Saturday, 18 March 2017

TELEVISION: Recent Stuff


OK. I’ve neglected the blog because I’ve been preoccupied with my latest book and the nightmare of moving house, but at last I’ve been able to start having a look around again at what TV drama I’ve missed. Here are a few of the shows that stood out for me...

The power of three... No Offence (2017).

HIM (late 2016)
An un-named seventeen year-old delinquent, ‘HIM’ (Fionn Whitehead) has supernatural powers, including the worrying ability to violently affect objects without touching them, generated by the acrimonious emotional fall out of his parents’ marriage.

Newcomer Whitehead gives an intense, charismatic central performance – by turns sinister, amoral, dangerous and insecure. There’s a memorably horrific scene where HIM is about to impale his step-father with a variety of hovering DIY tools, which he (just) backs down from. Complicated domestic drama with paranormal overtones is an unusual and disturbing mix, and the tension is kept at an uneasy pitch throughout because you’re always looking for when HIM will next lose his temper and unleash his destructive psychic force – over his step-mother telling him off, his impatient, estranged father, rejection by his step-sister, his jealously at seeing her romantically involved with a friend...

Throughout, the general theme is that, to paraphrase Philip Larkin, families fuck you up. It's nice, then, to see HIM end optimistically with, for once, a teenage delinquent getting a handle on his anger to bring on a sweet and life-affirming ending, leaving the families he’s caught between in a better place. There are only three episodes, so the series makes for a good evening’s entertainment. A special shout out for Alec Newman, one of my favourite current actors, who's excellent as the psychiatrist who looks out for the troubled teen’s best interests.

No Offence (2017)
The second series of the ribald police drama based in Manchester. There’s a great central triumvirate of DI Viv Deering (Joanna Scanlan), DC Dinah Kowalski (Elaine Cassidy) and DS Joy Freers (Alexandra Roach), in a female driven drama with a great female villain, Nora Attah (Rakie Ayola), a Nigerian gang boss. No Offence is a sharp drama peppered with dour humour which is necessary as, commendably, it doesn’t shy away from controversial subject matter: child slavery and rape, together with female genital mutilation.

Conversely, the series positively revels in a modern ambience of grand guignol: a bomb hidden in a body at a funeral blows up a church service, a teenager eviscerates an old Irish criminal’s kidneys by stabbing him in the back with two knives, and the head of Nora’s son Mani (Zachary Motoh) is sliced to pieces by the tail rotor blade of a helicopter. Best of all, an informer strapped up with Semtex is sent into a police station and the bomb is defused by a squaddie (handily) in custody on an assault charge.

I could watch the banter between the terrific Scanlan, Cassidy and Roach all day. The supporting cast is top-notch too, particularly Paul Ritter, endlessly entertaining as Randolph Miller, the bipolar scene of crime officer.

Stan Lee’s Lucky Man (2016-17)
Murder squad detective and gambling addict Harry Clayton (James Nesbitt) can control luck through an ancient bracelet on his wrist he can’t remove. OK, it’s a very comic strip idea (fittingly, Marvel supremo Stan Lee thought of it) but the confidence and slick style of the production, together with the quality cast – Darren Boyd, Steven Mackintosh, Amara Karan, Eve Best – make the whole thing convincing as a police procedural with a quirky twist.

Forget the convoluted back story, and enjoy instead plenty of cinematic action and violence in the style of Spooks. It’s not in the same league as No Offence, but Stan Lee’s Lucky Man is an easy one to watch – I devoured the first series after watching the first few episodes of the second – as there’s something very likeable about it. Maybe it reminds of the old, 1960s ITC show The Champions, where the main characters also had special powers and a cracking theme tune.

So far so good. Maybe next time I’ll get on to Taboo

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