Prisoners' Wives, BBC1, Tuesday Inside Men, BBC1, Thursday

Weeping women quickly grate on the nerves, but a counting-house heist is a guilty pleasure

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The Independent Culture

When a nasty, hard-nosed detective inspector tells Gemma, whose husband has gone down for murder leaving her carrying the (unborn) baby, that behind every arrest there's a woman either lying or too stupid to realise the truth – well, you suspect he might be on to something.

"Are you devious or just dumb?" he sneers in the opening episode of Prisoners' Wives, and the answer, here, is all too obvious: Gemma, played by Hollyoaks graduate Emma Rigby, is a tad dim. Rigby may be ridiculously pretty – bee-stung lips, mournful baby blues, long blond hair – but she is also pretty vacant; there is one acting note and it's beautiful bewilderment. Oh, and crying. Lots and lots of snivelling, as if someone told her that is what real actresses do.

Not that she's exactly been given the greatest script to work with – this new drama is as clunky as a cell door for the most part. Occasional bouts of choppy camera work or woozy, distressed close-ups fail to make it much edgier.

Gemma's fellow partners in crime-by-association are just what you'd predict too: there's Lou (Natalie Gavin) who must be a bit dodgy because she lives on an estate and has a Croydon facelift and, yes, sells a little weed to make ends meet, but bless 'er if she hasn't got a heart of gold – devoted to her young son and determined to keep him believing his Dad's just off building a top secret new football stadium for 10 weeks. Then there's Francesca, the floozy who doesn't seem to mind her hubby's misdemeanours, and cheerfully gets thrown out during visiting hours for giving him a sneaky flash up her skirt.

She's played by a sharp-eyed Polly Walker, and Franny and Gem have a bit of a moment at the end, bonding over dodgy plumbing. No doubt the series will go on to deepen these relationships and celebrate female friendship. But it's insubstantial as a soap opera, and not as addictive, so who knows if anyone will stick around to watch.

Interesting bit of programming last week; it looks as if the BBC wants to offer us the other side of the picture, too, with Inside Men, another new drama, about three very normal blokes who see the chance to pull off a major robbery and go for it. They could be the husbands of those wives. And at times it feels as if we really are in a parallel land: there's a slow-going, motivation-establishing middle section in which we see just why these ordinary men might be driven to take an extraordinary risk, ripping off the sterling counting house where they work (who knew such things existed outside nursery rhymes?)

Their reasons seem to be mostly petty greed, the settling of debts and general dissatisfaction, although the twitchy, stuttery boss John, desperate enough for respect and validation that he'll make up a shortfall of £240 with dosh from his own pocket so as to be crowned manager of the month, is sensitively rendered by Steven Mackintosh. By turns you pity him and empathise with him.

It's much more fun, however, when they get into the nitty-gritty of how you might pull off such a job, and when the characters start to get devious instead of being all emotive – pah, that's not what a crime caper is for! The hour-long opener is smartly bookended by dynamic shots of the final heist taking place, which starts the whole thing with a shot of adrenalin – men in masks bash up security guards and crack safes, to a soundtrack of nervy strings and pounding rhythms, and it's wrapped up in the kind of crisp production values you would expect of a thriller film.

By the end of the first episode, however, when we're again at the scene of the crime, our perspective on who is in on what, and who is a victim, has shifted. And this will surely continue over the next three parts, and in this way, despite its flaws, Inside Men is gripping. Compared with Prisoners' Wives, at any rate, it seems life is more exciting on the inside.

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