Tuesday, BBC1, 9pm
PERSON OF INTEREST
Tuesday, Channel 5, 10pm
Most agree that Jimmy McGovern is one of our finest dramatists – one of the few whose work needn’t cringe in embarrassment beside the American cable elite. But the first series of his latest anthology project, Accused, didn’t make as much of a splash as earlier work like Cracker, despite featuring some of our finest TV actors, each taking a turn in court as the individual dramas showed us how they got there. While it didn’t deliver high ratings, it did win two International Emmys, so the BBC held their nerve and recommissioned the series in hopes of better viewing figures this time out. And if there’s one thing that might sway people to tune in, it’s these four words: Sean Bean in drag.
Yes, the other Mr Bean, best known for being deeply masculine and craggy-faced, liking football, swinging a sword about etc (and also, oddly, for being killed off in a great many of his screen appearances, sparking a viral video which spliced together all his deaths). This is what you might call a departure. When he first appears he’s walking towards the dock in a suit, we quickly flash back to him in a sparkly frock, blonde curly wig, unsubtle makeup and high heeled boots. Bean plays Simon, a transvestite teacher who explains that if he can’t “pass” as a woman (and he really can’t), then he can only brazen it out: become an extreme parody, a glammed-up, leg-flashing, teased-hair-tossing drag queen called Tracey.
It’s become a cliché that to live with the world’s unkind judgements, such people have to be pretty tough and indeed, Tracey is, giving back better than she gets when abused in the street and using her obvious intelligence to analyse, yet accept, the occasional sexual advance from confused closeted men. But there’s an aching vulnerability beneath Tracey, which Bean shows brilliantly – yes, he nails the artificially-pitched voice and wobbly stiletto walk, but it’s a testament to his performance that soon you are focusing more on the way the heavy make-up sags into the creases of his face than the fact that he’s wearing it. There’s a particularly shivery moment when Tracey shaves the hair from her arm, just below Bean’s own “100% Blade” tattoo which they’ve not covered up and so serves, perhaps, as a hint at Simon’s earlier life.
In his male persona, Bean is dressed in greys and browns: he looks like a younger Ken Barlow and works as a college lecturer, dully interpreting romantic poetry for a class of bored teenagers. That’s the character who really rips at your heart, especially in a crushing scene when ‘Tracey’s’ lover walks past ‘Simon’: in that moment, you understand why, despite her unlikely looks, Tracey has to exist. Stephen Graham gives a really good performance too, in a tricky role as Tony, who is drawn to this odd-looking creature but tormented. When it comes, the crime which has led Simon/Tracey to the dock is surprising but inevitable.
Next up, a new American import for Channel Five. The weight of references piled upon Person of interest is almost crushing. The story is basically The Equalizer meets Minority Report: two mysterious men (one brainy, one brawny) fight crimes before they happen, thanks to a magical computer which a) predicts things based on intercepting emails, phone calls and CCTV but b) only gives them the info in the form of a social security number of someone who will be involved in some way, as villain or victim.
The production team is JJ Abrams, of Alias and Star Trek fame, with Jonathan Nolan, brother of Christopher and screenwriter of The Dark Knight and Memento; elements of all of these leak into their new project. And the stars bring associations too. Jim Caviezel is best known for Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ, but more recently starred in the ill-fated remake of The Prisoner; his name also sounds like Catweazle, which is pretty much who he looks like at the beginning of the story, all straggly-bearded and raggedy, to show that he has become depressed after a personal tragedy.
But quickly he’s shaved and clean-cut again, after teaming up with the well-meaning reclusive billionaire genius (you know, one of those) played by Michael Emerson, who was a highlight of the later series of Lost as the equally ambiguous leader of The Others. There’s even a real world echo too, as Caviezel’s ex-CIA man John Reese is given the obligatory-these-days 9-11 related backstory. Phew: that’s a lot of preconceived impressions for the series to absorb.
So is the show any more than the sum of its parts? On the first episode’s evidence, maybe not: in the rush to get the high concept premise established, there’s not much time to sketch in the characters or any more lofty themes. The weekly crimes seem like a throwback to an earlier era of TV procedurals – aren’t we more into convoluted conspiracies and long-drawn-out single crimes these days? – but Caviezel’s dreary hero isn’t fun enough to really root for as he sprints to the rescue, throwing ninja action moves without breaking a sweat, or a smile. Emerson imbues his role with as much squinting menace as he can, but is stuck with exposition-heavy dialogue. However, once they hit their stride, perhaps the series will come into its own and make us forget its origins.