Aidan Smith's TV Week: I Am Victoria (Channel 4), Buffering (ITV2), The Devil's Throat (All 4)

The other day, thinking about how samey multi-channel TV can be, I almost wrote the words “ … And every drama seems to star Suranne Jones”. Realising I hadn’t seen her in anything for a week or so I stopped myself; maybe this was simply a trick of the light. So, anyway, here’s I Am Victoria (Channel 4) starring Suranne Jones.
Suranne Jones and Ashley Walters in I Am VictoriaSuranne Jones and Ashley Walters in I Am Victoria
Suranne Jones and Ashley Walters in I Am Victoria

Something else no drama can be without right now is a sexy kitchen. Victoria (Jones) is always in hers, wiping down the gleaming white surfaces. It looks like a perfect kitchen for a perfect life: husband, two kids, successful property business run from home.

Then you notice little things: why is she wiping everything, even the kettle as it boils? Why is she chopping and changing her outfit for what should be a slobaround Saturday? Why is she scolding her daughters for wearing leggings? Why is she scolding her husband Chris (Ashley Walters) for “the 20th millionth time” for not putting the cushions back on the bed? Is it really 20 million? It could be.

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Victoria practices her spontaneity in front of a mirror: “Hi, hi, hi … ” Friends are coming round for dinner. “Don’t drink too much,” she cautions Chris, “and I’d like it all wrapped up by 11.30. Oh, and can we just act as if we like each other?” “But I do like you,” he says sadly. “I don’t have to pretend.” And the night is a disaster. Well, Victoria drops a plate, a disaster in her world. The guests are told to leave.

Iain Stirling is the writer and star of the "flatcom" BufferingIain Stirling is the writer and star of the "flatcom" Buffering
Iain Stirling is the writer and star of the "flatcom" Buffering

On the - spotless - surface, writer/director Dominic Savage’s film can be seen as an antidote to the trend for kitchens taking starring roles in dramas, which has grown from all these property porn shows. But it’s more than that.

For the last series with the I Am … prefix and this one, Savage has roughed out roles for his leads - all women - which are then developed through improvisation. Each has a personal resonance and Jones says she hopes hers “continues the important discussions around mental health”.

I Am Victoria is a tough watch but Jones makes for a compelling presence. She’s in almost every shot, usually alone, talking to herself or staring at her reflection as the panic mounts. I support the campaign to get kitchens out of dramas. But less Suranne Jones? No, you fools - let’s have more of her.

If you ever saw Iain Stirling’s stand-up show before, in his native Edinburgh or elsewhere before he found fame as the sarky voice of Love Island, you might remember a story the very last place he wanted to be after breaking up with his long-term girlfriend: at work, stranded on an out-of-town assignment, with pop clowns Jedward.

Now Stirling has exploited the dismal situation for a sitcom. He’s co-written Buffering (ITV2) and stars as Iain, a kids’ TV presenter, which was his previous gig. The real Iain played second fiddle to Hacker T. Dog on CBBC; this Iain surveys the sent-in artwork in the studio and, off-mic, mutters: “These birthday cards are s***. I mean look at that dad: he could be a murderer.”

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If all of this sounds fairly indulgent, putting your life on screen right after the latest bulletin from Love Island’s baby-oiled, Balearic-based Brains Trust, then you should know that Jedward aren’t involved. And Buffering has some funny lines, with our hapless hero imploring his ex: “I’m an adult, I like olives - the most adult of all of the foods.” This is Olivia (Elena Saurel) who’s also Iain’s producer. They squabble constantly on set, with Iain accusing her of giving all the jokes to Larry the Lizard, and her reprimanding him for slagging off more pictures (“How many effing elephants does this girl think there are in Stevenage?”). But they still like to shag in storerooms and then Olivia gets pregnant.

The romantic lives of Iain’s flatmates are no less complicated. Ashley’s a commitment-ophobe, her stance hardening when Greg’s mum gifts them a doormat with their names on it. To get on better they try sexting and then a cookery course and seem to achieve some kind of equilibrium over Gregg Wallace: “I hate how he leaves the spoon in his mouth for too long when he’s tasting a pudding.”

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What happens in Bulgaria? I mean, what do they watch on TV? The Devil’s Throat (Walter Presents/All 4) suggests pretty much the same as us: moody detectives, grisly discoveries in woods, sexy journalists (frankly is there any other kind?).

The first words spoken are subtitled: “You bastards!” I tried to learn them, thinking some Bulgar vulgarity might come in handy for when you don’t want folk knowing what you think about them, but this is a tricky, guttural language and even trickier written down with some of the letters back to front.

As crime dramas go, The Devil’s Throat is very much off-road and the setting must be new to just about all of us, adding to the intrigue of a dark tale of refugee-smuggling. We’re in Smolyan Province, mountainous and murderous, although Scots can take small comfort from the fact that lakes here are lochs. And I suppose there’s a distant echo of Jaws when a mayoral candidate wants the case of the corpse with the eyes removed - and replaced with those of a sheep - wrapped up quickly. His son is the detective leading the investigation who’s told: “Find a way to stop the fear.”

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