Monday, 15 April 2013

ITV's Broadchurch is boldly taking its own sweet time

By jiminy we're up to the penultimate episode of Broadchurch - ITV's crime drama centring on the murder of a child in a small seaside community.

It has been an entertaining watch but most of all I admire the sheer nerve of the creators (and of ITV) to dedicate a whopping eight episodes - about six hours of TV without the ads - to a single murder. It's the kind of leisurely pace you might more reasonably expect to find in a novel, than in a TV crime drama.

The small town is a deliberately unlikely setting for a murder and this isn't the kind of crime drama where the body count rises exponentially with each episode. The detectives aren't particularly maverick (gasp) and we're not confronted with gore and corpses at every turn - it seems to be a deliberate break with the likes of Silent Witness and Waking the Dead on that point. Broadchurch deals with how a murder affects a small town and the people within it, exposing secrets, affairs, hidden pasts and even medical conditions.

However, even Broadchurch's staunchest defenders will have to admit that the long running time can also work against it. Six episodes in and we're still none the wiser as to the culprit, despite some vague hints casting aspersions on virtually all of the town's population. Plenty has happened, or has seemed to, but sometimes the central resolution feels frustratingly out of reach. And fingers crossed the resolution won't feel rushed.

Overall though, it might have the kind of runtime that Peter Jackson would baulk at, but for having the sheer guts to keep the audience waiting for eight weeks - while the story unfolds, the actors have chance to get their teeth into it and we get to absorb the atmosphere of the show - is to be applauded.

I'd go so far as to say Broadchurch is a bit of an anomaly in an age of watching series by DVD box set where the viewer gets to choose how fast or slow they reach the conclusion of a story or series. Heck, Netflix released the entirety of House of Cards in one day. Will we see any other dramas follow the lead of Broadchurch (and, say, Dancing on the Edge) lead by going against the flow and taking its time with a story? Watch this space. Or rather, the telly.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The Village: Too glum for Sunday night TV?

Apparently, because we're so used to feel good Sunday night dramas like er, Call the Midwife (you know, the one dealing with abject poverty, racism, backstreet abortions and other similar feel good topics) and er, Mr Selfridges (adultery, paternal beatings, etc) it turns out that BBC One's new Sunday night drama The Village was too downbeat to provide classic Sunday night feel good (that term again) drama.

The Village, recounting life in a (you're ahead of me here) village, is set in 1914 and deals with the outbreak of war, a terrifying father figure, crop failure, sexism, alcoholism…OK, there aren't too many chuckles to be had from the episode.

But how do some dramas manage to tackle undoubtedly tough subjects and still be called feel good dramas when the likes of The Village do not?

You'd have to put it down to the oft not mentioned considerable style that a drama like Call the Midwife shows in pulling off discussing awful subjects but still leaving you feeling all warm inside - or Sunday night drama-y, if you will.

That is not to say The Village is charmless or lacks panache, far from it.  It is another well acted and put together bit of drama. Compelling and intriguing but, admittedly, lacking a feel good factor.

But when did this become a bad thing? Is whether a drama leaves us feeling warm and cuddly really a standard which we use to measure drama by now? Was State of Play, to use another John Simm starring drama, not feel good enough? No. It was widely liked. And it was originally broadcast on Sundays…

So what's changed? Why do we now need Sunday night drama that will leave us warm and fuzzy inside? Are we now an inconsolable nation that can't face going back to work on Monday? Has the grim economic reality of the nation changed our TV viewing need?

The Village has yet to show all its cards. We've only had episode one to judge it by. But I wouldn't expect it to all of a sudden come over all cuddly. That's what I'm hoping, anyway.