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Saturday, 3 February 2018

Matt on the Box: Kiri, Requiem, All Together Now and The Young Offenders

Congratulations to all, you've made it through the first month of the year and now we're in February, with a raft of new dramas arriving in the coming weeks. However, as January departs this week's column looks at one outgoing show as well as handful of new arrivals.


We start with the drama that has arguably dominated the last month certainly in terms of critical praise and that of course is Channel 4's stunning Kiri. On last week's podcast we discussed how much writer Jack Thorne had to wrap up in revealing what happened to young Kiri on the day of her murder. Throughout the last three weeks we've heard the stories of Miriam (Sarah Lancashire); the social worker who set up the visit that ultimately cost Kiri her life, Kiri's grandfather Tobi (Lucian Msamati) who blames himself for letting the youngster see her birth father Nathaniel (Paapa Essideu) and the girl's foster family who have their own issues to contend with. It was the Warner family who we spent most time with in this episode after Alice (Lia Williams) gave a false statement that she saw Nathaniel's car outside their house after learning that Kiri was on her way back home. Part of this was to protect son Si (Finn Bennett), who has been presented as the key suspect for the murder and who father Jim (Steven Mackintosh) was willing to take the rap for. Elsewhere, Miriam lost her job but found company in the form of her mother (Sue Johnston); who would be coming to live with her now she could no longer afford her care home fees, as well as her dog Jesse who'd be living longer than she initially believed. The most interesting part of the finale saw investigating officer DI Mercer (Wunmi Mosaku) appeal to Tobi to help Nathaniel find a defence as she believed he deserved one. The rebuilding of the relationship between father and son was seen when Tobi hired the very political lawyer who he'd met last year at the church who in turn helped organise a rally outside the police station protesting Nathaniel's conviction. The final reveal was that it was in fact Jim who was angered when Kiri revealed she wanted to go on holiday with Nathaniel and lashed out after she'd accidentally hit her head on a rock. Interestingly, it was Si who'd worked this out but didn't reveal the truth to anyone instead declaring his love for his mother as she dropped him off at a new boarding school before urging her to divorce Jim. However, with Si being the only one fully aware of Jim's guilt it appeared that he may get away with murdering the girl who he was so keen to adopt.

The ambiguous end to Kiri may not have sat well with some viewers but on reflection I thought it worked and added to the authenticity of Thorne's well-crafted drama. The pivotal scene in this finale for me came where Si and Miriam reunited on the bench they sat on when Kiri's body was discovered. Here Si asked her if people deserved to know the truth and at the same time subtly advising her to go to the police to inform them that Alice followed her on the day of Kiri's murder meaning that she knew what Nathaniel's car looked like. This scene felt like Thorne was suggesting to the audience that the case will continue after the drama even though we won't get to see what happens next. I personally was satisfied with the conclusion we got which echoed National Treasure in that the guilty party wasn't brought to justice but lost his family instead. However, in the case of Jim Warner, Si was presented as more of a ticking time bomb who could reveal the truth at any time. Although I'd guessed that Kiri's death would've been as the result of an accident, I hadn't deduced that Jim was the culprit however Steven Mackintosh's performance during the reveal was brilliant. Similarly, I felt that Finn Bennett gave his best turn here as I hadn't enjoyed his performance up to now but his scene in the car opposite Lia Williams was beautifully acted. Sarah Lancashire was reliable as ever and I feel Miriam's story had the happiest ending it could've done as she realised the good she done even though she possibly wouldn't be able to work again. The only issue I had with the episode was the little time devoted to the Akindele family especially since Lucian Msamati and Paapa Essideu were absolutely brilliant in the second episode. Although Thorne suggested that Tobi had finally decided to help his son fight for justice, I would've liked to have seen one more scene between the pair. I did feel that this final episode could've possibly done with another fifteen minutes or so as it did feel rushed in places but ultimately, I think Thorne did the best with the time he'd been allotted. Whilst I didn't feel this finale was perfect, it still capped off a series that was incredibly powerful thanks to stunning writing, a great ensemble cast, some fine direction from Euros Lyn and a great score from Clark. After this and National Treasure, Thorne has established himself as one of the UK's finest TV writers and I'm already greatly anticipating what he's going to come up with next.


This week's big new drama, BBC One's Requiem, shares a link with Kiri as both star the brilliant Claire Rushbrook in supporting roles. However the lead here is Lydia Wilson, probably best known for her role in Ripper Street, who plays successful cellist Matilda Grey who is on the cusp or a career-defining year-long residency in New York. On the day she's about to tell her mother Janice (Joanna Scanlan) about her leaving the UK for America she's interrupted by her distressed parent as she's about to perform at a BBC event. Matilda follows her mother out to a nearby car park where she sees Janice put a knife to her throat and commit suicide. The subsequent police investigation sees no real reason why Janice would've committed suicide, citing an anxiety disorder as the only potential motive. But Janice's almost possessed state before her death leads Matilda to explore her mother's belongings and discovers several articles relating to the disappearance of a young girl from a small Welsh village in 1994. After the police dismiss her findings, her friend and colleague Harlan (Joel Fry) suggest that they travel to Penllynith to see if Janice's death was at all related to the disappearance twenty-three years earlier. When they arrive at the village they find they've come on the day of the funeral of the area's wealthy landowner and without anywhere to stay due to the local pub's rooms being occupied by mourners. Soon, Matilda finds herself confronted by Rose (Rushbrook), the mother of the missing girl whose upset that people are intent at dragging up the past. They're also introduced to Nick (James Frecheville); the great-nephew of the deceased who invites Matilda and Harlan to come back to his spooky house for the night as they're without somewhere to stay. It's here that Requiem descends into familiar haunted house territory with Nick's newly-inherited property being equipped with both a locked bedroom door and a front entrance that blows open eerily in the middle of the night. Matilda is also plagued with memories during her night's stay and makes a discovery that will change the course of the six-part series going forward and, for once, it was a plot twist that I hadn't worked out myself.


I'll preface my thoughts on Requiem by saying that I'm not a fan of horror in general and specifically the BBC's past attempts at creating spooky drama. Whilst I stuck with the Michael Palin-fronted Remember Me it doesn't particularly linger in the memory with the same going for the oft-forgotten The Secret of Crickley Hall. Requiem's opener does better than both of those dramas in establishing its world and feels more modern thanks to its young female heroine. One of the best elements of Requiem is the character of Matilda; a plucky, independent musician who is plagued by nightmares but does her best to carry on in the face of adversity. It also helps that Lydia Wilson isn't a recognisable lead which means that we're not watching a familiar face confronted by the tropes of a spooky story which in turn makes Requiem feel more believable. One plot point I'm not a fan of is the attempt by writer Kris Mrska to create a love interest for his lead both in the form of long term friend Harlan who clearly has feelings for her and with hunky Australian property heir Nick. I'd personally like it if Matilda ended up with neither man and instead crafted her new life for herself with the discoveries she makes throughout the series. Mrska builds tension well, starting the piece with the suicide of an unknown character before spending several scenes establishing the lead and building up to Janice's shocking suicide. For a drama whose lead is a musician, Requiem's score is memorable but doesn't overpower the plot with several scenes being enhanced by the music from Dominik Sherrer and Natasha Khan. Although I enjoyed the first half of Requiem, it started to lose me slightly in the latter stages when Matilda and Harlan stay the night with Nick. Despite expecting a spooky drama, I found Matilda's haunted house experience slightly cliched and it made me question whether I should continue watching Requiem. Ultimately, I'm not sure that I will as it's a drama that failed to grab me whilst the genre isn't one that I'm particularly a fan of. However, I think there's a lot for fans of the chiller genre to sink their teeth into and for once I agree with the BBC's decision to stick the entire series on the iPlayer as Requiem has a story that I feel fans would want to binge on. So, although Requiem wasn't for me, it's a drama whose storytelling I appreciated and whose lead actress I predict big things for in the future.


Outside of Strictly Come Dancing, it does seem as if BBC One has real trouble when it comes to finding a successful Saturday night entertainment format. Following hot on the heels of the woeful Wedding Day Winners, BBC One present us with All Together Now which again sees comedian Rob Beckett take centre stage. I'm not quite sure why Beckett has been chosen to front two consecutive BBC One shows on Saturday night but judging from his respective performances it's most likely that he has incriminating photos of someone high up in the organisation. All Together Now's first issue is the fact that it's another singing competition; a format that itself is so tired that it would take a miracle to resurrect it. The idea is that a singer appears in front of a group known as the 100, no not the stars of the hit US sci-fi show, but a conglomerate of people with singing experience from choir leaders to West End stars to music teachers. The only problem is that, unlike The Voice, none of the 100 are recognisable that is apart from Geri Horner, who is all over the promotional material for the show. I did feel a little sorry for Geri as Beckett and other members of the 100 kept referring to her as a former Spice Girl despite scoring a couple of solo number ones. The concept of the show is that the contestants gain points for every member of the 100 who joins in with them and the winner of each show will then progress to a grand final for the chance to win £50,000. The second issue is that, unlike most other singing shows, All Together Now doesn't reward the best singers but rather those who choose the best songs. That was best exemplified through the evening's winners who decided to sing 'Proud Mary' and 'Shout' respectively whilst those who scored lower selected ballads such as 'Your Song' and Rag N Bone Man's 'Human'. With the way the 100 have been arranged, All Together Now has been likened to The Muppet Show but it feels much more like Channel Five's classic Saturday night show Night Fever. It features several recognisable faces singing along to tunes with some prize money attached at the end but ultimately its utterly forgettable. All Together Now was ultimately another unremarkable attempt at Saturday night entertainment that falls flat and is another example of why the singing competition show is a format that needs to be rested as soon as possible.


For my final review of the week I switch over to BBC Three, or at least locate the website, for new comedy The Young Offenders. I'm always willing to give BBC Three comedy a try because occasionally it leads to discoveries of hidden gems such as the wonderful This Country. Like This Country, The Young Offenders is another low-budget piece focusing on a couple of youngsters who are presented as outcasts from society. Based on the film of the same name, The Young Offenders focuses on Irish teenagers Conor MacSweeney (Alex Murphy) and Jock O'Keefe (Chris Walley). This first episode is essentially an introduction to the characters, their world and the relationship that the pair share. It's clear that Conor is the smaller, smarter and less confident of the pair whilst Jock acts as his protector which is evidenced in an opening scene where he gets revenge against a bully whose stolen his friend's phone. The main focus of the plot is on the pair being put in the frame for a theft and facing the ire of their unpopular headmaster after they form a romantic attachment with his daughters. The episode also introduces Conor's fiercely protective mother Mairead (Hilary Rose) who, in one of the episode's funnier scenes, provides the boys with a flimsy alibi. As a sitcom, The Young Offenders didn't particularly make me laugh with most of the gags being fairly basic and not provoking anything more than a titter. But at the same time, the programme wasn't without its charm thanks in part to the two leads whose winning chemistry kept me watching the show. Murphy and Walley certainly understand their characters and their partnership is believable throughout even in the episode's more far-fetched moments. Furthermore, I appreciated the sentiment behind the episode; friends will always try to look like each other as that's a way of showing how much the other person means to them. However, I hope that now that the world has been established, the writing team behind The Young Offenders can focus on making it funnier as there's only so many episodes of a sitcom I can watch without it making me laugh. However, I would recommend you at least check out the opener of The Young Offenders on BBC Three as it's a show that has its heart in the right place and one that contains a believable chemistry between Murphy and Walley.

Sorry it's so brief this week, but the lack of new shows coupled with an upcoming foreign trip meant that I didn't have a lot of time for the article. Hopefully, next week things will pick up but in the meantime you can listen to more of my musings on The Custard TV Podcast.

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