On paper, it’s obvious why Richard Gere chose MotherFatherSon (BBC2) for his first foray into TV in over 40 years. The eight-part drama ticks every prestige drama box available: it is sleek, stylish and complex, all brooding stares and ponderous monologues said by beautiful people. It explores sex, power and politics through various interweaving plotlines. Somehow, though, it is also completely joyless.
Gere plays Max Finch, the formidable owner of a British media empire, influential enough in the world of politics that he can usher whomever he wants into No 10. His son Caden (Billy Howle), thanks to a nifty bit of nepotism, edits the newspaper at the heart of this empire. That is, when he’s not snorting copious amounts of cocaine, screaming to himself, or having cold, aggressive sex with high-end escorts.
There’s nothing overtly cruel about the way Max treats his son, but he does seem to get a strange thrill out of his miserable obsequiousness. Their relationship, just like most of the show’s opening episode, is tense and taciturn. Max is unimpressed with Caden’s flat, which is so soulless that it might have been funny, if only this show knew how to crack a smile. He is unimpressed, too, with his editorial decisions, and with his failure to quash a potentially embarrassing story.
That story involves Caden’s mother, and Max’s ex-wife, Kathryn (Helen McCrory) – the only one breathing life into a drama that is smothered by its own self-importance. Kathryn has been frozen out of the family, for reasons that are yet to become clear, and whiles away the hours volunteering at a homeless shelter. There, she has become “a little too close” to one of the residents, and someone has leaked photos of them sharing a cigarette and smiling together. To please his father, Caden wants to take pre-emptive action, but she won’t play ball. “When somebody asks you to do something ridiculous,” she smiles, “you refuse.”
That is one of the better lines in an episode rife with pompous, over-written dialogue. “I won’t tell a single lie,” says Sarah Lancashire’s aspiring prime minister Angela Howard, whom Max is considering endorsing. “No money, no lies, what’s left?” he asks. “The truth.” “That better be some truth.” It is always a thrill watching Lancashire take someone down with one quick flash of her eyes, but even she can’t save starchy lines like these.
There are plenty of impressive performances in MotherFatherSon – Gere is on steely, inscrutable form, and McCrory fizzes with charm – but the opening episode is just too austere. This is prestige TV designed by a committee, and the result is as cold and empty as Caden’s apartment.
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