This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 28 November 2015.
Capital: Tuesday, BBC One
Arena: Night and Day: Sunday, BBC Four
Like a sinister live-action Pigeon Street, Capital unfolds on a single London street populated by residents from various economic and ethnic backgrounds. Modern Britain in microcosm.
One morning they each receive a mysterious postcard through their letterboxes, bearing the stark legend: “We Want What You Have.” The sender of this subtly threatening missive had yet to be revealed by the end of episode one of this intriguing new drama, but whoever they are it's probably safe to assume that they're making a vigilante stand against rocketing property prices in the area.
Adapted by leading TV dramatist Peter Bowker from the best-selling novel by John Lanchester, Capital makes no bones about its satirical intent. Yes, it's occasionally heavy-handed – the closing montage of our miserable protagonists scored to Hark! The Herald Angels Sing! was straight out of an EastEnders Christmas special – but that's surely intentional.
Credulity may have been stretched by the closing shot of “We Want What You Have” daubed in enormous letters along the length of the street, but only if we approach Capital as an earnest piece of social realism. It's not. It's a tragicomic polemic.
That layer of discomfiting humour is typified by Detectorists co-stars Toby Jones and Rachael Stirling as an investment banker and his spendthrift wife. Owners of a multimillion pound property that would've once been home to lower middle-class families, their unhappy, sterile existence is a nightmare vision of success. Their children are just another accessory, an achievement on a par with their house extension.
Upon being informed that he'd received less than half of his promised £1m bonus, a furious Jones delivered the key, soul-shrivelling line: “What use is £30,000 to anybody?!”
Neighbours include Gemma Jones as an elderly widow with a terminal illness who's witnessed decades of change first-hand, a Zimbabwean refugee living under a false identity, a Polish builder tasked with building dream homes for his employers, and a Muslim family with two adult sons, one righteously devout, the other more measured in his beliefs.
However it pans out, it's refreshing to see a primetime TV drama tackling immigration, greed and social inequality in a witty, thoughtful, timely manner. Despite being set in a city where, unlike anywhere else in recession-hobbled Britain, property prices continue to soar, its themes strike a chord nationwide.
A harbinger of quality, that bobbing neon Arena bottle scored to Eno's Another Green Day is the most weirdly moving ident in British television history. Arena: Night and Day paid suitably esoteric tribute to its record-breaking 40-year reign as our greatest arts strand.
Introduced by John Lloyd as “an evocation” of its irreverent, witty spirit, this new film was a beautifully edited, dawn-to-dusk archive mosaic starring such diverse luminaries as Orson Welles, Poly Sytrene, Francis Bacon, Tony Hancock, Kendo Nagasaki, Gerald Scarfe, Yoko Ono, Mel Brooks, Sister Wendy and Elvis Presley's personal cook.
Its diversity was illustrated via highlights such as a massed ukulele recital at a George Formby convention in Blackpool, Andy Warhol and William Burroughs schmoozing at the infamous Chelsea Hotel, a politely baffled Mick Jagger being introduced to every single member of a Moroccan drumming troupe, and Jeffrey Bernard avoiding deadlines while boozing with Tom Baker in Soho.
A mere best-of compilation wouldn't have done justice to Arena's unconventional vision. This charming celebration was the perfect birthday gift.