Brian Donaldson gets all tearful at the beauty and boredom within a new set of dramas
I’m seriously starting to believe that Stephen Poliakoff has got some pretty incriminating photos in his possession. I can’t see any other reason for the BBC continuing to pour resources his way when he comes up with depressingly disappointing efforts such as Joe’s Palace (BBC1, Sun 4 Nov, 9pm •••) and Capturing Mary (BBC2, Mon 12 Nov, 9pm ••). Like last year’s wasteful double bill of Friends and Crocodiles and Gideon’s Daughter, both stories are unified by one person and one place, namely a posh house in London owned by billionaire recluse Elliot Graham (Michael Gambon) whose aides drag Joe (Danny Lee Wynter) out of semi-poverty and give him a job as caretaker of this creaking pile of vapid memories.
No one actually lives there now, the vast pad acting as some memorial to a better era, but Joe has trouble fending off individuals wishing to savour the emptiness. In Joe’s Palace, Rupert Penry-Jones plays a caddish cabinet member who uses the house for afternoon bunk-ups while in Capturing Mary, Maggie Smith drops in to tell Joe how David Walliams ruined her life decades ago by regaling some mildly perilous tales in the wine cellar. Poliakoff’s trademark touches are all over these two pieces: stilted dialogue delivered in a weirdly detached fashion; a soundtrack which hints at a deeper emotional resonance than actually exists; and a decent ability to build up tension only to give us a very minor revelation about some locked-up secret. Tragically, Poliakoff’s finest work seems to be well behind him now and no amount of lush strings and ostentatious wardrobe can mask how vacuous these arch dramas are.
Jimmy McGovern has been at this TV writing game almost as long as Poliakoff but the opening episode in season two of The Street (BBC1, Thu 8 Nov, 9pm ••••) is as brutally good as Joe’s Palace and Capturing Mary are crushingly tame. David Thewlis plays Manc twins Joe and Harry. The former is a married father whose debts are not eased by his gambling habits or inability to hold down a decent job while the latter lives alone doing very nicely on his Falklands vet’s pension and whose only commitment in life is making sure he has enough sherbet lemons for his lover (Katy Cavanagh).
Unfortunately, those sweeties prove to be Harry’s downfall leading Joe to take a desperate life-altering decision. At some point, we may all have fantasised about living someone else’s life, but after watching this tear-drenched hour, you’ll vow to take McGovern’s advice and stick permanently to what you’ve got. Right now, I reckon Stephen Poliakoff wishes he was in McGovern’s shoes, given the longevity of his Midas touch.
Peter Kosminsky looks like a writer who has gold coming out of his fingers too, boasting a recent track record of The Government Inspector and The Project. Now comes Britz (Channel 4, Wed 31 Oct & Thu 1 Nov, 9pm; More4, Fri 2 & Sat 3 Nov, 10pm ••••), a two-part fictional look at a British-Asian brother and sister. His loyalty to the UK leads him to join the security services while she becomes radicalised in a very different way. This sensationalist-sounding plot could have ended up being fumbled in a less safe pair of hands, but Kosminksy keeps his eye on the broader issues while never forgetting to ratchet up the tension. Once you reach the gripping cliffhanger of episode one, the finale will never come quick enough.
Further episodes of Journeyman (Sky One, Thu 8 Nov, 10pm ••) will only ever come far too soon. A typically frenzied Sky One affair, it has Kevin McKidd landing his first leading man role in an American show, about a San Francisco journo who inexplicably discovers he can leap back and forward in time, which causes no end of grief for his current wife when he gets hooked up on his former, quite dead fiancée. There’ll be a bumpy ride ahead for Kev no doubt, but the sensible will be getting off now. Still, you can’t fault him for matching Hugh Laurie in the US accent stakes. Pure radge so it is.