"Towns" is not a word that sits comfortably alongside an exclamation mark. Useful things, of course, and, in many people's view, preferable to cities, hamlets and villages. But there's something municipal about the word that suppresses thrill. It isn't a word into which you can easily inject breathless excitement. Not that that was going to stop the presenter of Town with Nicholas Crane from having a go.
"I've seen towns explode into cities. I've seen towns with their hearts ripped out," he said at the beginning of last night's opening episode, summoning an unexpected echo of Rutger Hauer in a downpour. What about attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, Nicholas? Nicholas believes that "towns are the communities of the future", and in this series he invites us to join him to discover "the fascinating past, the challenging present and the dynamic future of... towns!"
He began in Oban, and with a prose style reminiscent of a 1950s promotional brochure. "A first glimpse of Oban is rarely forgotten," he said, a remark that tactfully avoided getting too specific about what it is that nails the experience so firmly into the mind. And from then on we were never far from a phrase that hoped to reframe civic commonplaces into something remarkable. "Wow! These walls must be 10-feet thick!" Crane said, visiting nearby Dunollie Castle, as if ramparts were generally associated with flimsiness. "How unusual is it to find a distillery in the heart of a town?" he hopefully asked a local, getting the less than helpful answer that it's not very unusual when the town has been built around the distillery. And then, as if Oban's resources of thrill had already run dry, he took a trip to a local granite quarry where, he assured us, the geology was "fascinating".
I'm not sure whether the lowest point was when he tried to convince us that sorting the post for the outer islands was a white-knuckle affair ("Quite exciting, isn't it, really? The whole buzz about getting the mail ready to go?") or when he stood outside the derelict terminal station for a long-defunct transatlantic telephone cable and told us that he couldn't go inside because it was too dangerous. As if to offer consolation for this disappointment, he then showed us the sawn-off stump of the signal that used to warn off local fishing boats. Professional ethics compel me to admit, though, that I never actually got to see the seafood sampling or Crane's attempt at coasteering, since the online preview system cut out about 40 minutes in. I think it had fallen asleep and I frankly cannot blame it.
I went back to look at Frankie again, because I couldn't be sure that I'd got her right the first time round. I was also curious to see whether Lucy Gannon knew all along that she'd created a monster and was going to offer some kind of surprise reveal. But no, the character is as grimly off-putting as she was in the first episode and the drama still seems to believe that, with a bit of exasperation, we'll all love her. "How does she do it?" a colleague said wonderingly, after Frankie had managed to squeeze yet another favour out of an overworked care assistant in order to back up a promise she should never have made. The answer to that is easy. By exploiting other people shamelessly to bolster her own image as a living saint. She's even worse when she's on her high horse, a beast she saddled up after discovering that her boyfriend, Ian, had been unfaithful to her.
We're not supposed to like Dr Evans, the steely by-the-book GP who is always trying to thwart Frankie's acts of kindness, but I find myself completely on Dr Evans's side. I'm rather hoping that she can get Frankie struck off for professional misconduct. Might have to watch next week as well.
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