The various TV companies often launch new drama series at this time of year and so far this year’s crop is a mixed bag.
The best I’ve seen so far is Next of Kin (ITV/TV3, Monday nights, with ITV a week ahead) – it’s a rollercoaster of emotion and conflict, with more emphasis so far on character than on thriller elements of the plot.
In the first episode a young doctor from a Muslim immigrant community in England is abducted as he goes about his humanitarian work in his home country. His sister and family at home are preparing for his homecoming party when they get the devastating news.
The scene where his sister observes his fate on a web video is as intense as I’ve seen for a long time. Family relationships are hard to make out in the first episode as the extended family hangs out so much together but as the episode ends the focus shifts to the doctor’s estranged son who has absconded from England…but to what purpose?
Archie Panjabi is superb as the sister, while Jack Davenport impresses as her patient and supportive husband. Claire Skinner as a cop plays a totally different role to her harassed mother in Outnumbered. Points are made about racism but based on last week’s first episode it’s subtle but effective.
Themes of race and abduction are also prominent in Kiri (Channel 4, Wednesday nights). The versatile Sarah Lancashire (of Coronation Street and Happy Valley) is excellent as a caring but unconventional social worker whose world is thrown into disarray when a young girl in her care is abducted by her dangerous biological father on an unsupervised visit to her grandparents.
The intrusive media and her supervisors are all over the case, with suggestions that she would have been more careful if the child was white. Acting and pacing are intense so it’s hard to take your eye off it.
There’s some unnecessary strong language which adds nothing to it – the lazy way to do gritty perhaps? I’ve seen social workers online suggesting it doesn’t portray their work well or accurately, but there’s no denying the strong emotional punch. For me last week’s first episode took a surprisingly dark turn, but maybe all is not what it seems.
The strong language in that show was relatively tame compared to the barrage of obscenities in another new Channel 4 show Derry Girls (Friday nights).
It’s gratuitous and offensive, with most of it coming from one student character in this comedy drama about four secondary-school girls growing up in Derry during the Troubles.
The girls go to a Catholic all-girls school run by a tough and wily nun with rather unchristian attitudes (she won’t go on a school tour to Paris because she ‘despises’ the French).
The situations are credible, except for the one boy attending the girls’ school. I found it very funny; the girls portray often innocent teenage angst with bravura performances, and the loving but often chaotic family life is endearing – the closest I can use as a comparison is Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown universe in work like The Snapper or The Commitments. There are some surprise turns – Tommy Tiernan is credible and restrained (his best mode!) as the hapless father and in the second episode last week it was great to see Kevin McAleer giving one of his trademark monologues as the boring Uncle Colm.
If they had toned down the gratuitous foul language this could have been a brilliant family show, but the opportunity is lost.
I’m even less enamoured, for different reasons, of the second season of Striking Out (RTE 1 Sunday nights). I liked the first series of this legal drama that features Amy Huberman as a young lawyer breaking from the corporate scene to take on human interest cases.
Huberman is still effective, but this time around it seems more stilted and uninvolving, even corny at times, with a sort of ‘drama by numbers’ feel.
I think the problem is with the script more than anything else. And what was the point of having the talented Maria Doyle Kennedy as the new character, the lawyer called George? Clichéd scene of the week was when the three main lawyers marched in slow-motion towards the camera, like legal super heroes – cringe worthy or what! Speaking of cringing I see a future episode will deal with a nun divorcing the Church!
Pick of the week
BBC Radio Ulster, Sunday, January 21, 8.30am
Topical religious and social issues, with a variety of topics and guests.
RTÉ 2, Monday, January 22, 10.55am
Children explore the ancient monastic yard at Monasterboice where they find amazing carved high crosses, a round tower and a medieval church.
The Meaning Of Life With Gay Byrne
RTÉ 1, Monday, Januar 22, 11.35pm
The late Peter Sutherland, UN Special Representative for Migration joins Gay Byrne to discuss his take on the meaning of life.