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Monday, 15 September 2014

Matt on the Box: Scott and Bailey, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, The Secrets and Strictly Come Dancing

This week's edition of Matt on the Box features a mixed bag of ITV crime drama, issue-based TV plays and a whole lot of glitz and glamour.


We start things off with the first episode of the fourth series of the fantastic Scott and Bailey which I feel is back on form following a rocky third outing. The opening scenes of the episode featured Janet (Lesley Sharp) and Rachel (Suranne Jones) both being interviewed by the panel with the hope of becoming sergeants. Although both pass, a spanner is put in the works when their boss Gill (Amelia Bullmore) is forced to pick one of them to replace the outgoing DS Rob Waddington (Danny Miller). The more reliable Janet is offered the position but turns it down due to more troubles at home after her elder daughter announce she's moving out to live with her dad. Meanwhile Rachel, who currently has no personal life after separating from the boring Sean, is given the position instead with Janet swearing to secrecy about her being offered the job first. As well as playing Gill, Bullmore served as the writer on this first episode which dealt with the disappearance of a young boy with learning difficulties. One of Scott and Bailey's best qualities is the way in which each interview scene has sense of realism to it and therefore you feel engaged in the story. I have to say it was pretty clear from the start that the story would have a tragic end, I didn't imagine that it would lead into a much larger case. With the discovery of another body, Gill's team appear to have found themselves solving a case that was put to bed long ago and one that Rob has a particularly vested interest in.


One of the issues I had about the last series of Scott and Bailey was the fact that our two central detectives were at loggerheads for the final few episodes. That to me was a mistake as one of Scott and Bailey's key strengths is the interplay between the two leads as they banter about their respective personal lives. I think that Bullmore has dealt well with picking up the story from the mighty Sally Wainwright and if I didn't know better I wouldn't even notice the change. Bullmore has even kept up the rhythm of the dialogue that Wainwright perfected and has made Janet and Rachel's one-on-one chats incredibly watchable. As well as setting up the cliffhanger involving the old case; Bullmore has given me reasons to want to care about both characters with Janet's hectic home life and Rachel's promotion both providing tonnes of narrative potential. In addition to being an excellent writer, Bullmore gives yet another scene-stealing turn as the no-nonsense Gill who still rules her team with an iron fist. After her impressive outing in The Crimson Field, it's great to see Jones back in a contemporary role as she's able to portray Rachel experiencing joy for once in her life. But it's Sharp who was the stand out this week as she really made us feel for Janet who experienced setbacks both at home and at work. When it's on form, I believe that Scott and Bailey is ITV's best crime drama at the moment due to its realistic nature, fantastic lead actresses and well-paced script. This first episode definitely gave me hope that Scott and Bailey is back to its best and I'm really excited to see what's next for Janet and Rachel over the next few weeks.

A more traditional crime drama was offered up by ITV in the form of Beyond the Pale; the third film in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher series. Victorian private detective Jack Whicher (Paddy Considine) returned as we saw him making eyes at his landlady as he continued to investigate the shadier side of London life. This particular instalment saw Whicher hired by Edward Shore (Nicholas Jones); the former home secretary who was partly responsible for his being fired from Scotland Yard. Whicher reluctantly helps Shore's son Charles (John Hefferman) as he found himself under threat from a mysterious man who he'd previously encountered in India. What followed was several gunshots, a tiresome revelation and plenty of in-fighting among the Shore family. However I didn't find any of this particularly entertaining and I'd already figured out the majority of the mysteries before they'd be revealed. I personally found Beyond the Pale's only saving grace to be the way in which the Shore case impacted on Whicher's past both in a professional and personal way. The fact that this is the cheeriest we've seen the Victorian detective so far at least was a change to proceedings and I enjoyed the romantic subplot between him and his landlady. That being said I don't think any of the Whicher films are that memorable and I struggled to remember anything about the character from the previous instalments. As somebody who's watched both of the previous films I feel like I should remember more about the character's past than I do and I think that's a fatal flaw of the series as a whole. Although I'm a massive fan of Considine's I feel that he's wasted in a role which doesn't allow him to really flex his acting muscles at all. Furthermore, there were no remarkable turns among the supporting cast which made most of the central mystery plot feel flat. The result was a dreary ninety minutes of sub-standard crime drama that I struggled to get through and I'll be very surprised if any more Mr Whicher episodes get made following the poor ratings of this current run.

The BBC's big new drama of the week was The Secrets; a season of five one-off episodes all focusing on a secret of some kind. The whole strand was produced by Dominic Savage, who was in charge of the similarly themed True Love two years ago, and brought to the screen by a group of debuting TV writers. The two episodes I watch were The Dilemma (written by playwright Nick Payne) and The Conversation (written by and starring Sarah Solemani). The Dilemma focused on a pregnant vet (Olivia Colman) whose mother (Alison Steadman) asks her to die when she's diagnosed with terminal cancer. Meanwhile The Conversation focuses on a young bride (Solemani) who learns that her future husband (Rupert Evans) was previously accused of rape by an ex-girlfriend. Both episodes then saw their respective female protagonists struggle with their situations with the vet's husband vehemently against her mother's plans whilst the young woman decides whether or not to go through with her wedding. Of the two dramas I found The Dilemma to be the strongest due to the brilliant performances given by Colman and Steadman both of whom handled the subject matter tenderly. Although Payne's script didn't give them a lot to work with; both actresses really made me care about the central predicament and Colman was particularly captivating from start to finish. I found less to like in The Conversation, I'm usually a really big fan of Solemani's but I felt she spread herself too thin as she took on the roles of both writer and lead actress. Despite the premise feeling like it had legs, the ambiguous final scene really didn't work for me and I was generally disinterested in both of the lead characters. The biggest problem that both episodes had was that subjects such as assisted suicide and rape are too big to have just thirty minutes of TV time devoted to them. The Dilemma in particular could have been something special if it had had been given an hour of air time but ultimately both instalments of The Secrets were nothing more than underwhelming.

Much was made of the return of Strictly Come Dancing primarily as its Sunday night launch show was set to clash with the last audition room episode of The X-Factor. Strictly's producers were quick to pipe up and claimed that the conflict came after ITV scheduled two episodes of Coronation Street and they had to make the decision as to which of their rival channel's big-hitters the should go up against. I personally feel that the BBC made the right choice as Strictly's light-hearted sparkles and sequins extravaganza was a brilliant alternative to the cynical over-produced nonsense that Cowell and company were serving up on the other side. The main criticism that people have made about the Strictly Launch Show is the fact that Bruce Forsyth featured in the opening sequence. However I didn't have a problem with Strictly giving Brucie the send-off he deserved as it gave him a chance to hand over to the presenting team of Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman. I thought both ladies did a great job at presenting their first programme in charge as they split hosting duties down the middle. On paper, I wasn't enthralled by this year's line-up as I found it rather lacklustre when compared to previous years however my mind was somewhat changed upon seeing them for the first time. Most of the celebrities seemed incredibly excited to be part of the Strictly madness with Mrs Brown's Boys' Jennifer Gibney and This Morning's Alison Hammond seeming particularly thrilled. The launch show itself was rather formulaic as the fifteen celebrities were paired with their professional dance partners who tried to hide their true feelings about the quality of star they'd been paired up with. As a fan of the show I enjoy seeing which of the professionals has the most work to do as well as predicting the outright winner. Aside from the monotonous live music performances, everything else about the Strictly launch show was slickly handled and I for one can't wait for the series to properly begin in a couple of weeks' time.

For more of my views on the weeks' TV follow me @mattstvbites

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