TUNE in next week! Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel! First I loved the 1960s Batman series for the violence (Ker-pow!).
Channel 4, Monday-Thursday, 10pm
STV, Wednesday, 9pm
BBC2, Monday, 11.20pm
Then I loved it for the wit of Lorenzo Semple Jr’s scripts. Now I love it as a relic of a bygone age when TV allowed the anticipation to build. It’s an exceptional show, or a self-important one, which thinks we can’t possibly wait seven days for the next gripping instalment.
Don’t know about you, but I’m bored with consecutive-night dramas. My life is in no way glamorous and yet I struggle to make the commitment. The binge-scheduling encourages me to think the commitment will be worth it, that this will be Event Television, but apart from Criminal Justice, when has that ever been true? Some of these stripped dramas, as they’re called, have at least contrived interesting twists, sometimes by telling the same story from a different viewpoint. The first series of The Killing had the excuse to be a stripped drama, being a 20-day murder investigation told in 20 episodes, but it wasn’t so presumptuous. The Fear, on the other hand, was presumptuous enough to leave me in a room with Peter Mullan four nights on the trot, thinking I’d like it.
Now, great actor and all that, and in fierce close-up he was as fascinatingly walnutty as WH Auden. But Mullan alone wasn’t enough. And in concentrated form, Mullan’s character Richie Beckett losing his mind was almost too much. There were other characters in The Fear but, apart from Anastasia Hille as his wife, they were poorly drawn. His two sons were rubbish at gangstering, a disgrace to their old man, and the East European thugs who moved in on his Brighton domain were comically clichéd. Not wishing to make light of his condition, there were times when it seemed as if Richie – increasingly forgetful – had wandered into the wrong town, or the wrong movie, perhaps one directed by Guy Ritchie.
Richie, though, had some memorable rants, delivered in Mullan’s best Glaswegian, such as when he left the hospital after Alzheimer’s was diagnosed: “How have they dreamt this up? It never existed when I was a kid. Just a way of keeping these f***in’ buildings going.” And there was something noble about his demise down on the pebbly beach. The Jimmy Cagney of Angels With Dirty Faces would have tipped his fedora at him.
The Fear was on Channel 4 but in its frequent schlockiness seemed very ITV. The Town is on ITV but has the look and feel of classic BBC. I don’t want to tempt fate, because lots of dramas start well only to run out of puff, but playwright Mike Bartlett’s first telly commission could be one of the year’s best. Andrew Scott is Mark, something successful in London, who’s dragged back to the small town he was only too happy to leave by the suicides of his parents. His sister Jodie explains why it happened with her typical teenage bluntness: “They didn’t have any money, Mum was a psycho, Dad couldn’t stop crying, they couldn’t deal with it and now we’re on our own.” Mark, though, isn’t so sure.
The Town is brilliant in its portrayal of the town, a well-kept, dreary place where the chief undertaker buying a new Hawaiian shirt for karaoke night down the Antelope would be front-page news in the local rag if the mayor (Martin Clunes) hadn’t got their first with his latest drunken indiscretion. The only person who seemed to have moved on in their life is, unfortunately, Mark’s former sweetheart, now married with a kid.
The mayor redeemed himself with a touching speech at the funeral, which was followed by a scene of incredible poignancy when Mark agreed to move back and Jodie (Avigail Tlalim, promising to be as big a show-stealing teen as Homeland’s Morgan Saylor) discarded her permanent and epic sullenness and just melted, as did I.
Bored silly by a docu-soap about London’s Ritz Hotel a while back, I wasn’t looking forward to Inside Claridge’s, but this turned out to be a classy programme about a classy joint, with the staff persuaded to offer up dropped crumbs from the immaculate tables by a clever filmmaker (Jane Treays). This is the first time Claridge’s has allowed cameras and maybe that’s the Downton Abbey effect (the hotel’s artist-in-residence is actually called Downton). It’s a quintessentially English experience, of course, but delivered by a German general manager, his Scottish deputy, Irish butlers and Portuguese lift operators.
The Japanese Britney Spears, when she stayed, demanded a jacuzzi in her room, and Robert Downey Jr ordered a full gymnasium. Claridge’s always tries to be accommodating but, really, these vulgarians should have had their reservations cancelled and been directed to the nearest flophouse.