This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 1 October 2016.
Damned: Tuesday, Channel 4
The Fall: Thursday, BBC Two
The Level: Friday, STV
There was once a time, not so long ago, when Jo Brand was negatively pigeonholed as a sardonic comedian who joked about nothing apart from chocolate and how rubbish men are. Yet in the last few years, quietly and assuredly, she’s recast herself as the tragicomic queen of socially conscious sitcom.
Having tackled the thankless lives of NHS nurses and community care assistants in the wonderful Getting On and its recent sequel Going Forward, she now turns her attentions to social workers in Damned. Like Getting On, it’s a sympathetic yet unsentimental comedy inspired by her own experience – a former psychiatric nurse, she’s the daughter of a social worker – in which harassed carers strive to do their best under trying circumstances.
The title comes from the apt observation that social work is an unfairly vilified occupation in which employees are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. It’s set in a Children’s Services department where the lifts, toilets and especially the people who work there, are knackered.
Brand’s character, Rose, is the spiritual twin of Nurse Kim Wilde from Getting On, a caring professional whose jaded surface belies a genuine desire to help.
Her similarly careworn friend and co-worker Al (Alan Davies) is the only other “normal” member of a staff which includes Peep Show’s Isy Suttie as a bafflingly exuberant temp, Himesh Patel as an ex-policeman and humourless stickler for the rules, and the great Kevin Eldon, that always welcome Zelig of British TV comedy, as an endearingly innocent office manager.
It’s a classic workplace sitcom in many ways – long-suffering protagonists surrounded by “wacky” supporting characters – but it’s largely successful in its attempts to fuse traditional gags with unforced pathos. Despite the necessarily stark backdrop of abuse, neglect, illness and desperation, it’s a fundamentally warm, likeable show.
Co-written with Morwenna Banks and Will Smith of, respectively, Absolutely and The Thick of It renown, Damned confirms Brand’s status as one of the most thoughtful writer/performers in TV comedy.
Back, unbidden, for a third series, exasperating thriller The Fall is a textbook example of a show that doesn’t know when to quit.
It began as a gripping, if questionably violent, cat-and-mouse drama about a detective hunting a serial killer, but gradually devolved into a self-indulgent, risible chore.
Its failings were epitomised by this opening episode, which was preoccupied by an interminable effort to rescue Paul Spector from death’s door. Why should we care if he dies or not? He’s a psychopathic, misogynist murderer, and a boring one to boot.
Whereas once she proved intriguingly aloof, Gillian Anderson now looks truly fatigued as DS Gibson. The Fall should be put out of its misery.
Philip Glenister scored the easiest pay cheque of his career in The Level, a silly crime drama in which his character was murdered within the first 10 minutes.
He’ll presumably return in flashbacks/dream sequences, but the sound of him laughing all the way to the bank is the only note of joy in this drab account of a compromised detective trapped in a mild nest of intrigue while self-medicating her preposterously lenient gunshot wound with ibuprofen and gauze.
You know you’re watching a redundant thriller when the scenery – Brighton in this case – is more engaging than the story.
And how’s this for dialogue?
“The boss says you used to be school friends.”
“Yeah, when we were kids.”
The ideal age to be school friends, I find.