Hotel Babylon is British TV series produced by the BBC. It is based on the novel of the same name by “Imogen Edwards-Jones and Anonymous”. The book is a fictional account of a single “day in the life” of an exclusive luxury hotel in London, as told by a street-wise front desk employee. Although fictional, the book contains several real-life anecdotes that “Anonymous” experienced in his or her long career in the London hotel scene. In most cases, names and specifics have been changed, although some celebrities, such as Madonna and Courtney Love, are mentioned by name. The book’s a great read, especially if you’re just looking for something light and fun. If you’re interested, Edwards-Jones has also written similar books about the airline (Air Babylon) and fashion (Fashion Babylon) industries.
Anyway, the BBC decided that the subject matter of the book was too great to not make into a TV series, and so Hotel Babylon (the TV show) first hit the airwaves in January, 2006. The show stars Max Beesley as “Charlie”, an ex-convict that has talked his way into the front desk of the hotel. “Charlie” is our hero and narrator, and each episode begins and ends with Charlie discussing a theme that will run throughout the show (much like Mary Alice does in each episode of Desperate Housewives). One of my favorite British actors, Dexter Fletcher (whom you might remember as “Soap” from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or as “Staff Sergeant John Martin” from Band of Brothers) also stars as “Tony Casemore”, the Babylon’s well-connected concierge. Also starring are the super-cute Emma Pierson as “Anna Thornton-Wilton” (one of the front desk staff; she slept with Charlie at a previous job), Martin Marquez as “Gino Primirola” (the hotel’s bartender, who unabashedly recycles old cocktail recipes), Ray Coulthard as “James Schofield” (the hotel’s food service manager; he has a serious gambling problem), the exotic Natalie Mendoza as “Jackie Clunes” (head of housekeeping and an illegal immigrant from Australia), and Michael Obiora as “Ben Trueman” (the other front desk receptionist and Babylon’s token gay character).
The first series of the show followed the book pretty closely, in the sense of showing the world how badly guests behave in a luxury hotel… even if they are superrich. The second series lost some of the momentum from the first, falling more into the mold of a traditional “naughty” British soap opera. Series 3? Well, it just started again this week. Fortunately for you, Hotel Babylon runs on BBC America here in the States, so you can catch up with season 1 and 2 before season 3 starts airing here in the US. If you’re one of those people that downloads TV shows, you can find series 3 on lots of trackers, both public and private. Either way, unlike my current favorite TV show – Ashes to Ashes, which requires watching episodes in order, perhaps multiple times – you can easily jump into Hotel Babylon at any time and not get too lost.
Series 3 picks up where series 2 left off: the Babylon’s manager, Rebecca Mitchell (played by Tamzin Outhwaite) has left the hotel after a failed corporate takeover attempt in which she alienated the hotel staff. Mitchell’s marriage ended in series 1 thanks to her workaholic ways, and towards the end of series 2 she sees huge career opportunities if the Babylon is sold to a European “boutique hotel” chain. In order to get the hotel up to snuff for the chain’s bean counters, Mitchell whips the employees into shape with a ball-busting efficiency that would have made Margaret Thatcher jealous. Charlie led the staff’s opposition to both the sale and to Mitchell’s domineering ways. In the end, Mitchell completely loses the confidence of her staff; looking back on her failed career and love life, she decides to quit the hotel, leaving Charlie in charge.
Episode 1 of series 3 begins with Charlie facing a huge moral dilemma. He’s shown holding a £400,000 check, given to him by the CEO of a fashion company called De Rigeur, who wants to hold a fashion show at the hotel. If things go well with the show, the CEO tells Charlie that he’ll tell his corporate friends about how great the Babylon is… which would result in incredible profits for the hotel as well as huge bonuses for Charlie. There is, however, a problem: as Charlie is meeting with the CEO, Anna asks one of De Rigeur’s employees for help in getting her hands on the company’s newest “hot dress” for the season. The De Rigeur employee is incredibly unenthusiastic about helping her, not because he doesn’t want to help, but because he has received troubling information about the sweatshop conditions where the company’s clothes are made. It seems that Malaysian children as young as six are working 18 hour days for the company. The children are beaten without mercy if they slack off, and are only given bathroom breaks every 7 hours. Of course, the employee doesn’t tell Anna all this at the front desk. She asks about the dress and he simply says “trust me, you’re not going to want it”. He also tells her that he’s expecting an important parcel and Anna, eager to get her hands on “the dress”, eagerly says she’ll deliver it directly to him as soon as it arrives.
Meanwhile, the day is Tony’s 40th birthday. At a staff meeting, everyone gathers to sing “Happy Birthday” to him, but then everything falls apart for Tony. Instead of getting him the digital radio he’d hinted at, the staff have bought him a leather notebook emblazoned with the Hotel Babylon logo instead. Great! Tony is visibly disappointed at the gift. It gets worse when Charlie mentions that he has signed the hotel up to accommodate sequestered juries, and the first batch of jurors is to arrive tonight. The courts want a single point of contact with the hotel, and Charlie offers Tony quadruple pay if he’ll stay and babysit the jurors. Tony mentions that it’s his birthday, and has no idea if his wife has anything planned; Jackie volunteers to call the wife… and returns later with sad news. Tony’s wife did, in fact, have nothing planned for his birthday. Tony then grudgingly agrees to watch over the jurors. Things look up for him when the jurors arrive, though: an attractive older blonde takes a shine to him, and the two have a couple of flirtatious run-ins. That is, until she calls him and asks her to come to her room. It seems that someone dressed as a hotel employee has left her some “room service”. Instead of food, he’s left her a few thousand pounds, with promises of much, much more if she’ll vote “their way” on the jury.
While all this is going on, a young woman named “Emily James” checks in to the hotel. She claims to be a journalist, and starts asking the staff awkward questions about the hotel.
The De Rigeur employee’s parcel eventually arrives. It turns about to be a DVD, video evidence of the horrid conditions for the child workers in Malaysia. When he shows the DVD to his boss – De Rigeur’s CEO – he’s immediately fired. The employee then tells Anna to just take the dress, and also tells her why he was fired. Anna sneaks in to the CEO’s room and steals the DVD, which she and Charlie watch in an unoccupied room. Anna then convinces Charlie to return the “blood money”. The two concoct a scheme where the fired employee will pose as a waiter at tonight’s shareholder event. The hotel will replace the PowerPoint presentation with the DVD footage and the employee will beg the shareholders not to accept the status quo.
Tony has, in the meantime, verified that the offer is, in fact, real. He goes to the juror’s room to tell her this, only to find out that she’s “done up” her room as a birthday surprise for him. The two have a few drinks and discuss what they’d do with the money. Soon Tony is talking about leaving his wife and moving with the juror to Cuba or Brazil. More alcohol is consumed, and the two start making out. They drink more. Tony eventually passes out on the balcony and wakes up the next morning. Initially, he’s still all for leaving his family and fleeing to Cuba or Brazil. But then he receives a call from his wife: a parcel from her is on the way to Tony. She’d planned to give it to him last night, but he never came home. The “parcel” is Tony’s birthday present: season tickets to the Arsenal football (soccer) club. Included is a note from his wife telling him how much she and the kids love him. Tony begins to have second thoughts.
While Tony was “gettin’ busy” with the juror, the CEO of De Rigeur is, in fact, publicly humiliated. is The shareholders storm out of the meeting, and the fired employee is named new CEO. Charlie and Anna share a flirty moment in the afterglow of their goodness… will these two end up together?
As the staff gather for morning coffee, they begin talking about the “journalist” that has checked into the hotel. They notice that she’s giving them different names when asked which magazine or newspaper she works for. Everyone suspects that something’s afoot, and the staff gather in a room deep within the bowels of the hotel. Jackie finds the “journalist” and tells her to “follow me if you want the real scoop about this place”. Jackie takes her to the room where everyone has gathered. Come to find out, she’s actually the hotel’s new publicist, and her sneaking around was (in her mind) the best way to get a feel for what’s really going on in the hotel. The staff, for some reason, accept this answer (although we see in the previews for next week’s episode that she is, in fact, a hotel employee).
Lastly, Tony decides to stand up the juror. He’s been thinking about his family and how wrong it would be to leave them. And when the housekeeping staff present him with their birthday present – the digital radio Tony wanted so badly – he decides to stay.
* * *
So – how is series 3 shaping up? Well, in series 2 the show gradually fell from “interesting show about behind-the-scenes life at a luxury hotel with bits of soap opera thrown in” to “just another soap opera with a luxury hotel as a backdrop”. This isn’t a bad thing mind you, it’s just that Babylon has lost some of it’s charm.
I was personally taken aback by Tony’s storyline in this episode. Tony was always a stand-up guy that just happened to have a bunch of shady connections for his concierge job. He always seemed happy with his work, and although his home life has never been shown on the show, he seemed happy. For him to suddenly want to drop everything – including his kids – for an older woman with lots of money given to her by gangsters… well, that just seems really out of character. I’d understand it more if the woman was a 20 year-old Brazilian supermodel, but honestly, the juror was on par with Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliet from Lost) in the “looks department”. To me, Tony seemed more interested in taking off to satisfy some teenage wanderlust than starting a new life with a new love, so the story line didn’t even make any sense, really.
But then, “making sense” was never Babylon’s strong point. Having said that, the show is quickly veering off into Melrose Place territory. I assume that, by the end of the season, someone will have come back from the dead and perhaps even blown up part of the hotel. Max Beesley has stated in interviews that this will be his last season on the show. And without Charlie, there is no show. So maybe it’s time to put Hotel Babylon out to pasture. It’s been a fun ride – and don’t think for a second that I won’t watch every episode of series 3 – but it’s becoming more ridiculous as it goes on. The show’s entire universe has been stretched and massaged such that the only thing the writers can do is either repeat storylines or get more outrageous. I’m thinking it will get more outrageous. And that’s not so bad. Babylon isn’t “life changing TV” – it’s a guilty pleasure… one that I love dearly!