IoS TV review: The Fear, Monday to Thursday, Channel 4
A Young Doctor's Notebook, Thursday, Sky Arts
The Only Way is Essex Live, Monday, ITV2
It's been a week of grisly viewing – but 'Towie Live' proved the most horrific show of all
Sunday 09 December 2012
Death and gore left a bloody trail across my TV screen this week, depositing a corpse, a jawbone ripped from a mouth and the grisly end of an entire genre.
The maimed body appeared on the scene early in the four-day run of Channel 4's mini-series The Fear, though it wasn't so much mutilated as dismembered. And what was left wasn't so much a corpse as a head and an arm. Such is life, eh? Anyway, the bits and pieces had been discarded by an Albanian gang intent on taking over Brighton from semi-retired gangster Richie Beckett. And the bed in which the sickening remains were left lying, as insurance against future payback, belonged to Richie's son, wannabe hardman Cal.
So far, so gangster drama. But where The Fear diverted from the norm was in its lead. For Richie was about to be struck by a particularly aggressive form of Alzheimer's.
And playing Richie was a particularly aggressive form of actor, in the shape of Peter Mullan, producing a rip-roaring display of menace, underscored by a mounting pathos transforming what could have been an acceptable drama into an engaging work. For, while the basics did not always shine – the Albanians, in particular, were rather two-dimensional, spouting such dire-logue as, "You work with us or we destroy you" – the intricacies of Richie's mind, not to mention his changing relationship with his family, as he struggled to draw a line between reality and Alzheimer's-induced confabulation, proved reason enough to keep tuning in.
And tuned in, for that matter. Because it required some mental acuity to thrash out just how the invading Albanians provided a synecdochal link to the disease affecting Richie's brain; and even more to piece together how a girl he killed some years before fitted into the bigger picture.
It is a tribute to the writers that the programme shocked even in its final act, an act previewed in the very first minute of the series – which I won't spoil for anyone who wants to catch up on 4oD. It's a show that will – ironically, given Beckett's condition – live long in the memory.
As will the gore that arrived later in the week courtesy of A Young Doctor's Notebook. Based on a collection of Russian short stories written by Mikhail Bulgakov, this four-part comedy drama gained much press coverage for its choice of leads, the former boy-wizard Daniel Radcliffe and Mad Man Jon Hamm. The latter plays the former's older self, reading the notebook he wrote as a newly qualified doctor, posted to the remote village of Muryovo. Radcliffe plays out the drama as the older doctor reads – though, curiously, Hamm also turns up in this "past" to advise his young self.
It's all very meta-playful, and Radcliffe is particularly good as the novice with not much of a clue as to how to deal with the ailments set before him; his training in reacting to green screens for eight Harry Potter movies means he can now choose from an excellent store of characterful glances that say as much as anything that comes from his mouth.
The bloodshed encountered in this first episode came courtesy of a rare feat of obstetrics, and a soldier with toothache (resulting in that extracted jawbone mentioned earlier). One suspects there's rather more gore to come, given that Radcliffe is doing his thing in 1917 – at the outbreak of the Russian Revolution – and Hamm's office appears to be getting a good going over by Soviet officers in 1934.
Those with knowledge of Bulgakov will also enjoy drawing comparisons with the author's life – he himself was a doctor posted to the middle of nowhere before turning to writing – and will revel in the way he toys with his own reality in the retelling.
Reality, too, was there for all to see on The Only Way is Essex; the producers couldn't cut the hideously missed cues or lack of things to say, because this was the first ever attempt at live structured reality.
Centred on a charity gala being put on by the "stars" of the show, it was like a Royal Variety Performance being performed by toddlers; the singing was ear-bleedingly bad, the ventriloquism execrable.
But even worse were the editing decisions, which took us seemingly at random from awkward acts on stage to stilted tête-à-têtes off, cutting in and out of conversations with no mind as to whether sentences were finished. RIP Towie. You had a good run, but you've shot yourself in the foot, contracted septicaemia and buried yourself.
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