From Doctor Foster to The Last Post – why are all our TV dramas so miserable?
I need something to make me smile, says Radio Times TV editor Alison Graham
I sometimes think I should live inside a Disney movie, trilling bland songs to cartoon bluebirds as I dance down some stairs. I could wear a big dress and have ringlets, I would befriend idealised, quaintly grubby “Cockernee” urchins, and bring sunlight and happiness into everyone’s lives, just by being me…
Some hope. Have you heard me complaining in supermarkets when there are no wire baskets and none of the staff can be bothered to find any? It’s not pleasant. But it would be nice to hide in a land of candyfloss and cloying pastel colours just for a bit, if it would get me away from the overwhelming misanthropy of television dramas.
I went on the Today programme recently to talk about the ending of Doctor Foster and came close to seizing the mic and addressing the nation from a balcony at Broadcasting House. Because, I wondered, why does everything have to be so bloody miserable? All the time. Come on, Britain, rise up and smile! Let’s seize the joie de vivre that’s curled up somewhere, dormant and fuzzy, in our national psyche.
Yes, these are strange times. Politicians are enfeebled, money’s tight, even nature’s gone mad, turning the sky dark and orange in the middle of the afternoon as if to say, look, you lot, get a grip. So shouldn’t television be trying to bring some cheer in these difficult days?
Yes, it should, but no, it isn’t. There’s no let-up. Characters throw acid at one another’s faces (thank you, Rellik, for all of the lovely images); there are rapes and druggings (Liar); there is physical and sexual abuse (hello again, wretched Rellik and Liar, with a wave to the terrible Top of the Lake: China Girl).
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Women are mere chattels in dystopian visions of enforced childbirth and death for disobeying (The Handmaid’s Tale) and angry divorcees giving their husbands the means to take their own lives (Doctor Foster, whose finale was possibly the bleakest hour of television I’ve seen all year).
In a whole new world of pain children are not immune from the horrors that adults are capable of. Like poor Tom in Doctor Foster, who walked away from his dreadful mother and father because he couldn’t stand either of them for a moment longer.
Now, in Sunday’s 1960s’ Aden-based Royal Military Police drama The Last Post (Sunday, 9pm, BBC1) a small boy of about seven is at the heart of a hostage “video”. He’s been kidnapped and his captors want to exchange him for their imprisoned leader.
They film one of their members waving a huge sword behind the little boy, who’s standing stock still in the desert, making as if to behead him. His parents see this. I’m sure this can be discounted in a moment, because did terrorists make such film reels of their threats in the 1960s? And were they even called “terrorists”?
But come on, it’s horrible. The child is unharmed on the film, but what the hell? Who wishes to watch anything even approximating such a hideous, modern atrocity, particularly when it’s aimed at such a little boy? (Let us not forget that a soldier was beheaded in an early episode of The Last Post, so we are clearly meant to think that the threat is real.)
I’m sick of this, it’s all so misanthropic and mean. I’m going off to watch Blue Planet II, possibly for ever.