Is ITV fulfilling its obligations as a public-service broadcaster?
Forget the death of The South Bank Show and overlook the fact that it probably finds News at 10 an inconvenience. Those things don't matter. ITV's main obligation is to cheer the public up over a nice cup of tea: Emmerdale, Heartbeat, "An Audience with Radiohead", that kind of thing. When it's bleak outside, ITV is as cosy as a fish supper for two. So it is good to see that nice Timothy Spall in a new drama, along with Deborah Findlay from Cranford.
Gunrush opened cheerfully enough, with Timo playing a bumbler so mild and green that it's a shock to discover he's called Doug and not Fairy Liquid. Then Doug and family went into a shop, jostled some hoodies, and bang, his darling teenage daughter was bleeding to death on the floor. Suddenly, you remember this is called Gunrush and the film, like Doug, Will Never Be the Same Again.
Doug blamed himself, because that's the sort of guy he is. His wife Jill also blamed him, because that's the sort of guy he is. Eventually, Doug proved he was a man by snapping at Jill and stealing – from the police – the gun cartridge that killed his daughter. Pretty soon, he'd gone feral, roaming the estate where he rightly assumed the killers lived, looking for revenge, the gun ... anything, really. This was dangerous territory, so he hired a crackhead guide, played perfectly by Paul Kaye in Pulling mode, and upset the local arms dealer. Don't try this at home. Then Doug ruined the estate's karaoke night by sobbing "Both Sides Now" (what is it about telly script writers and karaoke? Do they think working-class folk spend their entire lives singing?) and begging, over the mic, for help in finding his daughter's killer. One of the hoodies' grannies heard his plea, triggering a crescendo that rose to a truly grim if unlikely climax.
Nobody came out of Gunrush well. The cops were racially divided and hardly cared. The teen gangstas were squabbling pawns. Doug and Jill were also lured by the thrill of weaponry. The hoodies' probation officer (David Harewood, currently Martin Luther King in The Mountaintop at London's Trafalgar Studios) was corruptible. Only Doug's other daughter had redeeming features. And although it used that weird glowavision that many modern ITV dramas employ, Gunrush was really dark and everything looked black and white.
That didn't apply to the story, which had ambiguities galore. Would the police really appear so blasé about the murder of a nice middle-class girl? Do black kids still use the 1970s slang "seen" for "understood"? The drama's message remained unclear, although there were hints about racism, class and the power vested in firearms, and Jill pointedly mentioned "respect".
Gunrush was gripping, and it's admirable that it was made in this economic climate, but quite a lot of it was baffling, including the final action scene. It must have gone over the heads of other viewers too: no wonder the network is struggling. When Doug's daughter started playing the cello at the end and the curtains were opened to let light in at last, I heaved a sigh of relief. Curse you, ITV, my tea's stone cold.
While we're in the mean streets where men are mugs, the dames are damned and even the foxes wear bling, let's learn The Rules of Film Noir. Assembled for BBC4's excellent film noir season, this clips and talking heads show was in a different class to those programmes where Z-list DJs drone: "Do you remember Spangles?" The presenter, Matthew Sweet, haunted dark alleys, wearing a suit designed to make him look like Burt McMitchum in "Triple Infidelity". Alas, he still resembled Paddy Ashdown's and Piers Morgan's secret love child. But Sweet was good, considering he was pitted against the likes of the movie director Paul Schrader and the lecturer-writer Sarah Churchwell. Another guest, George Pelecanos, provided an inadvertently hilarious moment when he mumbled, in the style of the show he produces, The Wire: "These women, you could feel the coldness of a corpse coming off them." Nice quote, spoiled when he smugly nodded to say, "There's ya soundbite".
Sweet explained the Rules, which included "See America through a stranger's eyes", "Use no fiction but pulp fiction" and "Never stop for a woman who stands in a lonely road waving her arms like a wind turbine". Actually, I made the last one up, but one of the movie clips was exactly that. While there was talk of Nazis and drugs, McCarthyism was only hinted at in the list of influences, and Brit noir went unremarked. Other than that, all bases were covered, and some of these movies, such as The Killers, are pretty base.
Bus Pass Bullfighter, showing in Channel 4's First Cut slot, was a beautiful film about a vile "sport". Frank Evans, an annoyingly engaging 66-year-old Russ Abbot-alike, made his return to the bloody ring after a quadruple heart bypass and a knee replacement. Frank said bullfighting is is about gravitas and grace. Certainly it is grave for the poor animal, but the only grace is disgrace.