TODAY I shall turn my back on the bothersome topic and watch television instead. Shetland versus Vera, the end of Catastrophe – oh, and a remarkable piece of radio drama (yes, I know, in the Archers of all the unlikely places). Spoiler alerts apply for Catastrophe – and perhaps for the Archers, too.
The return to BBC1 of Shetland is always an anticipated treat, and so the first episode proved. As is to be expected, it was a grisly sort of diversion, with the mystery delivered in parts – body parts washed up on the shore, first a severed arm, then a disconnected head.
The unattached remains belonged to a young Nigerian man. His troubled mother is on the island, but she hasn’t seen him in years, since her the boy and his sister were taken away from her. The sister is a key part of the plot, as my partner on the viewing sofa guessed. She’s always doing that, ever since pausing with the iron in mid-air years ago to say in the opening minutes of the Sixth Sense, “Oh, he’s dead, isn’t he?”
Douglas Henshall is back as DI Jimmy Perez, and his performance remains compelling. He’s almost a gentle cop, a sensitive type, wrapped in old jumpers and stubble. But when action is required, he stiffens his nastiness muscle. You wouldn’t want to cross him when that happens.
Shetland is based on the novels of Ann Cleaves, the crime writer who also created Vera. Both are dramas to watch, but Shetland has the edge over Vera on ITV. Brenda Blethyn’s performance is great, but sometimes the whole edifice creaks towards caricature.
With Shetland, everything hangs together in a beautiful dark cloud of unlikely criminality. So long as you’re not too worried about body parts turning up to spoil the holiday, Shetland the drama is a wonderful advert for Shetland the place.
Catastrophe on Channel 4 ended this week, wrapping up one of the best sit-coms of modern times. Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney have been a horrible delight as the monstrous Irish/American couple who come together after a fling ends in an unplanned pregnancy.
This pair are like those sweets that turn sour the more you suck. Only in this case there is a sort of sweetness at the bitter core. This is one of the best and funniest relationships seen in a comedy. They can be truly horrid one second, affectionate the next, vile again. Like a real couple, only with smarter insults and nothing held back.
In this farewell, Rob and Sharon visit Massachusetts for a holiday. Rob’s sister picks them up at the airport and bursts into tears, saying their mother has died. She’d been played by Carrie Fisher, so this was a death foretold, but the moment was typical Catastrophe: laugh-out-loud funny and gruesome in the same breath.
The funeral sees fallings-out falling over each other, and Rob turns nasty, causes a scene, then tells Sharon that he has never even liked her. He’s going to move to the US with the children and she can do what she likes.
The mood is one of quiet regret as they drive away under a blue sky. They stop next to the twinkling sea. The kids are asleep in the car, a third is waiting inside Sharon, but she hasn’t told Rob yet. She pulls off her dress and goes swimming, leaving Rob sitting on the shore. He spots a sign warning about rip tides and goes in after her. Rob catches up with Sharon; they kiss and cuddle, dangerously afloat, but then they always have been.
And that’s where we leave them. A happy ending if they get back to the shore, a tragic one if they don’t. Perfect.
Last night’s episode of the Archers on BBC Radio 4 was listened to in the car on the way to a gig. I’ve followed the soap-that’s-not-a-soap almost for ever. Sometimes I wander away, wearied by it all. But this was a marvel of acting and plotting, as Elizabeth unravels during a therapy session.
She is resistant at first, denying that her depression has anything to do with the death some years ago of husband Nigel. It’s all connected to son Freddie being in prison, she says.
Then the grief dam blows, and Elizabeth is a sobbing wreck. It was intensely moving, and it’s not every day you can say that about the Archers. Alison Dowling has played Elizabeth for 30 years, and that gave her performance the sort of depth you don’t often see. Or indeed hear.