When I was training in journalism, one of my teachers told me that if a news intro is failing to grab anyone’s attention, you should try flipping the words around to ensure the focus is where it needs to be. It’s a trick that has served me well over the past couple of years and I only wish that Intruder screenwriter Gareth Tunley had received similar advice while working on Channel 5’s recent clunker.
Airing over four consecutive nights, the show has suffered some highly critical reviews and been the subject of much (quite amusing) ridicule on Twitter. The truth is that it never stood a chance because – much like my wonky trainee intros which luckily never saw publication – the script’s angle is totally wrong. Quite clearly, this story should never have been about the awful Hickeys, but rather the victims of their crime.
For the uninitiated, Intruder follows the aftermath of a break-in at the home of affluent couple Sam and Rebecca, which ends in the death of a teenage boy named Syed. The youth poses no physical threat whatsoever and wants nothing more than to run home to bed when he’s caught red-handed, but an inebriated Sam clings onto him like a maniac and drives a knife into his back – inadvertently killing him. It later comes to light that Syed was a kind and talented youngster with a bright future ahead of him, who simply fell in with the wrong crowd and was peer-pressured into making one big mistake.
What follows is roughly three hours of watching this elitist and self-centred couple attempt to cover their tracks. It’s utterly baffling that Tunley chose to build his entire show around two of the most unlikeable characters in recent memory. Sure, the golden age of television has been defined by morally dubious antiheroes, but the Hickeys have no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
As a result, there’s never any reason to become invested in their struggle to evade police suspicion and hold onto their opulent lifestyle, yet the show regularly acts as if there is. Fleeting moments of actual emotion come courtesy of Syed’s grieving father Haalim (Kriss Dosanjh), who myself and a number of Twitter users have hailed as the show’s sole sympathetic figure. It’s blindingly obvious that he should have been the main character all along.
Picture this: a single father is raising a teenage son who he loves dearly but fears might be slipping away from him. One day, the boy turns up dead and accused of terrible deeds that his dad knows immediately to be untrue. Disadvantaged by the racial prejudice of his small and unwelcoming town, he must fight insurmountable odds to uncover the truth of what happened (with some help from a plucky Family Liasion Officer, who is one of the few honest members of the local police force). Alas, that’s what Intruder could have been.
Instead, we got yet another story primarily about a rich white couple using their privilege to abuse the system, bogged down by absolutely laughable subplots involving a bizarre extramarital affair and a farmer who think he’s in The Godfather. The script is so distracted by the personal lives of its killers that any musings on the issue of systemic racism are so shallow that they’re hardly worth including.
The show cares so little about Haalim and Syed that the former simply gives up on his fight for justice, while there’s never any meaningful exploration of how a smart young lad can get drawn into a life of crime. As characters, they are unceremoniously discarded when they are no longer required as a plot device. It’s infuriating to watch Intruder pass up the opportunity to tell a story with real heart and make a comment on the society in which we live.