Of all the guiding principles to what makes a good drama, two matter more than most – at least, to me. They are:
Do I want to be in this gang?
What’s at stake?
Cast your eye over your favourite dramas and ask yourself those two questions. Whether your boat is floated by Spooks or Coronation Street, Being Human or Breaking Bad, I’d wager that a) yes, you do want to be in the gang, and b) what’s at stake – not in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer sense, obviously – is something Big.
It’s your own personal preference as to whether that’s a bomb primed to blow beneath London or a backstreet barmaid who might get her heart broken. Some prefer elaborate armageddons; others opt for more personal apocalypses. Either way, jeopardy drives drama.
Drama, at its most basic, is about high stakes and attractive characters – and attractive should be distinguished from nice, because nice characters aren’t necessarily compelling. Consider the difference between Spooks – from Ruth to Ros, these were characters we wanted to spend time with, a gang we wanted to be in – and the abysmal Bonekickers. Enough, as they say, said.
Of course, creating a compelling gang in captivating circumstances isn’t easy. If it was, The Body Farm would be as appealing as Waking the Dead. Returning series are the holy grail of TV drama: channel defining, audience grabbing, loyalty inspiring, money spinning. That’s why ITV is so cock-a-hoop with Downton Abbey (though obviously Scott & Bailey is INFINITELY better).
So at a time when the BBC especially struggles to create successful, returning drama series that adhere to these most basic of principles – well, did you want to spend time in Sugartown? – it’s a mighty shame that a show that has both jeopardy and heart in spades doesn’t reach as wide an audience as it could.
That show is Baker Boys, a BBC Wales drama also available on BBC iPlayer. Back for its second series tonight, Gary Owen and Helen Raynor’s smart and funny series is, basically, about the tangled lives and loves of folks who work in a bun factory threatened with closure.
Obviously it’s a bit more complicated than that – the first series saw the workers take over the means of production as their personal lives went into varying degrees of mini-meltdown, not least that of leading lady Sarah, played by Torchwood’s Eve Myles.
Myles may be the best-known name among the cast – and Sarah’s romantic dilemmas act as an engine for the first series – but Baker Boys is very much an ensemble drama. Really, the star of the show is the community of Trefynnyd. It is a gang to which you want to belong (though I’m not sure white overalls and a hairnet would do me any favours).
While it’s by no means perfect, Baker Boys has heart and warmth and wit and, in these austere times, a real resonance. It’s also that increasingly unusual thing in TV – a blue-collar drama that feels authentic and honest.
When he took over as BBC1 controller, Danny Cohen made it known he wanted more blue-collar shows. (We’ll leave aside for now whether or not class-based commissioning is wise or otherwise.) With its second series upon us, it’s time that Raynor and Owen’s Baker Boys – the little show that could – had a network outing. With a confection so delicious, it’s only fair to share.
The new series of Baker Boys begins tonight at 9pm on BBC1 Wales.