Grace Dent on TV: Jason Manford in Ordinary Lies shows us why we should all try to fake a death

No one wants to hear the boring honest truth that a car salesman is in the midst of a minor midlife crisis

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The Independent Culture

In Ordinary Lies, writer Danny Brocklehurst underlined how fibs, fibbers and the walking wounded of deception are endlessly fascinating.

After all, the gloriously trashy end of the women’s weekly magazine rack devotes itself almost exclusively to “lies that got out of hand”: bigamists, con-artists, folk who announced their children had rare terminal illnesses.

“He wasn’t an airline pilot,” it transpired, “he got the uniform at a car boot!” Lies that needed more lies to cover them, leading to a maze of lies as tangled and abundant as knotweed. At this point, when discussing lying, some berk typically pipes up that “honesty is always the best policy”, which is a damn lie.

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Jo Joyner and Max Beesley star in the prime-time North West England-based drama (BBC)

In episode one of Ordinary Lies no one wanted to hear the boring honest truth that car salesman Marty (Jason Manford) was in the midst of a minor midlife crisis. Marty couldn’t get up in time for work and was beaten by management’s 20-cars-a-month sales targets. They did, however, perk up at the news that Marty’s wife had suddenly died, furnishing him with all the empathy, support and personal space he wanted.

One problem: Marty’s wife wasn’t dead. She was very much breathing, shopping and doing the school run. This was a big, bold storyline with which to kick off a series of six interlinking tales, but Brocklehurst’s pithy script and a confident Manford and cast pulled the tall tale off. If you thought Ordinary Lies was implausible piffle, then perhaps light BBC1 prime-time North West England-based drama, in the manner or Clocking Off, Sorted or The Street, is not really your bag.

Personally, I can watch this sort of working-class, chit-chatty sagas by the bucketload. If I was put under house arrest, I would quibble and squeal about my human rights for about 48 hours and then calmly settle down with the Sorted boxset. It had Dean Lennox Kelly in it dressed as a postman.

 

I don’t care if some of the high jinks involving a northern Royal Mail sorting office were a touch implausible. I’ve sat through hours of weighty Stephen Poliakoff drama. Sometimes silly and chipper with suddenly rather moving moments is good as well.

Manford was oddly endearing as Marty, “the man who’d done a terrible, terrible thing”. We rooted for him. In fact, episode one of Ordinary Lies left me thinking that everyone should be entitled to at least one fake family death and the chance to experience the warm bonhomie of friends. During real, true grief, we’re usually too battered to know or even care. Marty, we saw, was having a lovely time on compassionate leave – give or take his guilt – playing computer games and being wooed by pretty mourners who’d spotted the spouse vacancy. In the pub, playing pool with a good-looking girl who had whisked him out for a pint to help with his grief, Marty was happier than he’d been for years.

The fall-out from Marty’s lie will play out over oncoming weeks, with episode two focusing on Tracy Shawcross, JS Motors’ slightly useless but very beautiful receptionist, played by Michelle Keegan. Nothing as beautiful as Keegan could ever truly be useless. This is Keegan’s first outing post Corrie, post her reign as Princess of Weatherfield. Her Tracy, it must be said, isn’t a million miles away, character-wise, from Corrie’s Tina, although Tracy is four or five shades of fake tan lighter, which led me to wonder if her episode was going to focus mainly on her finding a reliable Sienna-X spray-tan booth.

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Mackenzie Crook plays a mainly mute background character (BBC)

Our continuing dramas battle to keep young talent nowadays. It’s odd how soap stars are keen to escape from major roles and maximum exposure in order to take similar roles, surrounded by other ex-soap stars. EastEnders’ Sam Strike, who played Johnny Carter, jumped ship at the start of the year in the run-up to one of the soap’s most high-profile moments. It will be interesting to see where his new freedom allows him to travel. Series two of Ordinary Lies, perhaps?

I hope there is a second chunk planned. Keegan’s Ibiza adventure in episode two and Beth’s (Jo Joyner) search for her missing husband are just too watchable for a one-off run. I especially loved Kathy (Sally Lindsay) who brings her mammoth of a dog into work as “he was feeling depressed”, and Fat Jason (George Bukhari).

One might easily guess who, from the enormous Ordinary Lies cast, might be getting their own foregrounded episodes over future weeks. In episode one, Mackenzie Crook (The Office, The Detectorists, Pirates of the Caribbean) seemed content playing a mainly mute background character. It seems a lot of trouble to lure Crook to BBC1 and then leave him as screen parsley. Same too for Max Beesley, playing showroom boss Mike. I’m hooked for the duration. We all, it seems, like a lie less ordinary.

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