It’s been a long while since I started a new Scandi thriller. I’ve been struggling with some pretty serious health problems. Turns out concentrating on anything when you’re really ill is extremely bloody difficult. I guess it’s why mindless daytime tv does so well. And concentrating on high-quality drama with subtitles is completely out of the question. My top tip for sickies is fairly short YouTube content, but avoid ones that make you laugh too hard, so you don’t bust any stitches, or ones about eating nasty things, so you don’t start puking again.
But the wonderful Walter Presents peaked my interest in Norwegian drama series Acquitted. Aksel Nilsen is a very successful Kuala Lumpur based businessman who returns home to little Lifjord after 20 years away to finally confront his unhappy past. Aksel is pouty and good looking, extremely well-groomed and manicured to a shine. In his beautiful bespoke suits he looks like a Ken doll crossed with a perfume advert (pour homme, pour femme, pour Norway). He’s done alright for himself in KL, with a corner office, a beautiful successful wife and a bolshy teenage son. His colleagues all have perfect English spoken in English accents; Nicolai Cleve Broch as Aksel does very well, but it’s his swearing that lets him down. He gets a call for help from Lifjord’s major employer, drops everything and chases off to the other side of the globe to try and save the town.
Busy mother of two Jo (Indira Varma) has a lovely boyfriend in Danny (Luke Treadway). who has moved in to her suburban home and is adjusting to family life. On an otherwise normal day some mystery person drops a bombshell. On the school run Jo receives an anonymous text message alleging her boyfriend is having an inappropriate relationship with her 11-year-old daughter Katie.
We see Jo over the course of an agonising day sitting at home in an empty house, dwelling on the message, snooping around but getting no answers. Nothing really happens, but it all happens on Jo’s face thanks to Indira’s gut-wrenching acting. Danny is sexy, and it seems Katie and her friends have noticed judging by their comments on Instagram. Is Danny predatory? Worse still is Katie reciprocating? It’s a very uncomfortable thought but it’s close to how young women think. What is harassment? What is flattery? The lines are blurred when children are still learning the boundaries, and people can and will take advantage. “She’s at that age” is a catch-all for unusual teenage behaviour, but what if something unpleasant is provoking it?
Even before it started Channel 4’s new comedy Back has a whole list of things going for it. It’s exciting to see David Mitchell and Robert Webb back together again working with writer Simon Blackwell who penned Veep, The Thick Of It and, most importantly, a few episodes of the iconic Peep Show. Back is a six part sitcom that gets the Peep Show boys together again and is directed by Ben Palmer, the man behind The Inbetweeners. So far so brilliant; what an excellent comedy pedigree!
And yet, a pause. Let’s not get carried away people, because real comedy fans know sitcoms need time and patience to develop and grow. This is even more important in this hyper-connected, hyper-critical era where everyone has an opinion and expresses it loudly on social media. Not all great comedy is instantly great straight out of the blocks. Those of us of a certain age whisper “Remember Blackadder!” Series 1 of Blackadder is no one’s favourite and the one no one talks about. Given time, fresh focus and another chance it became a comedy classic. It’s so sad that those days are over, and it’s sink or swim based solely on the first episode.
In an era of 90s reboots could there be a more perfect presenter than Scarlett Moffatt to take over from Davina McCall on Streetmate duties? The original dating series ran on Channel 4 from 1998-2001 and had a whopping 45 episodes across 4 series. Before she was Ms Big Brother Davina was mainly running down streets searching for eligible singletons like Anneka Rice chasing a helicopter (a 90’s reference that won’t help millennials understand what I mean). Likely couples were set up in the street and then sent off together on a date.
A simple dating show like this is even more relevant these days, as people grow sick of using dating apps that encourage fakery and catfishing. Isn’t it exciting to meet people in real life with none of the technical gubbins getting in the way. Streetmate was always rawer and more authentic than any other dating show on tv, then and now. Having the presenter make the play reduces the very real awkwardness and takes the embarrassment out of what could be a hugely embarrassing situation.
Series 4 of 999 What’s Your Emergency started this week following emergency call handlers, police and the ambulance service in Wiltshire. This is a quality Channel 4 documentary full of revealing interviews and profound fly on the wall moments. The people on camera are witty and funny, sometimes fairly unintentionally. While yelling at someone dishing out racist abuse one restaurant owner shouts “You’ve got more chance of getting a kebab off the Queen than me!” Guys, never be rude to someone in charge of you food.
Channel 4 have earned something of a name for themselves with stylishdocumentaries that really get to the heart of the action and put a human face on the righteous, the pathetic and the despicable. We meet extremely memorable characters, even if they only have a few minutes screen time.
A call to the police (I hope it wasn’t to 999 because it’s hardly an emergency) sees PC Dan Lane dispatched to follow up on a report of man masturbating in his back garden. This is a crime apparently, which I had not realised, so apologies to the people who live at numbers 28 and 30 in my street. I can’t believe the voice-over guy kept a straight face when saying PC Lane was off “to look more closely at the matter in hand”. Turns out there had been zero al fresco wanking going on, but there was serious tension between one house in the street and their new foreign neighbours.
This formulaic drama would have passed me by, but some interesting casting turned my head and I decided to check out episode one. Female copper Helen Weeks (MyAnna Buring) is haunted by childhood tragedy so returns to the sleepy Derbyshire town of Polesford which must be twinned with Happy Valley – the odd array of accents certainly place it much further into the vague north than Derbyshire. She’s back just in time to help support her childhood friend (wife of the lead suspect in the disappearance of two girls) and rub up the local police force the wrong way as they hunt for a murderer.
First, the plus points. There’s an excellent supporting cast. I love to watch comedy actors stretch themselves in drama. Helen’s friend Linda Bates is played by Emma Fryer who is so perfectly funny in Channel 4’s Phoneshop and BBC’s Ideal. Her character is proud, angry and defiant. Her man Stephen could never be the murderer – by sheer force of will she’d keep him on the straight and narrow. It’s a great performance but I’m expecting her to roll her eyes or stick her tongue out at any second. And another great spot from Ideal was Sinead Matthews seemingly playing another nice but dim character.
If you’ve not yet heard anything about the The Handmaid’s Tale, let me give you a hand getting out from under that rock where you’ve been hiding. This is an MGM production being show on Hulu in America. They seem to be a good 7 episodes ahead of us. Sadly, even in 2017, sometimes America is ahead of us in tv land. It’s great to have synchronised start dates, but it’s still not the norm. Avoiding spoilers for this much talked-about show is going to be a killer.
A few weeks after starting in the USA this 10 part drama series has been picked up by Channel 4 in the UK, which, as the young, intelligent, and left-leaning political channel is a really good fit for their brand and a bit of a coup. The series is based on a novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood and despite its startlingly relevant content was actually written in 1985. So this dystopian future Atwood envisaged is 30 years closer than we’d have hoped for, and none of her themes are any less relevant or possibilities presented any less realistic. In interviews Atwood says that none of these war crimes in the fictional Republic of Gilead are entirely made up – all have happened somewhere on the globe. This really is extremely dark stuff. Do we as the audience have the stamina to get through it?
The series opening is distressing, as our heroine Offred is violently parted from her husband and daughter, but it’s not a tense escape. We know she’ll get caught. The rippling tension comes from her social position at her new posting with the Commander (Joseph Feinnes) and his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski).