TV review: Broadchurch - Finally, ITV makes a Killing
An eight-parter about small-town lives is just the imitation Scandi-noir we've been waiting for
You wait years for a credible home-grown answer to all those Scandinavian crime dramas, and then two come along at once. Both ITV's Broadchurch and the BBC's Mayday began this week, and both deal with missing children. Each has an impressive cast – the former features David Tennant, Olivia Colman, Jodie Whittaker and Vicky McClure, while the latter stars Sophie Okonedo and Lesley Manville. Weirdly, both are shot with a dreamy, bleached-out haziness, and while one is set in Dorset and the other Sussex, both are really about the close and layered relationships of those who live in small towns, and the ripples that spread through communities after a horrible crime is committed on their doorstep.
However, unlike Broadchurch's stately unravelling over eight weeks, Mayday aired over five consecutive nights. Why do commissioners insist on doing this? Who is at home five nights in a row? It feels like too great a commitment, and despite a decent opening episode, I'm afraid I didn't get through it all.
But Broadchurch already looks to be a successful slow-burner for ITV, which is evidently still trying to beef-up its drama schedules. And while such comparisons aren't entirely helpful, the series does indeed recall The Killing in the way that it delivers emotional heft by turning the cameras on grieving families as well as the forensics.
Whittaker is brilliant, and horribly convincing, as the mother of a little boy, Danny, who is found dead on the beach. Her anguish cuts through clichés – the slow-mo run to the crime scene; the open-mouthed convulsive grief when police confirm the identity. Whittaker, and Broadchurch in general, take the truism that this is the worst thing that could happen to any parent, and make it feel raw again.
Elsewhere, there are creakier crime-drama tropes. Some business in the local newspaper with an over-eager cub reporter is a little pat. Detective inspectors Colman and Tennant begin, predictably, by snarkily sizing each other up (he got the job promised to her) but plumb more interesting depths as the episode progresses.
The latest US import to land on BBC4, Parks and Recreation (Wednesday ****), is a comedy starring Amy Poelher (of Saturday Night Live), that has been pleasing audiences across the pond since 2009. A perky mockumentary about local government, it follows Leslie, the deputy director of – you guessed it – parks and recreation in the fictional Indiana town of Pawnee. Sweetly idealistic, all blonde flicky hair, simpering politeness, tense smiles and terrified eyes, Leslie is nonetheless imbued with a very American sense of "can-do" optimism. This is the sort of woman who exhorts people to "dream with me".
It turns out that Leslie's dream is to fill in a great big empty pit. That might seem a boring plot device, but its banality is its brilliance. The bureaucratic hoops she and her team struggle through turn out to be wincingly recognisable, and British local authority employees are advised to look away when – well, maybe they shouldn't tune in at all, actually. We may not have bosses in place yet quite like Leslie's (hers doesn't believe in government, wants all the parks privatised and keeps a sawn-off shotgun on his desk), but let's just say that this is one sitcom which has no problem translating.
It was a good week for women in comedy. Channel 4's new sketch show Anna & Katy (Wednesday ***) is led by Anna Crilly and Katy Wix, who've done their time on the live circuit; now they're on TV, they seem determined to mock it. Most of the sketches are parodies of well-worn telly formats: "Rice Britannia" is a Great British Bake-Off send-up in which the guests feel the pressure as they cook plain, boiled rice; a riff on The Apprentice puts the most nonsensical of that show's management-speak into the office of a start-up car wash business. A YouTube-style video of two dim women trying to explain how Deal or No Deal works feels like a patronising mis-step, but much is nimbly observed.
Best is "Kuntwords", a Germanic spin-off of Countdown which is genuinely snort-inspiring, although its garbled language spattered with comically placed swearwords does recall The Fast Show's "Channel 9" sketches. While there's plenty to enjoy in Anna & Katy, the crap-telly parody feels quite safe, and the anarchic spirit of the best sketch comedies is lacking.
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