Why has television drama lost that loving feeling?

The new deluge of TV drama focuses on bleak, murderous intentions but what's happened to the love stories, ask Sarah Hughes

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The Independent Culture

Sometimes feel I’m drowning under a deluge of crime dramas. Last week alone, I could have caught the climax of entertaining melodrama The Escape Artist; headed down the dark streets of Victorian Whitechapel with the Ripper Street gang; or said a fond farewell to Poirot.

Meanwhile, the most memorable dramas of the year, from Jane Campion’s haunting Top of the Lake to the compelling Broadchurch and the darkly addictive The Fall, have revolved around murders and the mayhem of their subsequent fallout.

I love a good crime story – and can’t wait to see the BBC’s take on Benjamin Black’s guilt-soaked pathologist, Quirke, next year – but this feels like overload.

“I wanted to tell a pure, old fashioned love story,” One Day screenwriter David Nicholls remarked during a recent screening of his new television drama The 7.39, which tells the story of Carl (David Morrissey) a man marinated in the disappointment of middle-age who finds himself drifting into an unlikely affair with a young woman, Sally, who he meets on his daily commute. “Love stories get a bad press … but meeting someone and falling in love is more common than meeting a serial killer.” He has a point.

These days, television commissioners are more desperate to find the next Breaking Bad than they are the new Cold Feet. Yet should our focus really be so narrow? Watching The 7:39, which comes to the BBC in early 2014, was curiously refreshing. Instead of a world drenched in blood and ridden with crime, we were presented with recognisable places filled with people doing everyday things: getting up, chatting to their family, commuting to jobs that frustrated or fulfilled them, falling in love.

“Not all love stories stop at 34,” Nicholls said, describing his two-part drama as a ‘love story for grown-ups’. “Falling in love is something people do at every stage of their lives – in the case of The 7:39 the idea was that these two people meet at a time when Carl feels unappreciated at home and Sally is starting to question whether marriage is what she really wants. They find something in each other which they might not have at a different time in their lives.”

In other words, this isn’t the amoral world of the anti-hero, ploughing his lonely furrow towards his compromised end, but instead a quietly compelling tale of ordinary lives and understandable mistakes. Watching it only made me more aware of how rare it is these days to watch a drama in which no one is attacked or killed, and where the devastation comes from ordinary actions rather than  operatic cruelty.

A similar sense of attractive normality can be found in Sally Wainwright’s Last Tango in Halifax (starring Anne Reid), which returns for a second season this week. The story of two 70-year-olds and their rekindled love, it is, wonderfully, a drama about older people which doesn’t depict them as vulnerable or ill but places them centre stage and states boldly: love doesn’t disappear as you age. Its success – the first series won two Baftas and pulled in around seven million viewers while Diane Keaton has acquired the rights for a US remake – can be seen as a validation of Wainwright’s recently stated belief that “so many series seem grim and not much else [but] real life is a mixture of dark and funny”.

She’s right. The world is filled with hundreds of stories, big and small, entertaining and sad. By all means keep the classy crime dramas coming but give us the romance, the wit, the humour, the despair and the sheer contradictory appeal of humanity as well.