It’s time to lift the gloom from TV drama

Maybe it's the influence of Scandi noir but really, you can have too much of a good thing, says Alison Graham

There’s a fantastic piece of what I shall call coitus glumness in the sullen Welsh crime drama Hinterland (Mondays, BBC4) when two characters have sex in the most urgently sad manner. 


Honestly, there’s no sense of, “Woo hoo! Let’s get laid!” Rather the pair of them look as miserable as if they’ve just missed out on the last discounted Swedish pine chest of drawers in the Ikea sale. But that’s Hinterland for you, everyone is so bloody gloomy all the time. Particularly its central character, an achingly sad policeman (Richard Harrington) with a wrecked personal life who is so dour he makes Morrissey look like Eric Morecambe. And, dear me, the tears. This is a man who cries ON DUTY. Get a grip, love.

Now, I like Hinterland, I’ve enjoyed this short series and the slightly threatening Ceredigion scenery, and hope there are more. But Hinterland and television dramas in general are starting to make me feel over-anxious. Their bleak unhappiness is leaking into my bloodstream like a saline drip. Don’t get me wrong, I love eavesdropping on angst and tormented souls, but really, not all of the time and I’m starting to feel burdened with other people’s albeit fictional miseries.

Take the superb Happy Valley (Tuesday BBC1), another success for the gifted Sally Wainwright, a brilliant writer who can create the optimistic and funny Last Tango in Halifax and something as gut-wrenchingly upsetting as this powerfully grim crime drama about people trapped in hopelessness. In the first episode a young woman was kidnapped and her captor threatened to “cut [her] tits off” before, we are led to assume, raping her. Last week, horror was piled upon horror. It upset me for days. This week’s episode had the same effect. 

Maybe it’s the influence of Scandi noir (which we love, of course) but really, you can have too much of a good thing. It’s time to lighten up a bit. Don’t stop the gloom, but vary the diet, maybe with the occasional family drama shot through with bolts of humour. Something like From There to Here (Thursday BBC1).

I fell on this like a drowning woman clinging to a rock. Here was something that doesn’t involve pained introspection, torture and murder, at least not in the first episode. It’s not an out-and-out comedy – but so what, even comedies aren’t funny any more, as we have discussed – but it’s not bleak. And it has the marvellous Philip Glenister as Daniel Cotton, a seemingly happy family man who re-evaluates everything he holds most dear after he emerges, unscathed, from the 1996 Manchester bombing.

It could be a turgid, finger-wagging morality tale but it’s not. In Peter Bowker’s hands (he wrote Blackpool and Eric and Ernie) it’s a deftly written story of disappointment and missed opportunities. And, hurrah, it’s funny. At last!

I’m not sure when television drama lost its light touch, or at least when it stopped trying not to paint everything black. There have been attempts recently to vary the tone, over which we will draw a discreet veil – Love and Marriage, Edge of Heaven – but nothing really since Last Tango, though even that became quite dark. 

So it’s time for a sunbeam to shine on schedules that recently have muffled us in grey clouds with The Widower, Mammon, The Crimson Field, a bleak Tommy Cooper biopic, blood-soaked Jamaica Inn (I SAID, JAMAICA INN), a horrible ending to Southland, a shocking death in The Good Wife, Shetland, Rev, Line of Duty, even a sadness-soaked Call the Midwife. 

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of respite as we cast our minds ahead, though I’m looking forward to Mapp and Lucia (BBC1) with Miranda Richardson and Anna Chancellor. That’s partly because EF Benson’s original waspish books about small-town snobbery are peerlessly funny, and partly because I want to see if it’s half as good as the 1980s ITV version with Geraldine McEwan and Prunella Scales.

But that’s just one flickering light in the darkness – it’s time for a full beam.