Have you seen this scene before? A drug addict is lying on a sofa, glassy-eyed and daffy-faced, while all around him burn multitudes of candles. They're on every level surface in the room, like votive offerings to the god of Smack. You will have seen such a scene if you have been watching Looking After Jo Jo (BBC2) - several in fact, since this visually gorgeous bit of set-dressing has occurred more than once in the series. And it raises an obvious question. Who lights them all? Are we to believe that the jittery addict, aching for his fix, delays the moment to move from wick to wick with trembling hands? Or does his disapproving partner set them out, to provide a better ambience for the state of drooling nirvana that follows the injection? Neither seem very likely, so we have to assume that these candles have nothing to do with realism as such. They are a dab of directorial allure, applied to take the chill off a cold look at Edinburgh gangsterism. Indeed, given that Jo Jo had spent large amounts of his drug earnings lining his council flat with Italian marble they may literally have been intended to take the visual chill off a set which would otherwise have consisted of various shades of grey - including the greasy pallor of Jo-Jo's face.
Such glamorising touches were rare in Frank Deasy's drama - which counted a certain determined charmlessness to its credit. Although Robert Carlyle's Jo Jo wasn't without emotional appeal - through his love affair with Lorraine and through his own cocky magnetism - and although the first episode had offered him some mitigations they weren't quite enough to cover his descent into brutality and indifference, as he expanded his drug-dealing business. The series didn't entirely fulfil its initial promise - partly because a sense of historical commentary requires more than the odd Jam song and a repeated pan up to a Conservative Party election poster, partly because you became increasingly aware of the ghostly presence of earlier gangster films. The scenes often seemed less like life, more like a heavily-accented remake of a cinematic predecessor - De Palma's Scarface and Scorsese's Goodfellas perhaps.
But the series was good about the hunger for status, which drives criminal careers almost as much as the desire for money. When Jo Jo came out of prison his drop in the tribal pecking order was marked by a sequence in which someone tossed a pack of cigarettes at him rather than getting up to put it in his hands. Such passages gave proper scope to Carlyle's ability to make his face sharpen into an offensive weapon. Deasy had recognised, too, that diseased machismo wasn't enough on its own to explain crime on the hereditary principle - "Oh, I love a bit of crookery" said a beaming granny at the beginning of one episode, as her spare bedroom was co-opted for use as a drug warehouse. Men might make most of the mess, it was clear, but they couldn't continue to do it with such impunity if the womenfolk weren't prepared to clean up after them, and stick so unreflectively to the code of silence. In the last scene of all Jo Jo's nephew - a mere child until this point - takes up the violent succession by staring down two passing policemen, and you realise he's there not just because his uncle betrayed him but because his mother did too.
Perhaps she felt a splinter of pride at his achievement, like the two competitive Indian mothers in Goodness Gracious Me (BBC2) - "My son has won a place at Parkhurst," said one defiantly, after the other had sympathised, with ill-concealed glee, over his arrest for pimping. The women were unmistakably Indian, from their saris to their habit of jumping erratically from English to Hindi - but they could equally have been Jewish or Welsh and the joke would have worked as well. Similarly a sketch about miracles in a Hindu temple might have been reworked for Dave Allen and lost none of its edge. This colour blindness in the comedy is one reason the series is likely to find a general rather than a minority audience. The others are that it's well-acted, nicely observed and occasionally very funny.Reuse content