Musical 'Blackpool’ Hits An Off-Key Note

BBC America’s newest import suffers from an identity crisis. Viva Blackpool doesn’t know whether it wants to be a drama, a comedy or a musical.

There is an intriguing murder-mystery trying to break through all the treacle. At its heart is Ripley Holden (David Morrissey, Basic Instinct 2), a businessman, family man and philanderer, with a hinted-at shady past. Holden wants to turn his small seaside arcade into a Vegas-style hotel and casino. But a wrench is thrown into those works when a body turns up in the arcade the morning after its grand opening.

The ensuing investigation, led by out-of-town cop Detective Inspector Peter Carlisle (David Tennant, Dr. Who), first centers on Ripley as its prime suspect before shifting its focus to his son, Danny (newcomer Thomas Morrison).

Along the way, Holden has to deal with the new boyfriend of his teenage daughter (Georgia Taylor), who turns out to be a former schoolmate of Ripley’s. And his wife, Natalie (Sarah Parish, The Wedding Date), feeling neglected in her marriage, begins a relationship with Carlisle without knowing that he is investigating her husband.

All this would be great fodder for your usual BBC-style drama, but Viva Blackpool pushes a bit farther into the absurd with song-and-dance numbers, with characters singing along to Elvis, Nancy Sinatra, Jimmy Cliff and more. Think ABC’s long-defunct Cop Rock.

Flashy and well-done, some numbers are even raucously funny, like Ripley and Natalie’s musical sex scene to “She’s Not You.”

But it’s the musical numbers that will likely turn off American audiences. Despite strong performances by Morrissey, Tennant and Parish, who also do great jobs with their singing parts, the musical and the drama don’t mesh well. Viva Blackpool suffers from its abrupt switches from lighthearted musical to serious drama. The form might have worked if the drama sequences were a bit more off-the-wall.

Viva Blackpool makes its Stateside debut Monday, Oct. 24, at 10:00 p.m. (ET) on BBC America.