Television drama seems to be going through a golden period at the moment – in the last couple of years we have had Line of Duty, Stranger Things, The Handmaid’s Tale, Peaky Blinders, Mindhunter, Fargo.
Just in the last week, Bodyguard has got the nation guarding against spoilers like James Bolam avoiding an England scoreline in The Likely Lads, the return of the outrageous No Offence and the intricate, oblique Black Earth Rising.
And what do all of these dramas have in common? None of them are on ITV.
ITV is having a worrying spell at the moment. It’s putting out lots of drama, but none of it seems to be grabbing the nation’s attention.
Shows like Liar and Bancroft are solid, well-crafted fare, but do little to grab the viewer by the throat, and the same goes for the channel’s new offering, Strangers (ITV, Mondays, 9pm).
John Simm is great as Jonah Mulray, the fish out of water in Hong Kong, plunged into mystery after his wife is killed in a car crash. He is terrific at conveying emotion in a twitch of his eye, but with Tim McInnerny slicking his way across the screen, you know who the villain’s going to be.
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It sets up the theme with a line from university professor Jonah’s lecture: “A group of people claiming to be a cohesive whole is, at best, a lie agreed upon.”
He’s talking about ‘nations’, but it’s easily applied to ethnicities, and marriages, as he discovers wife Megan’s secret life in the Far East.
But it is all a bit pedestrian. There are amazing coincidences, convenient answerphone messages and seen-before shots of Hong Kong’s Blade Runner skyline.
But there is nothing new here and at the moment, with this competition, that’s not good enough.
Talking of No Offence (Channel 4, Thursdays, 9pm), it’s back with a shock opening (no spoilers) but still delights in being foul-mouthed, gross-out, drama. And Paul Ritter steals every single scene.
Black Earth Rising (BBC2, Mondays, 9pm) was an entirely different sort of drama – thought-provoking, intense, you really couldn’t watch it while doing something else and it deserved full attention.