W1A has been a bit of a disappointment for me. It’s not so much the BBC self-regard, a notorious turnoff, but rather the lack of a plot driver. Twenty Twelve worked because it spoke to the steadily rising national dread before Operation Big Sportsday, something which nobody remembers now. This was wired into the show’s structure, as it was written not long ahead of time.
In fact, Twenty Twelve had what every joke needs, a punchline: the Olympics were a success. The police didn’t shoot anyone. Nothing fell down. I got out of town in advance, and don’t I remember my astonishment via Twitter at how people seemed to care. Coming back, I remember that Heathrow worked bizarrely well, and the landlord of my local pub explained it all: everyone he knew had at last got a job.
W1A doesn’t have the time-factor, and hence the tension. As a result it relies too much on cheap laughs, like mocking interns who are all idiots and therefore OK to abuse, BBC injokes, and too many celebrity cameos.
That said, it is a very rare example of the BBC standing up for itself rather than being whacked around a greasy carpark by indistinguishable lobbies. The last episode is about money, which raises a good point.
If you want the BBC run by people who do it for a pension, you’ve got to take its independence seriously. If you want to be able to sack everyone at whim, like all politicians and media participants do, you’ve got to pay them enough that they can take the risk of being zapped to please newspaper Z at any time. Otherwise it will turn into RAI or worse. (It’s as if that’s what the political elite would like!)
But you can’t have BBC independence, sack-the-board politics, and civil service salary scales all at once. You have to pick which requirement you’re willing to let go. Independence plus cheap is a combination that requires a high trust society, which we ain’t no more. Independence and sack the board, mitigated by money, is a compromise suited to what we are now.