This article was originally published in The Courier on 9th May 2015.
No Offence: Tuesday, Channel 4
The C Word: Sunday, BBC One
I've always been puzzled by the lofty reputation of writer Paul Abbott. Apart from solid thriller State Of Play, what work of note has he actually done?
His major successes include the decent if unremarkable Clocking Off and the truly dire knockabout panto Shameless, which did more to promote the offensive stereotype of the so-called underclass as a bunch of hedonistic, work-shy scroungers than a dozen Katy Hopkins columns. That wasn't Abbott's intention, but what an own goal.
That's why I wanted to enjoy his latest venture, No Offence. I wanted him to prove me wrong. Alas, this muddled cop show is another dud. Ostensibly a gritty, compassionate drama fused with jolts of black comedy, it feels like two shows pulling in wildly different directions. It takes a steady gaze to combine such disparate elements, but Abbott's approach is fatally unfocused.
With various characters to introduce and plot strands to establish, opening episodes are notoriously tricky. But shouldn't a writer of Abbott's stature and experience be able to pull that off? Apparently not. Episode one of No Offence was a mess, in which supposedly comic scenes jarred awkwardly with a self-consciously dark storyline about a serial killer targeting women with Down's Syndrome. I'm sure he thinks he's being daringly transgressive – conscientious, even – but the whole thing smacks of trying too hard.
Even the title, No Offence, raises hackles. It's a phrase beloved by idiots who think they're blowing minds by being witlessly rude. This tiresome attitude is encapsulated by Joanna Scanlan's straight-talking DI. Abbott wants us to admire this formidable matriarch. We're supposed to laugh at her refreshing lack of political correctness. But she's so irritating and unfunny, not even Scanlan's considerable gifts can make her bearable.
I've been a fan of this fine comic actress/writer for many years – her work on The Thick Of It and Getting On was exemplary – but No Offence squanders the starring role she deserves. Way to go, Abbott.
Its failings are frustrating, as Elaine Cassidy's flawed, humane DC – gradually revealed as the heart of the show – is potentially an engaging protagonist. Abbott admirers claim he's good at writing believable female characters. While Scanlan's role suggests otherwise – she comes across as a condescending male fantasy of a tough, salty woman – Cassidy's character feels like an actual human being.
If it settles down and loses that laboured need to prove itself – God help us from that hokey Wild West score – then No Offence may well be more than a formulaic cop show with delusions of edge. Is Abbott capable of making that change? I doubt it.
Dame Sheridan Smith – come on, it's only a matter of time – continued her unstoppable winning streak with The C Word, a sensitive adaptation of the book and blog by journalist Lisa Lynch. Diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 28, Lynch – who died in 2013 - wrote about her ordeal with admirable frankness and humour.
This unflinching standalone drama captured that spirit, as it reeled through her step-by-step guide to the everyday anguish of dealing with cancer.
Refreshingly bereft of schmaltz, it fulfilled its goal of challenging the well-meaning yet unhelpfully sentimental way in which cancer is usually discussed in public. Bolstered by entirely convincing, dignified performances from Smith and the underrated Paul Nicholls as Lynch's quietly supportive husband/carer, it was a tender triumph.