A massively jam-packed week of TV goodness in this edition so let’s get started already.
And we kick-off with Exile a drama starring John Simm as a disgraced London journalist and Jim Broadbent as his father who his suffering from dementia. After having seeing the trailers for this I thought this was sort of a sensitive father and son story about how this illness affects families. But that wasn’t the case instead it was a story about how Simm’s character Tom was trying to find out why his father beat him and forced him to leave the house 18 years previous, when bizarrely Tom looked like Newt from Hollyoaks. What followed was a conspiracy thriller about the power of the press, both Tom and his father Sam were journalists, and also a story about corruption in a hospital and within the council. Obviously with Sam constantly being stuck in the past his memories became jarred and Tom had to go about unlocking them through the use of dodgy 90′s mix CDS, posh charity dinners and a football match. Meanwhile a more human story about Sam’s condition and the struggles that Tom’s sister Nancy, played by Olivia Coleman, had been going through to look after him single-handedly. I have to say I did really enjoy Exile but then it was from steady dramatic hands Paul Abbott and Danny Brockenhurst the latter of whom wrote it. All three central performances were very good – Simm was on good form as a character who arrives as a drug-addicted, adulterer who obviously has past ghosts and was never firmly in the right throughout the programme. Jim Broadbent is always excellent and here he is able to flex his acting muscles playing a character who has limited knowledge of his past. But most surprising of all was Coleman who got to play the most humanistic role as Nancy the sister who hasn’t had time to date or have a life and feels that the return of her brother is finally her chance to let her hair down. There were also good supporting turns from Shaun Dooley as Simm’s former best mate and Timothy West as Metzler the shady head of the council. Although it was incredibly well-written I did struggle with the portrayal of dementia, as I know what it is like to live with someone with the condition I felt it rather broad but maybe this was needed for the drama saying that I do hope Brockenhurst researched the condition rather than just building the character around things he’d read about dementia on the Internet. While it was gripping throughout I found the end reveal a little convoluted and I don’t truly feel that the villain of the piece got his comeuppance. But overall a very good drama with three superb performances and a wonderful start to the week.
A more old school conspiracy thriller came later in the week in the form of The Shadow Line written by Hugo Blick who is more famous for his tragicomedies such as Marion and Geoff and Sensitive Skin. This thriller centres around the shooting of a drug dealer and how it affects both the police investigating the crime and the people who work for the drug dealer. The two central characters are Christopher Eccleston’s Joe a hard-working man who just happens to be working on the wrong side of the law and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Jonah Gabriel who is the policeman investigating the case. Both men have personal issues Joe’s wife, played by the excellent Lesley Sharp, has early on-set Alzheimer’s while Jonah has just returned to the job after being shot and nearly killed the bullet still being lodged in his brain. Gabriel also is unsure of his past and why he was following the people who ultimately killed him and his partner but there is a big shock at the end of episode one which we the audience and Jonah never saw coming. As well as trying to solve the murder Joe also has to contend with Jay the jittery nephew of the drug dealer who was shot, Jay has a massive temper on him and as we saw can snap at a moment’s notice. The Shadow Line is extremely stylised every character has a definitive look about them and even the use of music is done well with a haunting opening theme and a lack of backing music between some scenes. All the acting is intense and superb especially from Sharp, Ejifor and Spall but the biggest thing going for The Shadow Line is its writing. Blick’s script has a definitive pace to it, it started slow with a conversation between two policeman taking the best part of five minutes but then leapt at a pace introducing characters, backstories and motivations at a zipping pace and that’s what I liked about it, it sort of had the mentality of ‘this is the speed we’re going at, keep up.’ Obviously there are going to be comparisons drawn between The Shadow Line and The Wire, in fact I did it myself on Twitter, but Shadow Line is definitely a very British beast and any comparisons with one of the best T.V. shows ever can only be a good thing. The Shadow Line only left me with one question, why can’t all U.K. dramas be this good?
While Exile and The Shadow Line were both very good they were mainly dominated by strong male leads with the women either putting up with their lot in life or suffering from some kind of illness. Thankfully while the BBC were all chummy in their boys club ITV1 had two strong female leads in their two crime dramas. First up was Brenda Blethyn in Vera playing the heroine of the Anne Cleves (not Anne of Cleves) DCI Vera Stanhope. Vera is very much an amalgamation of T.V. detectives we’ve seen before she has the social skills of a Morse or a Frost mixed together with the quirkiness of Hetty Wainthrope and she did have sort of a caring side to her although she often used this to try and coax answers from young girls about the crimes she was trying to solve. In the first of four episodes Vera and her sidekick Joe Ashworth were trying to solve the murder of a boy who was drowned in his bath and later the murder of a young teacher. The murders also connected with the tragic drowning of one of the classmates of the boy who was drowned in the bath. Most of the two hour show was Vera constantly trying to come up with links and it also seemed to me to be a bit of a class struggle between the Geordie based council house crew led by Gina Mckee’s grieving mother and the posh people who occupied the Northumberland coastline buying up beachside property. As a character Vera isn’t in the slight bit original she is one of those coppers who comes across all warm and cosy but you know really that she’s incredibly intelligent and uses people’s perceptions of her to try and get results. For me though the story was very stretched and the reveal felt a bit petty, if you’ve taped it I won’t spoil it but it sort of revolved around Peeping Toms, secret liaisons and birdwatching towers. Blethyn saved Vera from being just another cop show but for me it probably could do with being slimmed down to an hour or the stories have to at least being interesting enough to keep my attention. Another problem was the supporting characters or ‘the other coppers’ even the sidekick Joe was a bit one-dimensional worrying about the fact his wife was going into labour and struggling with the fact that Vera cared more about the job than she did anything else. All in all a sloppy but well-acted drama that needs to be slimmed down in order to be more effective.
I don’t know what it is about bird-related settings and ITV1 this week but as Vera had her bird-watching towers, Case Sensitive had scenes in a bird sanctuary. This time the female in charge of the investigation DS Charlie Zailer, played by the excellent Olivia Wiliams seemingly slumming it on U.K. T.V.. Like Vera, Charlie is obsessed by her work and lets it take over her life which is demonstrated by her messy flat and her one-night stand with co-worker Simon Waterhouse who just happens to be the officer she is working with on her latest case. Again a child drowning this time a seemingly closed case of a murder-suicide with a mother taking her six-year old daughter with her as she commits suicide. It is odd that Waterhouse is the one who believes there is more to the case than a simple as it is usually the lead investigator who is a renegade has to convince the rest of the squad that they are right. Again this involves the secrets kept my children and involves a secret kept among three six year old girls which to be honest is quite intense. For me this kept it simple, to an extent, before going completely mental with a random boarded up house and bodies buried under olive trees. The best thing about the show again is its female lead Olivia Williams who is a force to be reckoned with as Charlie and she also shares just the right amount of on-screen chemistry with her male lead Darren Boyd, another actor who is trying to break out of the comedy cycle into more serious roles. If I had to pick between Vera and Case Sensitive of which I would like to stick around I would have to say the latter but unfortunately Blethyn and chums have got a four part series while Williams and Boyd have to make do with another two-parter coming later this year. Just before I finish on this one I’d like to know when we got so desensitized to child murder both of this week’s ITV1 dramas centred around it while last weeks The Suspicions of Mr Whicher was all based around solving the murder of a young boy. Fair enough is a shocking and harrowing topic and adds to the overall drama but at the same time it does prove for harrowing drama and the fact that its become a regular theme among all these dramas is a bit worrying.
The BBC continue to use computer graphics and the like to enhance their new documentaries and this was witnessed once again in their brand new flagship doc, Inside The Human Body in which Michael Mosley takes us deep inside the body to demonstrate the processes that make us do certain things this is also twinned with real life stories in order to keep the viewer interested and not have us watching computer graphics for an hour. The first episode was based around creation of new life and the computer graphics looked how sperm journeys from when the male ejaculates till it finally fertilises the egg presuming this actually happens at all. The sequences featuring the sperm’s journey were very well put together but the music used over the top of Mosley’s narration made it feel more like I was watching a David Attenborough documentary about endangered trout. I also had to laugh when the female ovaries looked more like Scotch Eggs with tadpoles swimming round them than the actual miracle of life. For me the more interesting parts involving the computer graphics was when Mosley talked about the creation of the face from cleft palates to the way that a lot of our facial features come directly from fish. The human interest side had little interest to me as it did seem to be a rehash of a lot of the baby shows that have recently sprung up most notably One Born Every Minute. So we met Diane and Mike who were expecting triplets as well as Mosely journeying to Africa and looking at how difficult it was to give birth over there. More interesting was the study of twins and especially the Ronnie and Donnie the two oldest living conjoined twins who seem to be content with their lot in life despite spending every day together. For some reason Mosley also visited a lap dancing club to talk about research a group of scientists did to find the correlation between the tips these girls received depending on how fertile they were, now this research had been done already but Mosley still had to visit the club just in case we didn’t know what a lap dancing establishment looked like, I think the man must be able to get away with a lot of things if he tells his wife, ‘darling I’ve got to visit the lap dancing club again, it’s for my work!’ Funniest of all though was a group of rugby lads watching their sperm samples on one of the big video screens at Piccadilly Circus, although this was full of good on you, and look at those boys go, if any of the sample were immobile this would be a hell of way to find out that you were infertile. Overall an interesting and thought-provoking documentary with a good combination of real life stories, experiments and computer graphics that I’m sure will be used in the following years by science teachers who want a quiet lesson so will just let the glass watch a video.
Two of my favourite comedies from 2009 have both returned this week starting off with Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle an odd beast starring the melancholy comic in which he infused stand-up with sketches. This time the format has changed a little bit as Lee has bought along Chris Morris to executive produce and a lot of the sketches have been cut. Instead what we find is Lee being interviewed by Armando Iannucci, who is heard but not seen, interwoven with his stand-up and then one giant sketch which brings it all together. The comedy is less scatter-shot than before focusing more on a specific joke and referencing it throughout the show this time being Lee’s grandfather who lives in a nest made of remembrance day poppies and shares crisps with his old army buddies but won’t use anything Japanese. Lee’s style means that he constantly points out where the jokes are in his set and, for me at least, he is also the master of the comic pause stopping when he believes the audience may laugh and then at sometimes questioning their laughter. I felt the whole thing worked a lot better than the last series, which I enjoyed, the removal of the sketches and the addition of the Iannucci interviews adds a new dimension and the whole thing does build up to a giant sketch involving his grandpa’s nest being attacked by giant wasps and Lee having to dress up as Godzilla in order to save him. I know this won’t be everybody’s cup of tea and indeed if you’re one of the people who enjoys the awful and predictable jokes on the woeful Life of Riley then there’s little chance you’ll find Lee’s style of comedy at all amusing. But personally I feel he has the mixture of post-modernism and absurdist humour down to a fine art and it’s just a shame that he’s been dumped in the post-Newsnight slot where only his hardcore fanbase will want to seek him out.
And finally we come to the second series of the weirdly comedy horror Psychoville or as it wants to be known Psychoville 2. The second series picks up to see the effect of the blast at the mental hospital on the various characters. Mr. Jelly has died but the rest of the bunch are still alive Joy the midwife is now raising Mr Lomax’s former Asian carer Jennifer as her new Freddie, David Sowerbutts has found out that his mother is dying of cancer, Lomax’s hearing has gone and Mr. Jelly is still trying to find the clues over what secrets the locket holds. Yes the second series has become all about what happened to the locket belonging to Nurse Ketchington and currently in the possession of Robert, who doesn’t appear in the first episode. At the end of the Halloween special we also met Imelda Staunton’s Grace Andrews who is also after the locket for some reason which has yet to be explained but we did find out that she is willing to kill to get what she needs New characters have also emerged with Reese Shearsmith playing a pinickity librarian who keeps getting haunted by The Silent Singer every time a book isn’t returned and Steve Pemberton as Hattie a fag hag whose gay best friend is trying to convince her to marry his Iranian lover so he can stay in the country. Where Hattie and The Silent Singer fit into the grand scheme of the story is yet to be seen but once again I am hooked and applaud Pemberton and Shearsmith again for finding new avenues to travel down in this new series. I’m just hoping the new characters have a point and join into the key story as I don’t want it becoming a bit sketch-showy like The League of Gentleman did. Overall though I was intrigued enough in the new characters and still love the old characters enough to keep going to find out what happens next.
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Next Week: The Apprentice, 24 Hours in A&E and Made in Chelsea.