Reboots have become in recent years, an all too common thing in television. Paramount is rebooting Rugrats, NBC tried (and failed) with its reboot of Will & Grace, as did CBS with its reboot of Murphy Brown. There are even so many game shows getting rebooted over on ABC, and none are nearly as entertaining and engaging as the original series. So when it was announced that the British drama All Creatures Great & Small was getting the reboot treatment on Britain’s Viacom-owned Channel 5 last year, there was good reason for audiences to be tense. The original series, which also aired on Channel 5 from 1978 – ’80 and again from 1988 – ’90, offered so much for audiences to enjoy, so needless to say the bar was already set high, considering the simplicity, heart and warmth of the original series. Now with the release of the rebooted series’ lead season available on DVD (it was released Feb. 9 on DVD), it can be said that this show is one of the very rare exceptions to the rule of reboots being less than their source material. Rather, this update on the original series is just as enjoyable as the original show. That is proven in part through the stories, which will be discussed shortly. The presentation thereof plays its own subtle but important part to this presentation and will be discussed a little later. The work of the show’s cast also does its own share to engage and entertain audiences. It will also be discussed later. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the first season of All Creatures Great & Small’s reboot. All things considered, they make the lead season’s presentation one that makes this reboot stand out in the best way from so many other reboots being churned out on either side of the Atlantic.
Channel 5’s reboot of All Creatures Great & Small is a surprisingly entertaining and engaging presentation in its debut season, considering that it is, again, a reboot. One of the items that makes this reboot shine in its lead season is its stories. Given, the stories are loosely connected to the semi-autobiographical stories by James Herriot and just as loosely connected with the stories featured in the original series. That aside, the stories bear so much heart and warmth from one to the next as they expertly balance drama and comedy alike for a fully immersive whole. One episode that exemplifies the show’s powerful dramatic element finds James (Nicholas Ralph) facing the consequences of having to euthanize a horse that was suffering internally. It would have been so easy for the show’s creative heads to go and make this moment early in Herriot’s career way schmaltzier than it needed to be. That’s something that producers of any American drama might do with such a show, but thankfully was not allowed to happen here. The way in which the story was handled, with James eventually gaining Siegfried’s (Samuel West) trust and even respect, but still beating himself up, is so moving because of the control on all aspects therein. That is also attributed to the work of the cast, which will be discussed later. The result of that overall control is that said story becomes one of the series’ most moving and powerful moments in this its debut season.
By contrast, the story that finds James having to take part in the Dales’ annual fair balances drama and comedy together. This story has equal parts drama and comedy as Siegfried, Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley), and Tristan (Callum Woodhouse) make a bet as to how long James will last at the fair before he finally snaps. That these otherwise prim and proper types were gambling, and on the fate of their own friend no less, makes for so much laughter. James’ own struggles to handle all of the pressure make for their own lighthearted moments, too. It really serves to bring out that Buster Keaton type persona that Nicholas Ralph presents throughout the season. This will be discussed later. Alongside with all of the laughs is James’ own inner struggle with having to decide whether to keep a secret involving a bull’s potency or lack thereof. It is a simple matter, but the manner in which the show’s writers handled this story crates real engaging drama and ensures viewers’ engagement in its own way. That balance of lightheartedness and seriousness makes this story another memorable addition to this season. It shows in its own right, what makes the show’s stories so important in its debut season.
Another story that shows the importance of the stories in this reboot actually stretches throughout the show’s debut season. The story in question is that of Tristan’s personal growth. He starts out as an indignant, snotty brat, but as his time at his brother’s office continues, audiences see him grow as a person. It would have been easy in this case, to have just left Tristan a static character. Thankfully that did not happen. His growth leads to scenes throughout that will lead to awe and laughter throughout. The balance of dramatic chops and physical comedy that Woodhouse incorporates into his character as Tristan changes does so much to entertain audiences, too. It is yet another example of how the stories featured in this season make it so appealing. When these stories are considered along with the story of James’ romance with Helen (Rachel Shenton), James’ efforts to save a cow’s life, his near fatal mistake with another cow’s diagnosis, and even the powerful holiday-themed story that serves as the season finale, that whole makes clear why the stories featured in the first season of All Creatures Great & Small’s reboot surprisingly entertaining. The manner in which the stories are presented here couples with the stories themselves to make for even more appeal.
The manner in which the stories are presented in the first season of All Creatures Great & Small’s reboot is important because by and large, it breaks from the norm of so much of today’s television. The stories are presented as standalone works rather than as part of some serialized presentation. Yes, there is a serial type aspect to the show in terms of the character development, but that is where that element stops. This means that for the most part, audiences do not have to feel like they have to invest themselves in the show but so much. In an age when far too much programming (on either side of the Atlantic) has become serialized, it is nice to return to a simple brand of programming if only for once. Keeping that in mind, audiences who, like this critic, are beyond sick and tired of serialized shows will openly welcome this once familiar brand of story telling, making for even more appeal here. This aspect is just one more that makes this season so enjoyable. The cast’s work on camera puts the finishing touch to the presentation.
The work of All Creatures Great & Small is important to discuss because of the engagement and entertainment that it ensures. As noted previously, newcomer Nicholas Ralph’s take on James gives James a new sort of identity this time out. Not only does Ralph look somewhat like silent film legend Buster Keaton with his often stone-face emoting, but the personality that Ralph brings to James has that same sort of character type to the role. That type in question is the innocent, underdog figure. Whether Ralph set out to emulate Keaton is anyone’s guess. Regardless, it makes Ralph’s performance and James that much more endearing and enjoyable.
Ralph is just one of the cast members, whose work on camera deserves attention and credit here. Samuel West’s performance as Siegfried is entertaining in its own right. Watching West develop Siegfried’s persona from the gruff, eccentric figure that he was in the season’s premiere to the more vulnerable, open type that he became by the season’s end is just as enjoyable as watching any of his cast mates. West is fully believable in the role, and just as entertaining because viewers never know which side of Siegfried that they would see from one episode to the next. The way in which West plays his character alongside/against Ralph’s own performance adds even more to each actor’s portrayal. It shows there must have been some real chemistry between the pair off camera and on.
Much the same said of Ralph and West in regards to their performances can also be said of Callum Woodhouse’s presentation of Tristan. At first, his take on Tristan’s snotty, arrogant behavior makes it so easy for audiences to dislike Tristan and write him off as just an antagonist to James (and even his own brother to a lesser extent). However, as the season progresses, Woodhouse shows just as well, Tristan’s gradual desire to grow and become a better person. The result is that audiences will find themselves surprised at their desire to actually pull for Tristan. The reason being, that he manages to make Tristan a reflection of audiences. He mirrors that desire that audiences have to better themselves because they know they, too, are imperfect. Woodhouse’s clear understanding of that concept makes his portrayal just as strong as any other this season, and certainly not the last. The one and only Anna Madeley is just as entertaining as her cast mates.
Madeley, who takes on the role of Mrs. Hall this time out, is the closest thing to a matriarch at Siegfried’s office. She plays friend/confidant to Siegfried while taking on the part of a motherly figure to James and Tristan. Her ability to be gentile with those two at times and firmer at others gives just the right balance of care and concern while also treating them as the adults that they are. At the same time, the vulnerability that she allows Siegfried to see shows her softer side in a completely different fashion. That is just a part of what audiences will enjoy watching from her. There is a scene at the fair in which she silently but firmly goes toe to toe with a crooked carny who took a young girl’s money. Her fortitude in that moment against the carny makes for another great performance on her part. All things considered here, Madeley makes Hall just as great and beloved in this season of the show’s reboot as do her cast mates make their characters. That is, again, the way in which she interprets each scene and Hall’s role in each circumstance. That talent makes Hall unquestionably just as important to this show as her fellow characters. Keeping that in mind, when Madeley’s performance is considered along with those of her cast mates, the result is performance after performance that fully immerses audiences into each story. That immersion in turn results in appreciation for the stories and their own presentation style. Keeping all of this in mind, there is no question in the end that all things considered, the lead season of Channel 5’s reboot of All Creatures Great & Small is a surprisingly entertaining presentation, especially being a reboot.
British network Channel 5’s reboot of the classic series All Creatures Great & Small is a surprisingly enjoyable new take on that original series. It truly stands out among all of the otherwise forgettable reboots that have and do pollute the airwaves and ISPs. That says a lot in itself. Part of the reason that it stands out is its stories. The stories, while loosely based on James Herriot’s books and the original series’ episodes at best, they are still enjoyable works that boast so much heart and depth. The dramatic plot elements never get too extreme while the comedic elements get just enough time of their own. At the same time, that the stories once again focus on James’ development at Siegfried’s office adds even more appeal to this aspect. The fact that the stories are presented more as standalone stories than serial style tales makes for even more engagement and entertainment. The work of the show’s cast within each episode puts the finishing touch to the whole. When all three elements are considered together, they make Channel 5’s reboot of All Creatures Great & Small a rare exception to the rule of so many reboots being unnecessary and lacking in any entertainment and engagement. They make this first season of the series’ reboot a surprisingly “great” presentation. All Creatures Great & Small: Season 1 is available now. More information on the series and other shows from Channel 5 is available online at:
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