This week we have a mixture of great drama, average drama, fine documentary and an odd offering from BBC Three.
We kick off with a drama from the brilliant Paul Abbott which, just like the legendary Shameless, has a blackly comic streak running throughout it. Just like Shameless, No Offence follows a rag-tag family unit whose members sometimes fight but ultimately stick together. In the case of No Offence the unit in question are actually a group of police officers who populate the Friday Street Station in Manchester. The Queen Bee of the Station is Joanna Scanlan’s DCI Viv Deering, a monolith of a woman who is both a parental figure and demonic boss in equal measure. Before she even appears on screen we see the terrifying effect she has on subordinates as both the confident DC Dinah Kowalski and soon-to-be-DS Joy Frears are trembling prior to their meeting with the boss. This meeting is to inform Joy of her promotion and to also tell Dinah that Viv knows of her exploits in the episode’s opening scene in which she is accidentally to blame for the death of one of their prime suspects. After learning that her actions of hindered her chance of a promotion, Dinah is briefly dejected but is soon intrigued by a possible serial killer in the area. Although their a road bumps along the way, Viv and her team later come to the conclusion that a man in the local area has been targeting and killing girls with Down’s Syndrome. The latest victim of the killer is Cathy Calvert a young girl whose recent facial surgery made the culprit believe she had Down’s. The rest of the episode then documents the team’s attempts to rescue Cathy before the killer does to her what he already did to two other girls. Although the subject matter may be heavy, Ritter punctuates the dark stuff with some lighter moments including a subplot involving a batty old woman who attempts to implicate her grandson in a recent offence.
I first saw No Offence at a screening several weeks ago and ever since then it has stuck in my mind. I also had the feeling that it would divide audiences and I was right as several people found the combination of comedy and drama quite jarring. However I feel that Abbott balances both aspects of the show perfectly with the cast playing the comedic lines dead straight. The balance is also felt in the programme’s characters most notably the larger-than-life Deering who is used just enough not to outstay her welcome. I found Scanlan’s performance to be well-judged and she made sure her character never slipped into caricature instead making Viv both the domineering boss and the motherly figure of the group. Scanlan’s performance is balanced perfectly by Elaine Cassidy’s turn as the intelligent if impulsive Dinah whose large amount of screen time would suggest to me that she’s the main character. It’s Dinah who we are introduced to first and she’s also the person whose home life we know most about before the episode’s conclusion. Praise must also go to Alexandra Roach’s down-to-Earth portrayal of Joy and the always fabulous Paul Ritter as the wise-cracking pathologist Miller. No Offence isn’t perfect by any means and I found the pacing of the episode to be off at times as Abbott and his co-writers were eager to show off just what No Offence was about. But I do get the feeling that after a breath-taking opening episode, the show will settle down into a nice rhythm throughout the rest of the series. No Offence’s other great element is that it’s not afraid to take risks most notably in its portrayal of Down’s syndrome sufferers as somewhat flawed characters. I found that this added to the realism of No Offence and it was something that made me want to watch future instalments. Ultimately I thought No Offence was a breath of fresh air in a world of by-the-numbers TV drama and I for one can’t wait for the next episode.
We continue with another brilliant drama that possibly contained the best female performance on TV that we’re going to see in 2015. I’m talking of course about The C Word in which Sheridan Smith played cancer sufferer Lisa Lynch. The C Word was a programme I’d heard a bit about primarily due to the fact that I’d seen Smith just after filming the drama for which she’d shaved off all her hair. This commitment to the part was a testament to the friendship she had with Lynch, who’d contacted on Twitter after the adaptation of her book had been announced. The drama followed Lynch’s life as it was dramatically put on hold following the news that she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. To describe her experiences, Lisa wrote a blog; ‘Alright Tit’ mainly so she had an outlet in which to voice her grievances with the disease. As the popularity of the blog spread, Lisa began to find people who knew exactly what she was going through and as a result felt better about herself. However, The C Word wasn’t just about Lisa’s blog but about her relationship with both her husband Pete (Paul Nicholls) and her parents (Haydn Gwynne and Michael Maloney). Lisa’s relationship with Pete provided some of the drama’s most heartfelt scenes as she felt that he wasn’t attracted to her any more. However, he became her rock most notably in an incredibly emotional scene in which he had to carry her out of the bath. One of the saddest parts of the whole drama was that Lisa wrote the first half of it with friend Nicole Taylor however Taylor was forced to carry it on single-handedly after Lynch received a terminal diagnosis. I found that the final third of The C Word was the hardest to watch but Taylor was determined to not let her friend’s story end on a morbid note as we saw Lisa celebrate what life she had left. I have to admit that Smith, Taylor and director Tim Kirby all did their best to pay tribute to Lisa and I believe they did a fantastic job.
One of the best compliments I can pay to The C Word is that I was that I stopped making notes on it about halfway through. Usually, as a reviewer, I’m sat with my pen and paper throughout any programme but this wasn’t the case with The C Word. I feel that I just got wrapped up in Lisa’s plight, with Taylor’s dramatisation of her friend’s book really bringing out the best in everyone involved. Obviously, as she was playing Lisa, this is Sheridan Smith’s show and I believe that it may be her best performance to date. It helps that Smith knew Lisa as she brings out the little quirks that other actresses may have missed. She also is keen to show that Lisa was just a normal girl at heart but one who went through incredible suffering an ultimately lost her life to cancer. Smith was particularly excellent in the drama’s more poignant moments and I felt particularly emotional during the scene where Lisa emerged from the shower having lost the majority of her hair. Whilst Smith is an actress who can always be relied upon to deliver, the same cannot be said for her on-screen husband Paul Nicholls. I feel that’s why Nicholls surprised me as much as he did, playing the put-upon husband who can’t complain about the situation he finds himself in. Nicholls almost did as much to aid my understanding of the story as Smith did. Together Smith and Nicholls made a fantastic pairing and therefore you felt for the latter when he realised he would eventually lose the love of his life. Due to its emotional subject matter, well-paced script and fine central performances, The C Word isn’t a drama that I’ll forget in a hurry. I think that this is the best tribute that all involved could pay to Lisa and alongside her book I feel this TV adaptation has more than cemented her legacy.
The only thing I didn’t understand about The C Word was why it didn’t do better in the overnight ratings with less than four million people tuning in at home. Even more surprising was that the ITV offering, quaint World War II drama Home Fires, won the Sunday night battle garnering almost a million more viewers than the BBC’s touching cancer film. Home Fires can be best described as a paint-by-numbers Sunday night drama as it combines a familiar cast, with a small town setting and an old-fashioned storyline. The location for Home Fires is the Cheshire village of Great Paxford, a town where it always seems to be sunny in the daytime and beautifully lit by the moon in the evening. Great Paxord, just like the rest of the country, is preparing for the Second World War with many of its men getting ready to enlist. Despite the war being referenced several times, most notably due to the presence of army trucks on the small country lanes, the biggest conflict is going on in the village’s Women’s Institute. The W.I. is ruled over by the fearsome Joyce (Francesca Annis) who believes that their meetings should stop during the war. However Joyce’s plans don’t go down well with certain members of the group most notably Frances (Samantha Bond) whose actions see her nemesis leave her post as president. With the group no longer being ruled with an iron fist, Frances suggests that the group make jam to help the war effort and at the end of the first episode introduces a more inclusive membership for the institute. Despite featuring stories of domestic abuse, cancer and overly enthusiastic cattle, Home Fires is an incredibly tame drama. Writer Simon Block has incorporated all the elements that made the likes of Heartbeat and Ballykissangel so successful and judging by the ratings it seems to have worked. Although Block has assembled a talented cast none of them really get to shine which is a shame when the likes of Ed Stoppard and Claire Rushbrook are among the ensemble. Ultimately, Home Fires is cliched stuff that didn’t have anything new to say when it came to the Second World War or life in general. However, if the ratings continue to rise, I can see Home Fires being ITV’s latest long-running Sunday night hit.
We come now to a documentary that I found incredibly moving that being Channel 4′s The Stranger on the Bridge. I always enjoy a factual programme where I’m not aware of the story and that was certainly true of Johnny Benjamin’s search for the man who saved his life. Back in 2008 Johnny, who had just been diagnosed with schizophrenia, was ready to jump from Tower Bridge until a stranger stepped out of the rush hour crowd to stop him. Six years later, Johnny goes on a quest to find the man he simply remembers as ‘Mike’ by going on as many TV and radio shows as possible as well as handing out fliers on the bridge itself. While The Stranger on The Bridge is primarily Johnny’s story what I liked about the show was how it revealed how many Mikes there are out there. As Johnny’s quest continued he got letters from plenty of people who believed they could be the man that he was looking for. Instead it transpired that they themselves had played a similar role in somebody else’s life as Mike had in Johnny’s. For a while I was worried that The Stranger on the Bridge wouldn’t give us the pay off we had been expecting but thankfully Johnny was able to find Mike, even though his name was actually Neil. The phrase ‘restoring your faith in humanity’ is banded around quite a bit however I do think it does apply to The Stranger on the Bridge. It made me feel that not everybody is a cynical as I believe they are and there are genuinely a lot of people who would step in if they saw somebody who was about to end their life. I did like how we weren’t given Mike’s full story before he began his journey and instead were given information about his mental health as the programme went on. I felt Johnny’s story was packed full of genuine emotion and I was close to full on tears a couple of times during the documentary. I do feel that there should be more documentaries out there like The Stranger on the Bridge and I’m hoping the popularity of the programme will lead to the broadcasting of more feel good stories such as Johnny’s.
With two of this week’s programmes provoking genuine emotion in your writer, the only feeling I got from the last show in this post was one of bewilderment. The puzzling programme in question is BBC Three’s Murder in Successville which tries to incorporate three different ideas into the same show. In some respects, Murder in Successville reminds me of a sort of Beadle’s About programme in which a number of celebrities becoming the unwitting foil to the fictional DI Sleet (Tom Davis). Sleet is a detective in the fictional town of Successville; which is populated by a group of famous faces none of whom act how they do in the public eye. The fact that a group of impressionists populate the show also makes it feel akin to a comedy show such as Stella Street or Dead Ringers. The problem is that, unlike those two programmes, none of the impressions in Murder in Successville are particularly accurate. Whilst I suppose this is meant to aid the comedy not one of the supporting cast members impressed me in the least bit. The lack of any decent impressions would lead me to believe that Murder in Successville is attempting to spoof both celebrity culture and the cop show in general. Unfortunately, I didn’t find that there was one laugh during Murder in Successville’s first half hour in which Made in Chelsea non-entity Jamie Lang is paired up with Sleet. In fact I found Lang incredibly annoying as he employed a bout of nervous laughter as the situations he experienced became more bizarre. Only Davis’ deadpan performance as the Sam Spade-esque Sleet was worthy of praise as he at least tried to pull of the spoof element of the show. Murder in Successville built up to Lang attempting to solve the murder of Bruno Torlioni by shooting the person he thought was responsible for the crime. Due to this conclusion, Murder in Successville felt like one of those murder mystery weekends which I’m sure Lang and his Chelsea pals have been on in the past. However, aside from Davis’ performance, I haven’t got one positive thing to say about Murder in Successville as I found it be a programme that never really knew what it wanted to be.
That’s your lot now, I’ll return soon with more TV Highlights and in the meantime remember you can follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites