. So my recommendation if you haven’t seen either the play or the new series, seek out the play. You’ll be glad you did.