Last night's viewing - Trouble on the Estate, BBC1; Lilyhammer, BBC4
Shameless returns tonight for its 10th series, the cheerful fecklessness of the people of the Chatsworth Estate having apparently lost little of its appeal over the last eight years. First though, to put its celebratory glee into context, Richard Bilton took us off to the Shadsworth Estate in Blackburn, where poverty, social deprivation and substance abuse don't look anything like as much fun.
"Is this a picture of broken Britain?" asked Bilton at the beginning of Trouble on the Estate, a question I don't think he ever quite got round to answering. But if it isn't, then ordinary Britain has quite a few things that need fixing.
The film opened with a community success, intercutting shots of children in a swimming pool with images of sink-estate dereliction. Faced with the prospect of the leisure centre being closed down as part of council cuts, local mothers had successfully campaigned to get the decision reversed. But there wasn't a lot of good news after that, as Bilton conducted a somewhat discursive survey of the estate's residents. We met Olwen, a single mother whose youngest son, Oshi, had recently been sent home from school after injuring a teacher, a development that didn't seem to hugely disturb her: "I didn't want him to go to school," she said. "I'm really anti-school." We learnt about the popularity of mephedrone (or bubble), and its easy availability. And we visited the Morrisons, a somewhat chaotic family busy raising the next generation of estate vandals.
On this account, very few people had jobs and those that did, such as Andy, were earning so little that they were effectively worse off than their neighbours on benefits. Most people didn't expect to have a job or particularly want one (Olwen got very shirty when she was called in to the Jobcentre to see whether they might be able to find her something), though the black economy looked as if it was thriving: "I thought they were tomato plants or summat," said one man after police officers asked him about the cannabis nursery they'd found in his wardrobe. It was a depressing account of demoralised people, with every likelihood that things are going to get worse as austerity bit. And it wasn't very easy to say what it was for, besides ensuring that Shameless won't slip down quite as easily as it might do otherwise.
Lilyhammer, a fish-out-of-water drama that was a ratings record breaker when it was broadcast in Norway, is a considerable disappointment. Steve Van Zandt stars as Frank, a mobster who testifies against his associates after his beloved dog is iced in a bungled attempt on his life. He decides he'd like to hide out in Lillehammer, on the basis that it looked nice during the 1994 Winter Olympics and that it will be the very last place his former colleagues would look for him. So, renamed Giovanni Henriksen, he pitches up in town only to discover that Norwegian bureaucrats aren't quite as pliable as the government officials he's been used to in New Jersey. To add to his disgust, he's been billeted next to the town's chief of police and the car he's been supplied with is an electric two-seater.
There is the raw material here for a comedy of cultural collision. But apart from a nice moment when Johnny finds a sheep's head in his driveway and assumes it's a Mob warning (it's actually the main ingredient for his neighbour's lunch), there's very little wit to the thing. Even worse, it seems to suggest that Norway would be improved by some wise guy directness. On the train to Lillehammer, Johnny deals with two obnoxious youths by punching one of them in the head and later he implausibly takes out a troublesome wolf with his handgun. The scene, a mobster trudging through snowy woods in the dark, had faint echoes of the magnificent "Pine Barrens" episode from The Sopranos. The comparison did Lilyhammer no favours.
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