Blackout, BBC1, Monday
When I Get Older, BBC1, Wednesday
Time will tell, but Christopher Eccleston is as reliably grim as ever in this dark thriller
Sunday 08 July 2012
Anyone who sat through the improvised banalities of the recent Dominic Savage mini-series True Love might well have questioned TV's obsession with keeping it real. From the praise lavished upon HBO's uncompromising argots to the hullabaloo over period drama anachronisms, it seems authenticity is all when it comes to small-screen drama these days. Which is fine for the most part – hold the waltz mash-ups there, Fellowes! – but what about the joys of the surreal, stylised and plain silly? Step forward new thriller Blackout to tick off those neglected Ss with some brio.
If its premise – the travails of an alcoholic, corrupt northern council official – sounded a bit Alan Bleasdale, the result was far more Christopher Nolan, launched as we were into a noir dystopia envisioned by director Tom Green as "the British Gotham City". Cue interminable rainstorms, retro-styled femmes fatales, fizzing neon lights, looming civil unrest, and not a performance target wall chart in sight.
"Wooaah," you might be thinking, "isn't that a bit sexy for primetime BBC1?" Well, thank heavens for lead Christopher Eccleston, an actor as reliably grim as a North Circular retail park. As our rheumy protagonist, he careened from Smirnoff-suckling and dodgy dealing to a morning after that certainly couldn't be remedied by tepid Irn-Bru. With a business associate laid low in a coma, you see, his sozzled flashbacks suggested he was the most likely culprit.
The question of his guilt would have sated many, less decadent thrillers. Here, though, the narrative executed more sharp turns than a joy rider on an airfield. No sooner had he realised what might have happened than he was gifted a chance to atone for his misdemeanours via a heroic intervention in a drive-by shooting. And no sooner had he come to in hospital than he was being cajoled by some Malcolm Tucker manqué into capitalising on his celebrity and joining the city's mayoral race.
These were jaw-aching implausibilities to swallow. But as the episode closed with our newly anointed people's candidate bullshittingly vowing to "dump the bullshit", it seemed they might be the basis for a compelling political fable. Well, that or a load of high-end cobblers, anyway. Either way, I'm looking forward to more of Sherlock's wonderful Andrew Scott, he of the dyspeptic owl face, as Eccleston's nemesis-to-be. And given both actors' supreme stare-iness, we could be in for the most compelling face-pulling contest since Zoolander.
"This is the story of four famous pensioners who have left behind their wealth, comfort and busy lives to live with the nation's forgotten old people." So began When I Get Older, another poignant study of the plight of celebrities struggling to come to terms with the ordinary lives of their peers. And rest assured there was (a) talk of metaphorical journeys, and (b) the 73,000th recorded use of Take That's "Greatest Day" to induce phoney uplift.
The two-part documentary saw our quartet (including Gloria Hunniford, inset) each spend four days with a (mostly) housebound senior before moving into a residential care facility for a further week. And though the intention was to highlight society's neglectful treatment of the elderly, too often you questioned the production's neglectful treatment instead. Or maybe Dorian from Birds of a Feather genuinely was the best person to be coaxing an anguished stroke victim into respite care.
Then again, not even Jim Davidson playing hopscotch with a Zimmer frame could have destroyed the affective power of the subject matter. And, beyond the celebrity patronage guff, there were plenty of insights into the twilight-years condition, from the profound – Malcolm's carer-wife's discussion of her own feelings of self-erasure – to the incidental – a dementia patient telling war journo John Simpson "I'm so pleased to think that we're working", perhaps heartened by the mental occupation of appearing on camera.
Simpson seemed most sceptical about the format's contrivances. Having gone to visit Peggy, a cantankerous, reclusive 83-year-old living alone in a Suffolk village, he decided to leave her to her antisocial ways. "I don't think that coming in, changing somebody's life and going away with a warm sense of achievement is really the thing," he noted. Now where was he at the pitch meeting?
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