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Television

Out of kilter

26 November 2011

12:00 PM

26 November 2011

12:00 PM

Can a critic simply be wrong, in the way that a mathematician who said that 3×3=10 would be wrong? I’m beginning to wonder, since I am the only person I’ve read who thought Ricky Gervais’s Life’s Too Short was not vile but terrific and The Killing II (BBC4, Saturday) all right, though far from the work of genius others believe.

I never quite caught the first series of The Killing on BBC4, though I have tried. I do have the box set, and one day I might even watch it. Mind you, suspicions were aroused when the main talking point seemed to be the heroine’s knitwear. ‘Say what you like about the plot moving like an arthritic snail, but that Faroe Islands sweater really caught the eye!’ Sarah Lund, the Danish detective, seems clever and dogged, but not what you’d call interesting, unlike Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennison, or any Jane Marple.

Rather than The Killing being the kick-start for a whole new genre of real-life, stripped-down cop shows, it seems to owe much to the long line of British ’tecs. It has the same clichés. We hear that the murdered woman’s husband has been found fleeing, covered in blood, so we are sure he is innocent. Then he confesses, so we know for a fact that he didn’t do it. There are the familiar political cynics with their own agenda, determined to obstruct the honest detective. Sarah Lund picks up a piece of cellophane at a family party. Since it had wrapped a video cassette, and since there was cellophane at the scene of the crime, she knows that the killer filmed his victim’s death. If Poirot had done that, we’d have been chortling about Agatha Christie’s flimsy plot devices.


Since I was quite interested, but not exactly hooked, my mind kept twigging how the characters suddenly seem to be speaking English, even when they’re not. ‘Yah, goo nad’ is ‘yes, goodnight’, ‘yustice minister’ is ‘justice minister’, ‘waffer’ = wherefore = why, and ‘hi, Thomas!’ is ‘hi, Thomas!’ It’s well acted, the camerawork is striking, but unlike the other celebrated Scandinavian thriller, Wallander, it is creakingly torpid. At least Kurt Wallander wraps up his cases in an hour or so.

Even Radio Times, which admittedly prides itself on not just shilling for the BBC, has turned against Life’s Too Short (BBC2, Thursday). They specially hated this week’s episode. Warwick Davis, the dwarf, tracks down someone who’s been posting vile insults on his website. It turns out to be a boy in a wheelchair, who is consequently mocked in his class, cries, and has a poster saying ‘gay’ stuck to his chair. Later Helena Bonham Carter behaves loathsomely to Davis. It is a mark of Gervais’s extraordinary skill that he persuades these Hollywood stars to play odious versions of themselves, even though they must assume that many viewers will believe they are actually like that. Yes, it makes you cringe. Yes, the laughter can die on your lips. But it is not cheap laughs from mocking the unfortunate. It is about prejudice, discrimination, ambition, self-delusion and even a desire to do the best by others, and how all those can create a hideous, unbearable confusion. It is far more subtle than it seems, and it seems to me quite brave.

Unlike Rev (BBC2, Thursday) which all the critics love. You can see why. Even the down-and-out derelicts in Tom Hollander’s inner-city parish are kindly and well meaning. The plots are as simple and undemanding as an edition of Flog It! The jokes are signalled well in advance. (Bratty god-daughter is staying. The vicar and his wife are about to make love. You know the little girl is going to walk in. She walks in.) It is just another comedy about a slightly vague bloke, such as Open All Hours and Some Mothers…

The funniest unintentional comedy was The Adventurer’s Guide to Britain (ITV1, Tuesday) in which Gethin Jones and chimp-specialist Charlotte Uhlenbroek go extreme exploring in, er, the Peak District. ‘It will be tough! It will be wild! But it will be worth it!’ she exclaims. He goes up in a microlite and sees ‘ridges, hills and valleys, stretching in every direction!’ That’s what landscape does, Gethin, till it hits seascape.

She goes potholing in a cave. She is going to say that it’s like a cathedral. She says, ‘It’s like a cathedral!’ The guide says, ‘A beautiful cathedral.’ So not Guildford, then.

‘That was phenomenal!’ ‘Kamikaze!’ someone says. They go cycling, uphill. ‘That was one of the toughest cycle tracks in the UK!’ he shouts. I wanted to scream, ‘Look, it’s not the bloody Grand Canyon, it’s Derbyshire!’ Surely the other critics will agree with me about this?


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