This article was originally published in The Courier on 9th August 2014.
In the Club: Tuesday, BBC One
Siblings: Thursday, BBC Three
Even without seeing her name in the credits, loyal TV hounds would've recognised In the Club as the work of Kay Mellor. From Band of Gold to Fat Friends and The Syndicate, her signature style runs as follows: assemble a group of predominantly female characters in an enclosed environment – a red-light district, a slimming club etc. - and trace their various ups and downs.
You could probably suggest any group setting to Mellor – a sewage farm, a terrorist cell, a UKIP sex cult – and she'd conjure a bittersweet ensemble drama around it. Not that she's a hack by any means. Her formula could easily come across as cynical were it not for her obvious gifts as a dramatist.
As evinced by episode one of this engaging drama, she has a knack for creating empathetic characters struggling with dire and unusual circumstances. That's more or less the essence of all drama, but Mellor harnesses it skilfully (for the most part: more on this later).
Her protagonists in this case are a group of pregnant women from different walks of life who come together via their weekly antenatal class. They include Katherine Parkinson as Kim, a gay woman carrying the child of a man who artificially inseminated her partner 15 years ago (a surprise twist revealed that Kim was actually impregnated by more traditional, furtive means), and Rosie, a bullied teenage girl who's been hiding her pregnancy from her widowed dad.
After seeking motherly advice via Kim's pregnancy blog, Rosie burst into the class having gone into labour. Despite her trauma, she gave birth to a healthy baby as kindly Kim leant support. So far, so acceptably dramatic.
Unfortunately, Mellor – who also directs – spiralled into inadvertent camp during a climactic, winsomely-scored montage in which Rosie's dad crashed his van as his daughter nurtured her newborn in hospital. Have this poor family not suffered enough? Apparently not, reckons Mellor. Despite its obvious sincerity, her writing is often clumsily schematic.
I also wasn't entirely convinced by the central thread of Diane's secretly unemployed, debt-ridden husband, Rick, deciding on a whim to rob a bank. Desperate men are often driven to extreme measures, but posing as a bomb-toting bank robber to buy your children pizza stretched credulity.
It's fortunate, then, that Rick is portrayed by the excellent Will Mellor (no relation), who radiates everyman pathos without ever overdoing it. The scene in which he begged, with shades of Boys from the Blackstuff, for work on a building site was particularly touching. Likewise, his sincere, almost tearful apologies to the terrified bank teller were affectingly played.
It's frustrating, as these smaller moments have far more emotional impact than La Mellor's more melodramatic flourishes. Nevertheless, I'll be back for more. Daft, cloying overindulgences aside, she's a propulsive storyteller.
Similarly promising is Siblings, a sharp new sitcom about a dysfunctional brother and sister duo. Fresh Meat writer Keith Akushie takes a gilded leaf from Seinfeld's book by miring his characters in selfishness and idiocy.
Like George Costanza, Hannah, played by Fresh Meat star Charlotte Ritchie, puts Herculean effort into her lazy self-interest, while oblivious Dan is more of an overbearing, bumblingly needy type: imagine a slightly nicer cousin of Jez from Peep Show.
These obvious influences mesh rather nicely. This first episode, as predictable though some of it was, suggested Akushie has a neat grasp of escalating farce, and the two leads fill their roles with just the right amount of warped likeability. Their flailing misfortune may grow on you.