Matt on the Box: This Fortnight’s TV Highlights: The Escape Artist, Ripper Street, The Choir Sing – While You Work, Drifters and Fresh Meat

by | Nov 10, 2013 | All, Reviews

The more observant of you may have noticed that I’ve been absent for a week, but that’s primarily because I felt there wasn’t that much TV to discuss. So instead I have decided to look at five of the biggest shows from the last fortnight in which we’ve been offered a mixed bag of televisual treats.

We begin with a new legal drama from the writer of Spooks which starred the busiest man in British drama – David Tennant. The Escape Artist saw Tennant play Will Burton, a brilliant junior barrister who has just been named the country’s best barrister under forty. Will’s ascension to the top of his profession has certainly irked his main rival, Maggie Gardner (Sophie Okonedo), who feels that he does what he does in order to get glory. But Will’s argument seems to be that everybody deserves a defence, even if they do appear as guilty as sin. Even though he does work a lot of the time, Will still has a great relationship with his family and he and wife Kate (Ashley Jensen) have an incredibly passionate marriage. Essentially, everything is going right for Will until he agrees to represent Liam Foyle (Toby Kebbell) a bird-fancier who is accused of murdering a woman in a ritualistic style. By his own admission, Foyle doesn’t like people and so Will finds it hard to get his client to act in a manner that would make him sympathetic to a jury. Instead, Will decides to make an argument which ultimately means that the prosecution’s evidence is invalid, leaving the judge with no option other than to throw the case out. Despite Will getting Foyle off the hook, his decision not to shake his client’s hand makes him the latest target of Liam’s anger. Soon, Foyle has made an official complaint about Will, claiming that he didn’t believe in his innocence, while he also begins to terrorise Will’s family. From here The Escape Artist becomes a very different drama and several edge-of-your-seat scenes result in a death at the end of episode one.

When The Escape Artist first began, I thought it would be akin to a standard legal drama in the vein of Silk. While that’s not exactly a bad thing, I found Will and Maggie’s sparring a cut price alternative to the barbs that Clive and Martha regularly threw at each other during Peter Moffat’s legal drama. Thankfully, The Escape Artist soon took on its own identity as we were taken into the mind of the psychopathic Liam Foyle. Following Foyle’s trial, The Escape Artist essentially became a psychological thriller as Foyle sought revenge against Will for what he considered a sign of disrespect. The Escape Artist’s creator David Wolstonecroft excels at creating tense set pieces, but you would expect nothing less from the man behind Spooks. The most memorable of these set pieces came in this week’s second episode where Will’s son Jamie was followed home from school by Foyle, which I found to be an incredibly intense viewing experience. The performances are spectacular throughout the board and the cast are ably led by David Tennant, in what I think is his best TV performance of the year. Tenant is able to make Will a three-dimensional character who utterly believes in the law but at the same time will do everything protect his family. Okonedo is brilliantly cast as the intense and ambitious Maggie and I found she shone the most in the scenes in which she asked to spar with Will. The Escape Artist also boasts a fantastic support cast which includes Ashley Jensen, Anton Lesser, Monica Dolan, Tony Gardner and Stephen Wight all of whom are great. But by far the best performance in The Escape Artist comes from Kebbell as the intense and creepy Foyle, a man who is incredibly hard to figure out. Kebbell’s intensity adds a believable aspect to a character that could’ve come off as clichéd in the hands of a lesser actor. Overall, I found The Escape Artist to be an intense viewing experience which surprised me, a hard thing to do to someone who watches as much television as I do. It remains to be seen whether or not The Escape Artist will have a satisfying conclusion, but I for one hope that this clever and thrilling drama gets a suitably tense denouement.

More crime drama now as this fortnight also ushered in the return of Ripper Street. The second series of the show is now set in 1890 and Jack The Ripper is long gone, so I do feel that the show should simply be called Street. Despite the fact that their nemesis has disappeared, the men of H-Division are still under threat mainly due to the lack of respect the local criminals have for them. The first episode also offered up a new villain in the form of Jedediah Shine (Joseph Mawle), the corrupt head of neighbouring police force K-Division. The plot of the opening instalment revealed that Shine had been involved in the creation of a strain of heroin with the help of an oriental girl he’d met during his time serving in Hong Kong. Despite the best intentions of Reid (Matthew Macfayden) he couldn’t prove Shine’s involvement in the plot thereby setting up a series-long story. Meanwhile it seems that Reid’s men are both living in married bliss with Drake (Jerome Flynn) loved-up with former prostitute Bella (Gillian Saker) and Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) cementing his relationship with brother madam Long Susan (MyAnna Buring). However, the latter relationship looks to be in trouble when Susan’s sleazy landlord ups her rent and it appears as if she’s going to have to deal with him personally. I really wasn’t a fan of the first series of Ripper Street, but this second series looks to have made a few improvements. Firstly, the stories involving the three central characters are more involving while the three lead actors themselves have a winning chemistry. As always, the style of the piece is great though I still think there’s too much of a focus on violence, with this episode’s extended Kung-Fu scenes a prime example. Ultimately though I just couldn’t connect with any of the characters and therefore I really wasn’t involved in Ripper Street as much as I should have been. Furthermore, I feel the decision to include The Elephant Man as a character in the series was a bit of a misstep as it just seems like another gimmick. Overall, I can see why some people really enjoy Ripper Street but unfortunately it’s never going to be my cup of tea.

In the last five years, it appears as if Gareth Malone has become something of a national treasure. From his work on the Jubilee single to his involvement with The Military Wives, Malone is one of those people who it’s hard not to like. Despite my love of the passionate choir master, I have to say I wasn’t a fan of the first series of Sing While You Work and this feeling continues into this week’s second series. The concept of the series sees Malone putting together choirs in five incredibly stressful workplaces, beginning this week with P&O Ferries. Anybody who’s seen any of Malone’s choir series knows that the structure basically involves the construction of the choir, a disastrous first rehearsal, an improvement and finally a rousing final performance. The positive elements of The Choir series have always been Malone’s insistence to get even the most reluctant staff member singing and we saw this here through his work with ferry quartermaster Grant. But, there were also a couple of ringers included in the group most notably Mercedes, who trained as a classical singer before losing her confidence after a family tragedy. My main problem with the series as a whole is that each workplace choir is essentially competing in a contest which will see only one succeed. The original series of The Choir worked so well because Gareth wanted to get everybody singing, no matter what their ability level was. But adding a competitive element means that every rehearsal must see the choir sing in harmony and give the performance of a lifetime. My least favourite element of the entire episode was when the competition’s trio of judges gave their feedback to the P&O Choir in front of all of their friends and families. At least in the last series the judges’ critique was given backstage and I found the public critique to be in incredibly poor taste. Though The Choir does still provide moments of great joy, most notably the choir singing ‘Beyond the Sea’ whilst on the White Cliffs of Dover, I feel that Sing While You Work is a feeble vehicle for somebody of Malone’s abilities. I really don’t think that Sing While You Work should have returned as it doesn’t have the sense of joy that the previous Choir series have had and I must admit that the overly critical nature of the episode left a bad taste in my mouth.

Regular visitors to the site will now the rocky relationship I have with the BBC3 sitcom Some Girls, which I’ve often described as a female version of The Inbetweeners. Imagine my trepidation then when a programme featuring three young ladies that has strong links to The Inbetweeners started on E4. I needn’t have worried too much though as, despite Inbetweeners creators Damon Beesley and Iain Morris’ involvement, Drifters felt like a different beast altogether. The sitcom was created by Jessica Knappet, best known as Neil’s love interest in The Inbetweeners Movie, who also stars as the show’s central character Meg. Drifters involves Meg’s struggles to cope with the real world, following her return from a gap year trip in India. Along with her cousin Bunny (Lydia Rose Bewley) and their friend Laura (Lauren O’Rourke), Meg tries to navigate her way around the tricky adult world. Due to its course nature and the focus on three flaky female protagonists, Drifters has much more in common with the much-loved BBC3 show Pulling than it does with The Inbetweeners. Drifters was definitely at its strongest when it was focusing on the banter between the three girls, played by three actresses with superb comic timing. The themes in the programme will resonate with everyone who’s struggled to know what to do with their lives after they’ve left university. Meanwhile, Drifters benefits from having a superb comic creation in common-as-muck Laura who freely admits to being a bit of a slapper and is given all of the show’s funniest lines. Unfortunately, it’s the unbelievable and predictable situations that the characters find themselves in that stop Drifters from being a classic sitcom. Ideas such as having the girls gatecrash a wake or seeing Meg on a disastrous date feel a bit tired and clash with the realistic tone that I feel Knappett wanted to create with her script. While it shows promise, Drifters was really let down by some unbelievable situations which spoilt the tone of a sitcom that was meant to thrive on its realistic aspects.

Thankfully, comedy was saved this fortnight courtesy of the third series of Fresh Meat. For some of our characters not much has changed with JP (Jack Whitehall), still thinking with his private parts, while Howard (Greg McHugh) is still struggling to find love. However, the previously promiscuous Vod (Zawe Ashton) looks to have found love with her holiday romance Javier, despite the fact that neither can speak the other’s language. Meanwhile Kingsley (Joe Thomas) finally seems to be free and single, that is until the gang travel to Portsmouth to visit former flatmate Josie (Kimberley Nixon). It appeared as if Kingsley and Josie had finally got together after mooning after each other for so long, but the return of Kingsley’s girlfriend Heather (Sophie Wu), spoilt that slightly. After it became one of my favourite programmes of last year, I was a little disappointed by the first episode of this series of Fresh Meat. I personally felt that there was far too much of a focus on JP, who’s need to find a sexual partner made the character feel fairly one-dimensional. Additionally, Josie and Kingsley’s relationship woes seem a little tired and I’m a bit fed up of this story that’s been continuing since series one. Luckily, the character of Howard seems to be heading in a new direction after finding a potential partner in the attractive Sam (Hannah Britland). Once again, it was up to Zawe Ashton to provide the laughs as Vod’s lost in translation romance was the highlight of the episode for me. The introduction of a new housemate, the home-schooled Candice (Faye Marsay), offered up some new comic possibilities and it seemed she’d been fully integrated into the group by the end of the first episode after being introduced to the wonders of cocaine by Vod. While this first episode may not have been of the quality that I expect from Fresh Meat, it was still head and shoulders above most of the comedies that TV has offered us this year.

For more of my thoughts on TV follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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