Did we like it?
The central narrative of a middle class teacher establishing middle-class values in a rough school is the wet dream of exasperated middle-class parents the nation over, although the pre-packaged artifice was partly redeemed by some excellent acting in the sub-plots.
What was good about it?
• Jill Halfpenny as Izzie Clarkson. Her portrayal of the single mother, who forsakes her own happiness for that of her best friend Lorna after Lorna’s fiancé Tom declares his love for her, was superbly convincing and rescued a fairly trite, well-trodden tale from sinking into the mire of mediocrity. Plus she was a very nice shade of orange.
• It was clever to use the new deputy head Andrew Trenaman (Jamie Glover) as the spearhead for a new regime at the school as he immediately implements many of the common sense policies you would expect to see in schools. However, this device is flawed because the school’s problems are so stereotypical that Treneman becomes a fantasy figure, fire fighting the problems the viewers are aware exist in schools.
• The opener was devoid of any intelligent humour, but at least there’s the prospect in future episodes of some slapstick nonsense featuring Denise Welch’s slutty French teacher
What was bad about it?
• The whole drama has an air of plasticity, as though it’s some kind of social experiment being carried out in a special Prisoner-like village. The children robotically adhere to contemporary ills of drug-pushing, theft, drink driving and mobile phone mania while Andrew Trenaman is the embodiment of sensible middle-class values of politeness and discipline. While Teachers and Hearts And Minds – and, to a lesser extent, Hope & Glory – seemed to be rooted in some sort of reality, Waterloo Road could only exist in the minds of over-cautious TV executives.
• Jason Merrells seemed to be treading water as the new head Jack Rimmer, who reluctantly takes the post when his predeccesor has a breakdown. (“It’s like taking over the Charge of the Light Brigade mid-gallop.”)
• Another cipher in the spokes of Waterloo Road is Kim Campbell. Angela Griffin is a talented actress, but Kim’s role seems to be to churn out statistics of just how bad some schools are by listing pregnancy rates and grades (“Seventy per cent of our kids are from single parent homes”). If she wasn’t breathing she may as well have been a computer emitting lists of data.
• And then there’s the wholly awkward synthesis of these two ideological solutions manifested in the nascent romance between Andrew and Kim, and therefore offering hope for the future of the school.
• Meanwhile, the trouble at the school comes in the shape of Donte Charles (who looks oddly like Manchester United winger Kieran Richardson). He wafts around the school corrupting young girls, getting his dad to assault teachers and ultimately drives at least one of his classmates to their doom in his dad’s limousine after it collides with a lorry (which was too predictable for words). Fortunately, actor Adam Thomas has seeded Donte with enough vulnerability to show he isn’t a lost cause and in doing so gives at least one reason to continue watching; as once he concedes the error his ways, the battle is half-won.
• When Donte’s father appeared before a school assembly to bashfully admit his penitence for assaulting Andrew, it seemed little more than the second chapter of the middle-class parents’ wet dream. About how that “thugs” like Mr Charles will accede to their superior philosophy when threatened with sanctions such as imprisonment.
• As with many first episodes, some of the dialogue was so clunky it could be loaded ont o planes and dropped as rudimentary bombs. The way in which characters’ full names were inserted was badly done such as when Lorna felt the need to say to her future husband, “Lucky for you, Tom Clarkson…”
• Tom carrying a football in class to illustrate how emotionally illiterate he is, and that he can only communicate his feelings in absolute terms so that he “doesn’t love” Lorna anymore and that he “loves” Izzie.
• The use of Kaiser Chiefs’ I Predict A Riot. That infernal song haunts us like Banquo troubled Macbeth with its pedestrian urban clichés and whining nasal delivery.