Shockers: Déjà Vu
Tuesday, October 19, 1999 by Jack Kibble-White
Billed as the first in a series of modern day thrillers, Marie Sullivan’s “Déjà Vu” served as an accurate roadsign of troubled ’90s one-off TV dramas.
This was a piece that not only knew where it was meant to be going, but understood exactly where this particular journey had started from. Regardless of the quality, the premise was satisfyingly old fashioned and all the more refreshing for that. When was the last time you can recall either a good old-fashioned Tales of the Unexpected story, or indeed a primetime drama dealing with the vagaries of time travel?
“Déjà Vu” centred closely round Jessica (Kerry Fox) and Mark (the currently ubiquitous Lennie James) who lost their five year old son in a car crash. Whilst attempting to rebuild their shattered lives the couple experience another accident, and it’s from hereon in that things begin to take a good old fashioned TV drama anthology spin.
As a piece of self referential television (which in truth this was not) “Déjà Vu”’s interactions with time reflected the nature of the drama itself. Sullivan had been provided with much the same opportunity as afforded her characters. She constructed a slice of traditional genre TV and attempted to instill it with contemporary dramatic mores, rather over egging the pudding in the process.
Have you noticed how modern television drama seems to have developed a rather aspirational aspect recently? It is very difficult to name a recent drama serial which – when given free rein by the demands of the plot – has not chosen to centre on affluent people living in extremely picturesque surroundings. In this instance, such a backdrop worked against the drama, dispelling the potential for an immediate connection between the viewer and the protagonists.
The plot itself also seemed too self-aware. The twist in the tale is a much over used genre, and typical of its contemporaries “Déjà Vu” concluded that the only sure way of preventing the viewer from pre-empting the conclusion was to ensure there was none. Apparently, we don’t like our TV dramas to end too tidily either. Viewer’s prejudices and expectations appeared in the forefront as the drama unfolded. Efforts were made to play with ultra-realism in an effort to offset the “silly” premise. Sub-plots of a more mature nature (adultery and cottaging) were tacked on to remind us that we were watching a drama for adults. As such there appeared little confidence in the central premise.
So fear of contrivance and predictability partly shackled “Déjà Vu”. None the less it made for refreshingly indulgent television, allowing one to recall with fondness Shadows, or the aforementioned Tales of the Unexpected (the few good episodes – that is). The press found it “underwhelming”, but I disagreed, feeling – perhaps a little like Jessica – rather out of time.