This week it’s time for another cavalcade of crime drama, real life medical emergencies and one very funny comedy.
Undoubtedly the biggest crime drama hitting TV screens this week was the opening instalment of the third series of Allan Cubbitt’s serial killer thriller The Fall. After attending the screening of The Fall’s debut episode back in 2013, I felt that the story of Gillian Anderson’s DCI Stella Gibson’s hunt for Belfast strangler Paul Spector could easily have been confined to one series. However, due to the drama garnering BBC Two some of its biggest ratings in years, The Fall’s return was inevitable but I felt that the second series should have ended with Gibson finally bringing Spector to justice. In some ways this happened, Gibson captured Spector however events took a turn for the sinister when he made her accompany him to show her where he’d held his latest victim Rose Stagg hostage. During this time James Tyler, one of Spector’s many enemies, emerged shooting and wounding him before he himself was killed by a police bullet. This event meant that we had to return to The Fall for a third time and as this series opens up it’s clear that Cubbitt and company will be dragging things out as far as they can. With Spector suffering massive internal injuries I wasn’t surprised when we ended up at Belfast General Hospital. However I was shocked when I quickly realised that the almost the entire episode would be confined to the medical institution as Spector’s surgery was documented in almost painstaking detail. Elsewhere Gibson discovered that she would no longer be the public face of the investigation due to her cock-up in almost causing the death of Spector and putting into jeopardy the career of her most recent conquest; Colin Morgan’s DS Anderson. To me the most interesting parts of the episode happened outside of the hospital as Spector’s current predicament played on the lives of those who he had left behind. Whilst Spector’s wife Sally Ann, who’d only recently discovered the true nature of her husband’s crimes, tried to explain the situation to their children we saw that his daughter has now learnt the truth about her father. Meanwhile Spector’s occasional lover, teenage babysitter Katie, tried her best to leave the house when she learnt that the man she was obsessed with had been critically injured. Unfortunately these poignant moments were few and far between and instead I felt what happened during the first hour of The Fall’s third series could have been covered in about half an hour.
The most insulting thing about this opener was when Cubbitt decided that The Fall could lapse into dream sequence territory after being very much grounded in reality for its first two series. These dream sequences saw the comatose Spector driving a car and being stuck in a tunnel which at one end had a bright light where he could hear his mother’s voice meanwhile the other end contained the sound of his children singing. Spector’s purgatory dreams seemed to exist purely to give Jamie Dornan something to do as otherwise all his character would’ve been required to do was lie on his back and have his spleen removed. Dornan’s rising star is possibly the primary reason why The Fall has returned in the first place and his popularity was evident when I was inundated by tweets from messages from his adoring fans after I mentioned I was going to a screening of this episode. Unfortunately featuring a character who shouldn’t be in an episode means that The Fall threatens to loose some of its dramatic credibility especially if it insists on including these dream sequences. There were a few positives in this episode including the performance of Bronagh Waugh as Spector’s aforementioned tragic wife Sally Ann. Even though I got incredibly bored by the constant hospital scenes, the appearance of Richard Coyle as the head emergency room doctor at least meant we were in capable hands. I did like the theme about the medical team having to operate without prejudice after they learnt they were trying to save the life of The Belfast Strangler. Meanwhile Gillian Anderson continues to make Stella Gibson an incredibly memorable character as she attempt to stage manage all of the events at the hospital whilst wandering round with a massive blood splatter on her usually spotless white blouse. Anderson is great in portraying Stella’s steely demeanour but is equally at home in the character’s moments of vulnerability which was showcased when she discovered that she wasn’t to talk to the press anymore. Unfortunately the abiding memory of this series three opener is one of boredom as I quickly realised I was sitting through a really well-shot, classy episode of Casualty rather than a well-paced instalment of a once engrossing crime drama. I’m hoping that events in series three pick up following this slow opener however as this run was surplus to requirements in the first place I don’t see this happening. This means that unfortunately The Fall will limp to a conclusion which is a shame seeing as it was a drama that had tons of promise when it first debuted over three years ago.
The Fall wasn’t the only new crime drama on TV this week as ITV brought us The Level which unlike their other new police procedural Paranoid, The Level at least has a sympathetic lead character in the form of DCI Nancy Devlin (Karla Crome) and I felt that she was introduced into the drama. Initially we learned that Nancy was an exemplary copper and had stepped in to save a colleague (Robert-James Collier) who had been threatened at gunpoint. But at the same time Nancy led a double life as she was secretly aiding dodgy haulage boss Frank LeSaux (Philip Glenister) and making sure that she’d make his name disappear from every police report he popped up on. As Glenister was promoted as one of the leads in The Level I was absolutely shocked that Frank was murdered during his first appearance in the drama as a mysterious assailant shot him dead as well as shooting Nancy, leaving her dealing with a bullet wound for the rest of the drama. Nancy was soon dispatched to her hometown of Brighton where she was once friends with Frank’s daughter Hayley (Laura Haddock) before the latter entered rehab. Nancy is soon confronted by her former life and in particular has a meeting with her estranged alcoholic father (Gary Lewis) who asks her to move back into his house. She is also paired with a new colleague (Noel Clarke) who seems to have an issue with Nancy either because of her associations with the LeSaux family or because of her past in the crime squad. Soon it becomes clear that someone is aware of Nancy’s involvement with Frank after they obtain CCTV footage of her buying painkillers from a pharmacy shortly after the shooting. Whether the person who knows about Nancy is a character we’ve already met remains to be seen but The Level already has me intrigued enough to stay with it. Unlike Paranoid, there’s a lot to like about The Level from the shocking way in which Frank was killed early on to the exploration of Nancy’s relationships with both her father and the haulage boss. However the main attraction of The Level is the presence of Karla Crome who is absolutely excellent in the role of Nancy and her performance makes you guess the motivations of her character in almost every scene. Furthermore I found the script from Gaby Chiappe and Alex Perrin to be well-paced and my attention never waned during the hour that The Level was on. Whilst The Level is far from perfect I felt it to be an engaging crime drama with a fantastic central turn from Crome and one that poses enough questions to make me tune in to at least the next episode to find out what happens next.
Real life drama was on the menu courtesy of BBC One’s latest prime time documentary Ambulance which looked at the snap decisions that London paramedics had to make in order to prioritise the cases that their crews dealt with. I personally felt that the best parts of Ambulance were when the action was contained to the control centre where the staff were inundated with calls from those of minor importance to those which required the paramedics on the scene as soon as possible. I feel each individual case was well illustrated thanks to a computer map of London with animated arrows pointing to where each of the calls were coming from. Alongside these arrows we were given the details of each case from cardiac arrests and car accidents to shootings and suicides. Unlike Channel 4′s medical documentary 24 Hours A&E, a lot of the stories in Ambulance didn’t have a particularly happy ending and one of the things the crews talked about was how much death they saw on a daily basis. The documentary set its cards on the table early on when the crews were forced to declare a man dead after forty minutes of attempting to resuscitate him. The most compelling character for me in this first episode was Dan, a tattooed no-nonsense paramedic who talked about not being as cool and calm in a crisis as he first appeared to be. One of Dan’s most memorable cases saw him attempt to deal with a man who’d overdosed on drugs and instead of being grateful for the paramedics’ help actually insulted them for cutting off his clothes. This to me was the stark realisation that not everybody wants the help that’s provided to them and would instead walk away without thanking the people who saved their lives. Although at times the action in Ambulance did stall, for the most part I found the documentary to be incredibly adrenaline-packed especially when the crews quickly had to get to the scene of a fire. Thankfully there were a couple of heart-warming stories tucked into Ambulance most notably an Iranian-born woman who was worried that her ex-husband, who she’d lived with for many decades, was going to die. The chat between this woman and one of the paramedics made you grateful for the service that the ambulance service provide even if they aren’t equipped enough to deal with every call straight away. Ultimately I feel that Ambulance is a documentary that is well-made and features plenty of characters that you can relate to it’s just a shame that there’s only two more instalments of the series to go.
We end this week on a lighter note with two comedies starting off with Morgana Robinson’s The Agency in which the impressionist imagines that all of the celebrities that she mimics are represented by the same agent. The agent in question is Vincent Mann (Calvin Clerkin) who runs the wittily titled Mann Management and looks constantly exasperated by his client base. Those of us who’d watched Robinson’s previous shows such as The Morgana Show and Very Important People will recognise the majority of the impressions here with Fearne Cotton, Adele and Cheryl being some of Vincent’s many clients. However the main focus of the first episode of this mockumentary focused primarily on Eastenders actress Natalie Cassidy as she prepared for the National Television Awards. I felt Morgana did well in crafting a story for the put-upon Cassidy who tried her best to look after her family whilst at the same time being a famous soap actress. Robinson’s performance presented the fictional Cassidy in an incredibly sympathetic light and I felt she was also able to impersonate her mannerisms perfectly. The same can’t be said for Robinson’s impression of Danny Dyer which certainly wasn’t nearly as nuanced and instead involved her shouting in a cockney accent. The story in which Dyer also tried to become a children’s author wasn’t that amusing and most of the gags were pretty obvious. It didn’t help that Robinson’s Danny Dyer sounded incredibly similar to her Gregg Wallace and if she wasn’t made up to look like each of them then I think you’d struggle to spot the difference. The other prominent storyline in this first episode saw Vincent try to secure some stage work for Miranda Hart to broaden her range. Unfortunately Miranda couldn’t deal with the Pinter material without launching into her comedy routine, irritating both the director and her co-stars in the process. Whilst I found Robinson’s Miranda impression to be quite impressive, the story itself was quite obvious and as an audience member I knew exactly where it was going. Overall I found The Agency to be incredibly hit-and-miss and if hadn’t been for the well-imagined Natalie Cassidy segments I may not have made it through the entire episode. Although I do feel Robinson is a talented impressionist, I don’t think The Agency works as well as it should and as there’s six more episodes to go I can’t see myself sticking around for any more.
The same can’t be said for Channel 4′s latest comedic offering Damned which is airing a full series on the network after previously being piloted on Sky Arts. The sitcom is created by Jo Brand and Morwenna Banks and stars the former as Rose Denby a wise cracking social worker who is part of a small team working in an under-funded child services department. Rose’s main ally in the department is Alan Davies’ Al who, between a nagging girlfriend and a clingy former client, has his hands full throughout the episode. Former Eastender Himesh Patel also stars here as Nitin, a former police officer who rubs all of his colleagues up the wrong way and acts as a spy for their steely boss Denise. In the first episode the gang are bemused by the arrival of temp, or interim worker, Nat whilst the group is rounded out by Kevin Eldon’s Martin; who recently was signed off with stress but keeps turning up to the office anyway. Damned definitely has similarities with Jo Brand’s previous dark comedies Getting On and Going Forward as they all poke fun at care industries in some way. However the humour in Damned is a lot more pronounced than in Brand’s BBC Four comedies as this is more of a workplace sitcom than a satire on the social services industry. That being said there are still some darker moments namely when Rose drops in a friend she hasn’t seen in ages only to discover that she’s living in squalid situations and struggling to bring up her grandchildren whilst also caring for her terminally ill husband. It’s these scenes that I would’ve liked more of throughout Damned although I thought Brand, Banks and co-writer Will Smith kept the humour level high enough to keep me constantly laughing. Stylistically I think the Damned is low-key enough to work as a social satire with it’s one fixed camera and the fact that it’s all filmed in a real council office. The relationships between the characters are all believable as they share a fantastic chemistry which makes you believe they’ve been working together for some time. Brand is her usual sardonic self whilst Davies doesn’t try too hard as the social worker who wants to make a difference but gets bogged down by his personal life. But the real surprise here is Patel, who has grown a beard since his Eastenders days, as the jobsworth Nitin who sees it as his job to keep on top of everyone’s workload rather than concentrating on his own. From the first two episodes alone I feel that Patel has a future in comedy as his displayed a brilliant amount of physical humour throughout both. Although Damned isn’t as perfect as I would’ve like it to have been there was still enough laughs and moments of darkness to keep me hopeful that Brand has got another hit on her hands.
Next Time: The Apprentice and Louis Theroux