The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Single Bloke

Last night watched the first part of Single Father, a new BBC drama thing starring David Tennant. I won’t be bothering with the rest.

Why? Well, to begin with, it was so remorselessly tragic it became ridiculous. Nearly every scene was an attempt to jerk tears. Nearly every scene was like those clips they show at the Bafta awards, loads of histrionics and dribbling noses. With ‘calling lump, could you make your way to the throat please’ music throughout.

Now, I have no problem with this sort of drama. I loved Cold Feet, and every episode was pretty much all about making you cry. But first it made you care about the characters, and it did that by making you laugh. Not so with Single Father. It was all about death and nothing else.

That said, the actually scene where David Tennant’s character is informed of his wife’s death was astonishingly mis-handled. He rushes to the place where she works (because this is set in one of those parallel worlds where nobody owns a mobile phone) only to be informed that his wife has been involved in a tragic accident. He breaks down in tears, and it’s so beautifully acted you can almost hear the applause from the Bafta audience.

Except... his next thought is to ask about his children. At no point does he ask how is wife is. All he knows, all he’s been told, is that she’s been in a road accident. He hasn’t been told she’s dead. So the fact that he doesn’t ask whether she’s alive or not is kind of a glaring omission. And for the next ten minutes I was watching, confused, waiting for the moment he’d receive the bad news, as I wasn’t sure whether all the characters were fretting over the news of an accident or the news of a death.

Anyway, David Tennant’s character is so grief-stricken at the (lack of) news, he speeds down a motorway, only to be stopped by some policemen. Who chat to him and then leave a man they know is suicidally depressed by the side of a busy road to make his own way home by motorbike.

And then there was a caption saying ’10 Weeks Later’ or somesuch and I started swearing. Because the first 10 weeks, that’s your story. That’s the journey we care about. But that’s also the bit that’s going to be extremely difficult to write, and is going to require serious research. And I hate those captions, because they're always about the writer skipping over a difficult bit – when it’s difficult bits that are the most interesting to watch, and which give good writers a chance to show what they can do.

Reading some of the comments this programme has received on the internet from people who’ve been through similar experiences – this show didn’t seem to have been researched at all. It felt more like those Mitchell & Webb sketches about the lazy writers. Because by the end of the episode, we were well into soap-opera territory, of troubled kids and adulterous affairs. Such a pity, given the great cast.

Oh, and it was probably the most fairy-lights-on-the-stairs programme I've ever seen.