Welcome once again folks to another look back at the best and worst of what the TV week had to offer.
We’re starting off by going on the road with BBC’s newest drama Truckers. Truckers is created by William Ivory, who nearly twenty years ago devised the TV series Common as Muck which revolved around the personal and professional lives of a group of dustmen. Truckers has slight similarities with Common as Muck, as they focus on the working classes and their struggle to separate their work from their home lives. But Truckers has a slightly different narrative structure, which put me in mind of The Syndicate, as each episode primarily focuses on one staff member from fictional haulage firm Banks of England. This week’s opening instalment was based around the life of Malachi (Stephen Tompkinson), who had been a lorry driver for most of his life. Malachi was going through a tough time at home as wife Sue (Maggie O’Neill) was getting remarried to a new man and he was forced to move out of the house that they’d continued to share after their separation. This change in Malachi’s life meant that he started to go off the rails and infuriate new boss Martin (John Dagleish) who was trying to keep costs down. As Malachi started to get spray tans and dodgy Botox, his son and fellow driver Glen (Harry Treadaway) realised something had to be done. However, the well-meaning Glen went about things in the wrong way and his good intentions only led to more problems for his dad. In the end all of the drivers were forced to band together and tried to prevent Malachi from doing something stupid. But, when they realised where he was, they started to discover that they may be too late to do anything about their intoxicated colleague.
As I’ve liked a lot of Ivory’s previous work, especially the film Made in Dagenham, I really wanted to like Truckers. However, I struggled to find any positive elements of the drama, which was mainly due to the fact that this first episode’s focus was a character who was incredibly hard-to-like. There’s a scene early on in Truckers where all of Malachi’s friends give him the cold shoulder when he’s trying to find somewhere to stay. The fact that none of his co-workers care enough about to give him a bed for the night, makes me wonder why we should want to care about him. My feeling is that this first episode of Truckers should have concentrated more on the drivers as a unit rather than circling in on one particular character. Indeed, the best scenes of the episode feature all of the drivers united in their quest to ignore what Martin is telling them or to stop Malachi doing something stupid. The fact that we barely get to know some of the characters means that fine actors like Ashley Walters are left with very little to do. Even the usually brilliant Stephen Tompkinson appeared to be having an off-day as I found his performance as Malachi to be a little over-the-top. Luckily, Tompkinson is a skilled comic actor and he excelled a lot more with the farcical set pieces than he did the emotional dialogue. I personally found myself more drawn to Martin, who was trying to keep his drivers happy and live up to the legacy set by his much-loved late father. John Dagleish’s performance as Martin was excellent, especially during the scene in which Martin was trying to get Malachi to leave his house. It’s fair to say I wasn’t won over by the first episode of Truckers, mainly due to its insistence of featuring one character in a prominent position. But I still see a glimmer of promise in it and will give it at least one more episode before giving up entirely.
Running directly against Truckers was ITV’s new period medical drama Breathless. The drama centres around a number of characters working in a busy London hospital in 1961. The hospital’s shining light is charismatic surgeon Otto Powell (Jack Davenport), who is able to diagnose with a smile and who is both respected by men and adored by women. However, as we learn early on, Otto has a darker side as he regularly performs abortions for women in need, a practise that was illegal in 1961. Otto’s path crosses with that of the hospital’s newest nurse Angela (Catherine Steadman) when she is forced to replace her sister Jean (Zoe Boyle) on the latest illegal abortion. Angela, who is unaware of what the job is, is shocked when she finds out and refuses to take the money that Otto offers her. While he is fascinated by her, she constantly turns down his offer of a rendezvous. Meanwhile none of the hospital staff are aware that Angela and Jean are actually sisters as the latter has told everyone that her family perished in the blitz. In actuality Jean has come to care for their dementia suffering father as Jean is now pregnant and about to marry the arrogant junior consultant Richard Truscott (Oliver Chris). We later learn that Otto has a shady past after his anaesthesiologist friend Charlie (Shaun Dingwall) threatens to reveal a secret that they share, that has something to do with Cyprus. All of these secrets will obviously be uncovered over the coming weeks and I feel that that’s what makes Breathless one of television’s most intriguing dramas.
When I first heard that ITV were producing a period drama centring on the delivery of babies, my thoughts quickly turned to Call the Midwife. But while the BBC’s hit Sunday night drama is all about capturing the picturesque squalor of working class London, Breathless comes across as a much classier affair. First of all, everything is exquisitely shot, meaning that Breathless looks a lot different from your average ITV drama. Even the opening title sequence evokes memories of films from the 1950s and 1960s and is designed in a similar way to the opening credits of Mad Men. The script, by Paul Unwin and Peter Grimsdale, quickly establishes the characters’ backgrounds and relationships, while at the same time leaving us wondering about their various motives. I feel that, after this first episode, I knew who everyone was, but enough intrigue had been built up to keep my interest for future instalments. Breathless is also boosted by a fantastic cast, headed by the fabulous Davenport, who once again is called about to play a charming cad. Here though, Davenport’s performance gives you the impression that he’s not as calm and collected as he appears, especially as he has a gun in his desk drawer. Steadman is brilliantly cast as Angela and her interplay with Davenport will surely be one of the highlights in coming episodes. In addition Oliver Chris is extremely great as the obnoxious Richard and Joanna Page is almost unrecognisable as the dowdy former nurse turned housewife Lily. Overall, Breathless surprised me in a good way as I got a lot more than I expected from an ITV drama about a maternity ward in the 1960s. I’m just hoping the channel doesn’t screw it up because, for now at least, Breathless is certainly different from a lot of British TV dramas.
What’s not very different is the fact that we have yet another comedy panel show featuring genre favourites David Mitchell and Mickey Flanagan. The show in question is Was it Something I Said? and is hosted by Mitchell with Flanagan and Richard Ayoade acting as team captains. The lose theme of the show was quotations with the teams having to attribute various quotes to famous figures or, later on in the programme, each other. Other rounds include the teams trying to figure out what a quote meant after it was taken out of context and complete a famous quotation using several keywords. Each week, the teams are joined by a special guest narrator who will read the quotes aloud with Homeland’s David Harewood being the first to be featured in this role. With Mitchell at the helm, I think there were hopes that Was it Something I said? would be Channel 4′s answer to QI. But the mistake they made was casting Mickey Flanagan as one of the team captains instead of episode one guest Jimmy Carr, who would’ve been a much better choice. For me the highlight of the show was definitely Ayoade who really garnered the majority of the laughs. The one sequence that stuck in my head was when Carr kept trying to approach him and he couldn’t get away quick enough. As we haven’t seen Ayoade as a regular on a panel show before, his participation is the only thing that makes Was it Something I Said? stand out from the rest of the pack. Other than that, the show seems destined to be a panel show that, after a few weeks, everybody will have forgotten about. In a way this is a shame as there were some genuinely funny moments here, but overall everything was just fairly forgettable.
Staying on Channel 4 we come to the much discussed and anticipated experiment show Sex Box. Showing as part of the Channel’s campaign for real sex season, the show saw three couples enter a box and have sex before coming out and sharing their experiences with Mariella Frostrup, a studio audience and a trio of sex experts. The first couple, Rachel and Dean, were both in their early twenties and were there to discuss their generation’s inability to separate loving sex from pornography. John and Matt appeared on the show to discuss the myths of gay sex and what they got up to in the box. Finally middle-aged couple Lynette and Des were representing the couples who’d been together for a while and who hadn’t tired of each just yet. Frostrup and the experts were keen to let us know that this wasn’t some sort of gimmick and instead was a method of opening up about intimacy devised by sex therapists. That’s all well and good, but the low rent studio and constant ‘Sex Box’ graphics made me think that this was some sort of spoof show that Alan Partridge would’ve invented shortly after Monkey Tennis. Though there were a few funny moments, the look on Dean’s face was a particular highlight; for the most part I was quite bored. While I’m aware there are some people who want to talk freely and honestly about their sex lives, I really don’t find their conversation that interesting. Instead, I took to Twitter to enjoy the funny remarks that people were making about this ludicrous and gimmicky show that really didn’t get the kind of reaction that it was expecting.