This is England '88, Channel 4, Tuesday to Thursday


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The Independent Culture

Those Walfordians must be fuming. Every year EastEnders' fabulously doomy Christmas Day episode provides the ultimate catharsis for festive viewers keen to expunge the pain of weeks of enforced jollity.

But damn it, if it hasn't been out-doomed by Shane Meadows this time round. Only Heather Trott going Travis Bickle could pull it back for the Beeb now.

Depression, deceit, annoying bosses and aspirational olive-eaters: all human miseries were manifold in this latest instalment of Meadows' coming-of-age tale. What began, with This is England, as a study of Thatcher-era disaffection vis-a-vis a gang of skinhead friends, is now as shorn of socio-politics as its cast are plentiful of hair. And gang did I say? Two years on from the traumas of This is England 86 – and I doubt anyone who saw that rape scene will have forgotten it – camaraderie was in short supply. We had isolated exes Lol and Woody (Vicky McClure, pictured, Joe Gilgun) failing to cope with their respective lots of single motherhood and sterile suburbanism. And young Shaun, now at drama college, and stuck in class and relationship limbo thanks to an illicit liaison with a la-di-da classmate.

But compelling though Meadow's nascent franchise remains, I can't help finding its increasingly miserabilist trajectory increasingly irritating. Perhaps it's the sense that this high-class soap is less meaningful than it thinks it is: and that in striving to keep our guts wrenching, Meadows has lost his grip on the rich banalities of real life – not least in the case of Lol, her reservoirs of suffering channelled into one long, quasi-meaningful stare.

There were great things here: beautifully composed camerawork, Gilgun's haunted affability, and the glorious, nasal drone of Rosamund Hanson as Shaun's girlfriend Smell. It's just a shame the latter isn't the only monotonous aspect of this saga any more.