TV Reviews: The Broker's Man and My Sister

LAST NIGHT
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The Independent Culture
Following an ancient rule of husbandry the writers of The Broker's Man (BBC1) have decided to sow their seed in a fallow field. In fact I would be surprised if this particular stretch of ground has ever felt the bite of a plough before. Because while in one respect Kevin Whately plays a character you have seen countless times - the detective down on his luck, torn between relationships and a job like a bad habit - in another respect he is a freshly turned sod. Jimmy Griffen is an insurance investigator, called in to verify large claims for a hefty cut of the premium and he arrives with a back history, delivered with efficient economy during a court appearance for unpaid maintenance. He's an ex-police inspector with two children and his wife has thrown him out for an affair with Gaby, a colleague on whom he still depends for his cases, neatly ensuring that reconciliation and survival are incompatible. He also has two stoical employees who have been hired through the Lippy Subordinates section of the local newspaper and who appear to be inured to the endless deferral of their wages.

It starts reasonably well, with the production and script capturing the nicotine-stained ambience of contracted crime prevention. It's a world of chain-smoking, Dexion shelving and traded favours, in which the cases range from million pound container theft to dodgy personal injury claims (in last night's episode, a chef who claims to have lost his sense of smell and is vindicated after chomping placidly through a chilli-spiked curry). This feels novel enough to register as authentic (how are most people going to check anyway?) but about halfway through the episode it took a power dive into implausibility when Jimmy began negotiations with the hijackers of a load of digital tape. Bent policemen, switched suitcases, leather-clad blondes - business as usual.

I also have my doubts about Kevin Whately as a leading man. He can be very good when cast against type - as he was in Lucy Gannon's Trip-Trap, a drama about an abusive husband - but here he is neither maddening enough to make you want to storm out nor sexy enough to charm you back, something of a handicap for a character clearly conceived as seductively impossible. One hesitates to use the word bland but it is notable that the writers failed to come up with any really memorable lines for Griffin himself but perked up no end for Godzilla, a barrow-boy insurance executive (Peter Firth, expanding his recent range of beefy bad boys). "Tell you what Jimbo," says this enjoyable creation, "you save me two million on this one and I'll have all that graffiti about you and Gabs cleaned off the gents bog. And if you can hang on to the ransom money for me I'll even stop writing it."

My Sister (C4) might more appropriately have been called Some Women's Lives because, though it was offered to you as a study in "the pains and pleasures of sisterhood", it soon became clear that these case-histories didn't really cohere into a convincing category. You might easily have run Wendy Sharples' account of the childhood death of her sister as a facet of a film about bereavement, or Michelle Taylor's tale of bringing up her three younger siblings in a documentary about children who grow up too quick, or Jo and Dee's story of long estrangement in a programme on reconciliation. But about sorority, as an experience common to millions, they could tell you little precisely because they were so atypical. Annie Paul's film was slightly self-consciously dressed for the eye - with close- ups of jaundiced, lop-eyed dolls during Wendy's story, for example - and the script sweated a little bit to inject emotional gravity. "It's time now for Wendy to find out from her mother - the only person who can help her - the truth about her sister's death," said the voiceover at one point, over a crane shot of a garden bonfire. Maybe I'm wrong but I just couldn't quite believe that she hadn't thought to ask before the arrival of the television crew.

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