TV review: The Escape Artist | Drifters

The Escape Artist. Picture: BBC
The Escape Artist. Picture: BBC
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THIS has been wee Davie Tennant’s year, hasn’t it? Who can dispute the total mastery of his craft, the poise and command, the diamond-sharp enunciation (“Super-fast fibre-optic broadband!”), the lustrousness of the hair, the skinnyness of the troosers and, oh the succinctness – 42 seconds and everything’s said and done?

The Escape Artist

BBC1, Tuesday, 9pm

Drifters

E4, Thursday, 9pm

The Newsroom

Sky Atlantic, Monday, 9pm

And, of course, as well as those ads for Virgin Media he’s starred in the dramas Broadchurch, The Politician’s Husband and Spies Of Warsaw.

Here comes another, The Escape Artist. Event television with fairy lights. There are fairy lights round his son’s bed, round the bed he shares with his lovely wife, played by Ashley Jensen – and this isn’t even his main hoose. On the cover of Radio Times wee Davie’s hands are manacled. Is he a proper escapologist? I’d love that. The Houdini biopic starring Tony Curtis is a schlocky classic. Early on in this three-parter, a colleague bigs up the Tennant character’s talents: “If you’re chained up in a safe at the bottom of a shark tank you don’t send for Paul Daniels.” But The Escape Artist is a crime drama – yes, another one. Tennant is criminal defence barrister Will Burton: never lost a case, specialises in springing clients cornered by overwhelming evidence, hence the bondage gear.

He’s good, as he always is when allowed to keep his Scottish accent. When he’s given an English one I get distracted and start noticing how ridiculously boyish he looks. Almost girlish, in fact. A failing on my part, I know, but suffice to say: the WH Auden biopic will never be his. “There might be room in here for a large Scotsman,” says the missus, foxily, from the bath. The bath in the other hoose. The country retreat at the end of a dark and lonely road with no neighbours that’s always used for Crimewatch reconstructions of intruder terror. The hoose where Jensen’s character Kate returns, sans large Scotsman, shortly after a weirdo frightened her at the window the previous time. Aagh!

Why did she do this? Because crime dramas in the age we must call post-The Fall require a cranking up of the creepiness quotient. Thus, even intelligent wives of intelligent men must behave like slasher-movie bimbos sometimes. Kate won’t be doing this again because she’s been killed, probably after some torture, by the man Will managed to acquit of an identical murder. I don’t think this psycho is going to be like the one in The Fall, ie dangerously seductive.

The Escape Artist, written by Spooks creator David Wolstencroft, will try to play with our emotions all right, but on matters of law. Will took the original case because, the rules state, once offered it couldn’t be turned down. He knew the accused was guilty but worked brilliantly to get him off because “everyone deserves a defence”. Compared with The Fall, The Escape Artist seems like it will be more routine, less bold, maybe just as scary but hopefully not too much of a strange melding of Crown Court and Scream.

If The Fall is the crime drama to beat, then Girls sets the standard for burd-centric comedy now.

Dauntingly, Drifters has been billed as the new Girls, a Brit version. Now, new comedies can take a while to get under your skin. I wouldn’t say Drifters has got me like scabies – the subject of a running gag – but the crapness of the central trio’s lives is well drawn. Bar Infinity looks like it could rival The Office’s Chasers for desperate jollity. This is the kind of place where you could be chatted up by some clown who, if he can’t get into your knickers, will attempt to get you into a tranket and call on the pretext of modelling. What’s a tranket? A travel version of the slanket. What’s a slanket? A blanket with sleeves. Yes, tiny, rubbish dreams live and die here.

Two of the Drifters have drifted back from a gap year, while the third has been having boyfriend problems. “I hate the idea that I’m not dirty enough for him,” she tells the others. One reassures: “You don’t have to worry about that, you’re absolutely filthy.” The other confirms: “Mate, you’re a total dirtbag.”

I almost gave up on The Newsroom – too much speechifying. But the second season, just ended, has been excellent. In the finale, the Allman Brothers got mentioned, along with Sweet Smell Of Success and a couple of Billy Wilder classics. Thankfully, the writing was less like those interminable Allmans guitar solos and almost as quick and clever as this from Sweet Smell: “The cat’s in the bag, the bag’s in the river.” We shouldn’t have expected any less from Aaron Sorkin. And – the big jessie – he allowed Will and Mac to fall in love again. n

BEST COMEDY

Fresh Meat

Channel 4, Monday, 10pm

It’s the third series of the undergraduate flatcom and I’m worried. Mind you, I was worried during the second until JP (Jack Whitehall) was required to undergo initiation to a Bullingdon Club-esque secret society – smoking a “pipe of pubes”. So will the show have any puff left?

BEST SPORT

Champions League Football Sky Sports 4, Wednesday, 7.30pm

Crunch time for Celtic, who’ve performed admirably in the Group of Nae Chance but must follow that first win over Ajax with at least a draw to set up an exciting final act against AC Milan.

BEST MUSIC

Elvis Costello: Mystery Dance BBC4, Friday, 9pm

On ITV at the same time, The Nation’s Favourite Elvis Song, as in Presley, but this promises to be more interesting – a portrait of the best songwriter of his generation, who admits: “People have been trying to get me to write my biography since I was 24.”