This article was originally published in The Courier on 31st August 2013.
Seemingly inspired by the sad case of Joyce Vincent, a young woman whose decomposing corpse lay undiscovered in her flat for over two years – which in turn formed the basis of the documentary Dreams Of A Life – WHAT REMAINS continues TV's current vogue for spreading misery over Sunday nights. Not that I'm complaining: Tony Basgallop's four-part drama is admirably restrained and wholly compelling.
Blessed with a winningly oppressive atmosphere – the action rarely leaves the confines of a shabby block of London flats – it's a skilfully constructed whodunit in which a shady group of neighbours are each considered suspects in the apparent murder of a fellow tenant.
While our introduction to the victim, Melissa, smacked of cliché – a lonely, overweight woman eating chocolate solemnly is dubious dramatic shorthand – the otherwise effective opening sequence, in which she climbed into her attic after being disturbed by creaking floorboards, climaxed with the shocking discovery, some years later, of her remains.
Enter David Threlfall as Len, a dry-witted detective mere hours from retirement. Resembling a crushed cigarette, this lonely widower looks like he hasn't had a good night's sleep in 40 years. He's the sort of character who, in clumsier hands, could easily come across as hackneyed. But Basgallop and Threlfall – a fine actor, happily now free of the dismal Shameless – imbue him with subtlety and charm.
Central to the overriding theme of loneliness in an uncaring society, Len recognises a kindred spirit in Melissa, who was apparently barely acknowledged by her neighbours. Even in an age when we're supposedly more connected than ever, it's still possible for people to fall through the cracks. By depicting the police as disinterested in Melissa's case, Basgallop makes us root for Len, who's essentially a sympathetic civilian struggling to bring dignity to a stranger's tragic end. This underlying compassion lends What Remains a depth uncommon to your average murder mystery.
It's also elegantly directed by Coky Giedroyc (sister of Mel, fact fans), who builds suspense by shooting the house as though it's a cracked, gloomy prison, where danger lurks around every corner.
Which brings us, in a not-at-all-contrived fashion, to WENTWORTH PRISON, the enjoyably melodramatic reboot of Australian soap, Prisoner: Cell Block H. Although self-consciously in-your-face and over-stylised, it wisely retains the camp appeal of the original.
Introduced through the terrified eyes of first-time prisoner Bea – who suffers from a serious case of flashback-itis - Wentworth is home to the usual parade of female prison clichés: the stern governess, the kindly guard, the lesbian 'top dog' etc. But seeing as the original series partially fashioned those archetypes in the first place, that's forgiveable.
And at least it's never boring. The propulsive opener found time for a botched drug smuggling scam, an aggressive cell search, a violent confrontation between rival top dogs, and a bloody – in both literal and colloquial terms - climax in which Bea was wrongly implicated in the murder of a guard.
Of course, piling so much trauma on poor Bea over such a short space of time is very funny. That the makers obviously realise this themselves is why Wentworth Prison might be worth sticking with. It doesn't take itself too seriously, but nor does it feel like a smug post-modern spoof. It's fun.
ONE TO MISS
Monday, BBC3, 9pm
This monumentally tedious reality show finds a group of young applicants battling it out for their dream job. The twist, such as it is, is that one of them is secretly employed by the company in question, and therefore able to report back to their bosses. It suffers from a fatal lack of tension, coming across instead as a comedy-free Apprentice clone. The manufactured conflict, upon which such shows thrive, fails to materialise between the applicants – an Essex Boy, a scatty Oxford graduate, a rampant egomaniac, a self-confessed manipulator, and a normal person – so, frankly, what's the point?