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This Week in British TV: Well, I'm Just Going to Prescribe You a Placebo

By Caspar Salmon | TV | May 13, 2011 |

By Caspar Salmon | TV | May 13, 2011 |

Well hello my little horrorshows, and praise be to Snooki! Indeed, the gods of reality TV are smiling upon us once more as we delve into this week’s televisual delights, and ah, after all the flim-flam we finally found a fine flurry of fare to fawn over. So, as my fiancé would say, let’s get right to it!

The Apprentice

So, the programme we all love to watch/hate/love is back on the box not very long after the last series concluded, due to a delay last year — and aren’t we all glad it’s back! That’s a rhetorical question; I will not tolerate it being answered in the negative, for it is a positive godsend for lovers of those moronic business-worshipping candidates and the wonderfully degrading missions they get sent on, supposedly to prove their business acumen (but really to shame themselves most gloriously in front of the whole world).

The cast of the show is back as usual, with Lord Alan Sugar, the little business Grizzly bear, surrounded by his usual acolytes — sneery Nick Hewerand haughty Karren Brady —ready to pronounce himself on the skills or otherwise of the contestants. This year’s bunch are the usual witless rabble of dullards, savages, scumbags, tarts and wannabes, but in the first episode none of them quite debased themselves in the manner of last year’s gang of assorted vipers and morons. The task in the first episode was, as ever, to make and flog some sort of crap they’ve only just learnt how to produce, and as ever someone from the team that made less money would be “fired”. I love the concept of firing someone before they’ve even got a job. I’m going to start pre-emptively doing all sorts of other impossible things, like dumping people before I’ve gone out with them, or digesting my food before I’ve eaten it, just for kicks. If Alan Sugar can do it, so can I. Sorry, I mean, “Lord Sugar” — the business bear sets a somewhat Freudian store by his title.

So what did the first episode dredge up? Well, SPOILER ALERT, the boys elected to make tomato soup and orange juice and try and sell those two dreary commodities in some soulless commercial centre. They went about it with, as can be expected of boner-for-money meatheads, all the care and thought of a troupe of bison. At one point, two of the male animals locked horns, and one of them hilariously said, “I’m going to defuse the situation now!” - which reminded me of the single amusing Smack The Pony sketch there’s ever been, in which a doctor says to a patient, “Right, well I’m just going to prescribe you a placebo.”

In the end, one of the boneheads got kicked off after garbling some nonsense in his defence at the angry business bear in the boardroom, at which point the business bear snapped, “Cut the crap, alright?” Indeed, Sir Alan. Lord Alan. Mr Sugar. Whatever.

Anyway, my judgment after the first ep was that though this was not a classic start to the new season, we would doubtless see someone’s true colours (I think brown, or maybe a very cheap mauve) come out some time soon. And it happened! It turned out that all the boys are completely stupid, and in the girls’ team I do believe Susan is as dense as lead. On a task requiring the candidates to devise and market, in the words of Alan Sugar, “an application… or ‘app’!”, the boys invented some nonsense making fun of regional accents called “Slangatang”, and Susan suggested an app that “when I’m…. OK, OK, say, if I’m standing next to you, and…. alright, what I’m saying is, if I ask you, “where do you think we are?”, then you can write it, and… I’m not explaining it very well.” I WISH MY PHONE HAD A GEOGRAPHICAL HESITANCY APP! The boys’ effort was so, so mortifying. The meatheads did their usual cockfighting, and then brayed their joy at each other once they’d alighted on what is certifiably the worst idea since Donald Trump thought, “Oh, being a President is probably doable.” Meanwhile, did anyone spot Gavin? I’m probably wrong about this, but I thought that, of all the candidates, he seemed to be a not-dreadful person. He’s Ralph in Lord of the Flies! This isn’t going to end well.

The Shadow Line

The-Shadow-Line-BBC-2.jpgUp next, we have “The Shadow Line” - the BBC’s new, and rather marvelous , crime serial. It stars anyone who’s good at acting that you could care to think of (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Eccleston, Lesley Sharp, Rafe Spall, Anthony Sher) and is a very moody, well-paced, finely performed and conceived piece of gritty goodness.

(The always thunderingly beautiful) Ejiofor plays DI Gabriel, a cop just returning to the beat after a case went pear-shaped and he ended up being shot and developing amnesia. As he returns to his job, seemingly more placid and kind than in his earlier persona, he tries to make sense of his old life and of a dirty case involving the brutal murder of a man recently released under a special law that I haven’t remembered the name of. Meanwhile, the man’s loony and spoilt son (played by Rafe Spall) is also out of the clink, and conspiring with his dad’s old pals and Christopher Eccleston to cover up various crimes. MEANWHILE, Christopher Eccleston’s wife is seriously losing it, as she develops ever more awful Alzheimers (and the theme of memory loss was marvellously unlaboured throughout, despite this). At the end of the first episode, which unfolded slowly, gradually building its characters and tension, Ejiofor chanced upon some evidence suggesting that there may be some unsaintly ghosts in his past. BOOM! Curtains! It was a great cliffhanger, and one I’m desperate to spoil for everyone but will try my best not to.

Where “The Shadow Line” succeeded was in the boldness of its writing and direction, particularly as seen in the opening scene, a wonderful and captivating segment in which two cops examine a body in a car at nighttime, with their torches providing most of the lighting and the sound picking up on the squeak of leather and the clacking of teeth. It took its time (very much in a post-“The Wire” way), starting us off in a grim and physical way, introducing the theme of policing being a human, fallible job.

There were a couple of off notes — I think some of the dialogue was a little heavy-handed, particularly in the banter between cops — but in general it was so engrossing. I loved Rafe Spall’s over-the-top turn as the twerpy little villain, flashing a maniacally beaming smile every now and then and spouting nonsense, as a way of revealing someone truly unhinged. Eccleston, once I had adjusted again to his strange cadences, revealed some great depth to his character in a very moving scene with his wife at the doctor’s, and Ejiofor put in a great show as the main guy, playing him very opaque, constantly learning. The writing of the show — as with last week’s “Exile” — also showed great strength in its construction, not just of narrative but of visual scenes. If you watched it last week and don’t want to tune in for the next episode, you must be a very special sort of person.


psychoville 2.jpgAnd lo, “Psychoville” did return to the Beeb! The unique programme — conjugating horror, gore, black comedy, high camp and farcical romp — aired for a first season last year, which concluded in a great big riot of death for, as far as anyone could work out, all the main characters. But here they all are, having somehow survived the explosion which killed their erstwhile tormentor, the sadistic Nurse Kenchington.

This first episode started out quickly settling that the main characters from last year were still alive. There was a brilliant opening scene of clowns processing at a funeral, in a bleak graveyard; but it turned out that the funeral was not for Mr Jelly, the terrifying clown from the first installment, but for his nemesis Mr Jolly — a tremendous recurring gag, since the whole of the first season hinged on them being mistaken for each other. Then we spun off into all sorts of different directions, following the mother and son murderers from the first season, as they become haunted once more by someone purporting to know their crimes, and even some new characters including Imelda Staunton as an investigator on the tail of the freaks, who has modelled herself on Judi Dench’s M from the Bond films. Staunton is smashingly irrascible and silly in this role; her roles in Sense & Sensibility and “Cranford” show that she is one the best outright comedians we have, with killer comic timing and a real whimsy to her line readings. But the best new thing about the show is a psychotic librarian obsessed with orderliness who sees, when paralytic with rage, a silent dancing figure with pigtails who is — and you must take my word for this — absolutely terrifying.

The show ended with one definite murder and one other murder about to happen. We also saw a confused woman (played by Steve Pemberton) contemplating getting married to a gay man to grant him a visa, and other characters trying to return to their lives, while a hunt for a mysterious locket continues. There’s so much plot whirling about, and so much frank rudeness laced into each scene, with heaps of absurdity and fear added for good measure. It’s like nothing else on television. I found some of the gags fell resoundingly flat, particularly ones involving a deaf character mishearing things. I mean, really? But it’s still charmingly ghoulish and oddball, and with so much energy and vim to carry it along, and jokes that are really barnstorming and gross when they do work - that I’ll definitely be watching the rest.

Caspar Salmon will be watching the Eurovision Song Contest for you next! Everybody tune in on Saturday and we”ll reconvene next week to swap notes! In the meantime I can be reached at [email protected]

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.