In its many years of service, the Beeb has done some terrific drama. The Singing Detective, Edge of Darkness, Pride and Prejudice, or, going back to the ’70s, I, Claudius. Its recent output has been all over the place, but I enjoyed last year’s Page Eight and The Hour (in spite of some flaws).
The second season of The Hour finished a couple of days ago. The series kept some of its problems, mainly the uneven quality of the writing, with some scenes very effective and others rushing headlong into hamfisted melodrama, clumsy exposition or silly cliché. Nevertheless, it was a definite improvement on the first series – exciting, engaging, and every scene with Peter Capaldi and Anna Chancellor a revelation. Come Awards season, if Auntie doesn’t pat itself on the shoulder for putting those two on a sound stage together and letting them show what they’re capable of, I hope that Malcolm Tucker unleashes hell on the people responsible.
So, that’s BBC at its… well, perhaps not best, but definitely good. If this is the standard of British television drama, I think Britain could do a whole lot worse.
It’s easy to see what they were going for: an entertaining, fast-paced yet moody spy thriller set in a world of shifting allegiances and moral ambiguities. What they got was one of the most half-baked, clichéd TV shows I’ve seen in a long while. Laughably bad writing – the premise should have been a warning, with the main character, Sam Hunter, becoming (dun dun DUN!) the hunted! The aesthetics were all early 2000s gone HD, but the plot and characterisation were on par with your average ’80s series, except this didn’t even have the giddy sense of fun that some of those shows had.
And this may reveal me as sorely lacking in testosterone, but I’d rather watch Peter Capaldi go OCD on his desk for an hour (pun only semi-intended) than Melissa George trying to infuse her undercooked character with personality by bringing out her most potent duck-faced pout ever. I’ve seen George do much better work with stronger material, but her Sam Hunter is insipid, as are most of the characters, whether they’re played by veteran actors or not. Someone should have told the makers of Hunted that conflicted doesn’t equal dour, dour doesn’t equal glum, and glum doesn’t equal moodily bored.
In the end it’s a race: what does the series in? The one-dimensional characters? The charmless acting? The glossy yet drab visuals? The writing that’s either done by idiots, for idiots or both? The final episode that provides less resolution than an episode of Eastenders? Or the BBC, deciding that Frank Spotnitz would have a better chance taking his pet project somewhere else?