Truckers, a rambunctious, tasteless BBC1 drama about, yes, a group of truckers who drive big trucks and who generally do lots of trucking, is supposed to be some kind of fable for our times. Writer William Ivory is talking directly to us when he says he hopes the Truckers audience will chuckle at the antics of his ramshackle heroes before we pause to ask ourselves if we are, like his heroes, isolated from larger society. “If I lived literally, rather than virtually, tasted salt and sweat a bit more, might I reconnect with what it is to be human?” wonders Ivory in a BBC blog.
Crikey, that’s a lot to ask of any drama, but it’s too much to ask of Truckers. It’s not One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich set in Nottingham. This, ladies and gentleman, is a work of fiction that has featured a handful of its characters sitting in a city centre pub at lunchtime as a stripper fired ping-pong balls into their beer. I will not tell you from where the ping-pong balls came, only to say that it wasn’t from her mouth, her nose or her ear. Ah, so THAT’S what it means to “be human”, to “reconnect”, is it?
I don’t want to sound like Lady Bracknell (“A ping-pong ball?”) but the only thing that Truckers makes me think about being human is that if the characters existed in real life I would never, ever want to meet a single one of these hopeless buffoons for even the merest syllable of recorded time. I would rather cross the road and possibly even leave the country to start a new life under a new identity than have to spend a nanosecond in the company of its notional hero, Malachi (Stephen Tompkinson). He’s a melodramatic loudmouth, a self-dramatising boor whose wife, quite understandably, wants nothing more to do with him. (Incidentally, all of the men in Truckers are emotionally arrested and childish while the women are briskly capable.) In the first episode his own son hired Malachi a prostitute to cheer him up and by the end of the episode he was stark naked on top of his cab in Nottingham city centre, declaiming a rambling workingclass Henry V speech. It was excruciating in every possible way.
Which brings us to Truckers’ other big problem, its coarseness. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of muck and crudity, but there has to be some wit, too. Malachi catching his wife having phone sex with her new lover then later surprising them both in a certain act were, I’m sure, meant to be funny. But they just came over as crude and, strangely, depressing.
Really I probably wouldn’t let any of this bother me if it weren’t for the claims Ivory made for his drama. Writers must have ambition for their work, of course they must. But let’s not have so much of the hectoring,eh? I’ll decide whether I need to reconnect or what it is to be human, not Truckers. And as for “tasting salt and sweat”? Forget it.