The closing scenes of What Remains on BBC 1 last night left me gasping with disbelief while also gulping with spasms of laughter, a painful combination. Various people staggered around covered in blood, having been whacked with bags of ice, died at their own hand or been pranged with a bow and arrow. I had given the 4-part murder a chance of coming good and was watching the last episode on my new 32″ Smart TV (previously had a teeny tele). Now I was seething with frustration and disgust. Even in razor-sharp HD, I didn’t care a damn for any of the characters – each one was barely 2-dimensional. The baddies were bad all the way through, except when they were bland. The goodies (the old cop, played by Threlfell and the young pregnant woman) were just….good. So when most of them met a gory end, I didn’t mind at all. The plot was complex and clunky, but, when characterisation is thin, plot chicanery doesn’t work. There were some good actors in there, but they had nothing much to act on.
Now, I know ‘dark’ is fashionable and I don’t mind ‘dark’ because I was a sincere admirer of Top of the Lake’ which got about as dark as you can get – no, the problem is, I think, that the power-possessors in British TV just don’t get why we viewers admire the Scandi-noirs and the TOTL and The Wire so much, why we enjoy them so much. We like them because we are given time to get to know the characters, we are not rushed. And the characters, especially in the wonderful Wire are deep, contradictory, surprising, both dark and light, like real human beings are. When Tui is saved in TOTL, when the young black snitch is executed by his best friend in The Wire, when the PM’s marriage collapses in Borgen, we really care. We weep, we rejoice, we recognise that something worthwhile is being said about human nature. But us Brits seem to have lost the ability to reflect the truth about human nature in our dramas. Instead we do bland and sentimental on the one hand (New Tricks?) and horror movies masquerading as serious drama (What Remains) on the other. We seem to be scared of depth. There is something worrying and decadent about this and I am depressed not to be proud of British drama. See, the end of TOTL, where Robin edges into the paedophiles’ cellar, gun in one hand and mobile phone videoing in the other, her erstwhile boss expiring from gun wound outside the door, is as horrific and bloody as you can get, and yet, I could watch it again and again because I care about Robin, about the kids and even about her evil boss, Al. That’s the alchemy of a great drama.