The Weekend's Television: Single-Handed, ITV1, Sun
Happy Birthday OU – Forty Years of the Open University, BBC4, Sat
Classic Goldie, BBC2 Fri
Monday 03 August 2009
I do hope the Connemara tourist board didn't get their hopes up too high with regard to Single-Handed, ITV1's new Sunday-night rural-copper drama. Judging on previous form in this genre, they could be forgiven for having got a little excited at the prospect of a prime-time showcase for the glories of their particular patch of Ireland. After all, what would you have predicted for a Sunday-evening drama about a Dublin policemen returning to his childhood home? A bit of bucolic mischief from some lovable old rascal with a potcheen still, perhaps. Storylines about sheep rustling, and an extended will-they-won't-they plotline in which the hero romances the local barmaid. Sentiment and craic by the bucketful, interspersed with postcard shots of the hills and bays. You can almost imagine them sitting down for a joint viewing, notepad on their knees as they prepare to work out how to lever the tourists into paying a personal visit to Single-Handed country.
It will have been a glum occasion if they did – the first collective wince arriving when the unusually sepulchral barman in the local pub makes a crack about the rarity with which they see the sun and the mood then darkening steadily as it became clear that Barry Simner's script had started downbeat and only had further descent in mind. The fact that the drama opened with the death of a young woman needn't have been terminal as far as tourists prospects went. Every crime drama needs a crime, after all, and who knows what opportunities this sad event might have offered to demonstrate healing community togetherness. The problem was that there didn't seem to be a man present who hadn't played a part in the tragedy, or a woman who wouldn't have been happier if it couldn't have all been hushed up without a fuss. Jack Driscoll isn't a local hero, it seems, but an enemy of the people, endlessly advised not to lift too many stones for fear of what might wriggle out from under them
That wasn't the worst of it either, because as he stubbornly investigated the death of an Eastern European barmaid who had been providing a little extra on the side to the men of the town, his own father's implication in ancient crimes began to emerge. "It's a cesspit," Jack said bitterly about his native turf. "My father's the only one who can see into it and sometimes I think he's stirring it up because he enjoys the stink." Then, just to twist the knife, Simner took the one hopeful strand in the plot – the burgeoning relationship between Jack and a nurse down from Dublin – and looped it in a noose around Jack's neck, revealing that he'd inadvertently committed incest with his half-sister. Suddenly, a man committed to candour and the facing of painful truths had a powerful motive for his own cover-up, and was forced to appear, for the best of reasons, to be just as cruelly exploitative as the men he'd pursued. That faint gleam of light in the twilight of the final shot? A burning caravan, quite possibly torched by the men from the tourist board. The only slogan they can go with now, I think, is "Connemara... It's Really Not as Bad as It Looks". But the drama, unexpectedly, given the slot it's in, is worth a visit.
I got a bit teary a couple of times in Happy Birthday OU – Forty Years of the Open University, a celebratory documentary about the Open University fronted up by a recent graduate, Lenny Henry, who was prompted to apply after receiving an honorary degree from Warwick and realising, quite rightly, that it didn't mean as much as the kind you have to work for. The teariness came because of just how impressive most of these graduates were, and how moved they were by an opportunity many of them had thought would always be beyond them. An armed robber – now advising the government on prison's policy – recalled getting his first high mark for a piece of written work: "It was such a buzz," he said. "It was better than robbing banks." Other than the National Health Service, it's hard to think of a more altruistic or enriching bit of public policy or, to be frank, an institution that produced more comically wooden presentational performances, an aspect of its operations that was fully explored. There were lecturers here who delivered their material as if their children were being held at gunpoint just off camera. But what they delivered got through to the most highly motivated student body in recent history.
Classic Goldie is another exercise in outreach, in which the bling-fanged drum'n'bass DJ has been commissioned to compose a short orchestral piece for performance at the Proms. He's great but the compositional process – Goldie hums a handful of notes and various mentors look panic stricken as they wonder how they can get it to fill seven minutes – is sometimes unintentionally comic.
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