Brian Donaldson finds some new dramas about madness, motherhood and mobiles
Without wishing to be cruel, Jessie Wallace isn’t the kind of actress you’d associate with roles which anyone could dub as ‘classy’, not in the stereotypically glamour sense of the word anyway. Maybe feisty, shouty and boozy, but never ever classy. The title of A Class Apart (BBC1, Fri 23 Mar, 8.30pm, 2 Stars) has so many layers of meaning that you could make a microwave lasagne from it. It’s all about divisions; in education, in wealth, in social strata and deep within people’s heads.
Wallace plays Candy, a single mum with a teenage kid heading towards oblivion. When a public school headmaster (Nathaniel Parker), bored of his easy job making brainy toffs yet more brainy, catches a glimpse of the pair on telly, he makes it his mission to transform the lad into a model pupil. The rest is so painfully obvious to predict as to render the drama utterly pointless, and as you can well envisage, our Jessie gets to do a Kat-like grandstanding speech, swapping a packed Queen Vic for a champagne reception in the school hall.
Less predictable is the twist near the end of Mobile (STV, Mon 19 Mar, 9pm, 3 Stars), but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good thing. This first in a series of one-off dramas, interlinked by several characters, about the nasty and depressing downside of our communications culture focuses on a former mobile phone engineer who has been diagnosed with lung cancer and now has a few weeks to live. Meanwhile, across the north west of England, pylons are getting blown up and texting-obsessed commuters are being assassinated in the Quiet Zones. Future episodes will feature John Thomson’s unlikely hypnotherapist and Jamie Draven’s bent out-of-all-recognition copper while Keith Allen will no doubt ham it up as another pantomime creep this time in the malevolent guise of a loaded phone company boss.
In Kidnapped (pictured, Channel 4, Tue 20 Mar, 10pm, 3 Stars), Jeremy Sisto (Six Feet Under’s bi-polar Billy) plays an ex-FBI maverick with a high success rate of getting hostages out of their predicament without caring too much for capturing the abductors. There’s no doubting the quality of the many American crime shows we get here now, but they’re all starting to look a bit too much like one another. For the record, this has more than hints of Prison Break and Without a Trace. Hugh Laurie’s smart alecky anti-hero in House has become a cult figure but he may have met his match in Doug Hanson. 3lbs (BBC1, Sun 18 Mar, 10.50pm, 3 Stars) heralds the welcome TV return of the human smirk that is Stanley Tucci in a relentless barrage of cocky one-upsurgeonship and a monsoon of technical language that requires a medical journal close to hand at all times.
The best drama of the fortnight is probably the least noisy, set in an age before mobile phones, hostage negotiators and medical innovation. Though health is at the centre of The Yellow House (Channel 4, Thu 22 Mar, 9pm, 4 Stars) with John Simm breaking out of his semi-laddish bunker to play a black-toothed, globe-skulled Vincent Van Gogh just at the moment when he was approaching psychological meltdown. The piece focuses on the nine weeks in 1888 he spent working alongside Paul Gauguin (John Lynch), a period in which 40 recognised masterpieces were created, whose collected value now resides in the billions. Still, the screams of pain when he hacks off his lug at the bloody climax would give a rampaging Jessie Wallace a run for her money.