Last week saw the beginning of several new TV drama series – maybe a coincidence or maybe to offer alternatives, both during and after the World Cup and Wimbledon.
S.W.A.T. (Sky One, Sunday nights) was the least promising of the lot, a stereotypical US cop show with too much macho posturing, clichéd characters, stilted acting and of course plenty of bombs and bullets. Last Sunday’s episode for example featured a cringe-inducing rescue scene where the hero flies in on a helicopter and saves the day. I’ll skip that from now on.
Sharp Objects (Sky Atlantic, Monday nights, with several repeats during the week) is very different, with a confusing narrative, dreams and flashbacks – too self-consciously quirky for my liking.
This is a US crime thriller, but slow moving and with a heavy emphasis on character. Amy Adams is magnetic in the role of a troubled reporter returning to her home town, which predictably harbours secrets relating to child murders, a rather unsettling theme.
Adams is also executive producer and I fear there’s a touch of a vanity project about the whole thing, sometimes to the detriment of secondary characters. Funny how when a reporter becomes investigator, the cops seem particularly dense. And these days it seems obligatory for investigators, whether journalists or cops, to be battling their own demons as well – the reporter here has an alcohol problem and a troubled childhood to contend with. There are unsavoury elements and it’s adult fare at very least. Not so sure I’ll give it a second chance.
The Split is a British legal drama just started on RTÉ1 Tuesday nights (recently on BBC1). Divorce and adultery are strong themes and certainly the irresponsibility and devastation involved are strongly portrayed. There’s quite an array of intersecting characters, many of whom are having or contemplating affairs with each other.
The central character is powerfully played by Nicola Walker, previously brilliant in River and Unforgotten (series 3 of which kicked off last Sunday night on ITV). She brings several shades of nuance and edginess to the role and thankfully the lesser characters are given detailed attention as well, with the help of a strong supporting cast, including Stephen Tompkinson of Ballykissangel and DCI Banks.
There was one peculiar scene where one of the sisters in the central family attended a pre-marriage advice session in a church. The vicar does well but the girl is giggly and doesn’t seem to be taking it seriously. The groom-to-be tries to be more serious, and later says “I believe in Jesus” but then blames the girl for the awkward situation as she’s the one who wanted the wedding in a church.
This may well be a common situation though it’s not clear yet if it relates to the main plot or is just some shorthand character development. It’s definitely an adult drama though so far relatively restrained by modern standards. I think I’ll stick with this one.
Wednesday night (BB2) and last Monday on RTÉ1 saw the start of a new adaptation of the novel Picnic at Hanging Rock, in mini-series format, about the disappearance of some female students from an exclusive boarding school in early 20th Century Australia. The cinematography is artistically dreamy and the pace rather languid. Most of the characters I found unlikeable and there was a crudeness, prurience and sleaziness about the atmosphere – this seems to be a common way to modernise older material.
The central mystery is interesting but there’s just too much unpleasant padding thrown in. I’m inclined to disengage.
Finally, last Thursday saw the first episode of Keeping Faith on BBC1. It’s a more conventional TV thriller series about a gregarious woman, just about to return to legal work after maternity leave when her husband mysteriously disappears after leaving for work. Eve Myles is fine in the leading role, and the child actors who play the daughters are so natural.
Like the other dramas there are dark secrets (could you have a thriller without them?), so far centring on the husband.
The growing dismay as the disappearance becomes more obviously serious after the first day passes is tautly handled, though is it likely that a mother with good, if overbearing, family support, would really leave her sleeping children (including an infant) on their own in the house at night while she drives off to follow a clue? Will continue watching for now.
Pick of the week
Pope Francis, The Sinner – a Would You Believe? Special
RTÉ1, Saturday, July 21, 4.55 pm
Repeat of a Would You Believe? Special – can the Pope hold the Catholic Church together and reform it at the same time?
Songs of Praise
BBC1, Sunday, July 22, 3.55pm
Claire McCollum explores Northern Ireland, and meets Philip Mulryne who left professional football behind to become a Catholic priest.
Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners
RTÉ2, Sunday, July 22, 8.30 pm
‘Britain’s Forgotten Salve Owners 1.’ David Olusoga reveals the high price that was paid to abolish slavery in 1834.