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Monday, 22 June 2015

Black Work: Is 3 episodes enough?

Last night saw the start of ITV's tense new three-parter Black Work. The drama starred the always dependable Sheridan Smith as Jo, a woman whose policemen husband has been killed. If that weren't traumatic enough, she also finds he's been working undercover for years and that the circumstances surrounding his violent death are shrouded in secrecy.

It goes without saying that Sheridan Smith is wonderful. The scenes were she discovers her husband's death are incredibly moving and gripping. We've barely known the character for ten minutes and she has us feeling for her. The woman can do no wrong, and for the most part Black Work is an engaging thriller peppered with familiar faces. Writer Matt Charman plays a delicate and understandably difficult balancing act as he covers the families' grief, Jo's desire to know more and the slightly cliched police investigation into his death. Any flaws in this first episode aren't really Charman's fault. He does is best to pace this well whilst trying to help the viewers connect with his characters, but the fact this is a three-parter his time is annoyingly limited.

These three-part dramas have become a staple of ITV's schedules. Whilst they're enjoyable enough, I think the short time writers are given to tell their stories means that we more than often end up with a rushed or watered down end product. This isn't always the case, but with Black Work I felt Charman was having to pack so much into this opening episode that we weren't given the time to get to know the characters or their backstory. TV drama has long been a passion of mine and it niggles me when writers aren't given the time to tell their story. Every television writer I've been lucky to be in the company of has told me of the desire to be allowed to tell long-form stories similar to what the US cable networks give their shows. If Charman had been given eight, or even the more standard six episodes to tell his complex and mysterious story, he'd have the luxury to take his time and give the audience a chance to get to know his characters before the tragedy changes their lives.

What made the first series of Broadchurch such a phenomenon was that writer Chris Chibnall had the chance to pace each of his eight episodes with twists and turns to keep the audience guessing whilst also having the time within the mystery to flesh out the key characters. Three episodes rarely give you that time. One of my favourite dramas of last year was The Missing. This was another example of how having more episodes allows for broader storytelling. Elements of The Missing were slow and brooding, but there was an immense sense of tension and you could feel the story building. Despite the mammoth success of Broadchurch ITV in particular seem to be reluctant  to commission long form drama from their talent which is in the end  is diluting the product and not giving the writers a proper chance to flex their muscles.

I shall will stick with Black Work as I think it's the first ITV drama of the year that feels like it knows where it's going, it's just a real shame it has been given such a short time to get there.

Black Work Continues Sunday at 9.00pm on ITV.


Unknown said...

I found the jump from finding the CDs to rummaging around an unknown cottage in the middle of nowhere to fast. Have to agree six weeks to give more time for characters to unfold. Apart from that its got me gripped.

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