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Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Replacement: The wheels fall off

The Replacement came out of nowhere. It got very little promotion by the BBC and even this self confessed telly obsessive knew virtually nothing about it.

It was a simple story: woman in high powered job, gets pregnant hires another woman to cover her maternity leave. Paula, the brilliant Vicky McClure is almost too good to be true when she and Ellen (Morven Christie) first meet. Initially the pair bond as Ellen shows Paula the ropes but she starts to feel uneasy when Paula appears to be doing a little too well at ingratiating herself with her new colleagues and Ellen feels pushed out.

The first two episodes of The Replacement were stunning. McClure and Christie were electrifying on screen. As an audience member you had a ringside seat for this most catty of battles and I was completely invested. Writer Joe Aherne did an excellent job keeping you on your toes with barely a moment to catch your breath. Initially you think Paula's dangerous and then you start to think that Ellen is just overthinking everything she's seeing. By the time we reached the nail biting final moments of the penultimate episode I was chomping at the bit for more. Ellen had learnt that Paula had sent a picture Leah left in a car to social services, and Paula knew that Ellen had reached out to a one of Paula's former colleagues to find out the truth about who she really was. Ellen also became fixated on the whereabouts of Paula's ten year old daughter Caris. Things came to a head when Paula invited Ellen and her dippy husband Ian over for a meal. The two come to blows with Ellen demanding to know where Paula's daughter is. The episode ends with Paula looking deep into Ellen's eyes and says 'alright, Ellen, you win!'

I had high expectations for the final installment and sadly they weren't met. The episode picks up where the second left off with Paula taking Ellen into her daughter's bedroom. She informs Ellen that despite talking about Caris a lot the girl had actually died in a hit and run crash when she was eight.

Instead of viewing Paula as a manipulator our feelings shifted as we now see her as a grieving mother struggling to come to terms with the death of her only child.

Even when Ellen learns this devastating she's convinced that Paula is to blame of the death of her friend Kay who came to a sticky end at the building site that was to become the new library. With things becoming too much at work Ellen hands her notice in but she struggles to find other work as Paula intercepts her references. When the pair meet up again at the opening of the library it's only matter of time before their feud bubbles over again. As Ellen goes to confront her Paula hurls herself down an impressive staircase in front of a shocked audience who assume Paula gave her a good shove.

This is the final straw for Ellen's dippy husband who sends packing to her sisters and keeping her away from baby Leah.  With Ellen loosing control of her life, Paula moves in to comfort Ian and get closer to Leah. It's here we learn that The Replacement of the title has a clever double meaning: not only does Paula replace Ellen at work but Paula also wants to replace her daughter with Ellen's new baby.

It was all very clever and interesting but, sadly from here on things take a turn for the bonkers. In a scene that would only happen in a daft TV drama, Ian places Leah's cot on an open windowsill as he starts to cook. Can you guess what happened next? Why yes! With his back turned Leah was taken! I know shocking right? Not really no, bloody stupid!

A distraught Ian calls an oblivious Ellen demanding to know where she has taken their daughter. It's then that Ellen gets a text from arch nemesis Paula saying she has her daughter and to come and meet her ALONE. At this point I'm still invested. The Replacement exists in a world of heightened drama and I could JUST forgive the daft scene of placing your precious baby daughter on an open window when you're aware there's unstable people likely to be lurking.

Sadly Paula and Ellen's final exchange is where the entire series falls apart. As Paula coaxes Ellen into the car that ran down her own daughter (I'm not entirely sure why she kept it) she is taunted by the desperate cries of little Leah. Paula explains that she doesn't believe Ellen is a good enough mother to raise her the baby. She persuades her   (far too easily for my liking) to take an overdose of some little blue pills that puts her to sleep. As Paula leaves the car and locks Ellen within the garage, she succumbs to the tablets drifting off to the land of nod.  I would've been quite happy for it to end there. That ending would've seen our grief stricken mother move in with Ian and raise and REPLACE Paula and raise her daughter. A knowing look to the camera would've given me the creeps and we'd wonder if Ellen had died or not. Instead, what followed seemed to undermine the entire series. Ellen woke up, hot wired the car, smashed through the garage doors and worked out that Leah was being held at that ruddy library. When she got there Paula was swiftly arrested (again far too quickly) and we got some 'bonus' scenes showing how Ellen had moved on with her life and how the experience had taught her to savour her time with her daughter.

It's an odd case and it doesn't happen very often, but the last 20 minuets of this felt so out of place, bonkers and rushed that it has sullied my opinion of the series as a whole. The Replacement was a little bit mad at times but that was also the reason we loved it, but its final set piece was such an anticlimax that I was left feeling shortchanged. It felt as if Joe Aherne had been writing and realised he was running out of time so wrote a quick ending in order to tie absolutely everything up. I've lambasted other dramas for ending without giving me closure, but with this the closure felt tacked on and verged on the unbelievable. It made it a completely different show. It was hard to revel in Paula's schemes once we learnt she was a grieving mother seeing others having that had been cruelly taken away from her. It was also hard to believe Ellen would (a wake up from her overdose and be clear minded enough to get the car started and b) that it would start so easily.

When it comes to the end of the year and I look back on The Replacement I'll try my best to focus on the rollercoaster ride and the final half hour where the wheels came off the ride. I just wish this had been a tight two-parter or a four-parter to allow the story to breathe. All in all the final installment was a disappointing mess and whatever drama I fall hook line and sinker for next I'll be thinking 'please don't let this do a replacement!'


Anonymous said...

While I felt some disappointment with the last 10 or so minutes of The Replacement, the preceding two and three quarter episodes were superior melodrama with brilliant performances by the always superb Vicky McClure and a new favourite, Morven Christie who I also loved in The A Word. I think on later reflection, the really terrific stuff more than outweighs the ending. I wonder if the need to squeeze it all into three episodes meant that Joe Aherne left the corners to cut right to the end. I think my disappointment was tinged a bit as until the final parts of the finale, this was shaping up to be my favourite drama this year. I do like a good old fashioned melodrama which doesn't outstay its welcome and provides the requisite twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat all the way through. The Replacement certainly had that in spades!

Agree that Broadchurch has descended into an irritating cliched mess. Pulled the plug after episode two. Such a shame to see what was once a really good drama descend into a drawn out version of Clue. Couldn't care less if it was hot Vicar, whiny Mark, stupid fishing net boy, dodgy taxi driver, grubby, cranky Hardy or any other thinly drawn stereotype thrown out as a red herring. While Broadchurch also suffered from throwing away a lot of good will in the first series by the nonsensical ending and then stomped on that remaining good will with the ghastly mess that was series 2 and now a dull pretentious plod in series 3, why I think The Replacement deserves much more credit is that it never took itself seriously and was always a melodrama first and left any pretensions and self importance at the doorstop. Furthermore, it had a plot to fit the length of the show, whereas Broadchurch has a crime of the week mystery which would be wrapped up nicely in one episode by the third or fourth ad break and time for a cuppa in any other show.

Good to see that The Replacement got great viewing figures and I think the chatter between those who loved the whole thing and those who adored it but were a bit peeved at the ending should mean that it will get a huge boost in ratings. Still worthy of being mentioned up with the top shows of 2017 if only for the acting of Morven and McClure.

At the end of the day though, the disappointment at The Replacement's ending or the irritation that Broadchurch is wasting viewers'time and patience is neither here nor there, because.... LINE OF DUTY!!!!!! It never disappointments, it never looks down its nose and pretends to be anything other than damn fine acting, brilliant plotting, superb characterisation and something that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and doesn't let go.

Anonymous said...

Line of Duty is returning. Good as it mostly was, once LoD is back on television, nobody is going to even remember The Replacement or the "irritating" Broadchurch or anything else. Line of Duty is as good as television gets. That is all.

Anonymous said...

Great podcast. Am I the only one who actually enjoyed The Replacement all the way through to the silly but exhilarating finale? Sure it was bonkers but from the very beginning, it was made clear to the viewer that this was going to be a potboiler melodrama, so is it any surprise we got what we got? Maybe the presence of two such good actresses made viewers think we'd get a drama destined to sweep the BAFTAs. All in all, pretty well perfect guilty pleasure television with the added benefit of two actresses at the top of their game giving it real welly. I am more annoyed when you get something with a great actress or actor in it which is meant to be a big D drama and it dissolves into complete bobbins in the final reel. Poor Sophie Okonedo got three stinkers - Undercover, Mayday and The Artist which fizzled into overwrought nonsense and even Sheridan Smith proved she can do some wrong with Black Work. All of these were melodrama/schlock but paraded themselves as proper tele.

Fortunately my family have all pulled the plug on Broadchurch - sorry Luke yours haven't seen the light yet. Hubbie adores Olivia Colman but even he can't abide the dragging out and endless furrowing of brows. Fortunately we all have savoured every moment of Line of Duty, so next week really can't come soon enough.

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