I have a confession to make. I know I’m supposed to be a TV critic but I will confess to you here and now that for the last ten Sunday evenings I have avoided the 9pm slot on BBC One. I knew from the off that historical fantasy drama The White Queen would not be my cup of tea and consequently I’ve not bothered with Auntie Beeb on a Sunday for nearly three months!
This all changed though with the announcement that a brand new four-part drama What Remains was due on Sundays. The trailer alone made me salivate. This sounded right up my alley and more what the BBC should be offering after ten long weeks of historical nonsense. I think What Remains was moved forward in the schedules. I’m not sure why but part of me suspects it’s for exactly the reason I’ve stated. The White Queen was hardly the ratings success the channel had banked on and maybe they thought it was wise to to treat us to some adult contemporary drama on a Sunday night.
What Remains begins well as we meet young Melissa in her empty and desolate flat. Her building seems soulless and spooky and I already have a feeling of impending doom as she walks out in the hall, calls out hello and slowly climbs a ladder up into an open loft. Inside I’m screaming at the screen “don’t go up there!”
The next scene it’s clear that time has passed. As the camera pans round the empty flat we see that the bread on Melissa’s table has gone mouldy while the chocolate has gone discoloured and inedible. Cut to a young couple emptying their removal van and moving into the building. The couple are quick to discover a leak from the flat above and they are told by neighbour Kieron (the brilliant Steven Mackintosh) that the flat has been empty for a couple of years. What has happened to Melissa in this time? What Remains is a whodunnit but also has something to say about our society. Questioning how someone could vanish without anyone wondering what had happened to her. It shows how we are all wrapped up in our own lives and don’t care about, or even notice our neighbours. The new arrivals set about finding the source of the leak, breaking into Melissa’s flat and pulling down that infamous loft ladder. As they reach the loft they discover what we’ve known all along: Melissa’s mummified remains.
As Detective Inspector Len Harper (David Threlfall) knocks on the various doors to see who knows what, his sidekick DCI Alice Yapp (Lisa Millett) discovers no one has reported Melissa missing. Harper is bemused, “in two years?! How is that possible?” And so What Remains begins. It’s not just about the death but also about who Melissa was and why no one has noticed her disappearance.
Len is on the brink of retirement but can’t shake off the mysteries that surround this baffling case. He doesn’t want to move on and sets about investigating himself. Writer Tony Basgallop has said that he had long avoided the police drama and to his credit What Remains isn’t your bog standard police procedural. It’s about people. It’s about neighbours and the fact we never we never really know who we are living in such close proximity to. The residents of Coulthard Street aren’t a particularly likeable bunch. They’re more the sort of people you’d dread passing on the stairs, but they are incredibly intriguing.
As the tense opening episode draws to a close we’re no nearer to discovering why Melissa met such an untimely end but we are slowly getting under the skin of each of the neighbours. They was a particularly baffling scene where a woman removes a fish from a fish-bowl and flushes it down the toilet. That left me scratching my head I can tell you. There’s also mystery surrounding sixty-year-old Maths teacher Joe Sellers. We learn that Sellers is the neighbour from hell and that he and Kieron have come to blows in the past but surely he didn’t have any real motive to lure a young girl to her death?
It’s fair to say the opener asked more questions than it answered but that’s OK as we’ve another three episodes to get through. What Remains is wonderfully atmospheric and has the potential to go anywhere. It’s not a traditional whodunnit, it’s a human drama and I can’t wait to see how it develops over the next few weeks. Whilst we learned very little in this first episode I will take away one important lesson from it: always finish your bar of chocolate and stay out of the loft!
What Remains Continues Sunday’s at 9 on BBC ONE