Monday, 8 September 2014

The Secrets


One of BBC1's half-hour-each-weeknight dramas, all on the Secrets theme and quite starry.  This first episode has Olivia Colman reluctant to help her mother Alison Steadman commit suicide.  Hard to know what to say since this may not be representative of the whole series, but this was very depressing for a Sunday night.  The obvious counterpoint of Olivia Colman's pregnancy (death and birth, the cycle of life, yes?) and the incidental humour of Alison Steadman's smoking a joint didn't relieve the bleakness much, and the legal arguments were largely sidelined.  Yet surely it was the legal status of assisted suicide which made this a secret at all?  What made this watchable were the performances of the three leads, understated to such a degree we wondered if the dialogue was improvised.  If the rest of the acting is of this calibre, the remaining episodes will be worth watching.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Castles in the Sky


Another one of those 'the story of...' 90-minute dramas that the Beeb does so well.  OK so they take a few liberties with the truth for the sake of dramatic tension or humour, and the 'eureka!' moments are cheesy, but the performances are solid (with the exception of Eddie Izzard's Scottish accent wandering across the Atlantic and back) and the science of radar is explained for dummies.  There is apparently evidence that people perform best under pressure, and the threat of Hitler's Luftwaffe brought out the best in weatherman Watson Watt and his team.  Despite prejudice from the toffs, the sorely tested patience of loved ones and the political infighting of Churchill, Tizard and co. they invent something that can detect enemy planes early enough to scramble aircraft effectively.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Chasing Shadows


Room for another ITV crime drama?  There have been allusions to 'The Bridge' because of the main cop's presence on the autism spectrum.  It's clearly the 'tick du jour', and who better to play it than Reece Shearsmith, fresh from his wife-killing psycho in another ITV crime drama.  "Does she have bad breath?" he bluntly asks the anxious parents of a missing girl.  They clearly see DS Sean Stone, demoted to the missing persons unit, as a Holmesian character whose quirks aid his razor-sharp mind etc.  Alex Kingston is his warm-hearted, divorced mother foil, Ruth Hattersley and Noel Clarke his uppity young boss DCI Prior.

His first case is investigating girls who have gone missing after visiting a website for suicidal people - no, not the Samaritans.  And that's about it for feasible plot so far.  The rest is fill: Hattersley has a weird son and Stone a helpful cleaner; or unlikely jokes at the expense of Stone's autistic tendencies and the usual cop TWNHs.  You might be forgiven for thinking policemen aren't the most articulate on the planet, but it's hard to believe that Stone negotiated his way to Sergeant with his lack of tact, or that Hattersley would be daft enough to agree to meet the suspect, whom she's only approached online, alone in what looks like an abandoned shopping centre.

It's ok, but a slightly queasy mix of serious story and odd humour, and will really have to up the ante to sustain four episodes (though so riddled with ad breaks that each can't be more than 45 minutes at most).


Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Our Zoo


George Mottisford (Lee Ingleby) is a dispirited veteran of the Great War, living with his parents, wife Lizzie (Liz White) and two daughters in a small terrace and running a grocery shop.  He suffers from what would probably now be called PTSD, and survivor guilt at having come through the war that killed his brother Stanley.  A chance encounter with his rascal brother-in-law (Ralf Little) leads to him rescuing a parrot and a monkey from the docks and then, in the teeth of opposition from his mother (Anne Reid, splendid as usual), an elderly camel from a circus.  Don't try this at home....

This is Hovis-cozy Sunday night drama airing on a Wednesday, for some unfathomable reason.  The first episode of six sees George's enthusiasm persuade his wife to agree to stake everything on a bank loan to buy a derelict stately home and turn it into a free-roaming zoo.  In time-honoured, TV-drama fashion, George triumphs against the odds and takes the first steps towards making his dream come true, with the slightly baffling support of a posh lady (Sophia Myles) and the interest of the local vicar (Stephen Campbell-Moore).  Peter Wight is his amiable dad Albert, rounding out a good cast, and the story is based on the founding of Chester Zoo.

The preview of episode two suggests that George gets off to a shaky start and may have bitten off more than he can chew with the residents of Upton.  We know he overcomes it, so no spoilers possible really, and no real tension either.  He has an amazingly precocious - for the time - 15-year-old daughter who has already tried to elope with the neighbour's boy, prompting bad CGI of a departing steamer.  It's not challenging stuff, then, and its 9pm weekday slot is probably not as good a fit as 8pm Sunday, but we think fans of Anne Reid and cheeky-looking camels will probably find it worthwhile tuning in.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Crimes of Passion


With the Brits busy imitating Skandi Noir (Hinterland, Broadchurch) here comes a Swedish crime drama owing far less to its countrymates like 'The Killing' and 'Wallender' than to quintessential Brit crime queen Agatha Christie.  There's even a sly reference by a character to 'Ten Little Indians' and the setting - an island where the guests at a Midsummer's Eve party in the 1950s are murdered one by one - is a definite homage.

'Crimes of Passion' is a new six-parter on BBC4's foreign crime slot on a Saturday evening, based on the 1940s/50s books by Maria Lang.  Our main character, Puck (Tuva Novotny) keeps a beady eye on the investigation like a young Miss Marple, attracting attention from the womanizing policeman Wijk (Ola Rapace) as well as her true love Einar (Linus Wahlgren).  All the usuals are here: an isolated, would-be idyllic setting and a cast of characters mired in various delusions and tortured relationships, plus the tongue-in-cheek knowingness that the most recent batch of Marples and Poirots all display.  The period setting adds glamour, of-course; no kitchen-sink grime to be seen, and what current drama is complete without a 21st Century preoccupation at the heart of the matter?

Nothing new, then, but good cosyish fun for a quiet evening in.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Walter


Our eponymous hero is an amiable, bumbling cop with a sweet, posh daughter.  No prizes for guessing this isn't gritty drama along the lines of 'Line of Duty', which confusingly also featured Adrian Dunbar as a financially compromised detective.  That's the only similarity.  The opening scene may feature a worried-looking man going under a tube train, but this is a comedy-drama.  It's not a hybrid we've ever warmed to, because to carry it off requires first class writing which, in the days of marketing, ratings and pressured deadlines, is pretty rare.

Dunbar is a good enough actor to play hero, jester or villain and carry an audience with him all the way, and Alexandra Roach is likeable as his ditzy, sassy sidekick, but OMG they deserve a better script.  This involves a corrupt cop with a late-blooming conscience (like we said, not realism), and a murder which almost foxes the police, thanks to their undercover officer going awol.  It's sort of in the same spirit as 'New Tricks' - there are jokey scenes with the young, gay Chief Super, widower dad Walter and lovelorn Anne with her Welsh mother - but it needs a more even tone and tighter plotlines if it's going to spin out to a series.  There's potential for a nice light drama with a few laughs, maybe in a Sunday evening 8pm slot, but in the tough world of today's TV they may already have blown their one chance by an underwritten pilot, shown on a Friday evening in August.  

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

In the Club


We have to hand it to Kay Mellor.  Who else could write a soapy drama about six pregnant women that is in any way watchable to anyone not obsessed with pregnancy?

Diane (Jill Halfpenny) has just found out she's expecting twins, only to discover that her husband Rick (Will Mellor) was made redundant months ago and has run up large debts; Roanna (Hermione Norris) is in the throes of a bitter divorce while expecting a baby with her younger lover Simon (Luke Thompson); Kim (Katherine Parkinson, fresh from a pregnancy in 'The Honourable Woman') is having a baby with her partner Susie (Tara Fitzgerald), whose ex-partner Neil (Jonathan Kerrigan) is the sperm donor; midwife Vicky (Christine Bottomley) is expecting her own first child while in an unstable relationship; Jasmin (Taj Atwal) is having doubts about her impending motherhood and is keeping something from husband Dev (Sacha Dhawan); and lonely  fifteen-year-old Rosie (Hannah Midgley) is largely ignorant of what's going to happen to her.

So, all the familiar Mellor ingredients are here for the first of six episodes that will no doubt see emergencies, births, revelations and seismic shifts of emotion.  The strengths of her writing are in the audience being able to identify with everyday people struggling with familiar frustrations.  It's good enough to rise above trite dialogue and resolution, while never challenging in the way that the current, aforementioned BBC2 drama, or C4's 'Utopia' are.  So, if you're a fan of the back catalogue ('Band of Gold', 'The Practice', 'Playing the Field', 'A Passionate Woman' etc.) then you won't be disappointed, but if not, then this probably won't convert you.  Will we keep watching?  Probably not, but then gossip about trapped wind and swollen ankles, while they may be facts of life, can get a bit wearing.