Brassic (Sky One) feels like the sort of TV comedy drama they last made about 15 years ago but would never get commissioned now, certainly not by the BBC. Almost all of the main characters — apart from love interest Michelle Keegan — are white, male and heterosexual. And it’s set in the kind of Lancashire market town surrounded by rolling sheep country where the opportunities for plausible diversity casting are really quite limited. So how come it has been getting such glowing notices from all the previewers and reviewers?
You’ll be depressed when I tell you. Well, it has depressed me anyway. The main character Vinnie — played by Joe Gilgun — is bipolar. Not only that but Gilgun himself is bipolar and, as one of any number of tedious articles by online scribblers cannot wait to tell you, he is very open and candid about it, unlike most men, who struggle to talk about their feelings.
Come, kindly asteroid: strike us now. Being obliterated alongside my friends and family will be a small price to pay for the satisfaction of knowing that in the same purgative explosion will be eradicated all those woke little pillocks and their idiot notions that the primary purpose of a TV comedy drama is to enable viewers to empathise with ‘disabilities’ such as mental illness.
Gosh, do you think that was what Shakespeare was thinking when he wrote his ‘To be or not to be’ speech? ‘So I’ve put in lots of sexual intrigue and killing: that should keep the groundlings happy. But there will come a time about 420 years hence — I know this because I am a visionary seer — when audiences won’t care about my wordplay or my intricate plotting, still less about the fortunes of a white cisgendered royal. Unless, yes, that’s it! Yes! I’ll give him a long soliloquy where he speculates about topping himself. And everyone will say how fresh and modern and relevant it is, and I might still compete with mighty future talents on the English A-level syllabus…’
But how exactly do you make a drama out of a condition where all the action takes place inside someone’s head? Well, as series creator Danny Brocklehurst and co-writer Gilgun demonstrate, you don’t really. You can give a few pointers: have him live in a shack in the woods; provide him with a terrible haircut (an aggressively straight fringe, like you’d expect to see sported by one of the Camorra kids in Gomorrah); show him visiting the doctor (an amusing cameo by Dominic West) to talk about his ups and downs and his loss of libido. But in truth the bipolar bit is just an incidental character detail, rather than the main event — and blimey, what a relief that is.
What Brassic really is is a more northerly and rural version of Shameless; or, as one critic aptly put it, an X-rated Last of the Summer Wine. Except, instead of being oldies, the protagonists are lads in their mid-twenties who really ought to be moving on from their adolescence of bored, small-town criminality, but who, hey, can’t help it because they’re mates and dealing weed and playing poker and stealing Shetland ponies on the orders of the racist farmer who hides their stolen wheels in his shed is a lot more fun than having to grow up.
I like what I’ve seen so far. The characters are — in the manner of the team from Trainspotting — intriguing and well delineated and appealing: Ash, the Irish traveller pugilist; Tommo, the perv who runs a very successful local sex dungeon; Cardi (short for cardiac), the kebab addict; Dylan, the Marwood-style bright one clearly destined for better things, etc. The plotting veers between Snatch-style gangster farce (e.g. knocking yourself out with chloroform while stealing a pony, which turns out to belong the local Mister Big) to poignant domesticity. (Keegan’s Erin is a single mum who dreams of giving her five-year-old son a better life. But will her current boyfriend Dylan rise to his newfound responsibility — or will it always be a case of ‘bros before hoes’?) And the dialogue — such as Tommo’s meditations on the primal needs of a man’s willy — is often quite funny. I did wonder, though, about the bit where Vinnie refers to his friend as coming from a ‘traveller’ family. Surely he would have used a more offensive, colloquial term than that? And should a grimy, down-to-earth series about jack-the-lad criminals and pervy sex really be pulling its punches?