Would You Save a Stranger? Channel 4 The Inbetweeners, E4
HERE'S a cheerful anecdote for you: I once saw a man being kicked in the head in broad daylight on Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street. Brave Samaritan that I am, I instantly averted my eyes and hurried past as quickly as possible. I'm not proud of that, nor I would imagine were the dozens of other passers-by who did the same. Best not to get involved, I reasoned. What if the attackers turn on me? Why risk my life trying to save someone I don't know? Humans: we really are pitiful cowards.
Or rather one in three of us is, at least according to a statistic in the solemn Cutting Edge documentary, Would You Save a Stranger? Although nowhere near as shrill and heavy-handed as something like Tonight with Trevor McDonald (aka: "We're All Doomed!"), this was essentially one of those scaremongering films about societal breakdown from the hell-in-a-handcart school of TV.
And yet I found it engrossing, principally because it repeatedly asked that uncomfortable question: "What would you do in this situation? And if the answer is 'nothing', then what does that say about you as a person?" Seeing as so much TV is undemanding brain-balm, I quite like it when it points an accusatory finger and makes me feel bad. At least it's making me think.
Eschewing narration in favour of eyewitness and victim accounts delivered straight into camera, the various tales of unprovoked violence were grim to behold. One young girl despaired of the bus passengers who declined to help when she was brutally attacked onboard. Another admitted to her shame for not assisting during a similar incident, and spoke perceptively of the unspoken pact of blind non-intervention that most of us enter into when confronted with such scenes.
Of those who did intervene, Steve almost paid with his life after being stabbed repeatedly by an armed robber. Howard was so incensed by the injustice of seeing an innocent man, Peter, being viciously assaulted by two drunks, that he momentarily forgot about his own safety. Both he and Steve spoke of the weirdly unreal nature of their responses. Peter believed that Howard saved his life that night, and in a touching closing scene, these charming middle-class strangers met for the first time since the attack.
Most powerful of all was the tragic story of Liam, a principled young man who was stabbed through the heart for thwarting a robbery. His mother's account of switching off his life support machine was almost too much to bear. And yet she remained justly proud of her son, and declared that she too would help a stranger in need if necessary. Would you?
Despite its nightmarish subject matter, the film ultimately contained the vaguely hopeful message that human beings are essentially decent, but most are simply too scared or unprepared to deal with violence.
Back for a second series, teen sitcom The Inbetweeners is an odd bird in that it's perfectly likeable without being all that funny. The performances from the young leads are good (Simon Bird is particularly notable as neurotic snob, Will, despite his self-conscious channelling of Alan Partridge and David Brent), and nary an episode goes by without a few chuckles. But the problem remains that while its depiction of teenage boys as immature, sex-obsessed idiots is undeniably accurate, the scatological banter palls quite quickly. Still, it's impossible to disregard completely a sitcom in which a character punches a fish to death.