After a week’s absence I’m back to dissect some of TV’s most recent highlights.
We start with BBC One’s latest flagship drama The Missing, which has already received its fair share of critical praise The drama’s interweaving narrative sees writers Jack and Harry Williams create two timelines; one in the present day and one in 2006. The earlier scenes are crucial to the plot as they follow the then-happy Hughes family as they conclude their French holiday. Patriarch Tony (James Nesbitt) later experiences tragedy when, following a trip to the pool, he loses sight of his son Oliver for one second and after that moment he disappears forever. What follows is a frantic search and a subsequent police investigation which we learn in the modern day scenes was later dropped. I personally enjoyed these modern day scenes as it presented Tony as a broken man who’d lost his job and his wife Emily (Frances O’Connor) to another man (Jason Flemyng). These modern day scenes also see Tony return to the small French town, armed with a new piece of evidence, and trying to convince everyone that Oliver is still alive. Tony’s insistence on re-opening the case eventually piques the interest of the original lead investigator Julien (Tcheky Karyo), who appears not to be satisfied with the way things ended the first time round. The first episode ends with the revelation that Oliver may have been kept in a basement of an old house when he was initially kidnapped. However, the second episode reveals that re-opening the case won’t be as easy as Tony first imagined primarily due to the fact that the people of the town don’t want to be under the glare of the world’s media once again. Meanwhile more characters were introduced including Ian Garrett (Ken Stott), a property developer who puts up a reward for anyone with information to come forward, and Vincent Bourg (Titus de Voogdt); the original suspect in the abduction case.
It’s fair to say it took me some time to truly become invested in The Missing but, by the end of episode two, I was completely intrigued by the drama’s many mysteries. For example the revelation that Emily’s new fiancée was the British liaison officer on Oliver’s case caught me completely unaware. Similarly, the connection between Bourg and Garrett was another fantastic twist which ended the second episode with yet another twist. Other hints were dropped throughout the first two instalments including the fact that Tony had somewhat of a violent past and that journalist Malik (Arsher Ali) hurt the Hughes family in some way. I personally feel that The Missing has a lot in common with the European dramas that BBC Four often airs on a Saturday night. As well as obviously being set in France, which means the use of subtitles at certain points, the pacing and layout of the drama feel distinctly European. After episode two, which concentrated on Tony’s struggle to have the case re-opened, some people complained about the plodding narrative but I feel it’s one of The Missing’s key strengths. Director Tom Shankland crafted some brilliant set pieces the most notable of which was Oliver’s disappearance; which had a good five minutes devoted to it. Meanwhile, the cast are universally brilliant with James Nesbitt giving arguably the performance of his career as distressed father Tony Hughes. He’s ably supported by Frances O’Connor, who portrays Emily as the emotional core of the series, and Tcheky Karyo as dogged detective Julien. Although not completely perfect, I’ve found The Missing’s first two episodes to be incredibly strong and if it continues to offer up intriguing and emotional stories then it could be one of the dramas of the year.
Documentaries have populated a lot of the rest of the television landscape with the return of 24 Hours in A&E leading the pack. After six series at King’s College Hospital, Channel 4’s hospital documentary series has now moved to St George’s in Tooting. I feel this move allows the team to introduce some new faces who haven’t been the focus of the series since its start in 2011. For example we met level-headed consultant Jai; who was at the heart of this week’s major incident which saw dental nurse Kerry crash her moped into a wall. In one of the most shocking scenes I’ve ever witnessed on the programme; Kerry was wheeled into resus followed by her leg which had come completely off. Some of the most emotional moments were provided by Kerry’s granddad Dennis who talked about not wanting her to go out on her moped in the first place and how dear she was to him. The main problem with the format itself was the fact that, after Kerry was wheeled away from A&E, her story really didn’t continue. However, the final scenes did show her rehabilitation and also demonstrated how resilient she was, even competing in a 10k run. Another staff member we were introduced to was registrar Mo, who we saw attempting to remove a knitting needle from the foot of a moody Eastern European woman. Mo’s story about his relationship with his parents were incredibly touching and were almost the reverse of the episode’s third case; a small boy with epilepsy who had had a severe fit. Aside from Kerry’s shocking story, I felt that the rest of 24 Hours in A&E was a bit of a mixed bag but the production team still managed to make the programme as compelling as it could possibly be. Although A&E has arguably been eclipsed by some of the channel’s other observational documentaries, including the recent custody suite series, I feel there’s still life in the format and the new setting has rejuvenated it somewhat.
Another documentary that has had a change of location is BBC3’s People Like Us which has moved from Manchester suburb Harpurhey to Chelmsley Wood, a small town just outside Birmingham. I thought the first series of People Like Us to be one of the unexpected hits of last year as I don’t feel it mocked the underprivileged in the same way that Skint and Benefits Street have done. The majority of the younger characters all had aspirations to better themselves whilst the older characters were trying their best to get by. That being said I was a little disappointed by the characters in this series, especially the younger folk, as most of them felt very clichéd. There was larger-than-life single mum Sade, whose aspiration appeared to be a job in a call centre, while single mum sisters Becky and Louise were looking for love. Another young parent was Antonio, who had previously been in trouble with the law, and was convinced that the police were trying to set him up. The fact that Antonio’s main story was concerned with tracking down who was tampering with his wheelie bins tells you most of what you need to know about the quality of this run of People Like Us. That being said there were certain moments in which People Like Us showed promise, primarily when the characters were allowed to show their vulnerable side. This was best exemplified when the sisters discussed their lack of confidence, due to issues with their weight, and Antonio talked about the horrific life-threatening accident that he’d suffered. I also had a particular fondness for 60-year-old shopkeeper and keen body-builder Mo, who was one of the most recognisable figures within Chelmsley Wood. Mo’s jack-the-lad attitude, and his dalliance with online dating, reminded me of the spirit of the first series of People Like Us and I personally hope that he’s a constant throughout the rest of the run. Judging from the trailer for episode two, this series of People Like Us looks like it will improve as it progresses and I just wish that this is the case. I believe that if this series of People Like Us emulates the spirit of the first series, and doesn’t try to be like the woeful Benefits Street, then it will be as charming as its predecessor.
Also debuting on BBC Three is Life is Toff which follows the continued exploits of the infamous Fulford family. This expletive-loving family was initially the focus of a Channel 4 series and now, as the children prepare for life outside the confines of the estate. The series’ first episode concentrated on 21-year-old Arthur who, as the eldest born male child, will inherit the family estate at some point. A recurring theme throughout the episode is the family’s need to keep the estate financially secure, which presumably the reason for them allowing the TV cameras into their home, and Arthur’s money-making to keep them afloat. Oddly, the children eventually decide that the grounds would be a perfect venue for a car boot sale even though none of them really know what they’re doing. Rather predictably, the event itself ends up being a complete shambles with half of the Fulford kids not even being present to help out. Tours of the estate prove to be more fruitful, although I suspect that this is something that the family previously offered before the cameras showed Francis coming up with the idea. One of the themes that I don’t feel is explored enough throughout the episode is the fact that Arthur’s twin Matilda is cast over as a potential heir due to her gender. This idea of sexism in the upper classes is barely touched on and I think that it would be an interesting avenue for the series to go down. I especially felt sorry for Matilda as she appeared to be the more capable of the two twins and the fact that she’s about to graduate from university demonstrates the fact that she at least possesses a brain. The same can’t be said for her youngest brother Edmund, who is portrayed as a complete dullard and we’re basically told that there is little hope for him passing any of his exams. The abiding lesson I took away from this first episode of Life is Toff is that families such as the Fulfords are struggling to keep their estates going in modern day Britain and therefore have to come up with crazy ideas to ensure that the funds keeping coming in.
This theme was further explored in Channel 4’s new series You Can’t Get the Staff which focuses on numerous respected families as they hunt for new employees at their various estates. However estate is maybe a strong word for one of the stars of the first episode, Lady Colin-Campbell, who appeared to be living in a granny flat. Despite her modest accommodation, Lady Colin-Campbell still managed to snag a former royal butler to serve at a soiree for some important guests. We’re now three episodes in to You Can’t Get The Staff and it appears that one thing the documentary wants to do repeatedly is make fun of its subjects. From the man who wouldn’t hire a girl to clean his gun collection because she was ‘so very pretty’, to those who really struggled with the interviewing process. Just like with Life is Toff, it appears that a lot of these old families are struggling in the modern age especially when they’ve still got staff living with them who were at the house when they were children. Most of the estates featured on the programme are now open to the public, or available to hire out for events, whilst episode two also saw Detmar Blow try to get a job himself in order to keep his finances in order. My main issue with You Can’t Get the Staff is it really tries to be too many things from a satirical look at the wealthy to more of an exploration of noble families in the 21st century. At points we even get tips about how to correctly pour champagne or finish off the edges of our lawn; something that I wasn’t expecting from a programme like this. Ultimately, You Can’t Get the Staff is a very lightweight piece of TV which doesn’t have the required bite it needs to be truly satirical and at the same time just isn’t as hard-hitting as something like 24 Hours in A&E.
Matt on the Box will return very soon and in the mean time follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites to learn more of my views on the week’s telly.