Brian Donaldson finds some dramas over-stretching themselves and failing, while those staying within their means do the business
Too many costumey period dramas on the box? Definitely. Looking for a twist on the frilly bonnet sub-genre that has infested the small screen for decades? Not necessarily, no. Well, tough, because if anyone is going to offer a new take on a fusty old formula, it's our dear friends at ITV. Only those with a working knowledge and abiding love of Pride and Prejudice will get anything out of Lost in Austen (ITV1, Wed 10 Sep, 9pm) ● and happily going about my normal day in possession of neither, this seems like a below average 26-minute Tales of the Unexpected dragged out for week after tedious week on primetime (at least until the Champions League boots it into touch). Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper) gets so entangled in her obsession with P&P that she ends up having conversations with Elizabeth Bennet in her bathroom before discovering that her Narnia-esque shower opens up onto a world of 'sufferings and oppositions'. Suffering is about right. And before you ask, yes, Hugh Bonneville is in it.
Hot on the tail of David Hare's My Zinc Bed comes another stageplay leaping on to the telly as we get Caryl Churchill's A Number (BBC2, Wed 10 Sep, 9pm) ●●. It's easy to imagine a compelling if difficult night in the theatre watching actors such as Tom Wilkinson and Rhys Ifans wrestling with Churchill's often impenetrable text. When it's in your living room, the choices left open to you are constant tea-making (check) and inevitable sofa-dozing (check). This meditation on human identity which examines the issue of human cloning is certainly a heavyweight topic which deserves attention. But the idea to have a closing shot of Ifans' character staring at a room full of his clones (or, more accurately, comedy stereotypes) should really have been drowned at birth.
There's nothing particularly original about Mutual Friends (BBC1, Tue 9 Sep, 9pm) ●●● as it winds its merry way through a six-part trawl of modern late-thirtysomething relationships. Just seeing the likes of Marc Warren, Keeley Hawes and Alexander Armstrong having a ball with some light comedy drama is a pleasure in these uncertain post-Olympic times. At the beginning of The Children (ITV1, Mon 8 Sep, 9pm) ●●●, a young girl is found murdered in her own backyard. Stepfather Kevin Whately returns home to find the police cordoning off his home and the action slips back three months. Even without the barrier of a Caryl Churchill script, this is a troublesome tale to follow, as the backdrop of multi-stepfamilies has various parents here and a number of children there flitting in and out of different domestic situations. Throw in a murder mystery, allow to simmer for half an hour and simply wait for your head to explode. Chances are you'll quickly come up with your own number one suspect before jumping around a variety of candidates. Often, though not exclusively, it'll end up being the first person you thought of.
Not really sure what's going on in Cracked (ITV1, Thu 4 Sep, 10.40pm) ●● either, a new drama series set in a residential rehab clinic in the Scottish countryside. After STV's OK High Times arrives this not-so-alright affair in which a collection of disturbed types upset each other as we wonder out loud whether those in charge are the ones who really need treatment etc. Perhaps this will spawn a new sub-genre of 'unintentional-comedy drama-lite', which suitably describes this clumsy and clunky effort. And before you ask, no, Russell Brand isn't in it revisiting the addict he played in The Abbey, though it might have been the only thing to save Cracked.