I love gloom. I’m from the north, what do you expect? I’m never happier than when the clocks go back and it gets dark at 4pm. And I adore seaside resorts in November when kitchen-knife-sharp winds sweep the prom while sea fret as dense as a mohair blanket neutralises the vinegar on my fish and chips.
But, come on television, give a girl a break. Why must you be so flipping miserable all the time? It’s spring, can’t you lighten the mood a little? A bit of sun, a bit of fun, a picnic in the park. Something maybe along the lines of The Durrells, something that brings a bit of brightness. Certainly not Paula (Thursday BBC2), a violent psychological thriller of epic bleakness.
It would be perfect for a late October Sunday night. But on a Thursday as May tiptoes into June? I don’t think so.
It’s not like there’s a shortage of glowering crime/psychological dramas and damaged cops. There’s the wretched DCI Tom Mathias in Hinterland (Saturday BBC4), the delightfully macabre Welsh series that features images of scattered human teeth in its title sequence.
Richard Harrington in Hinterland
Mathias has lost everything – wife, child, even the horrible caravan he called home was destroyed in an arson attack – which means he must, in the manner of soulful cops the world over, stare at nothing in particular. This is such an overused indicator of a damaged heart it’s hard not to shout at the telly: “What are you looking at?!”
Actually, I like Hinterland, it’s 90 minutes of fetid darkness, awful carpets (the interior décor is grim) and the most cavernous, depressing police station. But even my patience is tested when every shot is artfully framed in misery.
The same can be said of Sky Atlantic’s very dark Belgian thriller Public Enemy (Wednesday), which hinges on the death of a small child. We are spared nothing, we actually see the little victim’s body in extreme close-up, something that would be beyond the pale in a British drama.
Similarly Paula, written by Conor McPherson, is oppressively bleak. The Paula of the title is played by the excellent Denise Gough, so you know she’s not going to be a wailing Penelope Pitstop-type girly. Yet she still ends up in the eye of a storm of ghastly, oppressive men – her disapproving dad, her scrofulous brother who lives in a garage, a stalker-ish married ex-lover, a judgemental boss and the world’s most sinister odd-job man. The latter is played by Victoria’sTom Hughes and he’s really creepy, surrounded by a miasma of utter evil. (You poor men, if you’re not all potential rapists and actual oppressive controlling weirdoes, as in Broadchurch, you’re just, well, horrible, as in Paula.)
Tom Hughes in Paula
It’s all dark and rainy and claustrophobic and it really is my kind of thing. Yet I can’t help feeling a bit weary, even when Paula goes into her very sinister basement, where you don’t have to be a horror scholar to know that something will go “bump”.
And like The Fall, Line of Dutyand the dreadful, barmy The Replacement, Paulais filmed in Northern Ireland. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s great to see a drama that isn’t shot in London, and who can blame production people going to a place that offers generous funding to film-makers. But it’s all starting to look a bit familiar. Every city has a distinct feel, from Newcastle to Truro, and inevitably it becomes another character in a show. It’s like seeing the same person turn up in successive dramas: “Oh look, it’s him/her again”, only it’s, “Oh look, it’s that street again.”
There’s no way I want an end to grimness, not by any means. I’m not asking for wall-to- wall The Durrells. But how about a bit of light and shade?
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news