What we don’t need right now is The Big Painting Challenge (BBC1 Sunday, 6pm).
TV continues to be replete with ‘big’ competitions winkling out different kinds of craft enthusiasts. They present a picture of Britain that’s very comforting: A camera swishing past an apple-cheeked girl and her homemade wares, who holds its gaze. Then it’s a bearded older chap in a battered hat who does likewise. And they’re joined by whatever pleasant cross-section of folk fall in between those two (not so) extremes. All nice people who are productively spending their free time making nice things. Now they’re to be marshaled by Una Stubbs and Richard Bacon, the BBC1 variant to the Joan Bakewell and Frank Skinner-combo who’ve proved so successful on Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year.
The format requires no explanation, we’ve long since signed up for the deal (three rounds, two judges, one elimination – plus ça change) and even though the adjudicators in this don’t seem so obviously televisual as a Buttress or a Berry, there’s still a lot of enjoyment in the drama which underpins their declarations. “The use of black to make out lines and shadows can kill your whole painting,” says Lachlan Goudie. It’s always, “You have just 10 minutes left!” and low-key jeopardy of the Amy-is-a-stay-at-home-mum-who’s-never-attempted-a-landscape-before variety.
Like I said, we don’t need this, but I still want it. Next week, they’re doing portraits!
I pottered around during the final episode of Broadchurch (ITV Monday, 9pm). Last time there was a final episode, I remember being at a press event held by Sky. It was in the Ivy. Seriously, that does still happen. And as the clock rounded on 8.15pm, people were finishing up their (free) drinks and making for the door. This time?
Claims that some wave of antipathy has affected viewers’ and critics’ response to this second series are disingenuous. The first episode back, in fact, was tremendous, and seemed to generally be recognised as such. Yes, there was probably some resistance seeded in by the propaganda whipped up beforehand, but I don’t buy this notion that en masse the British want to bash a success. We do get annoyed with a success when it starts to fail, though, that’s true.
Where the first series always pointed towards a single focus – who killed Danny Latimer? – this one lost that vision. Coming into the last episode, what was the single question we were to fixate upon? The jury’s verdict? The who-did-what-to-who (a particularly loaded part of the equation, considering the victims in this case never ever felt present) in Sandbrook1? Neither had the necessary clarity and thus compulsion. Instead, the story grasped at… a lot of times, it was sex. It seemed some sort of lodestone. A gasp at its every mention: “You had sex with Lisa Newbery that night?” asked Hardy. Claire: “Did you have sex with her?”. Pippa: “I heard Lisa and Lee, they were having sex.”
If I remember correctly, the first episode of the first series of Broadchurch began with Mark Latimer walking through the town, people – characters – criss-crossing his path. That sense of place and interconnection has gone now. Broadchurch has become the Latimer’s house, Ellie’s house, the static caravans (for a bit) and the courtroom. Hardy and Ellie felt like free bodies, operating unconnected to anything that looked like a police force. The scene at the end, where Joe was ‘banished’2, attempted to reassemble that community. But it just looked like a group of people filling in the shot nicely. “Broadchurch will return.” But will Broadchurch?
I doubt even the Design Council could be bothered to make sure their staff’s name badges conform to the same style guide as the signposts around the building. But the powers-that-be (oh, the rotten powers-that-be!) in Critical (Sky 1, Tuesday 9pm) are all over this. Logos everywhere. So many things auger well for the show. It’s written by Jed Mercurio and stars Lennie James. That’s a compelling combination in itself. Throw in the real-time novelty, and the fact the creatives have gone to unbelievable lengths to ensure accuracy in the depiction of trauma surgery, and one would assume: killer hit. But somewhere along the way the drama has been designed out of this show. There’s a huge disconnect between the blood and guts and the environs of this programme, which look utterly unreal. Perhaps there are best-case NHS hospitals out there like this, maybe I’m being unfair. But it seems pure sci-fi. As the camera pans around the team of medics, one half expects a Ferengi in the mix. And while I admire the fidelity to the cases, rather than the characters, this storytelling decision means we’re left with a bunch of people we don’t know, working upon a body – which is just that, it’s never a person – in a situation that looks highly fictional. Whether they succeed or fail, it’s all become abstract.
In all of this, where’s Lennie James? He doesn’t appear until the end of the episode. This ploy of detaining the lead character in new shows is becoming increasingly prevalent. It’s annoying. As if a programme is saying: We haven’t even started yet – wait till we do! No, I think, give us all you’ve got while you’ve got us.
Our leaders had been on Twitter letting us know we should watch Cucumber (Channel 4, 9pm) – which they’d already seen and it was brilliant and there was going to be a surprise appearance from Hazel from Queer as Folk – and then popping back up at the end to remind us that it was brilliant and that they’d already seen it. Thankfully, the drama was able to shake itself free of all that clamouring. It’s the finest hour of TV Russell T Davies has written. I feel one of his strengths is there’s never any actual learning for his characters, because people are people and life just happens to us. By taking Lance, who’s been a supporting player, and bringing him to the fore, it reminds you life is also just happening to everyone else. And in this Channel 4 hour, with ad breaks and the like chiseled out of it, it happened to Lance.