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
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
The party's over: Paul Higgins and Stella Gonet in 'Hope' at the Royal Court

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special

Broadcaster unveils Christmas schedule

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital