This week we have a mix of new drama and returning comedy which all demonstrate the wide breadth of options currently on offer on our TV screens.
We start with ITV’s attempt to outdo Doctor Who as they present a new family teatime drama of their own in the form of Jekyll and Hyde. Coming from the mind of Charlie Higson, Jekyll and Hyde is a more modern take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s story as it transposes the action to the 1930s. Here we meet Henry Jekyll’s grandson Robert, a young Doctor who grew up never knowing of his heritage thanks to his upbringing in Sri Lanka under the guidance of his adopted family. It’s clear from the start of the show that Robert has inherited his grandfather’s split personality however it is being controlled by some special medication. After an intense opening sequence involving a life-or-death operation, Robert his hailed as a hero and due to a newspaper story his location is revealed to lawyer Max Utterson who has been tasked with dealing with his grandfather’s estate. This is where the story really gets going as Robert journeys to London after a request from Max to find out more about where he comes from. Robert’s trip to London is of interest to a number of people including the MIO Unit, a secret organisation whose job it is to protect the people of Britain from supernatural beasties. It is the MIO who trigger Hyde’s emergence from Jekyll after they steal his medication and he arrives at a beautifully-designed London nightclub ready for a fight. Here he crosses paths with wise club employee Garson who is the only character in the piece to be aware of Jekyll’s past and helps the youngster to calm himself down. However more evil forces are at work as the sinister Captain Dance is on Robert’s tail having already killed his adoptive parents in Sri Lanka.
One thing I noticed from the very start of Jekyll and Hyde is how high the production values are as even the opening credits had a cinematic quality to them. What I liked about Higson’s storytelling was the way in which he didn’t dumb down the content in order to appeal to a mass-market. At the same time I felt the story was basic enough for children to understand, something I can’t say about the current series of Doctor Who. I did think the pacing of the piece was well-done as the sequence in Sri Lanka, Robert’s arrival in London and the fight at the bar were all given an equal proportion of time. As well I think Higson has tried to give something for everyone with several action sequences peppered throughout the piece combined with a central romantic thread and some comedy courtesy of plummy lawyer Max. But not everything about Jekyll and Hyde was exactly perfect and I would say that some of the character development left a lot to be desired especially in regards to the wise Garson and Robert’s love interest Lily. I do have to applaud Tom Bateman’s performance as he excelled as both the worthy Robert Jekyll and the sinister Hyde. What I liked the most about his central turn was the way in which he was able to put some of Hyde into his performance of Jekyll and vice versa. I felt Bateman was ably supported by Richard E Grant as the suave head of MIO Bulstrode as well as by the fantastic Christian MacKay as Max Utterson. Much has been made of the content in Jekyll and Hyde and how some of its sequences have scared younger viewers however I do feel that on the whole children will love the show. At the end of the day I don’t think there was anything that I found to be inappropriate and I do think that if you know your children can’t do well with mild peril then they shouldn’t be watching the show in the first place. Overall, although I felt it was a little rough around the edges, I did think Jekyll and Hyde did its job of providing a real alternative to the sometimes mind-boggling world of Doctor Who. My only worry is that whether ten episodes is too much for this first series but at the same time I do have faith in Higson and his ability as a storyteller.
This week’s other new drama couldn’t be any different from Jekyll and Hyde if it tried as BBC One’s Cuffs is a contemporary crime drama set in and around Brighton. Written by Julie Geary, who’s perhaps best known for creating Prisoner’s Wives, Cuffs is BBC One’s latest attempt to create a successful 8pm drama following the cancellation of Waterloo Road. The first episode followed the first day on the beat of PC Jake Vickers, a rookie officer who has a lot to prove seeing as his father is the Chief Superintendent. Jake’s partner is Ryan Draper; a no-nonsense widower who feels that his new rookie has got his place in the police due to his family connections. Ryan and Jake’s day is quite chaotic as they participate in car chases, try to halt a suicide attempt and eventually help their superiors in stopping a known drug dealer. What I liked about Cuffs is the fact that it didn’t try to shy away from tough topics despite its pre-watershed time slot. For example one of the subplots saw Paul Ready’s DI Felix Kane help a woman get back her daughter after her ex-partner had abducted the child. I would’ve also have thought that the fact that the lead character of Jake was gay would raise a few eyebrows, especially seeing as there are complaints every time there is a same-sex kiss on any soap opera. But in fact I felt that Geary never made this much of an issue meant that nobody felt outraged enough to call Ofcom following Jake’s liaison with a criminal layer. Although I wouldn’t say Cuffs doesn’t sidestep every cop drama cliché, I think it feels fresh due to its Brighton setting and realistic characters. It also helps that there are some reliable hands amongst the cast such as the fantastic Amanda Abbington and the ubiquitous Shaun Dooley who portray DS Moffatt and DI Hawkins respectively. Whether Cuffs will go on to have the success of that other famous pre-watershed cop show The Bill remains to be seen but I found it engaging and easy-to-watch whilst furthermore feeling that it ideally suited that 8pm timeslot.
Moving onto something a little lighter now in the form of the second series of Catastrophe, which follows on hot on the heels of series one which only finished airing earlier this year. I was quite baffled at the start of the new series of Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney’s sitcom as they were just on the verge of having their second child. Those who remember the end of the first series will recall that Sharon was just about to give birth to their son after her wedding to Rob was an unmitigated disaster. Rolling the action on a bit without warning was a concept that I initially found a little hard to get to terms with but after a while I realised it was the right decision. Moving the action along allowed Rob and Sharon to explore the fact that their relationship wasn’t as hot as it once was especially since child two came along. Horgan and Delaney work so well against each other that it’s easy to buy into them as an actual couple especially when they’re at each other’s throats. Normally I wouldn’t be a fan of the more colourful dialogue employed in Catastrophe’s bedroom scenes but I think they work thanks to the brilliant interplay between Horgan and Delaney. At the same time the filthiness of Catastrophe isn’t the only thing the sitcom has going for it as it also has some moments of bracing realism. The opening episode brilliantly exemplified Catastrophe’s mixture of humour and pathos with the story of Sharon’s father’s early onset dementia as well as her own struggles to bond with her newly born daughter. Despite their obvious flaws Delaney and Horgan have crafted two characters whose situations you sympathise with and I have to say I felt for the couple after their dog was run over. The central players are also well supported by a cavalcade of performers most notably Mark Bonnar as the intense Chris and Carrie Fisher as Rob’s mother Mia. Overall, while I would’ve like to have waited a little longer between series, I think it’s great to have Catastrophe back and it’s fair to say that Horgan and Delaney may have crafted one of the best sitcoms of recent years.
However they do have competition for that title thanks in part to Mackenzie Crook’s delightfully understated Detectorists which returned to BBC Four this week for a second run. After rather enjoying the gentle nature of Crook’s first series I was surprised to see an opening sequence that involved an action-packed medieval jaunt as a monk quickly tried to hide an important pin from some marauding soldiers. Thankfully this was only a brief prologue to the rest of the series which saw Crook’s Andy return alongside Toby Jones’ Lance as they continued to survey the fields of Danbury for more buried treasure. The first episode of series two sees Crook set out the storylines that will occupy the next five instalments with Andy becoming a new father whilst Lance is seemingly looking for love. It appears that Andy has thrown himself into being a father to Stanley and has devised a system of feeding and changing his son which military-like in precision. However it appears as if Andy’s other half Becky wants something more and there is the suggestion that she wants to travel in the near future. Elsewhere a German visitor has arrived at the DMDC attempting to find the remains of his grandfather’s plane and has enlisted the ragtag band of detectorists in order to aid him with his search. Despite all these plot threads beginning, what makes Detectorists so charming is the banter between Andy and Lance concerning subjects as trivial as how best to act after answering a question correctly on University Challenge. Crook is great as the hobbying Andy but its Jones’ performance as Lance which is perfectly-judged as he searches for something else to fill the hole that his ex-wife Maggie has left. Everything about Detectorists is perfectly judged and it has a gentle tone that is lacking in most modern sitcoms. It remains to be seen if this series as charming as Detectorists’ first outing but judging by this first episode alone Crook’s gentle sitcom is as perfect as ever.
Next Time: The X-Factor, The Great Pottery Throwdown and After Hours