- Buy the DVD
All photos © BBC
Reviewed by Will Harris
he hotel was once where things coalesced, where you could meet both townspeople and travelers. Not so in a motel. No matter how you build it, the motel remains the haunt of the quick and dirty, where the only locals are Chamber of Commerce boys every fourth Thursday. Who ever heard the returning traveler exclaim over one of the great motels of the world he stayed in? Motels can be big, but never grand.” – William Least Heat-Moon
Well, that would explain why there’s no BBC series entitled “Motel Babylon.”
Cobra Starship recently sang, “I came here to make you dance tonight / I don’t care if I’m a guilty pleasure for you,” and while there’s precious little dancing involved in “Hotel Babylon: Season 1,” it’s fair to say that “Hotel Babylon” and Cobra Starship definitely both share common ground: both are perceived as being guilty pleasures when, in fact, they’re really just plain good.
“Hotel Babylon” is based on the book of the same name by Imogen Edwards-Jones and the ever-popular Anonymous; it’s a collection of true tales from actual five-star hotels, and the material is often so ridiculous that you can’t believe it really happened, but indeed it did. The TV series undoubtedly veers away from the text to a certain extent, but many of the plot lines are ripped straight from its pages, and given that the book features 10 years worth of stories, it’s fair to say that there’s plenty of material yet to make it to the screen.
The lead in the show is Max Beesley, who plays Charlie, a guy who’s been working his way through the ranks, and as the show opens, he’s in the process of trying to make the jump from Head Receptionist to Deputy Manager of the Hotel Babylon. His supervisor, manager Rebecca Mitchell, isn’t completely convinced that he’s got the stones for the gig, but after making his way through a trial by fire with flying colors, she gives him the chance at the big time. He’s got a secret, though: he’s an ex-con. But, then, everyone on this show has a secret. (It’s a melodrama, after all.)
“Hotel Babylon” is an extremely enjoyable ensemble drama, with a nice mixture of drama and comedy. You’ve got Emma (Anna Thorton-Wilton), who replaces Charlie as Head Receptionist and isn’t afraid to announce to everyone how she once slept with him, but while her preference to be promiscuous amongst the upper class is an easy joke for much of the season, it leads to serious troubles down the road. Tony (Dexter Fletcher) is a top-notch concierge who has a closer relationship with Charlie than anyone else in the hotel, but his proclivity for avoiding banks comes back to bite him in the arse in a big way. Gino the Barman (Martin Marquez) is the angry but hilarious Spaniard behind the bar who, upon being told that a customer has demanded a new bottle of wine because it has corked, refuses and says, “I will dip my balls in it, send it back to him, and he won’t know the difference.” He does…and he’s right, of course. Invariably, it’s the hotel’s guests who inspire the laughs, such as one woman who regularly leaves a rather unfortunate deposit in the bedsheets whenever she stays, or the suicidal jingle writer – played by Anthony Stewart Head (Giles from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) – who no one wants to leave alone because no one trusts him not to try and off himself again. But when things get serious, such as in the episode which spotlights the very real issue of illegal immigrants, the show knows when to set aside the humor and really make the drama count.
“Hotel Babylon” is a brightly-colored, fast-moving series, which is why it’s easy to dismiss as fluff on the surface, but if you give it a chance, the snappy dialogue and characterization will suck you in.
Special Features: In addition to commentary from the show’s producers on the first episode, there’s a very nice making-of featurette included as well. Clearly, it’s not a situation where it’s bulging at the seams, like some of the other BBC productions, to be sure, but at least there’s been a little bit of effort, anyway.