Archives for posts with tag: drama

It is often hard to work out who school-set dramas are pitched at. The teenage characters’ heady hormones are distant memories to many parents, while it is hard to imagine the younger generation being interested in storylines concerning the private lives of teachers. Both groups would feel that 50% of the show is uninteresting and a distraction from the stories that they do want to see.

Yet they are popular. The current horse from that stable is Ackley Bridge. It shares some key features with its predecessor Waterloo Road. Troubled school in a northern town. Plotlines that are soapy to the extreme. Relationships between teachers being every bit as rocky as those between the kids.

But Ackley Bridge is on Channel 4, so therefore is a little, but only a little closer to the edge in the social commentary it offers. For a start, this isn’t a comprehensive, but an academy. How much they explore the influence of ‘sponsors’ on how education is delivered remains to be seen, although there have been hints at it.

The big theme though is multi-culturism. This academy is formed from two previously segregated schools (not deliberately, just as a result of the postcode lottery our education system creates), one from a predominantly Asian community, the other largely white. The cultural conflicts form a major thrust of many of the storylines, whether it is exploring LGBT relationships in BME communities or the tension between assimilating into a nation whilst being proud of your religion.

There is some debate as to how much we should put these kind of issues through the soapy treatment shows like this create. It feels as if these issues are almost too big to be reduced to be mixed in with others plots like affairs. At the same time though, not everyone is going to watch a hard-hitting drama or searing documentary series, so if telling them the story through a slightly more trivial medium allows the message to spread wider then it is all to the good.

Of course, none of this matters if the show is rubbish. Well, it isn’t. Granted, I don’t love it. The headteacher-husband-sponsor love triangle is a bit too predictable, and I do wonder if there is perhaps one plot too many, making it hard to grasp on to any of the characters. But there are worthwhile storylines as well. Nasreen exploring her sexuality with the help of her friend Missy seems a strong seem to follow, and I’m intrigued enough to see where the Jordan Wilson plot goes to keep investing. Plus there is Sunetra Sarker playing the sassiest dinnerlady ever created.

At just six episodes, the first series may be too short to do it justice. But if it gets a second one, an extended run could help the show find its legs.

I currently feel spilt for choice in terms of TV. Bar Saturday nights, which rarely show anything of quality in my opinion and have therefore become sky+ nights, I have at least a solid hours’ worth of great telly.

Even amongst this packed field, there are some highlights. Near the top of the list is legal drama The Good Fight, the spin-off from The Good Wife. I love this show for the same reasons I loved its predecessor: it is smartly written and well plotted with characters that are three-dimensional from the off, even relative bit part players. It isn’t afraid to engage with topical issues or to wear its liberal heart on its sleeve.

The show primarily follows Diane Lockhart and Maia Rindell, two lawyers at opposing points of their career but both impacted by a Ponzi scheme: Diane the victim who must put her retirement on hold and become a partner at an African-American dominated legal firm, Maia the daughter of the supposed creator who is starting her career at the same firm, plagued by rumours and trolls.

Whilst these are over-arching plots, which will now doubt move closer to centre stage as the season progresses, it is the individual cases and some of the sub-plots that really elevate this show. The intricacies of the legal system fascinate me, as opposing sides battle for their interpretation to be held valid or some obscure law that was never repealed to come to their aid. Likewise, the latest subplot, Mike Kresteva targeting the firm for it pursuing police brutality cases, is a further layer. There are so many spinning plates but the team behind the show never let one drop.

Besides Dianne Lockhart, there is a smattering of returning cast members. Cush Jumbo is back as Lucca Quinn, more spiky and whip-smart than ever. Marissa Gold, a bit-part player in Wife, is given a meatier place in the cast here, which I think is great, as she always brought extra zing to the few episodes she was in to the mother show. No doubt others will appear, in some cases maybe only briefly.

Of course, there is the question of what happened to Alicia Florrick, the wife of the original series. We have had hints – she doesn’t appear to be working in the law anymore for a start. Whether she is being primed by Eli for politics or is merely chasing Jason still is unknown. I’m not sure if this blank space helps or hinders Fight. Maybe the writers will throw us a bone and drop a few more hints.

Regardless, it is a pleasure to watch something that is well crafted and willing to grant its audience some intelligence. When something is this good, you do wonder, why isn’t every show trying to reach this level?

Adapting a novel for the screen, big or small, must be one of the most challenging projects on TV. It’s all very well having the plot nicely written for you, but this becomes a hindrance. Do you stick to it rigidly, digressions and all? Do you focus on just the main strands but axe some minor characters, who could actually be the most interesting of them all? Do change the ending to suit your ‘vision’?

However you answer these, you are bound to ruffle feathers. Be too close to the book and you risk making something pointless – after all, people may as well just read the story and get the full flavour unless you do something original. Lose a minor character and you remove potentially some of the best moments or give them to someone entirely unsuited. Change the ending or a major plot point and people will howl at the moon if you even put the slightest foot wrong with the change.

When it’s a book you love, you feel very protective of what is created. You have your vision and woe betide anyone who doesn’t go along with it. So I was nervous about the recent adaptation of Decline and Fall, a book I read as a precocious teenager. Or, at least I was nervous, until I realised I couldn’t remember most of it. I definitely recollect enjoying it and finding it funny though.

I suppose then, that this adaptation’s one and only test was to be funny. It stood a good chance with Jack Whitehall in the lead role of Paul Pennyfeather. Yet I was surprised by how lifeless he seemed to make the character. Of course, that is partially due to the nature of the story – the pitfalls that occur are caused by others’ actions on to him rather than his own agency. Even so, book Paul always seemed more robust than TV Paul. This could be partially due to a reader having more access to an inner monologue and the narration, where the satire is probably sharper. It could also be a faulty memory of mine.

Nevertheless, quietly politely rarely carries a story well, so it falls onto the supporting cast to give the story its life. They do this admirably, in particular Vincent Franklin as agnostic minister Prendergast and Douglas Hodge as Grimes, a man who is nearly always ‘in the soup’.

There are hints at the satire that Waugh was aiming for in his novel. The Bollinger Club and the government officials who manipulate their way to the top and stay there, largely by passing blame on to those underneath. The ‘trendy’ approach to maintaining discipline in prison. An education system that focuses on please parents over teaching children. All as true now as then. I can’t help feeling it couldn’t have been more savage though. This was satire with gloves on. What it needed was for a brick to be hidden in it.

I tend to find that the talked-about TV that has people salivating tends to clash with one of my more mundane pleasures. It’s not that I’m opposed to challenging TV, I just tend to want it to be a source to wind me down rather than rev me up. This is why I miss the big BBC dramas in favour of an animated comedy or panel show on some remote cable channel.

Line of Duty was one such show. Until now. Series 4 started recently, and with nothing clashing with it, I decided to give it a try. And how glad I am I did. Two episodes in and I’m already obsessed with it, to the point where I long to find the first three series and catch up so I can appreciate every twist and turn.

Not that I really need to. The new series is, in many respects, a blank slate, with many long-running threads from previous story arcs now tied up. This makes it ideal for people like me to start following anti-corruption task force AC-12. A promotion to BBC1 shows the faith being placed in writer Jed Mercurio to deliver the goods – no more is this show a cult concern.

One of the things I love is that it indulges my love of detail. A good crime drama for me always has a healthy dose of ‘procedure’ – I always want to see the bureaucracy that detectives face. Whether it be the careful recording of evidence, the team huddles where the SIO lays out the day’s agenda or the interviews that are conducted like a game of cat and mouse, I adore it. Things like this are far better than throwing in a car chase or ludicrous plot twist.

Not that this show shies away from twists. There are plenty, and all excellently executed. It’s just that they are part of a bigger picture. Clearly the audience appreciates it, otherwise we wouldn’t be coming back for more each week.

As for the cast: sublime. Thandie Newton as our villain is par excellence, playing DCI Ros Huntley, allowing pressure from above to lead to her arresting the wrong man and digging herself into an ever greater mire the more she covers her tracks. Her paranoia over her head and hand wounds give her a Lady Macbeth quality, even when she is perpetrator of the crime rather than just the encourager.

Martin Compston, Adrian Dunbar and Vicky McClure are all equally fantastic as the investigators trying to chip away at Huntley’s defences. Compson, in particular, exudes a quiet determination to get to the truth, even if he lets personal feelings cloud his judgement.

Normally, I would find a weakness or flaw, something undeveloped or not quite sitting right. But I can’t. This is as close to perfect as TV can get. Thank whatever is out there that I found it before I was too late.

Sunday night TV is, broadly speaking, an unchallenging affair. The BBC have gone against that recently, with both Apple Tree Yard and now SS-GB in the ‘last thing you watch before you face the strain of being back at work’ slot. Even Call the Midwife isn’t as full of rose-tinted nostalgic whimsy as people expect.

ITV, on the other hand, has gone full ‘comfort TV’ for its Sunday night slot. The Good Karma Hospital taps into the current fascination with India sparked by The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Presumably, there is some kind of pseudo-nostalgia at play, watching a culture where family and community are still key and spiritual enlightenment away from a smartphone is just around the corner.

In Good Karma, we have British doctor Ruby escaping her relationship woes by starting here career again in a slightly madcap hospital, led by imperious matriarch Lydia Fonseca. Medical mysteries get solved (nothing too taxing, mind, this isn’t House), families get happy endings and everyone, especially Ruby, learns some lovely life lessons. It is, overall, diabetes-inducing sweet.

The big problems lie in its lack of tension and its predictability. The former is neatly represented in episode two, when Dr Varma has to fetch some anti-venom from another clinic, only for a traffic accident to destroy most of it. But what’s this? One small packet of it survived? Oh thank god, the writers must have remembered at the last minute no-one can die in this TV slot without some deep emotional speech before hand.

As for the predictability, if Ruby and Dr Varma aren’t married by series 4 (if it gets that far), I’ll streak through my local town centre naked. Sure, one or the other will briefly be with someone hideously unsuitable, but the giant flashing signs of ‘they need to be together’ are flashing above this couple. No doubt they will teach other things and soften each other’s character flaws – her becoming less of a wet lettuce, him discovering you can smile more than once a month.

There is one bright spot, which is Amanda Redman as Dr Fonseca, who appears to have strong armed the crew into giving her the best lines, which she then delivers with a delicious relish. Shame that she is given little over to do then descend into a scene, issue a bon mots, and then waft back out again. Someone like her deserves a meaty back story. What I have seen so far suggests the writers will be too scared to give it.

Maybe ITV is only doing what it set out to do – provide a jolly, sunny antidote to BBC’s darker edge. But, as Death in Paradise proves, this doesn’t mean you have to be dull and obvious. If you are going to make a drama, give us drama. We are adults, we can cope with it. Even if we are facing work the next day.

The departure of Downton Abbey has left a hole in the schedules. It was an interesting proposition for a show – a period drama that was indented to soap operas whilst providing a, albeit shallow, social commentary. It was easy to watch but damn good as well, the odd duff note buried beneath the warmth of the whole.

ITV are trying to repeat this trick with The Halcyon, a WW2 set drama in a fictional London hotel. Like Downton, social history is played with slightly to stop the audience feeling uncomfortable. For example, Asian and black characters mix into the rest of the cast with barely a slither of racial tension. There’s also the key ingredients of ‘will they/won’t they’ romances, baddies getting their comeuppance and the idea that family isn’t defined by blood.

But is it as good as Downton? Well, no. There are some excellent touches. For example, the gay relationship between Toby and Adil, which at first looked like a desperate attempt to be another diversity box ticked, has been given some life by introducing a blackmail plot, reminding us how vulnerable the love that dare not speak its name was. The horrors of the Blitz are also well drawn, the fear palpable, the sense of loss devastating.

Where the show falls down is that the different bits don’t come together as a whole. So many of the plotlines are dependent on relationships (Betsy/Sonny, Emma/Freddie/Joe, Garland/Peggy etc.) that anyone wanting the broader sweeps of life will be disappointed. Characters cluster round each other and don’t interact much beyond their circle. The joy of Downton was watching a world change but in a controlled way. At The Halcyon, time is frozen in terms of class.

Also, it wouldn’t kill the show, in spite of its setting, to have a bit of humour. The odd waspish comment here and there isn’t enough. It’s isn’t like they haven’t got the talent. Mark Benton is a great comic actor stuck in a secondary role.

Finally, the biggest love story is, sadly, dull. Freddie and Emma are supposed to be star-crossed lovers. What we have instead is two insipid people who have been given ‘depth’ purely based on their love for each other that can never be announced. I can’t help but feel Emma comes alive more around suave and abrasive American journalist Joe. It almost makes you want Freddie’s plane to be shot down somewhere so she can get over him and move on.

With some fine tuning, this show could really work. There are so many of the base elements there that a bit of tinkering is all that is needed – higher stakes, better romances, greater variety of plots. None of this is beyond the scope of a talented team. If there is a second series, I hope some of the changes are made. It would be a shame for us to check out feeling we hadn’t had the best of stays.

After what feels like an age, we are finally being treated to the second series of cop drama No Offence. This is easily one of my favourite things to watch at the moment, although it seems to be overshadowed all too easily in the eyes of the critics and viewers. The fuss given to mediocre reality shows like Let It Shine and lightweight dramas, such as The Halcyon, makes you wonder if those who seek to create genuine brilliance on TV are wasting their time.

Still, it is a delight to welcome back the irrepressible DI Viv Deering and her team. The show has neatly built on some of the loose threads of the first season, for example Dinah’s maternal interest in teen mum Cathy. We also have nods to the dramatic finale of the first season, where Deering’s husband died via cement spray and the secret she and Dinah must keep as a result.

The second series has enough fantastic plots of its own though. The long-running thread is of taking on Nigerian gang matriarch Nora Attah. What began as merely preventing gang warfare has now become a story of child sex trafficking. The twists have been fantastic and often introduced at a break-neck speed. Sometimes, this can make a show appear tacky, as if the next thing must top the last. Producer Paul Abbott has sensibly made it so that every twist seems real and natural though, every piece still fitting in the jigsaw that is being built.

It is also quite daring in its structure. Take episode two, where the gang warfare is at its peak. The first half is dedicated to scenes of rioting and high-stakes scenes, with people trapped in burning buildings and the pursuit of the henchman responsible for supplying the weapons. The second half focuses on the tidy-up. Any other cop drama would have made the riots the climax of the episode and brushed away the tidy up neatly. But the team behind this show now better – the riots aren’t the meat of the story, it is what they uncover that is.

Everybody is so good in the show, it is hard to single anyone out. Obviously Joanna Scanlan is fantastic as the tough, uncompromising yet loyal and caring Deering. Sarah Solemni is a clever addition as new Det. Superintendent Lickberg, a rule follower who begrudgingly admires Deering’s unorthodox methods. But my favourite is Paul Ritter as Professor Miller, a slightly pervy and unstable but incredibly astute pathologist. On average, he gets six lines an episode and slays them all.

If I had one moan, it would be that the leftover of the murdered husband plot is seemingly forgotten, despite being hinted at in week one as still factoring in on people, aside from the odd line. I wonder if in the last couple of episodes this is going to come back, or like Banquo’s ghost, just be something that haunts Deering and Dinah forever.

But this is a minor grumble. I love this show and want the world to see it and recognise it. So go on, give it a whirl. You will not regret it.