It’s another mixed bag this week with two very different dramas showcasing the diverse offerings that TV had to offer.
We start with a drama that was originally scheduled to be broadcast last week that being Channel 4′s Coalition. James Graham’s timely political drama told the story of the rise of Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and his burgeoning popularity following the first televised leaders’ debate. Clegg’s bubble was soon burst by the fact that the Liberal Democrats actually lost seats at the 2010 election due to the way the voting system in the UK currently operates. During Coalition it was clear that voting reform was a big deal for the Lib Dems and this was one of their major sticking points during negotiations with both the Conservatives and Labour. Graham’s drama was apparently based on first hand interviews with people who experienced the events first hand however we were also told that some of what we saw had been created for dramatic purposes. If I was a betting man I would say that the ratio of fabrication to fact is pretty high and some of the lines feel like they were taken straight out of The Thick of It. When it was at its best, Coalition resembled one of Peter Morgan’s three Tony Blair dramas with Clegg taking centre stage throughout. I felt that Graham painted Clegg in a favourable light namely as an idealistic politician who saw the hung parliament as a chance for real change. His initial scepticism about teaming up with the Tories was evident and at times it seemed as if he were leaning towards a coalition with Labour. However he soon his final decision as being for the greater good of the country and it seemed as if he felt it was the only way to illicit real change. The ending of Coalition was rather sad as Clegg’s optimism was quickly taken away from him and his plans for voting reform were thrown out of the window.
Despite making us feel sorry for Clegg, Graham never demonised the other party leaders instead making both seem like fairly ordinary chaps. Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve) was made out to be a particularly endearing figure especially when it was revealed that he slept his way through the election results. Although manipulative at times, David Cameron (Mark Dexter) seemingly had the country’s best interests at heart and genuinely worried about whether his government would collapse by the summer. It helped that Carvel, Grieve and Dexter never tried to impersonate the leaders they were portraying but instead simply echoed some of their most famous mannerisms. I felt that all three actors succeeded in making me believe their portrayal of the party leaders without ever feeling I was watching an episode of Dead Ringers. The same cannot be said for the members of the supporting cast who seemed like living and breathing caricatures of some of British politics’ most famous faces. Particularly unbelievable was Sebastian Armesto who looked about a decade too long to play George Osbourne and therefore made the current chancellor look like a devious private school dropout. Drawing a fine line between these two camps was Mark Gattiss who, as Peter Mandelson, was absolutely fantastic at playing one of Westminster’s most Machiavellian characters. The main issue with Coalition is that it didn’t feel like it particularly belonged on screen as there were very few moments where director Alex Holmes really took advantage of the televisual medium. As it was Coalition felt like a timely satire on the current state of British politics albeit one that would’ve probably suited the stage better than it suited the small screen.
Last week’s other big one-off drama was The Ark, Tony Jordan’s dramatisation of the much told story of Noah and his ambitious boat-building project. Jordan’s attempts to modernise the story were admirable even if at times I did feel I was watching a Biblical take on Shameless. That’s partly because former Frank Gallagher David Threlfall did take a bit of inspiration from his former character while playing one of the Bible’s most famous patriarchs. Rather than focus on animals and floods, Jordan concentrated on Noah’s determination to finish his project in time and the way that it impacted on his family. As a former Eastenders writer, Jordan knows how to write a good old family drama and he employed a soap-like element to The Ark. He cleverly anchored the drama around the motif of the family’s dinner table which changed later in the story when both Noah and his wife Emmie (Joanne Whalley) were busy banging bits of wood together. Noah also had trouble with his youngest son Kenan (Nico Mirallegro) who was initially presented as a wide-eyed innocent who’d never left the farm before. But he was soon corrupted by the nearby city which was full of thieves and vagabonds who didn’t believe in the message Noah was promoting. As time drew on Kenan fell for the beautiful Sabba (Antonia Thomas), whose womanly charms were enough to tempt him away from his family home. Unfortunately for Jordan, his adaptation of the Noah story comes only a year after Darren Aronofsky’s big screen epic starring Russell Crowe. Whilst that film had plenty of CGI animals and visually stunning floods, it appeared that a BBC budget could only stretch to a bit of water. It did seem that the lack of visual spectacle put some people off the story but I personally admired the way that Jordan made The Ark about Noah’s family first and foremost.
Although I enjoyed Jordan’s storytelling, I felt that overall The Ark was far too long and could have easily lost fifteen minutes from its overall running time. I think this issue goes back to the fact that TV dramas always have to fit into a certain timeslot which means that they are sometimes needlessly over-extended. This was the case with The Ark which was padded out with several scenes that were overly similar to one another and as a result I found myself losing patience with the drama. The one thing that kept me invested throughout The Ark were the performances, namely those given by David Threlfall and Joanne Whalley. Threlfall made Noah feel like a relatable father figure who loved his sons equally and had previously been a sensible farmer. Additionally he made Noah’s quest seem oddly believable as he brilliantly conveyed Noah’s determination to get his project finished on time. Rather than just being a submissive wife, Joanne Whalley transformed Emmie into a strong well-rounded woman who gave as good as she got. She was particularly great when interacting with her screen sons, all of whom could easily have combined to form an indie band on the Madchester scene in the mid-1990s. Whalley and Threlfall’s scenes together were a particular joy to watch with Emmie’s decision to join Noah in his building endeavours being an especially poignant moment. A few members of the supporting cast also stood out to me namely Nico Mirallegro as the defiant Kenan and Emily Bevan as Noah’s ballsy daughter-in-law Salit. Whilst I enjoyed the performances I’m not quite sure if The Ark needed to be ninety minutes long or whether another adaptation of the Noah story was called for in the first place. Although it’s clear that Jordan tried to make his story stand out from the crowd, the lack of visual spectacle ultimately means that The Ark probably won’t be remembered as one of the more memorable Biblical adaptations.
Moving on to something a bit lighter now with Richard Ayoade’s latest factual entertainment vehicle Travel Man. After exhausting every new-fangled device in Gadget Man, Ayoade is now jetting off to foreign climes with a different guest traveller every week. In this week’s opening episode, Ayoade set course to Barcelona alongside the brilliant Kathy Burke as the pair experienced 48 hours in one of Spain’s most famous towns. Although Travel Man gives you an idea of the price it would to take to journey to and stay in Barcelona, Ayoade’s presenting style means this holiday show is a thousand miles away from Wish You Were Here. At times Ayoade’s dead-pan delivery can be a tad grating and therefore I feel the idea to pair him with various guests was an ingenious one. Ayoade and Burke make for a fine double act as her down-to-earth manner is the perfect antidote to his droll delivery.Travel Man’s highlights included Burke seeming a little hesitant to share a room with Ayoade as well as her dreadful experiences of trying some extremely experimental food. However, the moment of the show for me was Ayoade’s entire tour of Barcelona’s football museum with his contempt for the place being evident from the outset. The stand out part of this tour came when Ayoade took a rather memorable shot against a green screen next to legendary striker Messi. Although Travel Man is one of those programmes that will vary in quality depending on Ayoade’s guest, I personally really enjoyed this first episode. I’ve always been a fan of both Ayoade and Burke and the pairing of the two was pure genius primarily as it elicited a few memorable one-liners. Ayoade’s Brit abroad stick is far superior to Karl Pilkington’s grumblings in An Idiot Abroad and I think I laughed more during Travel Man’s first episode than I have done during a lot of recent sitcoms.
Finally, after a patchy debut last week, Inside No. 9 finally came into its own with its second episode entitled The 12 Days of Christine. The Christine of the title is a shoe shop employee played by Sheridan Smith whose life story is told during the episode. Although each of the twelve days occurs chronologically, each scene represents a different year as Christine grows older as the piece goes on. During the episode we see her meet and marry the man of her dreams (Tom Riley), give birth, get divorced and turn thirty. However Reese Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton litter this seemingly mundane tale with their trademark macabre flair. During the episode Christine experiences several surreal moments and occasionally sees a man dressed in white (Shearsmith) breaking eggs around her home. There are several other odd moments including the fact that her dementia-suffering father often pops up seeming incredibly lucid. The final scene reveals exactly why the events of the episode are slightly skewed and the importance of the music played throughout. I’m not sure why both series of Inside No. 9 have had a brilliant second episode but The 12 Days of Christine is definitely up there with A Quiet Night In. The fantastic Sheridan Smith steps out of her comfort zone to play a rapidly ageing character who never seems to quite know what’s going on. I feel this thirty minute episode showcased Smith’s range more than last year’s three part series of Cilla. Meanwhile Pemberton and Shearsmith took secondary roles here, with the former playing Christine’s gay best friend Bobby. I was completely entranced by both Smith’s turn and Shearsmith and Pemberton’s writing which offered up a number of twists and turns before the shocking final reveal. If you are yet to see an episode of Inside No. 9 I would heartily recommend The 12 Days of Christine as it’s an easy watch with a fantastic if tragic conclusion.
That’s your lot for now, remember to follow me on twitter @mattstvbites for more of my views on the week’s TV.