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Deċeduti

Which is funnier? A couple of ghosts in a bed or Maltese people trying to speak English? Deċeduti is supposedly the best local series on television at the moment, but Margerita Pulè gets more laughs earwigging in Sliema.

 
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Heard at a playground in Sliema as a child falls to the ground; “Forbes, your hands! You are bringing them to tough”.

Heard at a busy junction in San Ġwann as one car backs into another; “He came in me”.

On a busy street in Valletta; “Ahjar you ring him ta – ax ħa jifreakja”.

At lunch the other day; “Isprainjajt l-ankle”.

What does it all mean? Why is Malta as a nation determined to keep on speaking someone else’s language? Is it snobbery? Ignorance? Laziness? A natural development of a modern language? Or some sort of misplaced loyalty to the queen?

Whatever the reason, the result is a hodgepodge of broken sentences, unintentional double-entendres and grammarless sentences. At its best it could be described as a charming patois comparable to a Jamaican idiom, but at its worst it seems to me to be a symptom of the loss of a cultural identity and common pride. Malta, be warned; if you lose your language you will eventually lose your soul. The Irish never managed to revive their mother-tongue and look what’s happened to them.

I must admit though, that it’s a useful situation for the likes of me. I need no dictionary in which to search for unknown words; I can just stick the English word right in there in the middle of a Maltese sentence and no-one will even notice. Foreign friends talk of learning Maltese, but after a while they realise that they don’t actually have to, and they can save themselves a lot of trouble and even more embarrassment by simply learning the words mela and isma, and leaving it at that.

But I don’t want to get too lazy, so I decide an evening of home-grown, Maltese-language television will do me good. Arani Issa comes on. My favourite. Easy plot, nothing too taxing. But then, and I swear this is true, it turns out that this episode’s victim is a nurse from Ireland and Dr Joseph keeps translating everything into English for her. What are the chances of that?

I flick over onto TVM; maybe I can learn something over there. I’m just in time for Deċeduti. I’ve heard good things about this comedy, so hopefully learning will be fun this evening.

My first impression; it’s all a bit panto-like. Maltese television producers seem to favour that over-the-top, exaggerated characterisation. You know, the bumbling, nervous husband type, the gossiping office cow, or the autocratic and over-bearing mother-in-law. I’m not a fan of Panto Dames, so let’s just say there’s alot to be said for a bit of subtlety.

It’s not all bad though; there’s a scene with the Doctor kissing Gladys that’s almost funny. And there are a few other scenes that have potential. But I think that’s the programme’s biggest problem; too much potential and not enough funnies. The basic premise isn’t bad, but the interaction between the dead and the living grates somewhat; it doesn’t flow and in this episode, at least, not enough is made of it. It seems that one group has to stop, in order for us to see the other group in action. Because of this, everything is slowed down considerably; at times the storyline stops moving altogether. In fact, the only scene in which the interaction between the living and the dead is somewhat successful is when Rosemary is asleep, and so, is silent, as Jeoffrey whispers in her ear. There is maybe one other scene where this works; when Gladys and the doctor are kissing and his  late parents are commenting on their actions; but this also only works because one group of characters is making out on the couch, and so, like Rosemary is unable to talk.

I see more missed potential in the lack of development of the ghosts’ characters. And by that I don’t mean that their characters should be exaggerated to the point of panto-esqueness (see above). I mean that the quirks in their characters that their costumes obviously lend them are left unused and are barely touched on, apart from the most cursory references. I see a hundred missed jokes; a thousand puns-that-could-have-been are left floating around like ghosts themselves, never even making it to the cutting-room floor.

Probably my favourite living character is Gladys; she alone suits the over-the-top panto treatment of her character and she alone has the strength of character to absorb the clichés she’s had bestowed upon her and make them her own. The other characters, from the twitching, bumbling Ramon, to Percy, his anglophile brother-in-law, are shallow and completely one-dimensional; they just leave me cold.

Most of the jokes are jaded and hackneyed; there are even a couple of willy and boob jokes thrown in for good measure. This episode’s plot; that of the brow-beaten husband trying to ask his domineering mother-in-law to leave his apartment is anything but original. Even the misunderstanding between Ramon and Rosemary as he finally plucks up enough courage to speak to her is uninspired and takes absolutely no risks.

After all that, I would like to say that I only saw one episode of Deċeduti and maybe it wasn’t one of their best. Like I said, it has potential, so I might tune in next week to see if anything more comes of it. Failing that, I’ll just have to keep walking the streets of Malta with my ears wide open.

 

Deceduti: Thursday at 20.45: TVM

 

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