This article was originally published in The Courier on 27th September 2014.
The Driver: Tuesday, BBC One
Downton Abbey: Sunday, STV
Stories about innocent men thrown to the slaughter are to the thriller genre what improbable mishaps are to the world of trouser-dropping farce. Remove these hardy perennials from either genre and both would collapse like a careless round of Buckaroo. Hitchcock famously revisited the wrong man theme on several occasions, thus cementing it as a sturdy template upon which future generations of screenwriters could hammer their own dents.
So it's unfair to criticise three-part crime drama The Driver for cleaving to a well-worn theme. Writer Danny Brocklehurst has every right to chuck another fictional everyman – in this case, David Morrissey's put-upon taxi driver, Vince – onto the bonfire for our nail-biting edification. He's simply carrying on a popular storytelling tradition. No, the most important thing is that he takes this malleable putty and moulds it into surprising shapes. And that's where episode one came unstuck.
Unless you've never witnessed a drama before in your life, Vince's story unfolded much as expected. A decent man who'd had enough of his dreary suburban existence and thankless occupation – Brocklehurst made sure to heap as many foul indignities upon him as possible – Vince was in desperate need of some excitement. Practically ignored at home, he demanded some respect and a renewed sense of purpose. Enter his old mate Colin (Ian Hart). A career criminal just out of jail, Colin offered Vince the chance to opt out of the rat race, and score big to boot, by becoming the personal driver/courier for his boss.
Of course, Colin's boss is a gangster. Not only that, he's a gangster played by Colm Meaney and nicknamed 'The Horse'. You'd have to be, not so much naïve, as thunderingly stupid to think that working for a self-made stereotype with an animal-themed alias was going to be a bed of roses.
When Vince eventually discovered Colin's violent true colours during a brutal kidnapping, his shock was matched only by a few million viewers blaring, “Well what did you expect?!”
Yes, good men are often driven to desperate measures in dire times of need. Terminally ill Walter White becoming a criminal kingpin in Breaking Bad to provide for his family is a grippingly nuanced exploration of this theme. By comparison, a despondent cabbie getting involved with some wrong 'uns to pay off the mortgage lacks a certain dramatic heft.
It's frustrating, as having peeked ahead I can report that The Driver improves in part two, as Vince's predicament gains more emotional depth. It's just unfortunate that this rather thin opener, regardless of the typically fine performances from its leads, did practically nothing that we hadn't seen before. There are only so many stories, but there are infinite ways of telling them.
I'll let you into a trade secret: reviewing Downton Abbey is pointless. Its inherent flaws and obvious appeal are so self-evident and so widely documented, at this stage it would be like trying to offer an original critique of breathing.
It's simply there, still, an unchanging formula dutifully poured into a decorously-carved goblet at yearly intervals. Lord Grantham grumbles exposition at breakfast, Dame Maggie purses sculpted bon mots over luncheon, Carson booms his wry instructions like a rich tea biscuit awaiting the King's own urn. It's unique in TV history in that it became a parody of itself almost instantaneously.
It exists if you want it, like the current touring version of Level 42. Who honestly cares?