TV Review

It begins with a series of historical caricatures, a credit sequence which naturally begs the question of whether what is on offer is a caricature of history

In The Locksmith (BBC1) Warren Clarke plays the sort of man whose meringues get squashed when he's given a hug by a canteen lady - she hugs him because he's so soft-hearted and unthreatening and because his face, crumpled into a permanent anxiety attack, naturally provokes solace. At the same time there's something luckless about him which is bound to turn such tender gestures into farce. He looks like an unlikely vigilante, but, as the publicity trails have already told us, that's what he's going to become, provoked by a burglar's assault on his ex-wife. The first episode of Stephen Bill's new drama series laid the foundations for his conversion, and very uneven they were too. The irregularity was clearly in the blueprints - Bill has previously shown a talent for unsettling combinations of humour and pathos and he procures the same friction here by giving the locksmith a feckless apprentice. Barry is a womanising chancer who is the complete antithesis to Roland's steady good citizenship. Where the latter mildly endures the officious searches of a building supplier's security guard Barry arranges to have the jobsworth's hut spirited away - an elaborate prank which was stuck into the middle of the episode like a glace cherry in an Irish stew. Barry's mischievous indifference to everything but lager and sex is constantly snagging against Roland's fretful concern to do the right thing - an inability to let things go, which is presumably going to power the rest of the story.

This calculated bumpiness of tone doesn't always work - there was a point last night when you had to swerve violently from Roland weeping over his comatose wife to Barry making a lubricious joke about stuffing turkeys. This sort of thing happens all the time in life, of course,so what I mean by "doesn't always work" is probably something along the lines of "isn't easily pigeon-holed". A comfy, worn-in set of responses won't quite do because The Locksmith is neither a wholehearted social comedy nor a sombre thriller. But it didn't exactly help that there were fewer intentional irregularities in Bill's script. He's very good at the way speech becomes meaningfully awkward at moments of pressure - "I've not touched a thing ... I might have touched the door," says a neighbour, showing the police into the room where Roland's wife lies savagely battered, and you hear the fear of being suspected in his clumsiness. But then Roland himself utters lines that appear to have been lifted from an American soap: "Oh God Almighty," he moans at his wife's bedside. "Is this what it takes to bring us back together?" You also find yourself wondering whether a character as sweetly long-suffering as this would really end up beating on his ex-wife's door and shouting "If any harm comes to her I'll bloody murder you" - a line that was more helpful to the plot than to the characterisation. Worth persevering with, though, if only to see whether Bill can prevent his unusual liaison from curdling.

Leviathan, BBC2's new history magazine programme, begins with a series of historical caricatures, a credit sequence which naturally begs the question of whether what is on offer is a caricature of history. The rough answer is yes, though it isn't to the programme's discredit. The best items have an economy of line and even the skill of tendentious exaggeration, highlighting certain features of the past so that we recognise in them something revealing about our own concerns. This can go a little too far - as in last night's piece on spin-doctors, in which a rather strenuous academic (with an accent that was a little piece of history in itself) foraged through the historical record for counterparts to modern opinion formers. Although this was nicely done (the names that were flashed up on a bleeper included Maecenas, Augustus's political adviser, and Mbikogbudwe, a seer who made sure that the writhings of poisoned chicks were interpreted in the interests of a Sudanese king) the parallels seemed a touch forced. For the most part, though, the series provides an enjoyable antidote to the implicit assumption of most news coverage that these things haven't happened before. And now, here are the olds...

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