Thursday 3 February 2022

'The Responder' - tragedy, comedy and 'genre'

 I watched 'The Responder' and it got me thinking about tragedy, comedy and genre. Traditionally, tragedy involves such elements as a flawed hero (or more than one main protagonist), who comes into conflict with the customs/culture/politics of the time or, for some reason, is plotted against. The end usually involves the death of the hero/heroes, and possibly some or even many others. While the tragedy unfolds we probably have a sense of doom and danger. There will be transgressions and/or fatal errors along the way. Revenge may be involved too. Traditionally, at the very end, after the deaths, there may well be the expression of renewal. 

Comedy may or may not be particularly comic. The defining characteristic of tradition comedy in drama is that all the plot lines resolve. If it involves love and sex, many of the people will end up as couples. On the way, there may well be ironic or even sad or tragic moments but they are, as I suggest, 'on the way'. 

There are interesting political differences between the two genres. Tragedy traditionally involves the hero in conflict with the social norms or even the politics of whoever is in power. Comedy may well involve conflict but quite often this is social and will express tensions to do with class or social expectations around the behaviour of men and women.  

The main way we have absorbed ideas about tragedy and comedy in Britain has been through Shakespeare and/or films or TV dramas that adopt the motifs and tropes from Shakespeare. Shakespeare, it is said, used Roman tragedy as his model but the plays are said to work some interesting variations on the genres. 'Romeo and Juliet' has two tragic heroes who come into conflict with the social and class ambitions of their parents and the rules of the governing power,  but Juliet is more dominant in that respect. 'Twelfth Night' is a comedy but the fate of Malvolio and the commentary from Feste offer us something different.

Shakespeare also created 'problem plays' that don't seem to fall into the traditional categories. 'Measure for Measure' is regarded as a prime example of this. (Aside: I'm not quite sure who the problem plays are a problem for. I rather like 'Measure for Measure'. It doesn't seem to me to be a problem.)

Now to 'The Responder'. As I was watching it, it seemed to be unfolding as a tragedy: we had a flawed hero, who was going against society's norms. There was danger, plenty of error and doom. There was a nasty death (murder), in the later part of the series which seemed to suggest that there was more to come. But no! The series ended with resolution, the main pair and a sub-plot pair overcame their problems and got together. Whatever transgressions there were, (ie crimes), were washed away in the resolution. There was no punishment - actual or metaphorical - for the crimes. 

So, was it a mix of traditional genres? We could easily envisage other endings - either the hero gets killed and/or some innocents who got caught in the crossfire. Why did the film-makers not go down that route? 

But those questions are irrelevant if it worked. So, did it work, dramatically, emotionally, socially, politically? There seemed to be a social commentary going on to do with people living on the edge, being hard up and trying to solve things illegally. Traditionally, that might well have ended up in death but instead it ended up in the ending we think comedy...hmmm....conundrum. 

I'm left with questions and a sense of unease.

(Great acting throughout, though! I was gripped.)