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FX's A Christmas Carol turns Ebenezer Scrooge into a TV antihero in the vein of Breaking Bad

  • Charles Dickens' Scrooge earned his iconic status through his simplicity, says Daniel D'Addario. "Scrooge loves money over people, and has entirely lost his way as regards human relationships," he says, adding: "Which makes it all the more confusing that FX’s new Christmas Carol adaptation, written by Steven Knight (of TV’s Peaky Blinders and Taboo) digs for the impish, perverse antihero within a character whose needs and wants could, previously, have been written on a matchstick. As played by Guy Pearce, Scrooge is less misanthrope than outright sociopath, using his material advantage over others to, say, ruin their Christmas for the fun of it, or to demand obscene favors in return for financial help he can easily afford just to see how desperate people really are. This is hardly enjoyable to watch; it feels hardly anti-art or -experimentation to note that if you’re going to deliver A Christmas Carol in which Scrooge isn’t a burbling old figgy pudding of a curmudgeon but rather a seductive ego-monster, you’d better have a really good reason for depriving us. The idea, here, doesn’t pay out: Shifting Scrooge to antihero in the vein of Breaking Bad or Mad Men distances us from the story, and pushes him so far beyond redemption that the somewhat rushed final conversion to grace can’t possibly land."


    • It's perplexing that Guy Pearce's Ebenezer Scrooge is so good-looking: "It’s an effective tactic — men (and women) with less-than-noble aims have often charmed their way into positions of power and wealth with a pretty face," says Maureen Lee Lenker. "The fact that the sight of Scrooge in his dressing gown, his holiday scarf tossed carelessly across his shoulder, and his collar undone in a devil-may-care manner has me giving up the ghost (of past, present, and future) isn’t all that surprising. How am I supposed to resist that crooked grin? (Anyone who has ever read a romance novel knows that’s guaranteed to make you weak in the knees.) It’s malevolent, a grin that comes with the callous satisfaction of denying carolers a coin, but then he bites the edge of his mouth and my Christmas goose is cooked. The creators are toying with all of us, exposing the coal-black soul of a man who is, for all intents and purposes, conventionally attractive. A reminder that, to paraphrase Stephen Sondheim, nice-looking is different than good."
    • A Christmas Carol is excruciating to watch: "Between the overuse of dark lens filters, the grinding sorrow hovering over everything, and the spirit-deflating, narrative-defeating addition of a sexual abuse subplot, this Christmas Carol is short on joy and very, very, very long on purgatorial slogging," says Melanie McFarland. "How long, you might ask? It takes almost an hour for A Christmas Carol to get to the point where Marley makes his way over to Scrooge for that fateful visit. You will feel every agonizing moment of those 53 minutes, and it will teach you very little that you don’t already know. At that point you may also realize that A Christmas Carol still has about two hours remaining. And you might wish Knight were nearby so you could grab him by the shoulders and shake him while screaming, 'Who hurt you? What did they do to you and why are you taking it out on me?</i>'"
    • A Christmas Carol isn't for children -- and probably isn't really for adults, either: "At its very best, it's an attempted in-depth character study of Scrooge, one that meshes very poorly with the inspiring structure of the story, while at its worst it's an ill-paced, ill-focused version of A Christmas Carol that doesn't even get up to the arrival of Jacob Marley until over an hour into its three-hour running time," says Daniel Fienberg. "At least FX is airing A Christmas Carol all at once. On BBC One, it's airing over three nights, and I'm betting the lack of incident in the first hour will lead to ample tune-out."
    • Executive producer Steven Knight cast Guy Pearce because he wanted an "attractive" Ebenezer Scrooge: "I wanted to make Ebenezer Scrooge someone who, if it weren’t for what he is and how he behaves, would be an attractive person, would be an attractive man," says Knight. "What I wanted to do is have an audience say, 'Why is this person like this?' I think 'Why is someone like this?' isn’t a question that necessarily was asked by a Victorian audience, a Victorian people who were reading novels. It wasn’t necessarily something that readers asked about central characters. You were given a character. That’s who they were and that’s how they behaved and then there is redemption or not redemption. I hope that in the three hours, we explore the reasons behind what Ebenezer Scrooge is. Why did he become this person?"
    • Knight approached A Christmas Carol with "reverence," says Charles Dickens would be a TV miniseries writer if he were alive today: “Every change is rooted in the book,” says Knight. “What I’ve done is a thorough examination of the text. In Dickens there are paragraphs that don’t move the plot along and you sort of skip over them, and they often contain incredible amounts of material. I really approached this with reverence and tried to only use things that had sources within the text.” Knight adds: "I’m a big admirer of Dickens, of the way he works. Many people say that if he was alive today he would be writing in miniseries, because he wrote in episodes and he created indelible characters. I was keen to take advantage of the fact that television is now what it is, that there are now huge amounts of screen time so you can do the library of classics justice. I felt a good way to begin would be a short novel, which is A Christmas Carol."

    TOPICS: A Christmas Carol, FX, Guy Pearce, Steven Knight, Christmas, Holiday Programming