Last night's TV: STV misses the point, Channel 4 is dead on
Missing, STV, Sunday Dead Set, E4, Saturday
YOU know you're watching a gloomy ITV thriller when it includes: flashbacks filmed in grainy black and white; a soundtrack so intrusive the musicians might as well be in shot; a grumpy middle-aged detective accompanied by an eager young sidekick; and Joanne Froggatt.
The two-part drama, Missing, had all of these in spades and was without doubt one of the most derivative pot-boilers I've ever seen. Froggatt (a good actress who deserves better) played Sybil, a mentally disturbed runaway whose memory blackouts coincided with the murder of almost every man she encountered.
Meanwhile, Gregor Fisher phoned it in as one Doug Duvall (a name more suited to a porn star), the investigating officer who, by sheer coincidence, had a runaway daughter of his own.
The potential mystery of whether nave Sybil was responsible for these grisly murders was completely undermined by a pedestrian script and an absurdly compromised setting. This STV production was filmed in a Glasgow mysteriously overpopulated by English actors, in which Scotland Today newsreaders spoke with hilariously dubbed accents. It's not essential for STV to set all their dramas in Scotland, of course, but if they're going to film in such recognisable locations, then any attempt to disguise the fact just looks laughable.
Further inadvertently comic highlights included: Sybil's tormented inner thoughts visualised in the most preposterously literal manner; a photograph supposedly taken when she was a teenager, but which was clearly a contemporary image of Froggatt; a psychiatrist whose only role was to administer simplistic medical exposition; and the wife of one of Sybil's apparent victims chasing her off with the immortal line: "I don't have my pants around my ankles, do I?" (a phrase, coincidentally, that I plan to use as my epitaph).
I actually let out a yelp of joy when a commanding officer carpeted Duvall for getting "too emotionally involved" in the case, a clich so redundant I'm almost impressed that they thought they'd get away with it.
If Missing is a textbook example of how to create bad drama, then Charlie Brooker's Dead Set was a masterpiece by comparison. Shown as a feature-length omnibus last night, this five-part zombie thriller – while hardly groundbreaking in genre terms – was an entertaining riot of jolts and gore.
That notorious "after dark" episode of The Alan Titchmarsh Show excepted, has such bloody carnage ever been seen on British television before?
Faults aside (annoying overuse of shaky-cam being the worst), this was one of the most memorable TV dramas of 2008. Frightening, tense and boasting a lingering sense of dread, Dead Set climaxed with everyone – including heroine Jamie Winstone – ending up undead. A keen student of zombie lore, Brooker knows these things should never end well.
His insistence that the Big Brother setting was only nominally satirical, and that his overall intention was merely to create a visceral zombie romp, was clearly no bluff. Though the location was exploited cleverly – those darkened canals behind the BB walls, usually inhabited by cameramen, were a perfect setting for horror – Brooker was more intent on ramping up the action rather than making any trenchant point about reality TV.
You could argue that the scene of odious producer Patrick being ripped to shreds by hordes of rabid zombies was a potent symbol of public revenge against the cynical despots who shape our culture. But Brooker doubtless wrote it simply because it was cool (and an homage to Day of the Dead). Sometimes that's enough.
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Thursday 20 June 2013
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