Sirens, Channel 4, Monday
Shameless US, More4, Thursday
The Itch of the Golden Nit, BBC2, Saturday
The gallows humour of ambulance drivers gets lost in a muddled attempt at a comedy drama
Sunday 03 July 2011
What is Sirens aiming to do? Advertised variously by Channel 4 as a "drama" and elsewhere as a "comedy drama", it is, in the end, neither.
The writing and plotting are not strong enough for straight drama, and in trying for laughs, it only gets as far as misogynistic, puerile, filled with cardboard characters and entirely lacking in warmth.
This is all the more surprising because it started pretty well. Rhys Thomas (star of the excellent mockumentary Bellamy's People), Kayvan Novak (Facejacker, Four Lions) and Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) play three paramedics in Leeds who are confronted, as we begin, with a car crash. A girl (looking "like a slightly older Miley Cyrus") lies crushed within the car, unconscious. Thomas, as the de facto leader of the trio, crawls to her over broken glass and decides the only way to keep her alive is open-heart massage. It's a tense moment nicely undercut, as it is revealed that the hideous 1980s power ballad soundtracking the drama is coming from the car stereo – which Thomas quickly turns off.
That, sadly, is the end of any cleverness. It all goes wrong from the moment Thomas says, "I bet she's really fit under all those bruises", of a victim of domestic abuse. Sirens is based on a blog written by a real-life paramedic, so this comment might almost be acceptable were it part of a show that reveals the dark truth of what happens out on call or in the hospital. But that's not what this programme – at least certainly not this episode – is about.
Called "Up, Horny, Down", it traces the effects of post-traumatic stress – caused by the hand-in-heart incident – on the three paramedics. Principally the sexual effects. The result: situations that might have been dreamt up by an adolescent (Madden being tied up and locked in a cupboard by a lover who turns out to be a robber); women being treated either as objects (a "shrink" who's reduced to bending over and showing us her behind) or frigid career girls; and Thomas pathetically trying to prove that he is "master of his own biology" by not giving in to his urges.
What's more, the dialogue is ridiculously overwritten. "We witness something horrific, we feel the duty to replenish the species, but ultimately we remind ourselves that life is brief." Seriously, what sort of person talks like that?
Thomas and Novak are normally gifted comic performers – but even in their emergency-service finery, they can't save this one.
A quick word about the American remake of Shameless, which transposes the Gallagher family from Manchester's Chatsworth estate to Chicago. It's noteworthy that only the media are calling it "Shameless US" – More4 has kept its original title, which makes sense because scriptwise it's near-identical to the original UK version. It's just a shame it's not identical, because what they miss out snips an awful lot of character-building, pathos and subtlety. And as good as the leads William H Macy and Emmy Rossum are, they're simply not David Threlfall or Anne-Marie Duff. Where Threlfall inhabited the character of Frank Gallagher, Macy merely plays him – and the same is true of the rest of the cast. Now, the US version's not bad – that would be impossible with the base material – but you'd be better off seeing the original on 4oD or buying a box set.
The Itch of the Golden Nit, which also premiered in the cinema this week, was the result of a project run by the Tate with the help of Aardman Animations. Combining the ideas, words and drawings of more than 9,000 children as part of the Cultural Olympiad, a four-year arts project linked to London 2012, it's an animated film about a young boy who must help to save the world from an evil superhero.
That might sound old hat, but what resulted was a piece of delightfully inventive surrealism (dinosaurs supplying the function of taxis) with good pacing and dialogue, nicely realised characters, running gags, meta-commentaries and an all-star voice cast, from Vic Reeves to Miriam Margolyes. You can see how it was all put together at tatemovie.co.uk. The Sirens bunch really should sneak a peek.
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