TV review Damned, Channel 4: A very funny show, thanks to bravura performances from Jo Brand, Himesh Patel, Kevin Eldon and Isy Suttie

National Treasure, Channel 4: Andrea Riseborough plays Paul Finchley's addicted daughter Dee with the right pitch of intensity

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The Independent Culture

It takes a special talent to deliver a line such as “we’re creating streamlined cluster teams” with a straight face and to great comic effect, but Georgie Glen, as boss Denise in Damned, is a sufficiently fine actor to be able to deliver it properly. Indeed, the talent assembled for this new sitcom, set in the children’s services department of a local council, is impressive, representing a fair slice of the British comedy establishment. It doesn’t necessarily follow that this is a very funny show, but it is, thanks to bravura performances from Jo Brand, Himesh Patel, Kevin Eldon and Isy Suttie (who appears to be on secondment from JLB Finance in Peep Show).  

Brand, who co-wrote this new series with Morwenna Banks and Will Smith, seems to be on a sort of televisual tour of the “caring” professions, and this latest stop, fresh (if that’s the right word) from a stint as a care worker dealing with the intimate needs of the elderly, shows once again a remarkable consistency in the high standard of her output. Then again, she’s been doing this for donkey’s years, ever since she packed up the day job as a mental health nurse, so you’d probably expect her to have got the hang of it by now – as she might observe, with trademark sardonic sneer. Love her.

I doubt there are many real-world local authority offices, streamlined or not, who have wisecracks like “the gossip goblin’s back” and “the last time I had Class A, I ended up marrying Lee” ricocheting around the laptops, but no matter. There’s humour in everything, they say, and evidently this includes taking kids into care, racial abuse, marital infidelity and heroin addiction. There’s also Alan Davies and Nick Hancock, who I shall not embarrass with faint praise. 

Episode two of National Treasure, takes us deeper and darker into the world of celebrity shame. Robbie Coltrane is award-winningly compelling as the semi-washed-up light entertainer Paul Finchley, entangled in an Operation Yewtree-style mess, accused of seven different sexual assaults and now under arrest and, worse, on trial by the media. He’s lost his job as compere of afternoon Channel 4 quiz show Smuggler, and his dignity, but not yet his liberty.

Last night the focus fell on his disturbed, addicted daughter Dee, played with the right pitch of intensity by Andrea Riseborough. Such is her state of mind that you never quite know what she is on about, and, thus, whether the hints she drops about past abuse are real or imagined. The flashbacks to her adolescence are skilfully executed, so much so that, once again, the viewer is left little wiser about whether the younger Paul Finchley did in fact have some sort of sexual relations with a 15-year-old babysitter. Makes one squirm, anyway.

One, improvised, answer to that kind of ambiguity among those who stay loyal to him is offered by wife Marie (Julie Walters), who has what can only be classified as a “policy” to deal with the mix of mystery and the hurt, rather than an authentically emotional response: “I choose to believe him”, adding the codicil that “everyone wants to be a victim because it makes life easier”. When Finchley declares to his babysitter “I am a good man. I get tested”, whether he failed or passed the “test” is left unclear.

Just like some of the real-life Yewtree cases, then, the evidence presented in National Treasure is usually old and confused, witnesses not always reliable, denials are more or less credible, forensic evidence often missing and other evidence potentially compromised. Right now we are waiting to find out if the woman in Finchley’s big old Chevrolet stopped by Berkshire police in 1993 really was his wife. Little wonder these investigations take so long to find out the truth.

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