It happens sometimes in police dramas. At that bit where the detectives are really making breakthroughs and the information is flowing thick and fast, the whole artifice becomes strikingly apparent. These are characters who’ve been strung-along up to this point by the writer who is now – because it’s time – allowing the plot to start settling itself. Ah, so A actually did B, because of C. And we now know that thanks to X precipitating Y, which in turn has led to Z.
Getting the illusion of real weight behind such revelations – albeit revelations that were always set to resolve – is the thing. Line of Duty (BBC2 Wednesday, 9pm) faced that challenge this week. I’m not sure the programme was in the very greatest form as it bore up to that. The previous couple of episodes, while still hugely entertaining, had started to feel a bit ragged – particularly the continual exposés of Steve’s love life, which positioned him as the central ring in a Venn diagram linking all the guest female cast. And then there was the video footage of Dryden and Prasad nattering at a cocktail party while being served by 15-year-old “misper” Carly Kirk. As though Jed Mercurio’s hand had entered the picture, making a fist around the primary and secondary storylines and scrunching them up together.
This week? Line of Duty took a deep breath, and then brought the plot crunching down on top of everyone. It was brilliant.
Most of our attention, of course, will be spent on the final sequences, but before we get there, some more words about Keeley Hawes as Lindsay Denton. This is a character who, despite being the focus of the show’s most dramatic peaks, remains insular bordering on the anti-social. Finally back home, albeit on bail, she sighs to discover the fridge is empty and moans that no one’s popped the heating on. Her horizons continue to be unexpanded. Similarly the loss of her mother is a humdrum kind of death, in TV terms at least, where the passing of an elderly parent offers the least in terms of pathos. And we don’t even get that. Just Denton and an empty bed. When Steve leaves her, there’s nothing brave about the sounds of sobbing – almost babyish – emanating from the room.
But, watch out, here comes the plot. The arrest of Dryden and his interrogation by Steve and Kate was impeccably played out. The formality of police procedure chippily and efficiently eroded. “I need a definition of ‘sexual relations’,” says the Deputy Chief Constable in intimidating fashion. And gets chapter and verse from Kate, who refuses to be pushed off course. “The politicians and PCC don’t like me telling the truth about service cutbacks,” he ventures. Steve asks him what that’s got to do with anything. It’s relentless. It’s that weight, I mentioned before. The revelations brutishly pushing their way through, as if they can’t be denied, rather than everything has been written to end up like this. When Dryden finally breaks down – or at least appears to, Mark Bonnar, like everyone else, plays it slippery – it’s a story victory that’s been well earned. This has been proper, satisfying policing.
There will be no Baftas for You Saw Them Here First (ITV Wednesday, 8pm), it’s not that kind of show. There isn’t an ounce of originality in the ‘before they were famous’ format, or even in Robert Webb’s hopefully-droll commentary. But, it has to be said, the research is seriously impressive. When Alison Steadman is invited in to sit in front of the green screen and look at old footage of herself, there’s a commendable flippancy, a real knowingness, in the way the show dispenses with the obligatory Abigail’s Party clips. Yes, she was in that, but, look, here she is in a tuppence ha’penny sketch on Frost’s Weekly! And now here she is stealing a 20-year march on Anna Friel by portraying a lesbian kiss in a 1974 Second City Firsts. When Lesley Joseph later takes up the seat, she – of course – screeches in delight at everything. But how wonderful to see her buried in murky footage among the extended cast just visible in a 1969 TV documentary about a production of The Bastard King. That’s not on her IMDb page. A spotting of Brian Blessed in Space: 1999 perhaps feels less instructive, save for his appraisal of his character: “You see, he wants to be a god! It always happens like that.”
This isn’t a boast, but I was at the press launch for The IT Crowd whenever that was, and I remember it barely prompted a laugh. I don’t know why. Poor acoustics? Things can go wrong viewing good comedies for the first time, so perhaps something similar happened to me again when I tried The Walshes (BBC4 Thursday, 10pm). Written by comic group Diet of Worms and Graham Linehan, I could almost feel the shape of something funny here… just couldn’t quite find it. Even when there were good lines like, “It’s like a rubbery M&M behind my scrotum”.
Perhaps I couldn’t get past the uncomfortable merge of (yes, I’m going to say it) Father Ted-type characters filmed in the style of something desperately ordinary like Heir Hunters. Hmm. I’m fudging. I didn’t get it.
There’s no such confusion with Collectaholics (BBC2 Wednesday, 8pm), which, from the moment it arrives, gets busy explaining itself. “We’re a nation of collectors!” says bottled-perkiness Mel Giedroyc, peddling a slightly spurious raison d’être. But it’s reason enough for she and man in a look-at-me-hat Mark Hill to visit three people all of whom have “collections in crisis!” (good old alliteration). Despite all that, despite the oompah incidental music, this isn’t an aggravating hour at all. The fact the on-screen location captions have been artfully made to blend into the landscapes – following the parabola of a road, being subtly reflected in a river – speaks of a certain pride in the production. When antiques expert Mark appraises someone’s hoard of 1940s paraphernalia, words float around him (“Major brands – £5-£20 each?”) like he’s Sherlock Holmes.
Yes, there’s the inevitable patter, the “full steam ahead” when talking about someone’s passion for railway signage, but there’s never an attempt to labour on the eccentricity or the weirdness of someone like Nick, who has 7,185 beer cans. Instead, Mark marvels at the fact he owns a Somerfield Better Value Lager tin. Probably the only one left in existence.