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Thursday, 28 March 2013

Matt on the Box: This Week's TV Highlights: Our Girl, Broadchurch, Lightfields and Plebs

Hi guys and welcome to another look back at a fairly uneventful week in TV.


We start off with another single drama for Sunday nights but luckily this one is set in the modern day and doesn't feature any crime-solving. Instead Our Girl starred Lacey Turner as Molly Dawes a loud-mouthed eighteen year old who lives with her entire family in a cramped London flat. Molly is the eldest of five siblings and, while her pregnant mother dotes on her, it seems that she and her benefit-claiming father don't really get on. Molly's days consist of working in and nail bar and rowing with her possessive Albanian boyfriend Artan (Dan Black) while she spends most of her nights getting drunk and picking fights with other girls. It is during one of these nights that Molly ends up vomiting outside an army recruitment office and the next day finds herself intrigued enough to learn more about joining the army. After telling the recruitment officer that she isn't good at anything she seemingly aces the test and ends up going on a recruitment weekend. Here she winds some of the army officials up with her bad attitude.  However, at the same time she shows promise after coming to the aid of a girl who collapses during a cross country run. Molly is eventually accepted into the army after giving an impassioned plea during her recruitment interview. Her this news doesn't excite everyone as Arton believes all the army does is execute Muslims while Molly's parents wonder what they'll do without her help around the house. Molly makes a bad impression on her superior, Colonel Geddings (Matthew McNulty) almost straight away as she laughs during his opening introduction which sees him label her as the class clown. However as time goes on Geddings and Molly develop a mutual respect for each other especially after she stops one of her fellow recruits from choking to death. Meanwhile when Molly heads back home she discovers that her father has basically arranged a marriage between her and Artan which she refuses to participate in. This decision alienates her from her family meaning that none of them turn up to see her graduate however it seems that ultimately Molly is destined for better things.


The one element that made Our Girl as good as it was, at least in my opinion, was the central performance from Lacey Turner. Turner has a wonderfully expressive face which makes you sympathise with Molly from the get-go despite her brash demeanour. The scenes in which Turner really excelled were those in which Molly broke down her hard exterior to reveal the decent young woman inside. A particular example of this would be during the recruitment weekend in which a nervous Molly has to give a speech about her home life. After initially being scared, Molly gives a great speech about why she both loves and hates where she lives as well as the people around her. Matthew McNulty also shone as he was able to portray Geddings as both a strict leader and later a shoulder for Molly to cry on. One of the things that I like about Tony Grounds' script was the fact that Molly and Geddings never started a romance and instead we saw a playful friendship develop between the two. Indeed Grounds' script was great as we saw Molly transform on screen to the girl nobody believed in to a fully qualified army medic. I also loved how he bought this girl from a disordered background and brought her into a world that was full of order. The only parts of the drama that were lacking for me were those depicting Molly's home life as I found them slightly clich├ęd. In particular the character of Molly's father seemed a little over-the-top as he really made you wonder why Molly's mother would stay with him so long. Ultimately Our Girl was a contemporary drama that was full of heart and one that had a brilliant central performance from Turner as the flawed but inspirational Molly. I think it's fair to say that after her performance here, Turner has finally broken the soap star stigma and will no longer be known as Stacey from Eastenders.


Four weeks in and Broadchurch is still shaping up to be one of the best dramas of 2013. As the search for young Danny Latimer's killer continues it seems as if the majority of Broadchurch's residents could well be in the frame. In a way Detectives Hardy (David Tennant) and Miller (Olivia Colman) have had to start from scratch as they have now eliminated Danny's father Mark (Andrew Buchan) from their enquiries. While Mark may not have been guilty of murder we did find out he was having an affair with hotelier Becca (Simone McAullay) the night his son was killed. As the police have no prime suspect they focus their attention on a number of possible suspects including newsagent Jack Marshall (David Bradley). When they discover that Jack has a previous conviction for under-age sex they ask him in for questioning however a lack of evidence means they have to let him go. Meanwhile Reverend Paul Coates (Arthur Darvill) is also under suspicion mainly because he has no alibi for the time of the murder and because he likes to take walks around the cliffs in the middle of the night. Despite Broadchurch seeming like another standard murder mystery it is much more than that thanks to the great characters that Chris Chibnall has created. This was evident in a great scene in which Ellie invited Hardy round for dinner with their stilted conversation being a joy to watch. Meanwhile the press continue to make their presence felt thanks in part to hotshot journalist Karen (Vicky McClure) who is intent on making sure Hardy does his job properly. Karen convinces the Latimers to sell their story to the press in order to get more exposure for the case however soon Broadchurch is awash with journalists. This episode also saw Hardy's health deteriorate as he collapsed on his bathroom floor leading me to believe that he might not make it to the final episode in one piece. The brilliance of Chibnall's writing means that I am constantly questioning any movement every character makes. Broadchurch is instantly watchable as all of us have some sort of theory as to who we think the killer is and at the moment my money is on young journalist Olly. I just think it's great that ITV have provided us with a well-written, brilliantly acted drama that has plenty of twists and turns along the way. My hope is that the second half of the series is just as good as these first four episodes have been.


Unfortunately ITV's other big drama, Lightfields, hasn't fared as well. The supernatural drama, which came to an end this week, has really been a bit flat all series. Those who have been watching  the show know that it deals with the three different eras that all centre around the farmhouse of the title. Every week we get a few more clues to who set the fire that killed Lucy Fellwood (Antonia Clarke) in 1944. Obviously by now we realise it has something to do with Vivien Mullen (Lucy Cohu) who was around in the 1940s and returned to rent the house in the 1970s. Lucy's brother Pip (Michael Byrne), who returned  to Lightfields in 2012 to live with his son, also believes he was involved and knows that Lucy's ghost still haunts the house. It has been clear from the start that both Pip and Vivien have got some involvement in the fire but the identity of the person who started the blaze is finally revealed in this final instalment. I think the main problem with Lightfields is that there were just too many characters and none of the plot lines have really been that fulfilling. To me the most interesting characters have been Lucy and her daughter Claire (Karla Crome) as their version of Lightfields is incredibly creepy and provided the best scares of the whole series. However Claire was given a horrible romantic subplot which really didn't suit her character and she became a bit duller as a result. I feel that the final reveal was just a little bit laboured and that the person who committed the crime was seemingly never bought to justice made it even worse. In the end Lightfields really doesn't live up to its predecessor, Marchlands which I found to be an enjoyable bit of light drama. The other issue I had was that I really didn't care about the majority of the characters and so when the truth was finally revealed it didn't really bother me that much. Ultimately Lightfields will go down as a fairly forgettable drama series and I doubt many of us will even remember it by the end of the year.


Finally a bit of comedy in the form of ITV2's ancient-Rome set sitcom Plebs. The series focuses on three no-hopers in the form of office boys Marcus (Tom Rosenthal) and Stylax (Joel Fry) and their slave Grumio (Ryan Sampson). Marcus is a bit of a dreamer and when an attractive new neighbour Cynthia (Sophie Colquhoun) enters his life he falls head over heels in love. The only problem is that Stylax wants them both to go to an orgy and that means trying to convince Cynthia to come with them. Cue a lot of comic misunderstanding, awkward silences and a very kinky cage game. I believe Plebs was conceived when someone said 'why don't we try and make an Ancient Rome version of The Inbetweeners.' Plebs is filled with the crude humour and obvious jokes that you would expect from an ITV2 sitcom. As much as I like Tom Rosenthal he has been saddled with playing 'the awkward one' which means he has to make a lot of sad faces when Cynthia goes off with another man. Meanwhile Joel Fry, who is so great in Trollied, is the 'horny one' and is always trying to get off with someone while avoiding the advances of his boss (Doon Mackichan). In fact the best performance comes from Ryan Sampson as the bewildered Northern slave Grumio who is forced to route through the bins to find food for his two masters. While Plebs isn't awful it still felt like a sitcom that was developed with a key demographic in mind rather than just simply created by a talented scriptwriter. In fact, while the state of British drama seems to be very healthy indeed, I don't think there's been one really good UK sitcom since the start of the year.

Remember to follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites and I'll see you next week.




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