My Zinc Bed, BBC2
Mutual Friends, BBC1
The Last Word Monologues, BBC1
Super Botox Me, Channel 4

A fine adaptation of a David Hare play only serves to expose the poor quality of scripts produced especially for the small screen

Sometimes you get glimpses of what TV could do, how good it could be. Jonathan Pryce had a speech in My Zinc Bed that was as beautiful as shivering mercury. "It's the autumn air. At summer's end, there's always a moment of calm. A slight change in the air. It's still August. The sun beats down. But it's touched with the knowledge of what's to come." It was like he had stepped into my living room and looked out of the window. The elusive, wriggling here-and-now had been trapped, still-breathing, in the net of the dialogue. The words felt as if they'd been written that day.

In fact they were written eight years ago, for the stage. It's embarrassing, really. This was the best writing on TV this year – not that particular quote, but the whole drum-tight, reverberating little play, and it wasn't even written for TV. Something has gone awfully wrong with purpose-built TV dialogue and the sheer quality of David Hare's writing – textured, poetic, packed with ideas – showed this up, line by line. My Zinc Bed wasn't a technical triumph – exterior London skies (cloudy) hopelessly mismatched against studio skies (blue) – but it was well written and that, in the end, is all that really matters. The script's the branch the birdies land on. Uma Thurman was at her leonine best, every syllable of her Mitteleuropean accent ringing true on the tinkling love triangle of the play. She was not, we think, doing it for the money.

Compare and contrast with Mutual Friends, a shudderingly badly written new TV drama that wouldn't last beyond the first week in a theatre. On TV it'll carry on for six godforsaken episodes. It is one of those vaguely unpleasant pieces that thinks it's a black comedy but has neither the charm nor the cruelty to pull it off. People shitting in other people's shoes? Hilarious, I'm sure. The soundtrack – a knowing, jaunty tango – amplifies every failing. The estimable cast – Marc Warren, Alexander Armstrong – have a vaguely betrayed air, as if they know the script can barely cover their naked shame. Only Keeley Hawes has thrown her heart into it, seeming to relish her shallow, unappealing character. I used to really like her as an actress. One line for me sums up the poverty of this script. A poor child actor had to deliver a bombshell about his parents' infidelity. He was only a kid but he still seemed to cringe as he said the words: "Is Uncle Carl in heaven? Good. Now he won't be able to shag mummy any more." Can you think of a smarmier, more contrived line of dialogue? A more obvious plot-hinge, a cheaper, nastier, less plausible sentence for a child to deliver?

The Last Word Monologues by Hugo Blick were a good attempt to infuse some theatrical confidence into TV writing, but ultimately failed to captivate. While I love the idea of a slowly unfurling soliloquy, I found myself desperately bored by the self-indulgent pace and mawkish tone of these. They felt like first drafts, rough and tumbling, when the tightrope walk of a monologue requires a more precise discipline.

Rhys Ifans plodded through his half-baked sub-Brokeback Mountain script, while Bob Hoskins's sentimental gangster was a sophomoric cliché. Sheila Hancock's woman waiting for euthanasia could have shuffled off a lot quicker as far as I was concerned. Alan Bennett has set dizzyingly high standards for the modern TV monologue and these did not come close.

Intrepid TV journalists need something to investigate. Fortunately most of them have egos that take a long time to explore. Kate Spicer took a gruelling journey into hers in SuperBotox Me. She gamely tried every injection, peel and chemical procedure going, enquiring at each step exactly how it made her feel, which was usually a little bit better and as well as a little bit worse. She often tired along the way, exclaiming "I'm sick of thinking about my face!" and "Enough fannying around!" (couldn't have put it better myself), but kept on trudging on till she had literally cried tears of blood. Gruesome, compulsive viewing.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice