IF COMPLICIT had been around when I was a lad, it’s highly unlikely I would have saved up all my pocket money for a Secret Sam attache case, the toy luggage that turned itself into a gun.
Complicit, Channel 4, today, 9pm
Utopia, Channel 4, Tuesday, 10pm
The Brits, ITV1, Wednesday, 8pm
Half a century ago, to the delight of we Cold War kids, TV portrayed the spy game as exciting, dangerous and glamorous, and as recently as last autumn Hunted was still using the trusty template. But in Guy Hibbert’s drama just about the most prominent “gadget” was a photocopier.
Complicit showed its spies as office drones, staring at computer screens, occasionally sending emails, very non-mavericky, never going anywhere and certainly not to Yemen, from where Edward (David Oyelowo) believed terrorists were about to launch a ricin attack on the UK. Initially knocking back his mission, a superior said: “It’s great for umbrella tips and escalators and putting on someone’s wilted spinach – but ricin plots usually end in a puff of nothing.” So the spies, Edward included, trooped down to the pub like regular office workers. As the photocopier chuntered, then as everyone stood in a half-circle with their drinks while the office bore chuntered, we could have been watching The Office, except that at the end of the night no one left in a sidecar for a threesome.
I might have shouted: “Give us umbrella tips!” Or the even more futile: “Give us a foldaway shooter with a shoulder stock, barrel extension, silencer and not just a telescopic sight but a periscope too!” Spying ain’t what it used to be, though. “The world’s changed for people like you,” Edward was told by his suspect Waleed (the brilliant Arsher Ali from Four Lions) when the pair finally came face to face. Waleed knew how to make a fuss: “MP, lawyer, media, Amnesty, Liberty, Human Rights Watch – I will set you alight.” Edward got frustrated by MI5’s rules and the lazy agent in the field and, despite Waleed’s warning – “You can’t do a Guantanamo anymore” – recruited a torture-happy interrogator, with dire consequences. Was Edward not really trusted because he was black, didn’t go to the right university and liked to work alone? Re torture, can the end ever justify the means? Complicit was sombre, clever, sweaty and provocative. The confrontation, when it eventually happened, was electrifying and hopefully you stayed that long and didn’t hanker too much for the Secret Sam spin-off tobacco pipe, with its tiny flip-up mirror enabling the spy to see round corners.
In Utopia they weren’t out to poison us but to sterilise us, thus solving overpopulation and avoiding the need for fights in the supermarket aisles over the last packets of horsemeat. We saw the potion, stacked to the roof in puke green boxes. The interrogation room where young Grant fashioned a blade under the table for only the 11th most shocking killing of this drama was the kind of zingy yellow which assaults my eyes every morning when I turn on Milkshake for the kids. Fields budded with flowers of the most astonishing purples and reds. Drab shopping precincts glistened straight after rain showers. Even that flyover looked beautiful for the split-second before a man walked out in front of a lorry.
I’m talking about Utopia’s astonishing visuals to put off talking about its astonishing violence. There was torture here, too, and unlike in Complicit it was seen. But I was almost over the eye-gouging (Milkshake-hardened, I am) by the time we had to deal with the school massacre, maybe TV’s most shocking moment for a while. I guess Utopia’s creator Dennis Kelly justified it because everywhere you looked, or dared to, childhoods had been stolen. I say “guess” because quite often I didn’t know what was going on, or who the real bad guys were, but when drama is this original, weird and exciting and the performances so unhinged – from the comic-book kids to old hands like Geraldine James and James Fox – that almost didn’t matter.
The Brits needed some unhingedness. A stage-invading Jarvis Cocker or a water-hurling Chumbawumba. No chance of that, though, with the music biz intent on such a safe and boring display of self-congratulation. No surprise duets. No fan-type activity down the front. A presenter, James Corden, whose funniest line was almost “. . . in association with Mastercard”. Actually, Corden did describe Mumford & Sons as “ever-brilliant”, which was pretty hilarious, or am I missing something about these fools who dress like farm-hands but clearly haven’t lifted so much as a window-box trowel? Maybe they’re a Wurzels tribute act without the comedy routine and in its place lots of generic over-emoting and they think that gives them the right to snigger at One Direction being on the same shortlist. Both bands are largely manufactured but only one would cheerfully admit it. «
PICKS OF THE WEEK
Bank of Dave: Fighting the Fat Cats
Channel 4, Thursday, 10pm
“We built this city on rock’n’roll” screeches Dave Fishwick as he swings his Range Rover through the streets of Burnley. Well, strictly speaking, his bit of it was built on minibuses: he made a million from them. Then, only too aware that other local businesses were struggling, he decided to open a community bank, becoming a hero to small firms and a documentary star. This film picks up where the last one left off, and we see how Bank of Dave has helped boat-fitters when the banking goliaths wouldn’t, and how the Burnley aquarium has been able to invest in a new attraction: sharks. “It’s complete bonkers,” says Fishwick, striding short-sleeved among his people. “Folk say: ‘Dave, keep going, don’t let the bastards grind you down.’ ” But that’s exactly what the banking regulators are trying to do.
Channel 4, Tuesday, 10pm
“Anyone watching who thinks we know f*** all about knowing about f*** all about ’owt needs to watch their backs,” rasps Frank Gallagher. Paul Abbott’s drama has been almost impossible to shake off these past nine years – just like scabies or something even more unfortunate. But this is the last ever series. Gallagher again: “We cope better than average with irony in Chatworth.”
Mary And Martha
BBC1, Friday, 8.30pm
“I don’t know exactly when it was that I became a little obsessed with malaria...” writes Richard Curtis in Radio Times, but obsessed he is. This Comic Relief drama is his polemic in the fight against a disease which kills more than 500,000 every year, most in Africa. Hilary Swank and Brenda Blethyn play mums on opposite sides of the world – different lives but united in grief.