Brian Donaldson finds reality stretched beyond breaking point in a rash of new dramas
In the bad old days of film and television, it was commonplace to see a white actor blacking up to play a part for which it was presumably deemed that no one from within that racial group was capable of taking. Happily, those days have gone, though a paperclip frenzy usually takes place when an able-bodied celebrity plays a disabled character.
But what about when a British actor goes to the States and nicks all their jobs? Hugh Laurie started the most recent trend as Dr Gregory House (some Americans actually still believe him to be one of them, the poor saps) but, thankfully, Kelly Brook was asked to keep her Anglo accent in Smallville.
Perhaps sensing some obscure niche market, US TV producers have turned to a couple of more polished Brits to take on central roles. In Life (ITV3, Thu 30 Oct, 9pm) ••• Damian Lewis becomes Charlie Crews, a cop who spent 12 harsh years in a prison hell for a ‘murder he did not commit’. Having gone inside as a straight-down-the-line career detective, he now resurfaces as a twitchy zen-like maverick with a fetish for fruit and an uncanny ability to sense the truth about an individual by sniffing clothes or staring into their eyes while cocking his head to the side. Decent enough quirky-cop fare, it does raise a couple of questions: would someone like Crews even be allowed back into the force, never mind parachuted straight into his old detective job? And even if you can overlook that minor detail, would he really be paired up for duty with the equally damaged Dani Reese (Sara Shahi who took peyote with Tony Soprano in the Nevada Desert) whose personal struggles with drug abuse will surely play a more important part as the series continues?
Such plot nit-picking would be entirely pointless when casting an analytical eye over Eli Stone (Sci-Fi Channel, Mon 20 Oct, 9pm) ••• in which former Embra radge Sick Boy, aka Jonny Lee Miller, suits up to play a go-getting lawyer who has a kind of spiritual transformation when he suffers hallucinations, which range from hearing a tram klaxon somewhere in his subconscious to witnessing (and taking part in) a full stage rendition of George Michael’s ‘Faith’, with the ex-Whammer showing up for a celebrity cameo. During a course of acupuncture, Stone discovers that childhood memories may be bringing all this on; that and the aneurysms floating about his brain. All of which should make this fairly dreadful viewing, but with a subtle wit and a bunch of storylines hovering on the right side of queasy, it might be worth sticking with this goofhead ‘til he drives you totally up the wall.
A show you should definitely not bother with is the latest bizarrofest from JJ Lost/Cloverfield Abrams as he launches Fringe (Sky One, Sun 19 Oct, 9pm) • upon us. Though anyone not liking this torture seems to be in a rather selective minority; after a quick Google of the initial US reviews, only the Parents Television Council hated it, citing the offensive use of ‘bed squeaking’ during sex and outrageous and frequent usage of ‘bitch’, ‘damn’ and ‘ass’. What concerned me more was the tedious X-Files-lite shenanigans as JJ and co tried to make us care about ‘The Pattern’ or give two hoots about the real motive behind behemoth company Massive Dynamic. Fringe science such as telepathy and reanimation are explored here but the edges of boredom are where it all gets washed up.
In the UK, there isn’t a huge amount of decent contemporary drama to get the cockles warmed up for autumn but highly commended is Night People (ITV1, Mon 20 Oct, 10.40pm) ••• the third and final film in the New Found season. As darkness looms over Edinburgh, a series of unconnected individuals (taxi driver, priest and male hustler for three) get trapped into their own little dramas while trying to sneak a glimpse of a better future. Part of the problem with Wired (ITV1, Mon 20 Oct, 9pm) •• is that it’s a drama that might have worked, say, a month ago, but with its high-paced tale of impropriety within the money markets, it all feels a bit passé. Who needs this fictional tosh when Jon Snow is giving us a daily dose of more dramatic storylines about the financial sector?