Aidan Smith's TV week: The Scotts (BBC1), The North Water (BBC2), The Cleaner (BBC1)
How about: “Scotland’s dysfunctional brood and we get to laugh at their gurning and grudgefulness”? Or: “Scotland’s vulgarian clan and thank goodness we decided against that hot-tub”? But hang on, maybe you guys invested in one. Ah well, at least you won’t have garden furniture in the shape of giant theatrical masks where you sit in the nose. What, you do? …
I loved Burnistoun and burn a candle for the return one fine day of Jolly Boy John and Barry and Joe whose venturing into a world which baffled them would always end with cries of “Up eh road!” These two would, I think, hate chez Scott, any of the three houses featured here, and especially the gaudy, bifold-door palace of Vincent Scott (Robert Florence) who’s made his money from botox. Barry and Joe would spot Vincent’s wig right away and the fact he wears shoes without socks revealing unshapely calves. To us, though, he’s hilarious.
Florence’s Burnistoun buddy Iain Connell is Vincent’s brother Henry and Louise McCarthy is their sister Colette. Henry is married to Laura, uptight and posh, according to Colette, and Vincent is married to Vonny though maybe not for much longer. “Like a rusty bike pulled out of a canal at the back of an abattoir” is how she describes their marriage.
In fact, no one gets on with anyone with Henry and Vincent none too enamoured with Colette’s boyfriend, the steroid-munching goateed galoot Darren. Henry: “The first time we met him he was wearing a pink vest - to a christening.” When Colette confirms him as the “nicest” of her beaus, Vincent says: “Only by default. The rest were all drug-dealers.”
To improve familial relations Henry proposes a boys’ night. This has to happen at Vincent’s pad, insists the latter, Henry’s being full of “these kid-on rooms in Ikea”. In the hot-tub, blind cousin Ronnie pops the champagne and Darren tops the pink vest with a tiger-print thong. The evening goes well until the one-arm press-ups contest, a la Rocky.
Meanwhile at the concurrent girls’ night Laura accidentally headbutts her mother-in-law but somehow they end up singing Erasure’s “A Little Respect” together while the lads settle their differences with a rousing rendition of Deacon Blue’s “Dignity”. Where, if it’s all happy families now, does The Scotts go from here? Don’t know, but I think it’ll be fun finding out.
Not yet had your fill of insane 19th century Arctic expeditions with a ship’s prow carving through ice and, when the provisions run out, a knife carving through a dead man’s backside? Then The North Water (BBC2) is for you.
Actually, I don’t know if this whaling drama contains cannibalism like The Terror but judging by the cut of Colin Farrell’s jib there’s a very good chance. He’s Henry Drax, crack harpoonist, who’s just as handy with a blade on dry land and will stab a bar-room stranger in Hull in 1859 for refusing to buy him a drink.
With his bestial grunt, he’s a terrifying character. In The Terror, the crew were stalked by a creature that was half-polar bear and the rest their deranged dark imaginings. Who’d win between that monster and Drax? Let’s see how The North Water, based on the novel by Ian McGuire, develops - if we dare. There’s a reason why it’s been pushed 30 minutes past the watershed.
The first episode takes us from Hull to Lerwick - “The cheapest whisky is sixpence, a decent whore will set you back a shilling” - and then, churningly, onto the frozen wastes, further north than any TV drama has ever ventured before. The captain of the Volunteer is Arthur Brownlee (Stephen Graham) and the doctor is Patrick Sumner (Jack O’Connell) who’s keeping a journal. “Why whaling?” he wonders. “There’s no reason and that is it’s great genius. The illogic of it, the mere idiocy of it … ”
But Sumner, who left the army under a cloud, has a secret. So does Brownlee who’s in cahoots with Tom Courtenay’s shipping magnate. These are the dying days of whaling and an insurance scam is being devised. But it seems highly unlikely the whalers themselves will benefit, these desperate, almost primeval men described by Brownlee as “refugees from civilisation”.
So ask yourself this: where would you least like to be stuck - on the sub in Vigil or aboard the doomed Volunteer? These nautical nightmares should make you feel claustrophobic about the prospect of another lockdown. And maybe that’s the reason they’re being screened now; perhaps Boris Johnson commissioned them to encourage us to take the necessary precautions. Vax or Drax.
How many ways can TV rework the whodunnit? I suspect we’re not done yet, that series based round the leading body-bag manufacturer and the inventor of police incident tape are currently in development. Meantime here’s The Cleaner (BBC1), a black comedy starring Greg Davies as one of these guys who mops up after grisly crime. In the opener Helena Bonham Carter has just murdered husband. “What with?” wails our man as he surveys the blood-spattered kitchen. “A combine harvester?” The victim was stabbed 38 times - “That’s just showboating.” Adapted from a German show, there are some good gags but things get silly when this pair indulge in a song-and-dance number.
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