Well, sure, why not a murder mystery/soap opera with big, karaoke-style musical numbers? Owing more than a bit to “Twin Peaks” as well as Dennis Potter’s “Pennies From Heaven,” the six-episode drama truly comes alive in its musical fantasy sequences and proves compelling enough in between to sustain interest, if not necessarily make anyone want to jump up and dance. Credit the Brits (and “Canterbury Tales” scribe Peter Bowker) with another audacious concept, albeit one that’s a bit choppy in the execution.
Opening with a bang, Ripley Holden (David Morrissey), his wife Natalie (Sarah Parish) and their two kids (Georgia Taylor and Thomas Morrison) provide a rousing rendition of “Viva, Las Vegas” (the actors sing but are reinforced by the original vocals) as they prep for an event at Ripley’s small-time casino. Full of grandiose dreams, Ripley plans to turn the venue (which they call an “arcade”) into a lavish casino/hotel, thus invigorating the run-down Blackpool area. (Interestingly, there are, indeed, plans to jumpstart the Blackpool economy through gambling.)
Beyond money troubles, Ripley’s scheme is dealt a setback when a young punk is found dead in his establishment. That puts inspector Peter Carlisle (David Tennant) on the case, who not only goes about trying to find evidence against Ripley but sets his eye on seducing the unhappy, neglected Natalie.
Nor is all well in the Holden home, as daughter Shyanne (Taylor) begins an affair with a much-older schoolmate of Ripley’s and son Danny (Morrison) peddles drugs to the lowlifes and prostitutes in the flats his father owns.
These side plots and even the murder mystery, unfortunately, are fairly mundane. What sets “Blackpool” apart are the musical sequences, the jazzy “Peaks”-esque score and the generally offbeat tone, where fantasy and reality intersect. The problem is that there are only a couple of songs per episode and it’s hard not to get antsy waiting for the next, since who killed the kid and the prolonged mating dance between Carlisle and Natalie don’t pack much power in terms of suspense.
For all of that, the series’ highs stand out admirably, whether it’s the Carlisle/Ripley duet on “These Boots Were Made for Walkin'” or Ripley and his accountant courting dancing investors to “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me.”
Bearing an uncanny resemblance to Andy Kaufman, Morrissey captures just the right sense of menace and thinly veiled rage, as well as surprisingly nimble footwork, as his caviar dreams spin out of control. Parish and Tennant are also splendid as the desperate housewife and singing detective, respectively.
Series lags slightly in the latter episodes, and the final payoff feels too tidy. In its best moments, however, “Viva Blackpool” (aired as “Blackpool” in the U.K.) might not set many souls on fire, but it certainly casts a very bright light.