Having started strongly, the audience figures for Jake's Progress (C4) have reportedly been showing slight falls. This isn't entirely surprising, though the reasons have to do with the drama's excellence, not its failures. It is a difficult series to watch - and not simply because of its dark relish for scenes of children in jeopardy. If you're a parent, these moments induce a churning dread which can be a pretty strong disincentive to tune in. Matters aren't made easier by the mischievous nimbleness with which the drama skips between different genres, never quite resting its weight on any one.
When Robert Lindsay tries on different hats to the accompaniment of a Paul Young number - a real Hollywood soundtrack moment - there's no suggestion that he's knowingly parodying Julia Roberts in Sleeping with the Enemy.
It's an uneasy moment of charm which knocks you off balance for the distress which follows. Even the death of likeable characters is no guarantee against a wicked nudge. When Jake's long-suffering grandfather finally succumbs, his last words are: "I knew I should have married Betty Montgomery," a croak of triumph at his ghastly wife. Then the camera rises up in sardonic detachment, watching the characters scurry.
Then again how could you not watch? Bleasdale knows that real dialogue is almost never like a dull rally in a tennis match. It's a weird game in which players sometimes smash their volleys at the side-netting or simply stand there bouncing a ball on the racket distractedly. Where other writers have only a couple of ordinary shots in their repertoire Bleasdale has many oblique ways of delivering meaning which often come with disguised spin. And he's particularly good at offering you suggestive blanks in the text. After Jamie has stared with unhappy lust at Kate, he flops back on the bed and pulls back the cover, staring wistfully at the empty side of the bed, as if imagining an invitation accepted. To those who have given up I can only say try harder, it's well worth the effort.Reuse content