Suffer the little children

Youngsters to the fore on screens

I remember once a new drama series being advertised as a ‘cult’ show before it had been broadcast, and I thought, hold on, isn’t it the audience that bestows that honour on a show, not the producers?

I was reminded of that experience when I saw the folks behind RTÉ’s drama Amber plugging it so intensely before it aired. The hype was increased with the decision to run it four nights in a row, even to the point of turfing Prime Time out of its usual slot. I’d sat say there were some gritted teeth in current affairs. So far so good, but the big question still remained … was the hype justified?

Well, no. Mind you, there was potential, and one of the things I liked about it was the use of the Luas as a motif in the show. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it used so well – with frequent footage of the missing girl Amber on the Luas on the day of her disappearance, with the viewer wondering if any of the passengers looked suspicious. More broadly the location work around the Sandyford area provided some interesting landscapes.

There was a lot of time jumping as the story was told from different angles, especially the repetition of the events of ‘Day 1’. In itself that was fine, it kept the brain engaged, but some scenes were repeated pretty much the same as the last time we saw them (e.g. the finding of a body in the woods), and some scenes, though seen only once seemed equally pointless (the father trying to see his son near the end). But the main problem was with the characters – largely they were an unlikable bunch, and it became harder to care, a fatal flaw for any drama. Then, there were too many red herrings, plot diversions that went nowhere and fizzled out.

While the first episodes maintained a reasonable momentum, the third and last went very limp. I’ve been on the edge off my seat for the final episode of several drama series (Lost and Broadchurch spring to mind) but this was the lamest yet as whatever dramatic tension was left got drained from it. For those who persevered, grumbling about time wasted, at least there was the prospect of finally finding out what happened, as the events of ‘Day 1’ were replayed for the last time. (Spoiler alert!!) But even then we were robbed by an inconclusive ending that caused an online uproar. I could see the point – so many missing persons cases are without closure – but this was drama, not documentary.

Another drama series trying hard to create tension is Hostages, a thriller showing Saturday nights on Channel 4. I’m just about hanging in there and things did improve in last Saturday’s third episode. Toni Collette, a fine actress (pictured), plays a doctor who has to operate on the President of the USA. Her dysfunctional family is taken hostage to put her under pressure to make the operation go wrong and kill the president. Cue some far-fetched moral dilemmas. The menace was palpable in the first episode, but dwindled in the second. The hostage takers threaten, but so far they’re far too nice (they put the family dog to sleep, and haven’t actually hurt anyone yet) and their leader (half macho, half softie Dylan McDermott) has a little daughter and a wife in the hospital, so he’s no crazy villain.

Both shows feature children under threat, but they pale into insignificance when you consider the daily threat to children in war-torn Syria. Children on the Frontline (pictured, Channel 4, last Wednesday) was a chilling reminder of how bad things are. We were told of the thousands of children killed, but the programme focused on two families from the anti-government side. Children told of dreams where they were being shot, of family members disappeared, of gathering materials to help their parents make bombs, of being possible martyrs, even of torturing others. One young boy was addicted to agitation and demonstration. Yet, dodging shells and snipers’ bullets, they still managed to maintain some home education in the war zone. The parents it seems had opted not to send them away, and one of the rebel fathers even hoped to get some credit for being willing in this way to indirectly sacrifice his children’s lives. Scary.


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