Last Night's Television: Five Days, BBC1
Damages, BBC1

Best line of the week so far? No contest, I think, though obviously my survey hasn't been absolutely comprehensive. The scene was a brief and tangential one, a minor character in the drama staggering away from a heavy night on the ale and puking convulsively on to the pavement. After wiping his mouth he wearily takes a swig from the can of beer in his hand and says, in a scouse accent, "Can't wait till I've had enough." It was the last thing you saw in the opening episode of Alan Bleasdale's GBH, currently being repeated on the cable channel Yesterday, and it was a reminder that, at its best, British television drama can (or perhaps could) compete with anything the Americans can do. You'd have to have watched the whole episode to understand how good that detail was – how it gave a gleeful, sardonic flick to Bleasdale's theme of thirst – for revenge and power and gratification. And, regrettably it's the kind of thing we've learnt to expect from buy-in American drama rather than the home-grown product.

Mad Men is among the shows that are to blame for that cultural cringe – not an HBO product itself but treading the path cut by that broadcaster. As this week's episode demonstrated again, Mad Men never seems fearful of being charged with pretension. Don, under pressure to sign a contract with Sterling Cooper, went off on an odd bender, picking up a draft-dodger and his girlfriend and ending up in a motel stoned out of his head on bourbon and phenobarbital, at which point his father appeared, nursing a jar of moonshine and mocking Don's every achievement: "You grow bullshit!" he slurred contemptuously from the corner of the room. I was reminded of something that you could once take for granted in British television drama – an understanding that what shapes character may have happened 30 years earlier (as is the case in GBH, where the childhood flashbacks of Robert Lindsay's crooked city official deliver the emotional hook that keeps us watching). Don's vision doesn't have a flatly functional purpose in the narrative, any more than Betty's purchase of a Victorian fainting couch did later on. They added to our sense that we don't fully understand these characters yet and might want to stick around until we do.

Not that there any particular grounds to be gloomy about British talent. As Five Days has been demonstrating for the last three nights – if you actually give it a bit of room to move it stretches in very interesting ways. Five Days isn't GBH, of course. The corsetry of the police procedural is still a little too tightly laced to allow for that. And it doesn't have the historical scope of Mad Men, or its luxury of letting the characters do nothing but be themselves. At the moment, there's a sense that every vivifying loose end in the opening episodes will eventually be traced back to a significant knot, which may be impressively craftsmanlike, but comes at the cost of a certain believability. Even so what lifts Gwyneth Hughes's script above the routine is the way that you feel you could travel further in every direction and find proper depth, rather than just bumping into stage flats. There was a nice case in point last night, when a significant advance in the investigation was delivered by a nosy old lady. She didn't just deliver the necessary information and leave, she was fully there, with her prejudices against callow young male coppers and her slightly unseemly desire for the kind of excitement you see on telly cop shows. "What's the point of calling the police if they won't bash the door down?" she asked in aggrieved tones when Suranne Jones's policewoman declined to break into her neighbour's house. No need for that little gesture of character at all, in terms of the cogwork of the plot, but then it's the unnecessary stuff that usually makes a drama worth watching.

Damages is pretty much all mechanism, constructed with an almost ruthless focus on snagging your attention and getting it inextricably tangled. There are points when you momentarily think it might surprise you with character, as when Patty's estranged husband came round to return the dog and the couple seemed on the point of reconciliation. Then, just after he'd asked for a second chance, Patty laughed in his face, dropped the temperature of her voice until it could liquidise oxygen and said: "I don't need you anymore and I certainly don't want you." The monster we love was back in place – Grendel in Manhattan. No Lily Tomlin this week, sadly, but the barbs on the hooks continue to multiply. I rolled up my cuffs and put my hair in a net before I approached episode one of this new series, determined not to get snared by its rapidly moving parts. But I'm afraid I have to report another workplace injury. I expect to have freed myself in another 10 episodes.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference