With Clocking Off, Shameless and State of Play among his credits, Paul Abbott is undoubtedly one of the most respected TV writers in Britain. Not even his biggest fans, though, could argue that he’s one of the subtlest. On the whole, whatever his characters are thinking, they’ll also be saying — and generally in a way that proves what no-nonsense salt-of-the-earth types they are. Nor do his dramas ever suffer from a shortage of incident, much of it pitched somewhere between the bracing and the lurid.
It’s an approach that Abbott evidently felt no need to change now that he’s writing a cop series. No Offence (Channel 4, Tuesday) began with DC Dinah Kowalska coming back in a taxi from a disappointing evening out with her boyfriend, who was on crutches. Having rejected his offer of a night together with the words, ‘I’d rather have a wank,’ she threw his crutches and then him out of the cab, before spotting a wanted criminal, whipping off her high heels and chasing the man through the back streets of Manchester — right until the point when he tripped, fell and had his head run over by a coach. And with that, it was time for the opening titles.
But Dinah is positively demure compared with her boss, DI Viv Deering (Joanna Scanlan) — a woman who prepared for a station party not just with a quick blast of mouth spray but also by squirting vaginal deodorant up her skirt in front of her male underlings. ‘I’ll have to go via the loos,’ she then explained cheerfully. ‘I’ve used the sprays the wrong way round.’
Not, of course, that this prevents Viv from being either fundamentally good-hearted or a brilliant copper. And of course too, she’s also equipped with one of those uptight (male) superiors whose main role is apparently to stop anybody in the station investigating any crimes. In pursuit of this policy, he duly pooh-poohed Viv’s theory that there was a serial killer on the loose targeting young women with Down’s syndrome. Luckily, Viv took no notice of him and turned out to be right, thereby allowing Abbott to emphasise that Down’s syndrome is no obstacle to a healthy sex life — or, for that matter, an unhealthy one.
Like all of his work, No Offence zips along with infectious energy and some great jokes. At this stage, however, the cops themselves do seem more recognisable as Paul Abbott characters than as policemen, rather as if the kind of people he usually writes about had unaccountably found themselves running a nick — or a Spectator competition had asked for a parody of a crime show as Abbott might have written it. The result is a programme that somehow manages to be hugely entertaining and wildly unconvincing at the same time.
The other big drama of the week was BBC1’s The C-Word (Sunday), a 90-minute adaptation of the blog and later the book by Lisa Lynch, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 aged 28. It began with a quick montage of Happier Times, featuring a playful Lisa swinging her bag around in the carefree way of a woman in a 1970s perfume ad. But it wasn’t long before she’d found a lump and been diagnosed with a cancer serious enough for an immediate mastectomy and course of chemotherapy.
A journalist by trade, she began her blog with the noble aim of ‘telling it like it is’, reserving particular scorn for such platitudes as ‘everything happens for a reason’ — and even that ‘cancer is a gift’. She could also be very funny about the positive attitudes that she was supposed to have, including the idea that getting a wig after going bald ‘lets you try out different identities in the bedroom’.
As an obviously deserved tribute, The C-Word worked beautifully. Sheridan Smith’s brilliantly naturalistic central performance traced every one of Lisa’s shifting moods, from defiance to despair — and all points in between — without ever showing off or losing sight of the woman’s essential charisma. The supporting cast was terrific too, especially Paul Nicholls as her unfailingly loving husband Pete.
As a drama, though, it did perhaps have one problem. Nicole Taylor’s script definitely invited us to applaud Lisa’s desire that what she wrote should be true rather than uplifting. Yet the programme itself found it increasingly difficult to live up to the same ideal. While the first hour or so was powerfully unsparing, the final section — once the treatment had failed — clearly decided to accentuate the heartwarming. Admittedly, as cop-outs go, I can’t immediately think of a more understandable one. Even so, it did mean that the programme ended on a rare false note, with the celebratory tone feeling, if not exactly unearned, then just a bit too pat after all that had gone before.