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Monday, 26 April 2021

REVIEW: ITV's 'Viewpoint' is strong, but is it strong enough past the first episode?

 Noel Clarke stars in ITV's newest police procedural Viewpoint. Playing against type, he is DC Martin Young, a quiet, methodical surveillance officer. His team are called in when Manchester school primary teacher Gemma goes missing, and all eyes are on her boyfriend Greg. Can the cops find enough evidence to charge him?

The set-up here is key; this is stealthy surveillance on a desirable Georgian street in central Manchester. We watch all the neighbourhood comings and goings through the fancy windows, making assumptions about conversations we can’t hear. Like Martin, we’re trying to piece it all together, while appreciating some fine interior design. This is the ultimate in people-watching.

Zoe Sterling (Alexandra Roach) is the neighbour across the road the police set up the surveillance on Greg. Zoe has a very nice flat but honestly, anywhere looks more comfortable than the drafty warehouse where DI Cox (Phil Davies) runs the surveillance squad. Zoe and Martin bond early on, with some cute flirty chats. Zoe is a nosey neighbour, keen to learn all she can about the case. Martin snoops for his work;  Zoe seems to do much the same, only as a hobby. I wonder if she’ll try to convince Martin she’s a keen ornithologist when he eventually finds her binoculars. She has the upper hand here, keeping the secret that he left his post for a family crisis. Maybe one good turn deserves another?

Fehinti Balogun as Greg has such a doleful, expressive face but initially, we have zero sympathy for him. He does look a likely suspect, as an abusive and controlling boyfriend (35 calls per day to Gemma’s phone!). But the more he’s on screen the less I believe he’s got anything to do with her disappearance. He’s not a good guy, by any means, but it’s too easy to pin Gemma’s disappearance on him. I like how Balougan gets to play with society’s prejudices of the ‘big scary black guy'. He looks angry, yes, and he’s clearly been a total monster to Gemma, but he also looks hopeless and bereft without her. Will the police keep searching for the truth or just charge the guiltiest looking person?

Martin is uncomfortable doing anything other than passive surveillance, having wrecked his confidence in pursuing suspects. In a quick flashback we see where it all went wrong for him in CID; his partner Hayley was stabbed when he should have been watching her back and she is now in a wheelchair. Of course, this case means has to work with his old colleagues. It’s a bit of a cliche, the broken detective barely holding it together, but it’s good to see a black policeman nervous and overwhelmed. So often in TV dramas, parts for black men are written as two-dimensional action heroes with no back story at all. 

Importantly Noel Clarke has been really vocal about diversity on Viewpoint both in front of and behind the camera. Everyone here seems well cast; there’s nothing jarring about life on Westbury Street. The diverse workforce behind the scenes is every bit as important as representation on screen; bringing on trainees from different underrepresented backgrounds; working-class people, more women, and people from more varied ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Clarke is using his clout in cinema and TV to help reshape people’s opportunities and by doing that, reshaping the stories we get to see.

There’s enough in this opener to keep it interesting; the soapy elements with the developing stories of people on the street and police procedural stuff on top of that. I’m less sure it's enough to keep viewers happy broadcast stripped over five nights in a row. Regardless, there’s plenty of questions here, about Gemma’s whereabouts and beyond. Can Greg do enough to keep himself out of jail? Does he even deserve my grudging sympathy? How will the wealthy Tuckman family fit it, and what on earth has the resident crank with the boat got planned? Is she a Biblical flood prepper? Martin and Zoe’s similar stories of parental guilt and messy relationships are a neat fit, and I like how natural and comfortable they are around each other. How long before they’re sharing a bottle of wine and comparing reviews for the best binoculars? 

Contributed By Sarah Kennedy

Viewpoint Continues all week on ITV, concluding Friday at 9.00pm on ITV.

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